Is it her choice to leave?
I have never seen a pregnant woman on campus. Have you? I hope you have. I hope it's just me that hasn't. I hope that there are a number of pregnant women on campus whom I've just never seen. Yet somehow I don't think that this is true.
So, I haven't seen any pregnant BC women, big deal, right? It is a big deal. There are 5,005 undergraduate women, 237 full-time female faculty members, and 2,770 female graduate students at Boston College. You would think at least one of these women would become pregnant during her time here. In fact, the College Area Pregnancy Services online website says that studies done by the Alan Guttmacher Institute suggest that "10% of all college women become pregnant each year." Even if this number is far too large and encompasses far too diverse a demography to be directly applied to Boston College, it at least means there are a good number of women who become pregnant while here. Even if we halve that percentage, then apply it to BC numbers, it would mean approximately 250 undergraduate women become pregnant each year.
Where are these women? Two obvious suggestions come to mind: they have either left BC or have had abortions. For a Jesuit school that discourages the use of birth control and refuses to offer condoms to students, that's an awful lot of abortions. If most of these students are having abortions, clearly there's something wrong with the way Catholic ideals are being instituted.
However, it's also discouraging to assume that these women are just leaving campus. Boston College is an elite institution, and most of its students have worked hard to get here. It should always be a woman's choice whether or not she wants to stay here. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be much of a choice at BCor wouldn't we see more pregnant women on campus?
Being pregnant at a school like BC would be an instant source of judgment. Students here pride themselves on almost every aspect of their near perfection. After all, a Boston College student is an attractive, intelligent, hardworking, personable, selfless volunteer, right? Our Jesuit identity means we have a commitment to service. All of this sounds great, until you consider what it means to be outside of this mold.
An unmarried pregnant college student has clearly broken at least one of the rules of Catholic living. How forgiving will other students be? How will her social life be affected when suddenly she can't go out drinking? When, God forbid, she gains weight? How about when she loses housing? Wait, what? Loses housing? Yep. I'll get to that later.
BC publishes a pamphlet labeled Pregnancy Services Available to Boston College Students. Open it upthe first sentence already restricts a woman's choices. "Boston College, as an institution committed to values, holds that all human life, including the life of the unborn, is sacred." Well, so much for being accepted by the BC community if you choose to have an abortion. The pamphlet continues with topic headings of Academic Planning, Housing, Educational Financing, a Directory of University Resource Persons, Off-Campus Resources (two resourcesboth religious), and Counseling ("Should I marry the child's father? Should I put the child up for adoption?"). The entire pamphlet ignores the possibility of an abortion, and doesn't give any kind of guidance as to finding help debating the serious issues involved with that decision. While abortion is against Jesuit ideals, what if a non-Catholic student becomes pregnant? What if she wants to explore all of her options?
The Housing section provides an interesting conundrum. While it claims, "If you are currently living in University housing, you may wish to remain there during your pregnancy, or you may choose to temporarily withdraw with a guarantee that you may return to appropriate University housing after the pregnancy." That sounds very nice. Thank you, Boston College.
But the 'Conditions for Residence' on the Residential Life website paint another picture: "Residency in Boston College housing is restricted to full time single (unmarried) undergraduate or authorized College of Advancing Studies students taking 12 credit hours. The University does not provide family, graduate student or married student housing, except for designated University employees."
Let's review, in a hypothetical, the worst case scenario. Say I become pregnant because I had sex with my long-term boyfriend, but unfortunately I didn't have a condom because neither BC Health Services nor Maddie's Market would offer them to me. I choose to explore my options, and consider having an abortion. Unfortunately, BC would not educate me about abortion, so regardless of my situation, it becomes a non-option. Instead, I go to counseling at BC. I'm handed a pamphlet assuring me I won't lose housing. Simultaneously, through their counseling, I become convinced that I should marry the child's father. Soon I'm starting to show signs of being pregnant, and my classmates are giving me odd looks, and I feel like everyone's talking about me. I decide I need to take a semester off. Once I return to BC, I now have a husband and a child... which constitutes a family. Whoops. There goes my housing. They didn't mention that in the pamphlet. Fine, now I just need to find the money to rent an apartment and live off campus. Did I mention I had financial aid for my housing on campus that isn't available to me now that I've lost housing? Now I need to pay BC tuition, off-campus rental fees (yikes), a babysitter, and all of the other costs associated with a new baby. And I don't have my BC degree yet, so I don't have a high paying job. Nor do I have time to be a full-time student, mother, and employee anywhere. So much for my college education and my promising future.
And that is what happens to women who become pregnant at Boston College. I understand that I've imagined only one scenario and that there are many, many other factors involved. But the truth remains that I've never seen a pregnant woman at BC.
Is this the kind of environment we want to have? One in which a single unfortunate event, that may not even be the woman's fault (condom's break, rape happens....), snowballs, and all of the sudden a woman feels herself as an outcast of the BC community? If the parents choose not to get married, will the father experience half, or even any of these problems? Does BC culture make it easier for a man to deny his involvement and responsibility for the child? Does BC, by not helping impregnated women more, actually make an abortion look like an easier option?
There are some very good resources on campus already. The Women's Resource Center is a wonderful place for women to go for help and to discuss their issues. RA's are usually very helpful and open with their residents. Although I have not visited Health Services to discuss what advice they give, I have been impressed with them in the past, and I'm sure they do what they can to help pregnant women (within the guidelines given to them by the institution). And, even though it could use some improvement, the presence of a Pregnancy Pamphlet means an acknowledgement of the issue.
However, there clearly is a problem in dealing with pregnancy at BC. And it's not just the institution enforcing this, it's all of us. By doing nothing we are letting pregnant women continue to feel uncomfortable, and we are letting the administration deny these women housing and a full exploration of all their options.
These issues may seem far from your mind, but what if that pregnant woman was you? What if she was your girlfriend, or even your best friend? What would you do? Would you still be here?
I didn't think so.
Front Page (April 14, 2005)
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