In honor of National Condom Month, the Messenger is revisiting the history of condom opposition and support at St. Olaf. The history, which goes back several decades, is rife with controversy, protests and administrative gridlock.
In 1987, Pause Co-Manager Paul Harder is fired for using $8 of Student Activities Committee (SAC) funds to sell condoms from the Lion’s Pause kitchen. This action opposes the St. Olaf administration’s policy not to sell or provide free condoms by the school.
This defiant act sparks the formation of The Campus Crusaders for Condoms (CCC) which secures approximately 1,600 student and faculty signatures on a petition calling for condom availability at the St. Olaf Health Services. St. Olaf President Melvin George rejects the petition.
One of CCC’s founders, Rob Raplinger, criticizes the College’s policy of only distributing birth control pills and diaphragms, which Raplinger says “portrays an attitude that women are foremostly responsible for sexual responsibility, which is a sexist approach.”
The same month, over 200 students protest at a CCC rally. CCC opens the “Little Shop of Condoms,” a condom delivery service, in April of 1987. While Carleton College and the University of Minnesota begin distributing free condoms, Carol Johnson, vice president and dean of students, says handing out condoms “endorses and encourages casual sex. It is inappropriate for St. Olaf to be endorsing this.”
In 1989, a student identified as D.G.A. predicts in the opinions section of the Messenger that “unless St. Olaf takes positive steps now to prevent negative results later, this current policy of no condoms on campus will no doubt be one of the contributing factors causing the first St. Olaf student to die from AIDS.”
In 1989, a Student Senate-appointed committee submits a proposal to a staff council to contest St. Olaf’s birth control policy on three main points: “1) the current policy does not represent a realistic understanding of campus sexual behavior; 2) the policy is sexist; and 3) it is irresponsible with respect to disease protection.” The committee requests that condoms be made available for purchase in the Health Services.
Senate leaders meet with President George to negotiate. The College revises their policy to make a limited number of condoms available through the Health Services if the individual requesting condoms agrees to medical counseling and if the individual is male.
Students protest the condom policy again a year later in 1990. Greg Kneser, associate director of residence life until March 2018, further explains the religious and moral issues the school takes with condom use.
“For the college to assume responsibility [for providing condoms] is questionable logic for a college of the church,” Kneser says in 1990.
Kneser also voices concerns about how the Board of Regents, alumni, parents and donors would receive such changes.
In 1992, student-operated organization Today’s Healthy Intercourse Needs Condoms (T.H.I.N.C.) emerges and distributes condoms to students for $0.25. Administration prohibits T.H.I.N.C. from advertising and disapproves of the organization, but is unable to disband the group because it operates in the privacy of students’ own rooms.
The following year Jonathan Fierer becomes the first St. Olaf student to publicly identify himself as HIV positive on Nov. 8, 1993 in Boe Chapel.
Fierer is met with applause after declaring he feels that it is “the moral and ethical responsibility of this school and all colleges to provide and make accessible protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.”
The next year, the College hires a new president, Mark U. Edwards, Jr., who reinforces the school’s stance to not provide condoms on campus: “As a Christian institution, we owe it to our parents to realize that symbolically we are clearly on the side of saying that we think that students should not be sexually active outside of long-term relationships. But we also say to them that if their kids are going to have sex, they should be protected.”
The same year, Carleton College’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Group (H.A.A.) sponsors Condoms Across the Cannon, a program which allows St. Olaf students receive condoms via campus mail from Carleton students.
Campus discussion regarding condoms largely recedes until February 2002 when Kneser reinforces the institution’s condom policy, reaffirming that the availability of condoms and other contraceptives is not the solution, but rather that communication and “intelligent decision-making” is necessary.
In the fall of 2002, a committee of faculty, staff and two student representatives review the College’s health care policies, including the condom policy. Before this time, condoms were only available through an appointment with the College’s nurse-practitioner or through members of T.H.I.N.C. The committee decides to make free condoms available from the Health Services, the Wellness Center and the Counseling Office.
In the spring of 2003, campus officials install a condom dispenser in the utility room of each residence hall without any formal announcement to the surprise of many students. Some students express hesitancy to use dorm dispensers for fear of running into other students. The bookstore also begins to sell condoms for $1.89 for a pack of three.
Having discrete, affordable and accessible condoms on campus remains an issue in 2020.
“We know students are having sex. We want to encourage healthy behaviors, so it’s important for them to have free access to these resources,” Jenny Ortiz ’15, the current assistant director of wellness and health promotion, said in regards to providing condoms.
The Wellness Center provides latex and latex-free external condoms, internal condoms, water-based lubricant and other wellness supplies.
However, it can be intimidating for many students to ask a peer for condoms.
Out of this concern, Student Government Association (SGA) President, Devon Nielsen ’20, created an initiative to place free condom dispensers in all residence halls on campus.
Nielsen said he faced no administrative pushback and was actually impressed by the administration’s willingness to support this initiative.
Dispensers were purchased by Rice County Public Health department and will be stocked with 3000-4000 external condoms annually via the Condom Distribution Project through the Minnesota Department of Health.
The initiative will be piloted this spring in three residence halls before potentially expanding campus wide.
“This was a need that was identified by students on campus, and we’re hoping that this project is a positive step toward addressing sexual health at St. Olaf,” Nielsen said.
To look into this history further, check out the Manitou Messenger archives, available via St. Olaf’s collection.