SMC’s Health and Wellness center offers a variety of different reproductive health services, though a lack of advertising of these services has left some students and community members unaware of these resources.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
They are not in the bookstore. Nor the health center or Center for Women’s and Gender Equity. In fact, they are not available anywhere on campus. Masks? No, Condoms! Despite being abundant on most college campuses, Saint Mary’s has a noticeable lack of these protective coverings available. With the recent country-wide discourse around abortion following the restrictive Texas abortion law, reproductive and sexual health services have been brought under an increased amount of scrutiny and attention. At Saint Mary’s College, a lack of information has left some community members unaware of what sexual health services are available on campus.
According to Erin Perkins, a nurse practitioner at the Saint Mary’s Health and Wellness Center, the Center offers basic gynecologic and urologic care including STI testing and treatment, PAP smears, breast exams, and testicular exams. Perkins says that clinicians at SMC’s Health and Wellness Center are able to offer patients family planning counseling, contraceptive counseling, and prescriptions that can be filled off-campus at local pharmacies, as well as pregnancy testing and counseling. Students looking for reproductive health services not offered by the Health Center like contraceptive implants can get referrals to local resources.
Perkins says that students can access these resources by making an appointment online or over the phone. She offers herself as an educational resource for students seeking information on reproductive health services.
“Each individual has to decide for themselves what forms of birth control they find personally acceptable for their own body,” Perkins says. “I’m happy to help provide people with the medical information and resources they need to make this decision.”
Sharon Sobotta, the director for the Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE), fills a similar educational role. Sobotta says that her job is to provide education and resources to students. Part of this job, she says, may involve counseling a student through a situation like an unplanned pregnancy, or connecting them to local sexual health resources, or educating students that they can buy condoms at stores like CVS off-campus.
Despite this, Sobatta was unaware of the sexual health resources offered by the Saint Mary’s Health and Wellness Center. She thinks that many of the staff and faculty on campus are not fully aware of what resources are available on campus.
Although the Health and Wellness Center website has a women’s health information page, the website does not mention the reproductive health services that are available on campus, or recommend outside resources students can access.
Sobatta believes that community members should remain educated on the different offerings of resources on campus.
“I think that whatever we're offering in our different areas, it's important that we list that on our website and talk about it so that we can make sure that the students that are here are able to access the information,” Sobatta said.
Senior Angeline Wong was also unaware of the sexual health services offered by the Health and Wellness Center. She, like many students on campus, believed that the school offered no services around contraceptives, and was surprised to learn that the school offered resources like birth control prescriptions and referrals for things like implants and IUDs.
Wong feels that the Catholic traditions of the College contribute to a stigma around the topic of sex. This stigma, Wong says, may prevent students from seeking reproductive health services on campus, in fear of being judged or turned down. Wong also cites a lack of information on services offered at the health center, as a barrier to the sexual health of students.
“The services are there, but we don't know that they're there,” Wong says. “So if the institution does want to keep up with the services that they do offer, I think it's equally as important for them to advertise them as well.”
Because Saint Mary’s is a Catholic college, according to Sobatta, the discussions around sexual health may look different from discussions about sexual health at a university like UC Berkeley.
Wong, who works at the Center for Women and Gender Equity for a field placement requirement in her PSYCH 175 class, has experienced this first hand. Earlier this year, she was interested in giving away condoms in the center but learned that she would not be allowed to provide condoms within any department on campus including the Health Center. Instead, she could personally give them away as a student, but could not as a representative of any group on campus.
Wong feels that this policy threatens students' sexual health, “ it became something like finding loopholes to make sexual and reproductive health accessible, which doesn't sound right to me.”
According to Sobatta, although the Center for Women and Gender Equity may not be able to provide physical resources that students may seek like condoms, they can still serve as a great resource.
“ I want people to know that even if they can't get a physical resource, such as a condom, we can always talk,” Sobatta says. “You can always reach out, there are some great resources in terms of people and education.”
Sobatta notes that despite Saint Mary’s status as a Catholic college, the Center for Women and Gender Equity does not align with any particular religious or political affiliation, and instead serves as an unbiased educational resource.
“We used to get questions, and there'd be an assumption that maybe we would have a particular affiliation or be more interested in helping people have a certain perspective, but that's not true,” Sobatta says. “Our job is to meet people where they're at and to answer their questions and provide education.”
Ryan Ford '23,