Shippensburg University made national headlines this week when the news of a vending machine that sold Plan B was spotlighted on CNN, The Huffington Post, a brief mention on Jay Leno’s late night show, Tosh.0’s blog and a mention on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.
But for a majority of the students, having the vending machine was not news.
The vending machine, located in the health center, was part of a student-initiated program two years ago.
Students took part in a survey that resulted with 85 percent of the students saying they would agree with having Plan B on campus.
This prompted the installation of the vending machine in the health center.
Dispelling rumors raised by various media sources, including newspaper, television and social media, Shippensburg University President William Ruud released a statement Thursday morning stating that the handling of the vending machine is in a private room for students only. Students must check-in with proper identification to be let in.
Research by the university has shown that no student attending the university is younger than 17.
The vending machine is also not supported by the state or taxpayer dollars.
“We are, as we have said previously,” Ruud said in his statement, “among the majority of universities and colleges in Pennsylvania and the nation to make Plan B available to students.”
So, why then is there such a fascination with it now? Steven Lichtman, associate professor of political science and pre-law adviser at SU, believes that the story itself was only part of its popularity.
“The other thing to keep in mind is that it is playing into the current debate about the Obama Administration’s policy on religious-affiliated institutions having to provide insurance plans for employees that would cover contraception,” Lichtman said in an e–mail statement.
But he also admitted that the story is funny on shows like Jay Leno because “there is an amusing dynamic to being able to get it out of a vending machine.”
The timing of the story’s popularity is timed along with the Republican nominations.
“The pendulum has swung more conservatively,” said Barbara Denison, chair person of the SU Sociology Department. She teaches various classes within the department and some that focus on sexuality and religion.
The issue itself, she believes, has more to do with the interconnectedness of religion and politics.“For most people,” she said, “faith equates to fact.”
John Ellerbach, SU assistant professor of communication/journalism, believes that the issue is about the effect of privacy on the individual.
“I can certainly see why a censorious glower from an older adult at a pharmacy might intimidate a college student,” Ellerbach said.
Ruud has contacted and invited FDA officials to come to campus and review the dispensing practices.
The medicine will still be made available for purchase through the health center during this time.