Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prejudice in the Pursuit of Higher Education—Part II

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

In 1908, a playwright named Israel Zangwill gave America an iconic nickname when he coined the term “melting pot” in a play of the same name. (Ironically—or perhaps fittingly?—Zangwill was British.) Over the next century, the U.S. population would become even more diverse than it was during immigration's heyday at the turn of the 19th century.

According to the 2020 census, this increased diversity shows no signs of slowing down. Just 40 years ago, white Americans accounted for approximately 80% of the population; the 2020 U.S. census reveals a relatively dramatic drop to 60%. The fastest-growing segments of the population are people of Hispanic/Latinx heritage and Asian heritage, at 18.5% and 6% respectively.

Of course, diversity isn't just a matter of race or ethnicity. Colleges and universities across the country are grappling with a rise in another previously marginalized demographic: pregnant students and parenting students. Let's take a closer look at the challenges this cohort faces upon arrival at campus.

Title IX Protections for Pregnant and Parenting Students

Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. While many Americans think of Title IX largely in relation to athletics, this 1972 amendment actually provides much more extensive coverage. Any institution in the United States that receives federal funding from the Department of Education must play by Title IX's rules.

That means local school districts, charter schools, post-secondary entities, libraries, museums, and education agencies must all fulfill certain criteria or risk losing their funding. In addition to providing equal services and accommodations for legally protected individuals as well as non-discriminatory treatment both on- and off-campus, schools and other facilities are required to have a framework for handling Title IX grievances.

What does discrimination “based on gender or sex” actually mean? That might sound broad and vague, but Title IX spells out the specifics, stipulating that schools give equal treatment regardless of childbearing-related status. This includes pregnancy, false pregnancy, childbirth, miscarriage, abortion, or any related condition, including recovery.

The Specific Issues That Pregnant/Parenting Students Face

In wider society, pregnant women often receive preferential treatment, such as dedicated parking spots. Often, other people give up their seats on public transport so that expecting mothers can travel in comfort. But when it comes to the campus and the classroom, however, parenting or pregnant students may face prejudice in ways that are both subtle and outright. Here are some of the requirements set forth by Title IX in regard to this student demographic with which schools must comply:

  • Excused short-term absences for medical appointments
  • Longer-term leaves of absence for students experiencing high-risk pregnancies, childbirth itself, abortions, miscarriages, and recovery from these conditions, regardless of the school's policy on leaves of absence and their length
  • Space for breastfeeding and/or pumping mothers, including allowing breastfeeding in public campus areas (e.g., in the classroom, lecture hall, student union, library, etc.)
  • Provision of services that are at least equal to services offered to other students with medical issues
  • An environment where pregnant or parenting students are free from harassment, intimidation, and all types of bias against them due to their status

Additionally, the educational institution must have a published policy regarding sex/gender discrimination, a system to process Title IX complaints, and an employee whose responsibility it is to handle those complaints.

Standing Up for Your Rights as a Parent or Parent-To-Be

As a post-secondary student who has young children or who is starting a family, it's incumbent upon you to learn about the rights you are afforded under Title IX—and to fight for those rights should they come into question. Should a situation arise in which a faculty member, administrator, other school employees, or student violates any part of this law, you need to speak up. Nine times out of 10, a polite but assertive word with that person should resolve the problem.

If you do experience pushback or continued mistreatment, turn to
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm for help. We're well-versed in the nuances of education law and Title IX protections, and we'll stand up right alongside you as you care for your family and further your education. Click here to tell us more about your case, or call 1-888-535-3686 to ask any questions you have.