A bill signed into effect late last month by Gov. Jerry Brown aims to prevent discrimination against pregnant students in California’s postsecondary education programs. It strives to equalize academic success and improve the student experience of pregnant students. This bill highlights an important subset of the student population often overlooked on campuses — pregnant students have important needs that must be recognized and addressed by the campus community.
Assembly Bill 2350 requires each institution of higher education to provide a written policy on pregnancy discrimination and procedures that outline how to address pregnancy discrimination complaints. It would also require information about the policy be made available to faculty, staff and employees in their required training and to students in graduate student orientation.
Existing UC policy, in accordance with state and federal laws, prohibits sex-based discrimination, including the discrimination of pregnant students and student parents. UC Berkeley has also taken actions to support these students, such as providing pregnancy disability leave and lactation facilities on campus. But there are more small, tangible changes the campus can make to further support this student population. Helping students with current food insecurity issues and providing better accommodations for pregnant students in classrooms can greatly contribute to their success.
Students in general — but women especially — sometimes feel forced to compromise academics for family, or vice versa, but they should not have to make this choice. There can be stigma surrounding pregnant students. We have heard multiple accounts from women who have felt discriminated against while pregnant on campus — whether when walking down Sproul or when interacting with professors and classmates. While the law only addresses graduate students, institutions of higher education should make sure to extend their policies to include pregnant undergraduate students as well. Additionally, campus climate reports should strive to include more data on pregnant students and the treatment they receive on campus, ensuring their voice and concerns are heard.
The administration, however, can only do so much: It falls on the faculty and student population to make sure pregnant students and student-parents in our classrooms feel a part of the campus. Removing the stigma that surrounds this small population falls on our shoulders. Not everyone on our campus took the same path to get here; we need to be accommodating of different student lifestyles, from student-parents and pregnant students to veterans and athletes.
We should not have had to wait for a law to dictate this change in our behavior. Fighting discrimination starts with each and every one of us; treating pregnant students and student-parents differently will only hurt their academic progress.