LETTER TO THE EDITOR: SDS demands accessible emergency contraception

On the morning of June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, undoing nearly 50 years of precedent. Three days later, Kent State President Todd Diacon issued a statement on the decision to the university community, writing, “…as we live up to our Flashes Take Care of Flashes commitment, taking care of each other means helping community members find support during times of need.”

That time is now. It has been four months since the fall of Roe, and the need for safe, dignified and high-quality reproductive health care has only become more dire. In a state like Ohio, where the status of abortion rights hinges on a temporary court injunction unstable and uncertain — we must ask where we can find stability and certainty. We must ask our institutions — those charged with safeguarding us — to provide that for us.

As an institution of renown, Kent State has the capability to provide access to reproductive health care for its students and employees. It also has a responsibility to provide this access. But what has Kent State, as a whole, accomplished on this front? Has the university lived up to its Flashes Take Care of Flashes commitment?

The answer: Kent State needs to do more. Currently, the DeWeese Health Center is the only point of access on campus for birth control. However, the Health Center is only open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. There is no weekend or evening availability. These scant hours of operation offer little flexibility for students and interfere with class and work schedules.

And the health center is a vital resource. For students living on campus, especially those without a car, it may be the only convenient option for reproductive health care. Students who are not local to the Cleveland area, and likely lack a trusted medical provider nearby, must sort through a complex tangle of medical conglomerates, maybe completely foreign to them, to seek healthcare off campus. Even if you aren’t a part of either of these groups, having a central, on-campus location for reproductive care is just plain convenient. The health center is right there — but too starved of operational capacity to be truly available for anyone. Expanding the center’s hours of operation to be open on weekends would increase the accessibility of reproductive health care to all Kent State students.

But students can’t just rely on the health center — especially for emergency contraceptives, where time is of the utmost importance. The installation of Plan B vending machines in the bathrooms of two central, high-traffic areas of campus, the Student Center first floor and the Tri-Towers Rotunda, would make reproductive care even more accessible. This is not a novel proposal. Students at Boston University have also installed these machines to great success, offering Plan B at reduced cost in a secure location. Rather than having to trek to CVS and cough up $50, students can have a safe, discreet, easy-to-access location to receive essential health care.

These two demands aren’t coming from nowhere. In a recent survey Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) conducted, over 80% of students named reproductive rights as their top political concern. Seventy-eight percent approved of installing Plan B vending machines on campus. The demands are informed by our own experiences — as students and as people who need and have needed reproductive healthcare.

In his statement, Diacon also wrote that the overturning of Roe “directly impacts over half of the student body at Kent State.” The university can address this impact. It can increase funding to the DeWeese Health Center so that students aren’t stuck scrambling for an appointment on a Monday afternoon. It can fund Plan B vending machines so students don’t have to waste time traveling off-campus — and have a more affordable option — for contraceptives. Students should be able to easily access basic health care on their own college campus. Will the university step up? Will it show its students that Flashes Take Care of Flashes?

SDS is calling for concerned students to share their voice using this petition and welcomes any student interested in this project to join their weekly meetings, held every Thursday at 7 p.m. in KSC 314.

Students for a Democratic Society can be contacted at [email protected].