A culture of life: supporting pregnant and parenting students at UD

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Goodman

Institutionally, individually, and as a community, we must work to better support our pregnant and parenting students in ways that make a positive, lasting difference. 

Each member and friend of the Crusader Community knows that the University of Dallas cherishes faith and free thought. As a Catholic University of independent thinkers, our work to consistently foster a culture of respect for life constitutes a core facet of our collective identity.

It’s safe to say that we’re each familiar with our school’s right and proper emphasis on the value of each life. However, amid our broad, principled advocacy, we must not lose sight of the work to be done here at home. 

It’s on us to manifest the courage of our convictions on our campus, and this begins with advocating for – and concretely supporting  –our pregnant and parenting students.

As university students, the support of our families, whether biological or of choice, underlies our success and cannot be separated from any of our individual achievements. Our thankfulness for this support calls us to understand that forming a culture of respect for life starts within the family. 

There’s no doubt about it: fostering a culture of respect for life starts by intentionally supporting working families and students’ families.

What should that look like at UD?

First, we must make clear the resources that already exist for our pregnant and parenting students. Currently,  information on what resources exist is primarily found deep within the posted Title IX guidelines. 

The University of Dallas should establish a “Pregnant/Parenting Student Portal” on our udallas.edu website, like a page within the “Health & Counseling Services” section. This would meaningfully increase our pregnant and parenting students’ ease-of-access to important information.

Secondly, UD should implement a concise and clear presentation of resources available to student parents within the class-specific meetings that take place during the school year. Although most such conversations take place perhaps with a student’s roommate or RA, many students – particularly upperclassmen – don’t live on campus, and it’s our job as a community to share support resources with all students.

Thirdly, members of our UD Student Government and student clubs/organizations should explore ways in which student leaders can improve outreach to pregnant and parenting students. 

As a facet of this outreach, Student Government should explore crafting a resolution to strongly, publicly and officially reaffirm our support and advocacy for pregnant and parenting students. Whatever form these efforts may take is, frankly, secondary. What matters most is that every member of our community works together to actualize our shared desire to develop an authentically inclusive culture of respect for life here at UD.

Finally, the UD community should support the Crusaders for Life in their early and ongoing work to establish a scholarship for pregnant and parenting students. Sarah Culbreth – an active member of Crusaders for Life – sees supporting pregnant and parenting students through such a scholarship as core to her pro-life principles. 

Although, according to Culbreth, “People sometimes equate supporting pregnant and parenting students with condoning immoral behavior,” she firmly believes that this is not the case. In fact, this false equivalency “creates a stigma that in many ways makes it more difficult to be pregnant at a Catholic school.” 

To combat this stigma, Culbreth posits the need for each Crusader to “remember that pregnancy isn’t a sin, it’s the gift of life”.

Culbreth also addresses one possible concern regarding the development of a scholarship for pregnant and parenting students – the possibility that it might be infrequently used. However, she argues the value of such a resource goes far beyond its frequency of use. 

“Someone might say, it doesn’t happen that much, why are you putting so much effort into resources that won’t get used very often?” Culbreth explained. “To that I say, if it helps one person… it will be worth it. Life is too precious to dismiss, and everyone deserves an education.”

Through many lectures, presentations and core texts, we’ve all come to see the high priority that UD places on living an authentically integrated life. Together, we must prioritize the integration of our ideals with our actions. Principled tolerance – to be clear – is a good thing, but if we are simply ‘tolerating’ our fellow students, particularly those who are pregnant or parenting, then we aren’t doing nearly enough. The bar which we must meet is not simply the bar of caring or toleration; we must also be willing to advocate and act. That’s where the pedal hits the metal

Putting our values of inclusiveness and respect for life into action requires us to challenge ourselves and our school to ensure that parenthood is realistically feasible for students who find themselves in earnest need of support.

Culbreth says that, “by offering resources to pregnant and parenting students, we could be empowering them to… choose life.” Developing a scholarship for pregnant and parenting students, she argues, “makes pursuing truth and justice a more attainable goal.”

Let’s do our part to ensure that no pregnant or parenting UD student feels, due to academic or financial pressure, that they have to make an unfree, zero-sum decision between parenthood and pursuing an education.

Regardless of our personal political convictions, let’s seek to, with one voice, agree that supporting pregnant or parenting students who choose to study at the University of Dallas is absolutely a priority worth pursuing. 

Over the next two semesters and into the future, let’s continue working to ensure that our respect for life extends equally to each Crusader and is backed up by concrete action and accommodation.

That’s what living our values looks like.

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