As a student affairs practitioner and particularly as a woman I have become intimately familiar with Title IX and its impact on the college campuses. The safeguards put in place by Title IX cover a wide array of topics, and advocates are quick to point to a few key areas: non-discrimination based on gender, sexual harassment protection, and of course, sports. However, an overlooked aspect of Title IX and an area that many campuses are dropping the ball on deals with parenting students.
Title IX is thought to protect students from discrimination based on gender, however, in practice it does not protect students from discrimination due to pregnancy and parenting, oftentimes an inherently gendered experience. What I mean to say is that students are protected as women but not as mothers. Recently, I worked on a mixed-methods research project at a midsized public university in order to examine the experience of parenting students. On the whole the individuals who participated highlighted having faculty members who refused to provide reasonable accommodations due to the students’ parenting responsibilities. Students recounted conversations where faculty members refused to let them take exams, failed them due to missing classes for prenatal appointments, and would not allow them to bring well-behaved children to class when childcare fell through.
This prompted a question: if students are protected from gender discrimination how is it possible that the experiences these students recounted were not Title IX violations? The answer I have landed on focuses on the invisibility of parenting students on campuses nationwide and the still prevalent taboo of young parenting. Many parenting students are isolated from their peers due to external responsibilities and have not developed the same connections with student affairs professionals or faculty as their traditionally-aged or non-parenting peers. As a result, campus officials are not being approached about these instances of discrimination, nor are many campus officials seeking out parenting students to understand their experiences.
Title IX legislation has changed the face of American higher education and has brought significant positive changes to campuses. It is now time that we delve deeper into Title IX and advocate for students who are experiencing discrimination due to parenting status. As a community, it is time to reduce the invisibility non-traditional students and explore how the landscape of higher education is shifting to accommodate a more diverse student population.
Denise Robb is the Area Coordinator for Residential Learning Communities at Spring Hill College. She is also in her first year as a Directorate Body member of the commission. She received her BA in Economics from Smith College and her MA in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University.