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Pregnancy and Professors: How Title IX Ensures the Rights of Pregnant and Parenting Students in College

pregnantandparentingtoolkitcoverImagine being 36 weeks pregnant and trying to complete the last class that stands between you and your hard-earned college degree. You are a bit nervous about giving birth in the middle of spring semester, but are confident it is nothing that you cannot handle.

You approach your professor and say that you will have to miss a few days of class in order to give birth, and they respond that the missed days will amount to a failed grade due to their mandatory attendance policy. Stressed and confused, you approach your advisor, who informs you that your best option is to drop the class and take it at another time.

This nightmare might sound straight out of a horrible 1950’s movie, but it is an actual story that happened to Gina Corcoran as she was trying to complete her degree at a prestigious Chicago college.

What strikes me about Gina’s story is the lack of knowledge in the situation. How did her university not immediately recognize her professor’s discriminatory behavior as a violation of Title IX? How is it possible that an academic advisor at a major university could be so unaware of Title IX’s existence? And where the heck was the Title IX coordinator in this entire process?

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs or activities that receive federal funding. That include discrimination based on pregnancy and related conditions. It is illegal under Title IX to exclude students who may be pregnant, who are pregnant, or that have been pregnant from participating in any part of an educational program. Gina’s school was clearly in violation of this law, yet no one in Gina’s story seemed aware of the law, until the National Women’s Law Center stepped in and helped Gina file a complaint with her Title IX coordinator.

The fact that a major university in the heart of Chicago could be so ignorant to their Title IX responsibilities should be concerning to everyone. How many other major universities are failing or ignoring the law? And how many small schools are doing the same?

Gina’s story demonstrates the lack of knowledge at all levels of the education system- and the importance of spreading this information.

College students across the nation need to be aware of their rights so that they can take action when schools aren’t abiding by the law, and so that they can demand better of their universities.

The National Women’s Law Center’s new tool-kit for pregnant and parenting students in higher education can assist in this process. It lays out the rights that students have, outlines the responsibilities of universities, and provides resources for students wanting to file a Title IX complaint. Let’s help ensure that stories like Gina’s become less common by spreading the word about this new tool-kit- because pregnancy should never stand between a woman and her college degree.