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 The policy previously listed in the 2015-2016 Residential Life Handbook has been rescinded.”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 [email protected] for support.