Thursday, January 24, 2013

Black Holes of Davida: Borough of Manhattan Community College

Don't forget to submit an entry to the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!

As a New Yorker, City University of New York (CUNY) has always been a presence in my life. I live a few blocks away from a CUNY campus, my school uses said CUNY campus’s gym, both my parents went to CUNY, loads of my friends and their family members have graduated from/currently attend/will go to CUNY…the list of my connections to CUNY and its various campuses never ends. As a result, I was extremely disturbed when fellow feminist Becka Wall, who works at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), said that the NWLC has filed a Title IX complaint against CUNY because of its discrimination against a pregnant student.

I attended an NWLC webinar about the rights of pregnant and parenting students, and the issue was discussed at the NOW Conference, so hearing CUNY’s blatant disregard towards Title IX is really bothersome. Passed in 1972, Title IX is federal legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in education. While it is often used to ensure women’s equality in school sports, it is applicable to any aspect of the educational system.

Stephanie Stewart, an honors student and recipient of a merit scholarship at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), approached her professors about making up work she would miss due to pregnancy and giving birth. Most of her professors were more than happy to accommodate, as they are legally bound to do; however, one refused to allow her to make up assignments. The kicker is that not only is this professor a woman, who you would think would be able to empathize or at least sympathize with a pregnant student, but she teaches a class called Roles of Women. When Stewart appealed the professor’s decision to BMCC administrators, they refused to give her further assistance, saying that each professor has the right to have their own rules about making up work. As a result, Stewart dropped out of the course, which forced her to give up the scholarship. Despite this huge roadblock, she is determined to get her AA and transfer to a four-year college.

I find this whole situation really heartbreaking. Stewart was just trying to get an education to improve her opportunities in life, and ensure that her child has a good future. And how is this noble desire rewarded? By an obnoxious professor who won’t give her a break and a lost scholarship.

Happily, Stewart found the NWLC, which has filed the aforementioned Title IX complaint on Stewart’s behalf. “The complaint requests that the New York Office of Civil Rights take all necessary steps to remedy any unlawful conduct identified in its investigation, monitor any resulting agreements with BMCC to ensure compliance with Title IX, reinstate Stewart’s academic scholarship, and commit to address the needs of its pregnant and parenting students,” an NWLC press release states. I certainly hope the Office of Civil Rights acquiesces to all of the NWLC’s requests, since they are all so important to ensure that future pregnant students at CUNY and other colleges will be accommodated. At the end of the day, that’s all we want: to be accommodated, and therefore equal. We’re not looking to be pushed a step above or get an extra advantage. We just want the chance to be equal, and to pursue a better life.

I look forward to hearing that Stephanie Stewart got back her scholarship and BMCC and CUNY at large is reconsidering its current policies as they relate to Title IX.

For now, I'm inducting BMCC and CUNY at large into the Black Holes of Davida - people or institutions who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

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