Fostering the choice for life at SLU

Sid Hastings

Five years ago, St. Louis University's Students for Life organization initiated a Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance Fund to provide financial aid to pregnant and parenting students as they continue their education.

Since then, the student-led organization has grown -- and received national recognition for its efforts -- in its desire to provide support to pregnant and parenting students at the Jesuit university.

Last week, Students for Life hosted a Pregnancy Resource Forum on campus to discuss the existing resources for pregnant and parenting students at SLU and what areas could use improvement. The March 27 panel discussion was moderated by Sally Winn, vice president of Feminists for Life of America, a national organization dedicated to eliminating causes that can lead women to choose abortion.

Panelists included SLU representatives from departments such as financial aid, residential life, student support and parent and family programs and campus ministry; representatives from local pregnancy recourse centers including Birthright Counseling of St. Louis and Thrive St. Louis; and Alexis Cochran, a current SLU student who is the mother of a four-month-old son.

Winn, who experienced an unplanned pregnancy as an undergraduate student years ago, told the group, "obviously as a campus, you can't take on everything," in accommodating pregnant and parenting students, "but what as a campus are you willing to take on?"

Cochran, who became pregnant as a SLU student, said she's experienced overall a supportive environment at the university, including professors who are understanding of her needs, and guidance from the financial aid department when she was looking at options for continuing her education.

SLU financial aid counselor Julie Martin, who is on the committee to award funding through the Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance Fund, said she approaches the situation as a parent herself. "I said, let's look at what do you need right now versus what is your plan?"

Despite the supportive environment, Cochran said that as a pregnant student on campus she still experienced feelings of isolation. "I didn't see a lot of other pregnant students," she noted. According to Feminists for Life, approximately 10 percent of college-age women become pregnant. "But do you see 10 percent of women on campus pregnant?" Winn asked. "No. Where do they go then?"

In 2008, Students for Life initiated the Virginia D. Murphy Endowment -- the first student-initiated endowment at SLU -- and has grown to more than $150,000. To date, the fund has dispersed more than $25,000 and provided aid to 45 university students. During the 2013-14 school year, the fund has provided 10 awards totalling more than $7,500.

In the past several years, Students for Life also created a partnership with the university's bookstore to provide free textbook rentals, which can alleviate up to $700 per student. The organization also has hosted baby showers and other events to provide basic supplies to new mothers, organized babysitting services and established 12 lactation suites on campus for nursing mothers.

Stephanie Kaefer, president of Students for Life, said the organization would like to work on other areas, including a day care program on campus for students, faculty and staff; and making information for pregnant and parenting students more readily available through avenues including the student health center and residential life.

Students for Life has received several national recognitions for their efforts, including the Community Outreach Award and the Group of the Year Award from Students for Life of America, and the Evangelium Vitae Award from Georgetown University Right to Life. The organization also has received inquiries from other universities on implementing programs to offer assistance to pregnant and parenting students.

Community support

There are numerous examples of other areas in which financial support is provided to women who face unplanned pregnancies and wish to continue their education. Several examples include:

Birthright Counseling of St. Louis: Offers a scholarship program for clients whose education or plans for education have been interrupted by an untimely pregnancy. In 2013, 157 people received educational assistance. The fund has provided assistance with tuition, textbooks and uniforms, among other areas.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund: Established by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in 2009, the fund provides parishes and other organizations in the archdiocese the means to offer direct assistance to pregnant women in need. The fund is administered by the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate. The apostolate also provides assistance to organizations through its Lifeline Coalition.

Thrive St. Louis: Provides direct assistance with rent and house payments and utilities. The group helps provide housing, if needed. They have helped students in the past.

SLU Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance Fund: Donations may be sent to the Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance Fund c/o Students for Life at St. Louis University, MSC#11, 20 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103. Checks can be made payable to St. Louis University with "Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance" in the memo. For more information, see www.stlouisreview.com/rMb. 

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