As universities move towards full compliance and resolve gaps in their policies, students, educators, and administrators need to know their rights and obligations under the law.
What’s at stake? Student parents constitute more than one in five undergraduates, and roughly one in three graduate students. Yet few institutions have policies designed to meet their unique needs. Without critical supports, only 33% of undergraduate parents complete their degree or certificate within six years.
Pregnant and parenting students who lack parental leave, pregnancy and breastfeeding accommodations, and other support face significant and sometimes insurmountable obstacles to earning their degrees. Our work through The Pregnant Scholar has helped pregnant and newly parenting students who face being kicked out of university housing; removed from university-provided health insurance coverage; losing fellowships and tuition already paid; as well as students being forced to graduate late, retake classes, or even withdraw from school entirely. These setbacks have profound long-term implications for parents as well as their children and communities.
Equity for student parents is critical to resolving longstanding inequities and injustices in who can attend, and succeed, in higher education in the United States. It advances gender justice, as women and childbearing people are more likely to face motherhood bias and pregnancy-linked barriers to success, particularly in STEM fields. And it advances racial justice; student parents are disproportionately people of color, likely to be overburdened by intersecting racial and gender bias. Critically, 40% of Black women, 36% of American Indian women, and 26% of Latinas enrolled in undergraduate college have children. Institutional barriers make student parents less likely to complete their education or complete it on time, even though student parents have higher GPAs, on average, than their childless peers. Empowering student parents and administrators who can support them is critical to ensuring equitable access to education and the opportunities and security it provides.
In early 2015, Professors Mary Ann Mason (University of California, Berkeley) and Joan C. Williams (University of California, Hastings College of the Law), with support from the National Science Foundation, launched this project to boost the support and protections for pregnant and parenting students and postdocs. By providing resources to educate and empower university communities, this project seeks to ensure the effective implementation of Title IX’s protections for pregnant women and parents and help mend the critical leak in the STEM pipeline. In recent years, under the leadership of Williams and Jessica Lee, the Initiative’s Director, the Pregnant Scholar Initiative has grown to support the needs of students across higher education. The Initiative is now housed at the Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law, and serves as a hub of legal and technical assistance for all fields and all levels of higher education–from vocational school to graduate school.
The Pregnant Scholar’s team regularly provides technical assistance to college/university administrators, training on Title IX’s pregnancy-related protections, and assistance implementing best practice policies to support pregnant and parenting students. We also operate a student helpline for pregnant and parenting students nationwide who want to learn more about their rights. Most of our services are provided free of charge.