In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights nationwide, students at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., pushed the university to do something in response.
For many, the answer was to push GW to end its relationship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was a constitutional law instructor at the university. Thomas, who no longer teaches at GW, joined the majority opinion in Dodd v. Jackson, which allowed states to restrict abortion rights.
But Christian Zidouemba, president of George Washington’s Student Association, sought a solution. Rather than join in calls for Thomas’ removal, Zidouemba wanted to make access to emergency contraception easier on campus.
“For me, as a president, I represent 27,000 students, it’s not just one group of people,” said Zidouemba, a native of Burkina Faso. “At the time, I had students who wanted me to call on the university to fire him even though the university wasn’t going to fire him because of freedom of speech and freedom of speech means freedom.”
Working with fellow students Aiza Saeed and Neharika Rao, Zidouemba got the university to install a vending machine that is stocked with a number of health products, including emergency contraception, which is sometimes known as the “plan B pill.” The pills are intended to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The vending machine is also stocked with other items, including aspirin, tampons and other assorted items.
The machines opened to students last week.
“I researched some of the best ways to advocate for students, what are some of the ways that I can shape some of the communities I care about,” Zidouemba said. “I found out that not only we could bring a plan B machine to help those in need of it, but we can bring health-related products.”
He said access to these items has been welcomed on campus as they benefit nearly everyone, including those not needing emergency contraception. Zidouemba said the university was supportive of the project but added there is more the university could be doing.
The vending machine is located in the university’s student center, which closes overnight. He hopes that additional vending machines will be installed in student dorms, which are open 24 hours.
Efforts at George Washington University are part of a nationwide push led by Emergency Contraception for Every Campus. The group has advocated for similar vending machines at dozens of universities throughout the U.S.
Zidouemba said the impact goes beyond politics and will help those on campus.
“We shouldn’t play politics at the university level,” he said. “Overall, the response has been phenomenal. We did not have any pushback.”