Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Supporting Student Moms on Campus

My college has very few mothers. Nearly all of our students are traditional-aged singles. There are only a handful of married students, and we will have maybe one or two parents in the regular student body at any given time. I do not encourage my students to marry while they are in college, and I certainly would not encourage them to have kids as undergraduates. And our students set that same standard for themselves. They graduate at high rates, and most marry and have kids after that, and in that order. College women in general have low pregnancy rates; Centre women are likely to have even lower pregnancy rates than their peers.

Still, sometimes Things Happen. I know of a few students who have gotten pregnant. Some have dropped out altogether, some have stopped out and come back later, and a few have transferred elsewhere. I don’t personally know of any student abortions, but I know there must be a couple or a few each year, according to estimates by our wellness center. In very rare cases the couple has married and both have continued on track to graduation. And in these cases, having a baby on campus has been good for the college. It happens so rarely here that our students can rally ‘round and be a great help to the young couple.

I mention all of this because of the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2005.” This bill, sponsored by Elizabeth Dole in the Senate and Melissa Hart in the House, would provide $10 million for a pilot program to help college campuses be more supportive of pregnant students and student parents. Just what colleges and universities would do would with the money would vary all over the lot – which is the kind of experimentation that pilot programs are designed to encourage. Already, using volunteer labor and university funds, students at the University of Virginia created a baby-sitting service for other student parents, while Wellesley students had a rummage sale to benefit pregnant and parenting mothers in the student body.

This act is the main legislative project of Feminists for Life. They take a centrist position on one of the most contested and divisive issues in America. Feminists for Life argue that pregnant women, no matter how well or ill prepared they were to become pregnant, deserve better options than either abortion or going it alone. The organization provides support for women having kids, especially single young women. Feminists for Life have taken Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founding mother of feminism, as their icon and patron, because she was a feminist mother who thought that abortion was a tool men used to control women. Feminists for Life came into the news when John Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court, as his wife, Jane, was a board member and supportive lawyer. Indeed, that is why I looked them up, and how I know about this bill.

The Stanton Act seems to me a good centrist approach to what is often a tragic choice for young women. College women do have low pregnancy rates, but they also have high abortion rates. They tend to see babies and education as a zero-sum choice. Indeed, I think the pro-choice lobby commonly says that very thing. And truly, succeeding in college while caring for children is a huge challenge, which I would not recommend as a plan. Still, when unplanned babies begin, it does not mean the end of the mother’s – or the father’s -- education, much less their lives. I have seen examples of couples who have risen to the challenge, even at a young age and at a hard school.

I have no idea if the Stanton Act has a real chance of passage in Congress, but I support it as legislation and strongly support the attitude behind it.

15 comments:

Shay said...

My black libertarian feminist response: why should government us taxpayers pay for someone else's bad life choices? Even worse, the bill is named after a white supremacist though pro-life feminist (let us not forget her arguments to achieve suffrage for **white** women)?! Great icon, Feminists For Life.

Paul Jolly said...

Being one of the few students at Centre who had a child while still in school, I can safely say that there’s no way I could’ve made it through without support from my friends and family, and I lived in a different city than my child for most of the week!! I don’t see how anyone could have a baby full time and go to school without help.

I agree that this act really creates a nice middle ground for college women who want to stay in school but don’t believe in abortion. We need more grey area in just about everything and I think this idea provides some for this situation.

S. Kimbro said...

I would imagine that the difficulty of being pregnant and raising a child while attending college is not just economic and time management, but also largely having to deal with the disapproving and judgmental attitudes of your fellow students, especially other young women.

When I was a student, I was an “independent,” or not a member of a sorority (the majority of young women were involved in greek life). Twice I had an acquaintance who I did not know very well come to me for help and to talk about a possible pregnancy and her options because she was not comfortable going to her sorority sisters with these issues. On one occasion this young woman had taken the morning-after pill and was dealing with the symptoms and perhaps some of the emotional consequences of that decision. I found it striking that she seemed so afraid to have fellow female college peers know about these issues. I’m sure this fact greatly influences the decisions that young college women in difficult situations end up making.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this situation is uncommon for young women, particularly at institutions where reputation and social standing can mean a world of difference to their social lives and future networking contacts. Other than making a concerted effort to bringing pregnancy and parenthood issues into the campus dialogue – to make them less socially taboo, I don’t know how else this situation will improve.

SPorcupine said...

Hey, yeah! What about student dads? (I'm glad Paul felt supported, but I happen to know that he ran with a seriously strange crowd.)

Gruntled said...

Yeah, I am for supporting dads, of course. The bill is aimed first at pregnant students, which has a natural sexual skew.

Gruntled said...

To Shay, I think there are few investments that a society can make that pay off better than investing in marriage and early child support. I know that the government can create social problems better than it can solve them, but I am not a libertarian, and do think some incentives and supports are worth trying.

To S. Kimbro, I think that talking about how great marriage and children are in college will, seemingly paradoxically, reduce the appeal of the kind of casual sex that leads to morning after pills. Colleges have become so studiedly neutral about sex that they allow a relativist culture to grow up which I think hurts everyone.

Jules said...

I think the act sounds like it has great potential. As far as taking tax money to pay for someone else's bad choices...I would rather have my tax money spent to help a pregnant college student so that she (and the father) can stay in school and get a good education, than help her after she has had to drop out.
I currently work at a small college. Recently two of our RAs (Residence Assistants) discovered they are going to be parents (this is a dating couple). I have had the chance to walk with them as they make decisions about their future. It is by no means an easy time in their lives. They are strapped for money, stressed out, worried about how the rest of the school will treat them, and worried that they are going to fail their classes because this has taken so much emotional energy. The girl is leaving next semester to go back home and live with her parents. Their plans are that she will eventually return to school, but who knows if it will really happen. I wonder if there are more things we could be doing for them. Perhaps this act would provide them (and those of us working with them) with more resources to support them.

Yes, it would have been better if they had made different choices, but the reality is that they didn't.

Gruntled said...

So, will they get married?

SPorcupine said...

It occurs to me that this funding--unlike many other programs--may really work as a pilot program. I don't think we'll end up seeing more than a handful of babies in any class. If institutions come to see this as a good thing to do, I think private donors really could make the money part happen and delight in doing it. I also think substantial numbers of students would, given the opportunity to provide small regular forms of help, find that they hugely enjoyed doing that.

Jules said...

Yes, they are planning to get married in the summer.

Gruntled said...

Jules and Sporcupine together make me think of the missing part of this bill: marriage counseling. If I were running a college receiving such a pilot grant, I would also experiment with how best to get pregnant parents to think seriously about marrying. Shotgun weddings are far from ideal, but many many couples through history have been nudged to mature marriages by such surprises.

Denis Hancock said...

Gruntled: Your point about marriage counselling is a good one.

I am curious, though -- In the body of sociological literature is there a study that shows the effect premarital counselling on divorce?

Gruntled said...

Premarital counseling works to improve marreiage and reduce divorce. The better the prep, the better the result. One good result of counseling, we should remember, is to break up couples who do not have good marital prospects.

Aaron X said...

Professor Weston

It's encouraging to see you stepping forward on the side of equity for women in this country, and acknowledging the reality of reproductive biology without politicizing its morality.

Too often in America, and throughout human history, pregnancy has been used to repress the potential of the female population, repression that is inevitably detrimental to the entire society as a whole.

Nice to see such sentiments coming from a "Ruling Elder".

Aaron

Gruntled said...

Thanks, Aaron. All churches are mostly run by women -- Presbyterians have been ahead of the curve in recognizing it.

Also, I have been encouraged to support equity for women by my mother, sisters, wife, daughters, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, grandmothers ...