An unexpected consequence of the merger between St. Joseph’s University and the University of the Sciences has some students angry.
USciences’ student health center no longer will dispense birth control once the merger with the Catholic university takes effect June 1. Some students got an email from the USciences health center informing them of the change: “This is in accordance with Catholic doctrine, which they abide by strictly,” the email said.
That didn’t sit well with some students.
“This is health care,” USciences doctoral student Adetoun Adeniji-Adele said. Students “need to ensure that they have the health care to function as adults in 2022, not 1882. It literally doesn’t make any sense.”
The student health center at St. Joseph’s does not dispense birth control.
St. Joseph’s issued a statement: “Saint Joseph’s Student Health Centers operate as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, a student’s relationship with their healthcare provider. Family planning, birth control and prescriptions are personal and private conversations between the student and their provider.”
The university declined to comment further.
It’s unclear how many other Catholic universities refrain from dispensing birth control. The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, of which St. Joe’s is a member, and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said they do not have any information on policies around birth control on Catholic college campuses.
St. Joseph’s and USciences announced in February 2021 that they were looking at a potential merger to help them grow and thrive in an increasingly challenging higher-education market. Their boards voted last summer to proceed with the merger, which was approved by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in March. The 200-year-old USciences, formerly Philadelphia College of Pharmacy — the nation’s first pharmacy college — is merging into St. Joseph’s, a Jesuit institution with an equally long history.
Combined, the institutions will enroll more than 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, employ nearly 450 faculty, and have an endowment in excess of a half-billion dollars, an operating budget over $300 million, assets of $1.2 billion, and nearly 95,000 living alumni. Both campuses — USciences in West Philadelphia with about 2,300 students and St. Joseph’s with about 6,700 students less than five miles west straddling the city’s border with Lower Merion — are being retained.
Some students received the emails from the USciences health center earlier this week, said Adeniji-Adele, of Philadelphia, although she did not receive one. She described herself as a “cradle Catholic” who believes in Jesus and regularly attends church, but said there are certain beliefs that don’t have to be imposed upon others.
She also noted USciences’ history as the first pharmacy school and its health care focus as making the decision more senseless.
Other students also said they are concerned.
“Students at USciences are outraged by the [decision] of the university to allow religion to have a widespread effect on their health care — especially when this ‘merger’ was forced upon us and all attempts to convey concern about merging with a Catholic university were disregarded,” said Veronica Smith, a doctoral student from Gilbertsville.
She shared a Facebook post of a student complaining about the merger, which she said has caught attention of others at the school.
Shrhea Banerjee, also a doctoral student from Doylestown, said she went to an undergraduate college where the student health services helped her find the right birth control for her and she appreciated it.
“Coming from a very conservative family, I was extremely naive to all of this, and the student health services at my university managed to create a safe space for me,” she said. “This is the job of college student health facilities.”
Julie Nguyen, a 2021 USciences graduate who is now in medical school at Albert Einstein, said she heard about the decision on social media and has been trying to help students still at USciences.
“They are being subjected to Catholic doctrine they never signed up for in the first place,” said Nguyen, 22, of Lancaster.