Finding Middle Ground: FCLC Students Balance Personal Beliefs and the Catholic Policy of a Jesuit University

Fordham’s Diverse Student Population Becomes Problematic When All Must Adhere to Catholic Ideals


Published: October 22, 2009

From Manhattan’s racy billboards advertising the latest fashions from world-renowned designers, to the heart pumping beats flowing through iPod headphones blasting suggestive lyrics, Fordham’s students are bombarded with images of New York City’s vast sexual culture. While some young people remain unfazed by this constant exposure, other more conservative peers strongly oppose these blatant portrayals. With Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) being a Jesuit school with clearly Catholic values, this opposition only further incites a debate over pre-marital sex.

While FCLC is a Jesuit institution, it has also created an open and accepting learning environment that leaves a wide range of topics, often controversial, open to discussion. The taboo subject of sexuality is certainly one of them, as the institution has embraced it in several ways such as classroom discussion, student groups and book clubs. Yet this candidness may be sending mixed messages to students as the school simultaneously enforces its traditional Catholic principles that can counteract its openness to the topic.

A rule of Catholic doctrine that FCLC’s policy upholds is its restriction of pre-marital sex in the residence halls. The Office of Residential Life 2009-2010 Handbook explicitly states: “One [Jesuit] principle holds that sexual intercourse is to be reserved for marriage. Cohabitation is therefore prohibited in the residence halls… Cohabitation may lead to sanctions ranging from Residence Hall probation to dismissal from the Residence Hall.”

Adherent with this rule, FCLC’s Health Center does not distribute contraceptives, nor does it offer referrals to other health centers that offer this service. This lack of service can be problematic, leaving Fordham students without a source of reliable information on protection against the risk of pregnancy and STDs.

Joan Cavanagh, associate director of Campus Ministry said, “Since Fordham is a Catholic school it does not promote anything that is against church teaching. Since the Catholic Church does not condone birth control [or] sex outside of marriage, it would be contradictory for Fordham to dispense birth control from the health center.”

While anonymous school officials are sympathetic to the needs of the students, the simple truth is that Fordham is a Catholic university affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York. Students are aware of the sensitivity of this situation.

“It’s a delicate topic because this is a Jesuit institution [and] there are students who aren’t Catholic,” said Mia Reyes, FCLC ’11. “But at the same time, this is stuff that shapes where they are.”

Finding a balance is difficult even for those who do identify themselves as Catholic. Many students are  unsure of how to handle such a sticky situation that they struggle to reconcile the moral codes of their faith with their personal beliefs on sexuality.

Fordham may be a Jesuit university, but that doesn’t mean all of the student body upholds the same Catholic beliefs. Quite the contrary, the other side of this debate is well represented among students.

“I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with [pre-marital sex],” said Reyes. “I think it’s up to each person. They should be free to choose without judgment.”

“If the school is concerned with cohabitation, then why do they allow for co-ed floors?” said Nara DeMuro, FCLC ’13. “It’s funny how everyone regards sex as such a taboo topic, especially considering it is what makes the human race survive. I feel that if you honestly trust another person enough to get that close to you, then by all means, let love in.”

Despite the strong presence of more liberal student views, there is still a large population of students that are supportive of Fordham’s policy.

“I think [pre-marital sex] is incomplete and runs the risk of becoming meaningless for either one or both parties,” said Laura Veras, FCLC ’10, “not to mention the psychological effects of one night stands and/or break-ups.”

The Catholic condemnation of sex before marriage is no secret to students, perhaps leading these policies to be taken with a grain of salt. But when it comes to restricting their personal lives, do students feel the rules are unfair?

“I feel that, to a degree, by choosing to attend a college, I enter into a contract of sorts with my college,” said Dave de la Fuente, FCLC ’10. “At the end of the day, I as a student must recognize that I chose to study at a private institution with a distinct foundation in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition. The institution, then, must remain true to its foundation. The student must understand the university’s obligation to remain true to its mission.”

“I don’t think [Fordham’s cohabitation policy] is an invasion of privacy. Students choose to come to Fordham already knowing about these policies so it shouldn’t be a surprise,” Veras said. “[A]s adults, you can find out for yourself where to go for [contraception]… It’s not like there aren’t a dozen places in Manhattan where people can go for free services. Just don’t expect there to be a condom vending machine in McMahon hall.”

“I believe [Fordham’s cohabitation policy] is unnecessary, unrealistic and an invasion of student’s privacy,” said Jonathan Johnson, FCLC ’13. “College is supposed to be an environment for the development of life experiences. Therefore, limiting the freedoms that are supposed to be given to college students is a contradiction of everything universities in general should stand for. Fordham recognizes that many of its students are not Catholic; therefore, an array of students will not adhere to religious principles. People are engaging in premarital sex every day; if Fordham really cared, they’d want to protect students from things that could potentially distract them from school, like STDs, pregnancy, etc.”

“I understand [Fordham’s pre-marital sex policy] because of its Jesuit ideals, but I don’t think it is wise,” said Bethany Berryessa, FCLC ’13. “I think that it is a greater evil to not help people be smart about having sex.”

Rev. Vincent DeCola, S.J., assistant dean for the First Year Experience Program, feels that in handling such a touchy issue, morals and personal responsibility are key to the decisions students make for themselves.

DeCola said, “It has seemed to be the case for most of my lifetime, that most people [who] consider themselves practicing Catholics form their own position on a variety of ethical issues. In fact, Catholic teaching is that every person has to form his or her own ethical conscience, but ought to be informed by teachings of the Church.”

Some students also put the spotlight back on the student body, as opposed to the Fordham administration, emphasizing the importance of personal responsibility.

“I think Campus Ministry has tried to have dialogues about Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage, but I haven’t seen a good response or openness from students,” Veras said. “In the same way that some students perceive the Fordham administration to be stubborn and uncompromising, those same students seem to be just as closed-minded.”

“I’d like to note some of the recent events that have occurred that provide opportunities to intellectually and respectfully engage in dialogue about sexuality and differing views of it,” de la Fuente said. “Recently, Campus Ministry started a reading group discussing Donna Freitas’ ‘Sex and the Soul,’ and the Center on Religion and Culture is going to have an event that discusses this topic. This is a good step in dialoguing and learning more about sexuality.”

In the end, students have learned to find a balance between personal beliefs and Fordham’s Catholic policy.

“As adults, I would hope that we can respect the policies of the institution, even if we don’t always agree with them,” said Veras. “It’s not like there’s Fordham sex police following you around. It’s your choice if you want to have sex; just go somewhere else.”

“I was raised Catholic, but I don’t necessarily still call myself one,” said Reyes. “There are a lot of ideas in the Church that I don’t align myself with. [But] even though I don’t agree with the Catholic standing on contraceptives, I wouldn’t expect Fordham to go against it.”

“I respect [Fordham’s policies] because I come from a Catholic background. Just as if I were going to a Jewish school, I would respect their customs. You know you’re in a Jesuit school, so you can’t go against it,” said Janine Vincente, FCLC ’13.

While a large portion of the student population doesn’t necessarily agree with or live their personal lives by Fordham rules, students all agree that as a Catholic institution, the rules come as no surprise. Agree or not, students respect the institution enough to follow its policies on campus, despite what they do in their free time or in off-campus bedrooms.