Freshman orientation last year helped me in a number of different ways. It familiarized me with the people and places I would regularly encounter at the College of William and Mary. It taught me about many of the resources our campus has to offer. I appreciated that sexual assault was treated seriously, and we were provided with detailed guidance on these situations. However, there is one area where freshman orientation fell far, far short: pregnancy and parenting on campus.
Pregnancy and parenting on campus were left unmentioned during my freshman orientation week, and that is a serious problem. I am sure that the vast majority of women at the College would not even have a clue about where to start if they were confronted by a positive pregnancy test. I know no information about what accommodations the College could provide to parenting students. We weren’t even told what our rights are under Title IX.
Right now, pregnancy on campus is uncomfortable to discuss. For the sake of every woman at the College, that needs to change. Orientation should clearly and unashamedly educate new college students on all of their options. For women, this means education on pregnancy and parenting resources and rights.
On the College’s website, there is information on free pregnancy tests provided by the Student Health Center, but there’s not much more that is easily accessible online. Women should be given the information of the Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students, Student Health Center, Counseling Center, Student Accessibility Services, Registrar’s Office and Residence Life so that they have resources for any challenge they might encounter being pregnant. This information should be shared specifically with pregnancy in mind. Students should know where diaper changing stations and accessible routes within buildings are located. I wouldn’t know that there’s a Lactation Room in Swem Library Room 308 unless I had walked past it. There are local centers such as HOPE Pregnancy Care Center that provide diapers, baby gear and maternity clothes completely free of charge. These resources need to be made known to women and accessible to them.
Title IX rights — when it comes to pregnancy and parenting — should be broadcast around the College. Every woman should be aware of her legal entitlements. For example, pregnant women are entitled to continue participating in all classes and extracurricular activities. If a woman is going to school on an athletic, academic or other scholarship, she is entitled to retain that scholarship upon becoming pregnant. She also cannot be discharged from her on-campus residence. The College is required to provide accommodations, such as larger desks and elevator use, to pregnant students, as well as academic instruction services like homebound instruction and independent study. Any university must allow a pregnant woman to return to the exact same academic and extracurricular status if she goes on medical leave, and they must require that the woman is given sufficient time and resources to make up any missed work. Also important are the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination rules for pregnant and parenting students. Legally, pregnant women have rights, and students at the College should be aware of those rights.
When it comes to resisting the stigma around student pregnancy, changes in freshman orientation are vital. But that should only be the start of what we do here at the College. There needs to be a greater movement of comprehensive education for women on their resources and rights. Not only that, but we need to provide an abundance of resources for our pregnant and parenting community members. Last year we celebrated women having attended the College for a century. Let’s start the second century off right by ensuring that all women have the help and guidance they need at crucial times in their lives.
Email Chloe Folmar at email@example.com.