David Gibson has a post at Commonweal highlighting a story about Roman Catholic Belmont Abbey College breaking ground on a campus pregnancy and aftercare maternity home called “Room at the Inn.” Fulfilling both its pro-life and social justice missions, building this kind of home sounds like it should be a no-brainer for a Catholic college. But sadly, we instead find that this is a new idea:
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, described the center as “a witness to the entire church about what we need to do as a church.”
The priest also said the center should be a model for the rest of the country. “Every Catholic campus, every parish, every Catholic school, needs to be the place of first resort. When a young woman or a man feels that a new baby in their life is throwing everything out of control, they need to see that the church is the anchor, the place they can go to find help for themselves and their child.”
Indeed. But isn’t it a scandal that “Room at the Inn”, instead of just being one of many such institutions already in place, is serving as a model? Though what Pavone says above is true regardless of our country’s abortion policy, we have been dealing with the abortion wars for multiple generations now, and we are just now getting started with this? Perhaps due to the failure of liberal and conservative factions in the Church to work together, or at least with each others’ ideas, we have failed to meet the needs of pregnant women and girls who want to keep their children. Even on Roman Catholic campuses. It is only anecdotal evidence of course, but I have spent much of my childhood and adult life associated with Catholic education, and I can’t remember ever seeing even a single pregnant student walking the halls or the sidewalks. Not one.
I can hardly think of a better initiative than “Room at the Inn.” It is the Church at its best, ministering to the vulnerable wherever we find them–prenatal or postnatal–and in ways which do not conform to late-20th century political categories. But it is perhaps evidence of just how beholden we have been to such categories that Pavone must speak of the Inn as a new idea.
But it’s a start. And with something as important as this, better late than never.
Georgetown is also leading the way in these matters:
Profiling a student mom, the article goes on to say:
“Student parents are often unaware that HES offers pregnancy testing, serves as an academic liaison and refers students to further resources including financial aid, campus ministry, off-campus counseling, medical care and housing. With the help of HES, some student mothers are currently living in Village A and a university townhouse. The department has also been successful in obtaining special desks for students late in their pregnancies and a greater allowance of excused absences for student mothers.
It was through HES that Webb was directed to pregnancy counseling in Adams Morgan and to her dean, Tad Howard, who helped her orchestrate a leave of absence between her sophomore and junior years. While she has not encountered many problems upon returning to school, Webb said HES’s resources allowed her to continue her studies here.
“I would not be able to be here without all the support at Georgetown,” she said.
HES Director Carol Day explained that her department works to address the individually expressed needs of student mothers. She too hopes to increase marketing of the university’s resources in order to demonstrate that being a student mother at Georgetown is feasible.
“We are happy to support [student motherhood] as a Catholic university that wants to support everybody in their individual circumstances,” Day said. “If you’re presented with something as daunting as being pregnant as an undergraduate, there are good reasons to consider all your options.”
Thomas and Waller also want to increase the feasibility of student motherhood at Georgetown through university-sponsored grants for student parents to be directed toward childcare. For both women, it is their most formidable problem. They ultimately hope to establish reserved slots for student parents at Hoya Kids Learning Center, a university-run childcare facility.”
I agree completely. And, as the profile from Georgetown indicates, we need to welcome student moms to our campuses through action not just lip service – through attention to housing, day care, and extra financial aid options. Without these accommodations, student moms generally can’t stay at our institutions; but will have to find cheaper schools, with accessible day care, etc. in order to stay in school. Lets make sure no young women at a Catholic university feels she has no options and must make a choice: her baby or her college education.
I am not sure, however, how much of it is as a result of the “liberal/conservative” factions in the Church….I’m sure that’s part of a barrier to working together for “common goals” (in the way Feminists for life provide a key model). But, I think its more FEAR.
Some of this fear is pragmatic and understandable – concerns of insurance/liability, costs, etc (ie. a university owned or sponsored dorm for pregnant students/students with infants). These can be dealt with and overcome as the examples in question show. But other FEAR is more insidious – concern for IMAGE and purity and is judgmental. Those in this camp are more concerned with maintaining purity in their condemnation of premarital sex and thus become the “hypocrites” Jesus points out in Scripture.
Alongside that, let’s make Catholic campuses places that have the best maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies in the US. A friend of mine was asking: “What are some specific things we can do to reduce the abortion rate in this country?” I think Catholics could make a real difference in policy for this country and that might be one way. It is, indeed, a shame we haven’t done this before…
Indeed, Jana. Especially because most of the statistics show that Catholics have abortions at a rate similar to that of the rest of the population. One place in which we can affect change most directly is in our own community.
Meghan, I think you’re right to say that the sex/hypocrisy stuff might be a concern for the board members at some institutions, but surely it isn’t for many others, right? What’s going on with them? Given the huge endowments and building programs of many schools, even after the financial crisis (I know several institutions that ended up making money during those years!), I can’t imagine the insurance would be cost prohibitive. (And, like you said, there are other options as well…working for grants and donors to make it happen as well.)
The choice to build, say, a new gym or something like “Room at the Inn” shouldn’t be a tough call for a Catholic institution, should it? And yet how many such institutions, regardless of their Church or secular political leanings, even have such a choice on their radar?
Personally, I think its mostly a lack of willpower. There’s no sustained motivation to follow through on these issues – but a new gym “attracts students” or new athletic facilities “bring in money.” And so, anything like Room at the Inn (if even being proposed) falls down the list of priorities. I agree it shouldn’t be a tough call. (Thus, insurance and liability concerns are an easy “excuse”
However, I still think the stigma and sex/hypocrisy stuff is a bigger problem than you’d expect at many institutions…..but, I think you are right these things aren’t “on their radar.” Its a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we don’t provide any support for pregnant/postpartum students…they leave and move to schools which are cheaper, closer to home or do. Thus, it ends up maintaining the “we don’t have any student moms so we don’t need these things.”
I know of a similar type discussion that happened in a discussion of whether a parish needed a handicap access ramp. The response was “we don’t have any parishioners in wheelchairs,” to which my friend responded “do you think that might be because we don’t have an accessible church?”
Meghan: your point about the parish and handicapped ramps reminded me of a conversation I had with one of the people on my campus who works on accessibility issues. Putting in ramps, or otherwise having a range of ways to make things accessible to people isn’t only beneficial to those with disabilities, but to all people. I think of myself as a person with a hearing loss: I use the close captioning but my husband finds it helpful too at certain points.
Which made me think – a “Room at the Inn” kind of idea could be helpful not only for students going through pregnancies but anyone who needs spaces for nursing or pumping, or heck, just someone else who is sympathetic to swollen ankles during pregnancy. (I found out, by the way, that my university has someone on staff who helps pregnant students – not as fancy as Room at the Inn but nice to know.)