Single Parent Gets Financial Aid Reinstated – Thanks to the Pregnant on Campus Initiative!

An appeal for help

The phone rang. It was a 10:35 am, and I didn’t recognize the number, although it had a Colorado ID. On other end was a desperate sounding young mom of an 11-week-old baby.

“I was given your number and told that you could help me with my rights as a single parent and student,” the young woman on the other end said hurriedly. (We’ll call her *Esther.)

Esther’s story rapidly unfolded. She goes to a Colorado community college (where we just started a Students for Life club), and she received my number from someone I gave it to when I clipboarded with the Students for Life leaders in November. Esther had to miss class when she gave birth to her son in November. Unfortunately, Esther had not been informed of her Title IX rights by her professors, academic advisor, or school administration. She did not know that necessary pregnancy-related absences (like childbirth and recovery from childbirth) are protected under Title IX. She should have been allowed excused absences from her classes as well as accommodated with enough time and information to make up any missed classwork, assignments, and exams.

Her professors and school staff failed to provide this critical information and support. Esther ended up dropping out of a class and taking an incomplete in another class. She was later informed that she did not complete enough credits to be able to qualify for financial aid this term.

I texted our National Pregnant on Campus Director, Beth Rahal, and we worked together to come up with the information and steps that Esther needed to take in order to effectively resolve her situation. We sent Esther an email explaining her rights under Title IX and why her situation should be deemed a Title IX violation. We provided her with the name and contact info for the Title IX Coordinator at her college, as well as a detailed explanation of what questions to ask and how to explain and defend her situation.

Esther texted me that evening – February 1st – letting me know that she appealed her appeal. Within two days, Esther had recovered her financial aid. She told me recently that she feels so empowered to be a mom and finish her education. “I was about to have a mental breakdown before I called you,” she said.

When people around the country heard about Esther’s story, they offered to donate to a baby shower for her. So on Thursday, March 9th, our Students for Life club threw Esther a baby shower as their first official event! Esther’s face lit up as she opened a package with a baby gym and boxes of diapers for her little son.

A Change of Heart

I thought I knew what love was. Then I had my son,” Esther said. “It’s like, ‘No! I’ve got to hold him!” Esther exclaimed.

But like many students in her position, this wasn’t always Esther’s perspective when she thought of having a baby – just one year ago. “I made an appointment for an abortion. My town’s Planned Parenthood was booked out several weeks. So I made an appointment at a Planned Parenthood an hour or so away.”

“When I asked my friend to drive me to a ‘doctor’s appointment’ out of town, she said, ‘Why are you going there for a doctor’s appointment? What’s up?’”

“A stomach bug, you know,” Esther lied.

“Come on,” her friend replied. “What’s really going on?”

At this point, Esther told her friend the truth. Her friend responded, “You’re trying to hide that you’re getting an abortion because you know you’re going to regret it. Let’s tell our youth pastor….”

Esther never showed up for her abortion appointment.

A Community of Support

Esther’s church and community surrounded her with the love and help that she needed to succeed as a new mom and a student. They provided babysitting and tangible support when she needed it most. Esther is also especially grateful for the rapid response of the Students for Life of America team. “I thought I was going to have to wait for weeks,” Esther said. “But you picked up the phone and gave me the contact information for who to talk with within a couple hours. Within two days, everything was resolved.”

We are so happy to be a part of Esther’s journey and to have had the opportunity to assist Esther and her family! Students for Life America’s Pregnant on Campus Initiative helps pregnant and parenting students in all 50 states complete their education and connects them to local resources including childcare, healthcare, health insurance, housing, food, clothing, and pregnancy testing and counseling.

 

This post was contributed by Bethany Janzen, Rocky Mountain Regional Coordinator at Students for Life of America. *The parenting student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Title IX saves lives

Learning to Care

As a student-athlete in college, I had heard about Title IX ever so briefly during our team orientations. We were lectured on gender equity in sports and informed that our women’s teams would be just as well supported as our male counterparts. There was probably a Q&A segment, and maybe we had to fill out papers to sign acknowledging our awareness of this information. Other than that, it wasn’t a big deal. I might have also heard about Title IX in history class or in passing references to sexual harassment and assault on campus, but for the most part, I was in the dark. For all I cared, Title IX was 5 letters and 2 Roman numerals.

I find that this is the case with most students. If you aren’t personally experiencing discrimination on campus or in a position to need these types of resources, you aren’t likely to have sought out this information or learned it in earnest. Many times, we don’t bother learning critical information, like Title IX rights and accommodations or even our local pregnancy support resources, until we need it (for ourselves or a classmate asking for help). We assume that we’ll be able to access all this information when the time comes.

And while this is true in many cases, it’s not the best approach! Delays in providing information can cause more distress for your pregnant and parenting peers. As a student leader on campus (especially one who advocates for pregnant and parenting students), you need to take the time to research this information, compile it in one place, and discuss it with your group so that you are prepared to respond promptly and effectively to the concerns and needs of your peers.

Why It Matters

Title IX provides protections and accommodations for pregnant and parenting students at schools which receive federal funding. Therefore, it can be a great tool to ensure that pregnant and parenting students stay in school and receive fair accommodations and support. Unfortunately, most students don’t know that these protections and accommodations are available. This can lead to students making devastating choices (e.g. dropping out of school or getting an abortion). Lack of information can also prevent a student from asserting her rights when she is being discriminated against or not adequate support.

Over the past 3 years, our Students for Life of America staff has noted that Title IX information is one of the top resources that pregnant and parenting students request. Simple, articulate explanations of this information has yielded some amazing results! Here are some of the situations we have witnessed over the years:

After learning about Title IX …

  • Pregnant students are better able to communicate their situation, their rights, and their needs to their professors and administrations.
  • Students have been able to resolve issues of grades and class credits that resulted from improper handlings of pregnancy-related absences (e.g. missed classwork during childbirth and recovery).
  • Pregnant students have been able to stay on their sports teams and in their special programs (e.g. honors classes) without penalty or loss of scholarship.
  • Parenting students have been able to defend their right to breastfeed their babies on campus.

This past week, we had the opportunity to work with a parenting student (Ruth) at Pikes Peak Community College to resolve her financial aid situation. Ruth was told that she would lose financial aid after having not completed enough class credits in the past semester. However, Ruth had never received Title IX information or additional support to complete those classes. Thanks to some quick teamwork, we were able to explain how to address this situation with the school’s Title IX Coordinator and what information to present. It was a success!

Lives Saved

What’s more, Title IX has saved lives. About two weeks ago, our West Coast Regional Director, Reagan Barklage, was contacted by the Executive Director of a pregnancy resource center. The Executive Director had a client who was a student-athlete. The young girl considered aborting her baby because she was afraid that she would lose her basketball scholarship and have to drop off the team.

Thankfully, our Pregnant on Campus Initiative is prepared to handle these situations. Reagan and I worked together to get Title IX and NCAA student-athlete information sent to the Executive Director. After explaining this Title IX information, this brave student-athlete chose life!

What You Can Do

We want you to be able to effectively support your pregnant and parenting peers on campus. Contact our team for such resources as:

  • Title IX student group training
  • Title IX flyers and social media graphics
  • Ideas for how to advertise and share this information
  • Assistance in dealing with a Title IX pregnancy or parenting situation on your campus

Learn more about Title IX here: www.PregnantOnCampus.org/Students-Rights

 

This post was contributed by Beth Rahal, Pregnant on Campus Director. To share your story or your group’s successes on campus, email Beth at brahal@studentsforlife.org.

Claflin, Clarion, & Christian schools support pregnant students

Claflin changes its tune

Last week, Kamaria Downs headlined in local and national news for her efforts to confront discriminatory pregnancy and parenting policies at her Christian university. When Kamaria became pregnant at Claflin University (a private South Carolina university affiliated with the United Methodist Church), Kamaria was forced out of her pre-paid campus housing. She did not receive a refund and ended up living with a professor.

Claflin University had received exemptions from parts of the federal law (Title IX) which protects pregnant and parenting students from discriminatory policies and procedures. Prior to Fall 2016, pregnant students were not allowed to stay in campus housing after the first trimester, and they were required to provide medical documentation (not required of other students).

Kamaria shared with NBC News, “I had to conceal my pregnancy from everyone and the university made me feel ashamed to be pregnant. I had to stand up. It wasn’t right.” With the help of a legal non-profit, Public Justice, Kamaria confronted her university. Thanks to Kamaria’s courageous stand, the university decided to change its pregnancy and parenting policies. The university issued a statement clarifying the change:

“Claflin’s new Title IX policy ensures support for pregnant and parenting students; addresses academic and extracurricular accommodations; and provides details regarding the availability of campus residential facilities.  The policy previously listed in the 2015-2016 Residential Life Handbook has been rescinded.”

Christian universities and Title IX

This isn’t the first instance of pregnancy discrimination on a school campus, and frankly, it won’t be the last. The Pregnant on Campus Initiative has worked with and heard from students across the country who have experienced (or witnessed) pregnancy and parenting discrimination at their Christian universities.

Unplanned pregnancy happens to all types of students (and employees), and unfortunately, many Christian students feel isolated and ashamed when they become pregnant outside of wedlock. The social stigma and pressures of the Christian community lead some to seek abortion, while others feel forced to leave their Christian school. When Christian universities allow for discriminatory pregnancy policies and practices, they potentially put their students at greater risk for moral sin or abandonment of faith. (In fact, about 54% of abortions are obtained by self-identifying Christian women.)

However, there is often disagreement on Christian campuses as to how to best respond to the needs of pregnant students while also respecting Biblical traditions and enforcing moral student conduct. In light of this, dozens of Christian universities have applied for and received Title IX waivers from pregnancy and parenting related issues that in turn dramatically impact pregnant and parenting students (and employees).

We understand that these are challenging issues to respond to and that there are sincere concerns about condoning premarital sexual activity on a Christian campus. Nevertheless, we believe that Christian schools must compassionately address these situations without isolating, abandoning, or shaming pregnant students.

Making a change

Good news! Claflin University is not the only Christian school speaking out in support of pregnant and parenting students. Colleges like the College of Saint Mary (NE), St. Catherine University (MN), Belmont Abbey College (NC), and Misericordia University have established housing and parenting programs for pregnant and parenting students. Meanwhile, St. Louis University and the University of Notre Dame have comprehensive resource databases, staff support, and other key parenting and educational support resources to assist pregnant and parenting students.

More recently, Clarion University is one such Christian university stepping up to make a change. Student leader, Kara Sorenson, learned about Feminists for Life’s efforts in pregnancy and parenting support after hearing Serrin Foster’s presentation “The Feminist Case Against Abortion.” After the presentation, Foster challenged Clarion students to identify resources such as childcare, housing, maternity coverage, and transportation. During this Q&A session, it became clear that many students were unaware of resources and felt that Clarion students would have limited options in cases of unplanned pregnancy and parenthood. Concerned, Kara made it her mission to identify more resources and to learn what could be done to improve Clarion’s pregnancy and parenting support. In her efforts, Kara learned that the university had previously offered a daycare center and a place for mothers to change diapers and breast-feed. However, many resources had been removed due to budget cuts, renovations, and administrative turnovers.

Inspired and motivated, Kara invited Serrin Foster to facilitate a pregnancy resources forum with Clarion administrators and community members. In May 2016, Foster returned to campus to moderate a FFL Pregnancy Resource Forum, which brought together a panel of 12 Clarion University administrators and four community leaders. The result was Clarion’s new “Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Initiative.”

Clarion’s new Initiative

Clarion’s new initiative provides a clear plan and vision for addressing the needs of pregnant and parenting students through a comprehensive network of support. Clarion’s Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Initiative states:

“Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Initiative is an interoffice collaboration that attempts to serve the special needs of pregnant and parenting students. Substantial national evidence demonstrates that students who become parents during their college studies have a very high dropout rate.  PPRI believes students should not have to choose between being parents and completing their education. PPRI has sponsored Pregnancy Resources Forums conducted by Feminists for Life, Inc. to address the specific needs of pregnant and parenting students.”

The university’s goals include:

  • To support pregnant and parenting students at Clarion as they strive to attain a college education;
  • To advocate for these students in the areas of advising, housing, childcare, healthcare, resource identification, and financial aid;
  • To organize social and professional networking opportunities.

According to Sorenson, new resources for Fall 2016 will include:

  • A map of where parents can find ramps for strollers and bathrooms that have diaper decks
  • A student parent group on campus through the Pregnancy and Parenting Resources Initiative
  • An annual Christmas party for parents and their children (hosted by a student group)

Be a part of this movement

We hope that these schools continue to develop such programs and lead the way for other Christian universities to take note and take a stand. If your Christian school wants to join these schools in better supporting pregnant and parenting students, please contact us! Email Beth Rahal (Pregnant on Campus Director) at brahal@studentsforlife.org for support.

Taking the Test

Credit: Fox 5 DC

Credit: Fox 5 DC

On Thursday, November 12th, Tommitrise was getting ready to welcome her baby girl into this world, but even as she prepared for labor, she couldn’t quite sit back and “enjoy” labor. She still had a college psychology test to take!

“It took me 4-5 hours after the opening of the test to try to put the pain to the side and do it so I wouldn’t have to do it later and I could enjoy my newborn.”  About an hour and 30 minutes, Tommitrise finished the two-hour exam and received a B! The Middle Georgia State University student boasts a 3.6 GPA, and she will be graduating with a  bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice next December.

Capturing the moment and sharing it with the world, her sister, Shanell, posted on Facebook: “This is what you call ‘Strong Priorities’. Contractions 3 minutes apart and still takes her Psychology Test! You are going to be a great mom baby sis!”

At 9:19pm, Tommitrise welcomed her baby girl, Tyler Elise.

“She is my life now, and the way I look at it is she will always have me to depend on so my goals will not be put on hold. I don’t want to just barely make it by. I want my child to live comfortably, and I want to show people that just because I am considered a young mother doesn’t mean I have to be considered a bad mother.”

What about students’ rights?

Tommitrise’s story is awesome, impressive, and bold! She should most certainly be applauded for her strength and commitment. At the same time, her story should cause us to pause and wonder why a woman about to meet her newborn feels pressured to complete an exam rather than focus on labor.

All federally funded schools are required to abide by Title IX rules (which protect pregnant and parenting students from discrimination and unfair classroom policies). However, it seems that our schools have failed to educate staff and to inform students of what accommodations are appropriate in these cases. In our work assisting students through our Pregnant on Campus Initiative, I have encountered a widespread confusion among both university staff and students regarding the rights of pregnant and parenting students. Common questions that we have encountered include:

  • Can I be excused for labor and recovery?
  • I’m in a high risk pregnancy. What happens if I need to miss class?
  • Can I keep my scholarship?
  • Do I have to quit my sport’s team?
  • My school is encouraging me to drop out. What do I do?

When I read Tommitrise’s story, I’m inspired but also troubled. I see two possible violations of Title IX:

  • If a student misses class due to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related conditions, the school must allow the student to make up the missed work and provide the appropriate information to complete assignments.
  • If a doctor has provided a note deeming a student’s pregnancy-related absence as medically necessary (such as in the cases of bed rest, childbirth, or recovery), that student cannot be punished for missing class or another school activity (e.g. lose points for class attendance) regardless of the school’s or professor’s classroom absence (or attendance) policies.

making our own choices

Tommitrise very well may have addressed these issues and instead opted to complete the exam. (Note: Her aforementioned quote about not wanting to do it later and wanting to enjoy her newborn.) However, I hope that other women do not feel pressured to do the same. Students should be allowed a reasonable period to make up that exam rather than feel forced to answer questions between contractions.

Pregnant students need to be encouraged in their educational pursuits, but also protected from putting their health or the health of their child at risk. As student advocates, we need to continue to educate our campuses about these rights and to encourage pregnant and parenting students to openly discuss their concerns and needs with their professors.

 

This post was contributed by Beth Rahal, Pregnant on Campus Coordinator. If you have questions regarding your Title IX rights, please see our “Students’ Rights” page, or contact Beth Rahal with your specific case.

 

 

What’s a professor to do?

A great professorIf you haven’t seen this image yet, you may be wondering why this professor is teaching with a child in his arms. Well, here’s the backstory:

“So one of the students came with her kid, because she didn’t have a babysitter. the kid starts to cry in the middle of the class, so his mom, all embarrassed gets up to leave, and the professor took the kid from her, calmed him and continued teaching.”

According to comments below the post, this man is Dr. Sydney Engelberg of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

What an awesome professor! He didn’t question or chastise this mom for her effort to both parent and pursue her education. Instead, he embraced her efforts– and her child! What would our college campuses look like if our universities encouraged this welcoming attitude towards pregnant and parenting students?

Some would suggest that such an effort would be chaos– madness, even! We’d be opening our universities to the rowdy whims of precocious minions and distracting entire classes of hard working students.

Now, let’s not get crazy! I’m not expecting professors to suddenly throw open their doors to welcome in herds of students’ children and to wipe the snot off of every crying toddler’s face. But there are practical ways that universities can and should accommodate pregnant and parenting students.

Enter Title IX.

You may know about Title IX and how it protects pregnant and parenting students, and if you do, I commend you! Too often, students are unaware that this legislation supports the efforts of pregnant and parenting students. For those in the dark, here’s a quick refresher on Title IX accommodations for pregnant and parenting students:

(Source: Pregnant and Parenting Students’ Rights, National Women’s Law Center)

  • Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex – including pregnancy, parenting and all related conditions – in educational programs and activities that get federal funding. This means that schools must give all students who might be, are, or have been pregnant the same access to school programs and educational opportunities that other students have.
  • Your school must excuse your absences due to pregnancy or any related conditions for as long as your doctor says it is necessary for you to be absent. This is true even if there is no leave policy for students with other conditions. When you return to school, you must be reinstated to the status you held before your leave. The school can require you to submit a doctor’s note from you only if that is required of students with other medical conditions.”
  • You cannot be penalized for pregnancy or related conditions. If a professor provides specific ‘points’ or other advantages to students based on class attendance, you must be given the opportunity to earn back the credit from classes you miss due to pregnancy, so that you can be reinstated to the status you held before you took leave.”
  • Your school must let you make up the work you missed while you were out due to pregnancy or any related conditions, including recovery from childbirth… your school has to provide you with the appropriate assignments and information to make up all of the work you would have been required to complete while you were out. For an extended absence, it is best if your school provides you with the work you miss regularly, so you do not fall far behind.”
  • Title IX requires that schools provide pregnant students with any special services they provide to students with temporary disabilities. If students with temporary disabilities get at-home tutoring to help them keep up with work they miss when absent, the school must provide students who miss class because of pregnancy or childbirth with the same benefit.”
  • Schools cannot terminate or reduce athletic, merit or need-based scholarships based on pregnancy. If you stay in school, you can keep your scholarship.”

change Your campus

23% of college students are parenting, and less than 1 in 10 students with children complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of college entry. Let’s help make their dreams of a college degree a bit easier. Here’s what we can do:

Together, we can make a difference!

 

This post was contributed by Beth Rahal, Pregnant on Campus Coordinator. For more information about the Pregnant on Campus Initiative and how you can get involved, please contact Beth at brahal@studentsforlife.org.