[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#7e0308″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”“To my relief—and actually delight—I realized that staying here and making a difference on campus and making it more inclusive and comfortable for students like me was the exact purpose I had sought for my undergrad experience the whole time”” cite=”Connor Kratz” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
itting in the lobby of a Planned Parenthood health center, Connor Kratz, MCAS ’18, felt a deep dread inside of him.
What if it comes back positive?
It was the summer after his freshman year of college, and Kratz, with his dad at his side, was waiting for the results of his first STI test. His mind was racing: What if he really did have an STI? What would he do if he had HIV?
Forty minutes had passed when the physician finally called Kratz back into her office. The results were negative.
“It turns out I wasn’t even really at a risk, and that my fears were a little overstated—but nonetheless, they were very real at the time,” he said. “[The experience] helped me, to some extent, understand what so many college students, but especially LGBTQ students, go through.”
When Kratz heard the results, his relief was coupled with a realization of just how important it was for him in that moment to have a system of resources and support with regards to his sexual health—without which he doesn’t know how he might have handled the situation.
“When I was able to go get that test, have that taken care of, the sense of relief, the sense of comfort and renewed confidence in myself, I realized this is something I really want to help other students reach,” he said.
So when Kratz returned to campus in the fall, he joined Students for Sexual Health (SSH), the BC student-run sexual and reproductive health advocacy group that the University currently prohibits from meeting and distributing contraceptives to students on campus. The group gets all of its funding from outside grants and has traditionally distributed condoms from a table on College Road, as the location is public property—therefore, the University cannot prevent them from doing so.
ut before he embarked on his journey of advocacy, Kratz—who at the time was questioning his sexuality and struggling to build up the courage to come out as gay—had had a rough time adjusting to life at BC his freshman year. He had wondered if he could stay at a place where his peers around threw around the word “faggot,” and where he had been told he couldn’t be offended by the term because, at least as far as they knew, he wasn’t gay.
Before long, Kratz was convinced BC was not a place where he could be comfortable in his own skin.
“There were just certain parts of the climate that I thought, ‘This place just isn’t for me, I have to transfer, I have to get somewhere else,’” he said.
As his freshman year continued, however, Kratz began to get more involved with student organizations on campus. And after sitting down with his literature core professor Joseph Nugent, who affirmed to Kratz that he belonged here and that being unique at BC was really an asset, Kratz came to realize his potential at the school.
By the end of that year, Kratz came out to himself and to his family, which made him feel liberated and emboldened. When he came back as a sophomore as a student fully out in his identity, he was no longer looking to transfer—instead he was ready to hit the ground running.
“To my relief—and actually delight—I realized that staying here and making a difference on campus and making it more inclusive and comfortable for students like me was the exact purpose I had sought for my undergrad experience the whole time,” he said.
ratz’s activism experience at BC may have began when he joined SSH as a sophomore, but it was his junior year when he really became motivated to advocate for the rights and inclusivity of LGBTQ+ students.
That year, a parking sign in the Mod Lot was defaced one Saturday night, its letters being rearranged to spell a homophobic slur. While many viewed the defacing as no more than a single incident, Kratz, a UGBC senator, felt like the event illuminated a common experience for queer students at BC and, thus, could not take it take it lightly—so he chose to act.
“It really struck a chord with me, because it wasn’t just that one little act,” he said. “I just really felt that that one little act epitomized a lot of the culture, especially for first-year students.
“I realized then … we needed an LGBTQ resource center. Had there been one when I was a freshman, I know without a doubt I would not have had such a challenging experience, one, coming to terms with my own sexuality, but then also finding a community that I could connect to and really be a part of on campus.”
About a week after the incident, Kratz co-sponsored a UGBC resolution calling on the University to create an LGBTQ+ student resource center on campus—the first formal stance taken by the Student Assembly (SA) on the issue—and with an overwhelming majority, it passed.
While there indeed have been resolutions since that echo this support for LGBTQ+ students, Kratz expressed that, throughout his BC experience, a major difficulty has been that the progress often doesn’t come as quickly as he would like.
“With the LGBTQ resolution—it disheartened me that the University didn’t take a firm response to that one,” he said. “I don’t expect them to respond to every resolution, but I would have wanted a little more University collaboration on that.
While progress at BC may seem to only occur incrementally, Kratz said it’s important to remember that even those instances of incremental progress—which have achieved real gains—wouldn’t have been possible if no one made an effort to enact change.
n his senior year, Kratz, now president pro tempore of the SA, helped develop the Interpersonal Health and Wellness Committee, which has given the SA a forum for addressing on-campus sexual health issues, such as expanding tampon access in University restrooms and raising awareness of the resources that are available for sexual assault victims. But this wasn’t enough for Kratz—who decided that the University community needed tangible empirical evidence that sexual health is a prominent issue for students.
Kratz had been interested in conducting a sexual health survey on campus since his sophomore year, but up to this point had had little success.
“I worked with him throughout [his sophomore year] to try to get the survey off the ground, and ultimately we weren’t able to accomplish it, but his dedication and his tenacity and his passion for it never let go,” said Mark Miceli, a former adviser to UGBC.
“It took him … until this year to get some of that work done, but that speaks to his dedication, I think, to the ideal: not just checking something off a list, but being able to have these values that you feel strongly about and compassionate about and follow them through, not just in the moment, but for a duration.”
In December, Kratz posted a sexual health survey that he had initially created for a Research Methods project in each of the class groups on Facebook. And with the help of a grant from Planned Parenthood, he was able to offer gift card incentives for students to participate.
The results of the survey, which received 393 responses from the student body, showed that, while nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that they are sexually active, only 42.4 percent said they always use a condom during genital or anal sex. Meanwhile, 70.2 percent said they didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to University administrators, counselors, and health services with questions about their sexual health.
“From that, I think really established our case that BC students are sexually active, they need better access to resources, and they need a climate on campus that is better suited to allowing them to have these kinds of conversations and be able to reach out to administrators,” Kratz said.
Realizing he was only able to reach a limited portion of the student body through the Facebook groups, however, Kratz decided he wanted to give every student the chance to declare that sexual health was an important to them and to make known that more sexual health resources were needed on campus.
So in January, Kratz sponsored a UGBC resolution affirming that SSH should be allowed to meet and distribute on campus and petitioning a student body-wide referendum on the issue. The resolution passed, and the BC Elections Committee voted to accept the referendum question—but Kratz and SSH still needed to collect signatures from one-eighth of the student body before the question could be put on the UGBC elections ballot.
“When it comes to his advocacy, [Connor] just doesn’t take no for an answer,” said Tt King, the former executive vice president of UGBC, a close friend of Kratz’s, and MCAS ’18. “I think the best example of this is the sexual health referendum. I mean, he had many, many students and administrators tell him, ‘Sure, you can try to get an eighth of the student body, but like, it’s not going to happen,’ and he just like did it.
“As somebody who’s been in UGBC and who knows what it’s like to try to garner student support and student excitement about things, it’s really hard. But … he had a vision for it, he had a plan, and he just executed it so well.”
SSH succeeded in its signature gathering, and the question of whether the University should be allowed on campus was put on the ballot—where 94 percent of voters checked “yes.” While the University, nevertheless, responded that it would not be changing its policy on the issue, Kratz made it clear that he sees SSH’s initiatives this year as a success story.
“I don’t think any of the progress that followed the referendum would have been possible without it,” he said.
“We had the idea that administrators were not going to change their University policy because of a non-binding student referendum—that wasn’t actually the point. The point was to build that solidarity among the students, to help us realize amongst one another … that, yeah, we do all care about this, and if we come together, we can actually do something.”
C wasn’t going to budge, but things still weren’t over for Kratz. Following the decision, he and SSH continued working to help students with their sexual health needs by going around University policy and implementing RubberHub: a delivery service, funded entirely by public health grants, that ships condoms directly to students’ on-campus mailboxes free of charge.
But, as many of the other members of Kratz’s group found themselves busy with other commitments around the time of the referendum passing, Kratz soon found himself with a huge undertaking in front of him.
“That was very overwhelming, when all of a sudden we got our first set of RubberHub orders and we had me basically to fill them, with three other members that volunteered to help, but basically me to help maintain the program,” he said. “Luckily the referendum was able to give us that momentum to recruit so many new members. But it really just shows there’s a lot of challenges in running an organization—especially for full-time students.”
RubberHub was able to make it work, however—delivering over 1,100 condoms to students in its first three delivery cycles. According to Kratz, the work he has been doing with SSH has helped him realize that he has the ability to effect positive social change even beyond his time at BC—by focusing on making an impact at the individual level.
“Somebody will [say] to me, ‘Oh I got the RubberHub order that was so cool,’” he said. “All of that really shows that we get so caught up with everything and ‘politics is just all in Congress,’ and it’s like, no, there’s so many opportunities to have an impact. And SSH has really shown me that.”
ratz will be starting law school at Georgetown this fall, with the hope that becoming an attorney, or maybe even a policymaker, will one day give him the opportunity to be an advocate at the professional level.
“I’m really concerned by some of the present trends in our society—obviously, the polarization, but also the lack of empathy for those that have been historically marginalized and to this day,” he said. “One of the hardest difficulties in reaching those groups is their voices have just been silenced. And so that’s why I feel that one of my most useful roles, as a white male who does have a lot of privilege, is to help elevate those voices.”
Throughout his time at BC, Kratz worked toward creating an environment that is inclusive and welcoming of everyone—no matter their background, household income, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
“We have so many great achievements here at this University, but again, what do those mean if students of color, if queer students can’t feel safe, or welcome, and then do struggle?” he said.
“It’s so important to have that inclusive community and provide the opportunity for each other, and make sure that we look out for one another,” he said. “We’re all individuals, but we really can’t get anywhere without some sort of cooperation and working together. And I think it’s a real issue that we need to work on, in realizing our responsibilities to each other, to our neighbors, to our community.”
While Kratz believes many members of the BC community have indeed embrace these ideals he expressed, he still encourages the University to promote these things not only in its words, but in its actions—believing that the school could be taking bolder steps toward inclusivity. Nevertheless, Kratz acknowledges that while he has had his challenges with the University, it has also given him so much throughout his time here.
“I’m so grateful of this opportunity that I’ve had to really prepare myself to be able to make the biggest impact I can, and hopefully go out there and make the world a more inclusive and equitable place. So many avenues to do that, so much work to be done.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor