Our twenties are an awkward time. Some of us graduated half a decade ago, while some of us are just in our second year. Some of us are getting married, having kids, and some of us are moving in with our friends, partners, or back to mom and dad’s. For college students, undergraduate or otherwise, these life milestones come at all different times. In fact, 22% of college students nationwide have children and more than two in five student parents are single mothers.
Many major colleges and universities, whether public or private, have resources and infrastructure in place to serve pregnant students and student parents, but unfortunately Florida State is not one of them. It’s not all bad — this article will include a comprehensive guide to the resources we do have available and where to find them, but it’s important that we, as a community, recognize these glaring disparities, so we can work towards amending them.
I was able to speak to a pregnant FSU student — now former student — about her experiences on campus and how the lack of resources and negative experiences regarding her pregnancy lead to her dropping out of Florida State. The student has requested her name be excluded from this article.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what FSU does and doesn’t offer, we want to share her story. She will be referred to as “student” throughout this article.
Student entered FSU at age 18, majored in biochemistry, and maintained a high GPA. In April of 2019, she became pregnant and chose to come to FSU for the summer of that year after reading online about the bus system and on campus daycare. The school appeared to have resources in place, enough that she should be able to get by and find housing. However, once on campus, she found it was extremely difficult to find support. The resources she’d come to seek out were not as reliable as hoped.
One of the biggest hurdles for student was healthcare. The University Health and Wellness Center is not a provider for Medicaid and Medicaid often has local restrictions as well. This makes care especially difficult for students reliant on Medicaid, even those in dire need of care, such as student.
“My biggest issue and the thing I will remember most was with the Health Center on campus that I had to pay for in my tuition, but couldn’t use because they didn’t take Medicaid and I would have to pay out of pocket. I saw there was a women’s clinic there,” student told us. “For over 3 months, I had no prenatal care because the Medicaid I was given was local to the county I lived in and no one in Tallahassee would take it.”
Student struggled to find care and was unable to find any prenatal healthcare for the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy. She found herself even more frustrated, not just because she was ineligible for care on campus, but because the Health and Wellness Center’s Women’s Clinic was unable to help her find resources in the community either.
“I went into the women’s clinic and I remember they said they couldn’t do anything to check on the baby, but I was so worried being 12 weeks and having no ultrasounds or care and being constantly active that I went into the clinic,” student said in reference to the Women’s Clinic located within the Health and Wellness Center.
“As a medical professional, you are supposed to always present all the options to a patient,” student elaborated. “I left the clinic feeling more hopeless and wondering how could I ever advocate for my son if people wouldn’t let me advocate for myself.”
It’s not entirely uncommon for the university healthcare facilities to deny Medicaid, but it’s not a pipe dream for them to do so. The University of Florida, for example, does accept Medicaid. Even so, in student’s experience, her providers appeared unequipped to assist a pregnant student and were not helpful in finding outside resources.
This is part of the problem. There are at the very least some resources at FSU to support student parents or pregnant students, but finding them can feel impossible. I challenge the readers of this article to conduct the same Google searches I attempted, such as “FSU resources for student parents,” “FSU student parents,” “FSU pregnancy,” “FSU pregnancy resources,” “FSU students with dependents.” You’ll likely find the same results I did — or lack thereof. You’ll find that these searches are filled with resources for parents of FSU students, but it’s nearly impossible to find resources for FSU students who are parents, or expecting.
As a pregnant student, the bus system also created difficulty for student. With buses frequently running late or being generally unreliable for her to get to class on time, student spent months of her pregnancy walking across campus.
“The bus system at FSU was something else during the summer, they would stop it at 5. They were never on time, so it wasn’t reliable. I had to walk so much during the summer. It was exhausting in the heat, up and down the hills that make up the FSU campus. I even remember when I finally found my prenatal doctor, they yelled at me a lot because of how little weight I had gained in the first 4 months of pregnancy and they were very concerned.”
Student eventually found that FSU’s Student Disability Resource Center — recently renamed to the Office of Accessibility Services — was able to give her rides to class, but it took her months to find this resource.
Despite the hardships, student badly wanted to stay at FSU, but she found next to nothing to help her raise a child and stay at the university.
FSU’s only family housing was torn down in 2015 and dorms do not allow children — neither do many apartments in the Tallahassee area. None of her degree areas were available fully online, so taking classes from home was a non-option.
The daycare on campus was also nearly impossible to find a place in. “I got on the wait list in May before I even came to FSU. I went once during the summer to see if they had any openings and they said it wasn’t guaranteed that I would have a spot when I would need it in February 2020. I also went back in the fall in person again, trying to find an opening for my son.”
Student was unable to obtain a spot for her son in FSU’s daycare, having applied nine months in advance to her son’s birth. “I never got a call back even though I went there three times in person at various times to check on the process,” said student, expressing frustration not just at how difficult it was to get into the daycare, but how little communication and transparency the process offered her. This can affect pregnant students’ ability to plan.
It should also be noted that the daycare on campus offers discounted rates for FSU students — $800 a month for infants. The rate for non-students is $1,000 a month. However, the average cost of child care for children under three years old in Florida is $725 a month, meaning students are still paying above the state average even with the discount. Essentially, the daycare is not an accessible or practical option for most FSU students.
Florida State seems overwhelmingly unprepared to serve its student parents and pregnant students on campus. Whether it’s unreliable transportation, an inaccessible daycare, housing, or health care, pregnant students are hung out to dry. We are not a parent friendly campus — the majority of our buildings do not have changing tables in restrooms. You can show support for building more by signing a petition to support an SGA bill that will install more across campus.
“The University didn’t know what to think of me as a pregnant student with no support. Over the summer, I was going to every single department I could think of to get resources and ask for help. The University apparently got tons of emails from these departments and their solution was oh the girl seems overwhelmed, let’s send her home. Luckily my case manager was there to explain to FSU that I had no home to go home to.”
Student’s experience shows how Florida State let her down. Rather than helping her succeed, she felt that she was encouraged to drop out, which she ultimately had to do.
“During the summer, I went to the Counseling Center for help. The counselor didn’t know what to do for me and wouldn’t listen to my feelings really,” said student. Student was referred to the counselor’s supervisor, who offered to help her find prenatal care out in the community, but when student expressed concern about traveling exclusively by bus in the summer heat (as a high risk pregnancy), she reports being met with condescension by the supervisor. “She made a comment [about] being a mother meant thinking of my child’s needs before my own because I wasn’t hopping on buses on the Star Metro in the heat of the summer. That comment hurt the most. Here was the woman who took care of kids for counseling, a professional, commenting on my parenting skills and insulting me for not endangering myself and my son.”
It should be noted that students who utilize the counseling center can request a different counselor if their current one doesn’t appear to be a good fit, but due to continuity of care, they will have to meet with their original counselor at least one more time before being able to make the switch. This was something that deterred student from seeking further counseling, but it is an option that is available.
Despite all of these experiences and to the university’s credit, there were a few resources that student did manage to find and make use of, which are important to note as well.
Student expressed that her personal case worker and the financial aid office were extremely helpful for her and provided a lot of much needed support. Months into her pregnancy, she found a group of parents in Thagard she was able to connect with. She was also able to eventually receive help from the Women’s Pregnancy Center on Pensacola Street, which is not officially a part of FSU, but is next to campus. Student also utilized the campus food pantry, but noted that choices there were often sparse. You can help the food pantry keep goods in stock by donating here.
Before we conclude with what we can do to make change happen on this campus for under served student parents, let’s use the University of Florida as a comparable model for what a state university can offer. After dropping out, student had what she describes a night and day experience when she went to explore UF.
“At University of Florida, it was a shocking experience for me. I walked around the campus to learn about the resources. Online, they have a link for students with dependents listed on the Dean of Students website. The online program there [had] numerous bachelor degrees, all online, and online master degrees as well. The food pantry there is open every day to students during the week. They have fresh vegetables and fruit that the agriculture program grows for the pantry. There is butter, milk, bagels, and sometimes baby supplies such as diapers.”
Student also found that in addition to resources being easier to find and more readily available, there was active infrastructure in place specifically to support students like her.
The University of Florida has six different locations of family housing, open to students only, not the general public. Young children can be eligible for free swimming lessons and they have affordable options as low as $500 a month.
“The campus also has two different daycares called Baby Gators. There is a bus that takes the students to the hospital for a childbirth class, newborn care, car seat safety, and breastfeeding. They list options for daycare in the county. UF also has numerous lactation rooms on campus — something FSU didn’t have. Also, they list activities for UF students with children to do in the Gainesville area.”
While some of these resources listed are clearly things that can’t pop up over night — such as multiple units of family housing — some of these are incredibly simple. Having an easy to find university web page for students with dependents to help them find the resources we do have is a simple endeavor.
I contacted the FSU food pantry to ask if they carry things like baby food or childcare supplies, such as diapers. They do not regularly have these items in stock, but since our food pantry runs solely on donations from the FSU community, this is something we can help to reconcile. The food pantry will accept donations of baby food and diapers if given.
A change in daycare policy should also be considered, at the very least one that opens opportunity to at-risk parents, or parents in crisis. Having childcare on campus can be the difference between a student continuing their education or dropping out.
Institutions on campus that deal with healthcare, mental health included, should also be prepared to help pregnant students and parents find care out in the community. For the resources we can’t provide, why aren’t we equipped to help students find them elsewhere? This includes staff and faculty being informed and sensitive to students experiencing pregnancy. Even at the University Counseling Center, student found counselors were unprepared and unfamiliar with her situation.
This is a student who we, as a community, let down. This is a student who FSU, as a university, let down. We need to do better. Advocate for resources we don’t have. Increase accessibility to the ones we do, so students can find them when they need them. Emphasize sensitivity around pregnancy to staff and faculty, so their students can feel supported and not persecuted. Let’s talk about what we can do.
How Can We (The FSU Community) Help?
- Donate to FSU’s food pantry, including items like baby food and diapers.
- Sign the petition to support changing tables across campus and like the initiative’s Facebook page.
- Familiarize yourself with the rights of pregnant and parenting students, so you can recognize when those rights are violated.
- Some professors around campus have a policy in their syllabus allowing dependent students of children in class. More faculty members adopting this policy could greatly assist student parents.
- Be sensitive, understanding, and supportive of pregnant and parenting students.
- Do not be afraid to push for resources we don’t have. Make your voice heard, speak with SGA about campus needs, speak with administrative departments whose resources are lacking. Help demonstrate the need for a more parent friendly campus.
What Resources Are There at FSU for Pregnant and Parenting Students?
- Case management and services can provide case managers to advocate for your situation and provide various forms of support.
- Report discrimination against parents or pregnant students at https://report.fsu.edu/.
- Contact the Office of Accessibility Services if you need transportation around campus due to pregnancy. Students can apply for transportation assistance here.
- While childcare on campus is fairly inaccessible, students can still find information about it and try to secure a waitlist spot here.
- The Food For Thought Food Pantry is located in University Center A, suite 4148.
- Students can receive counseling at the University Counseling Center, however, experience is not guaranteed. Students can switch counselors if they have a negative experience.
- A Women’s Pregnancy Center, located in front of the Pensacola parking garage, offers free pregnancy testing and a free ultrasound. Not affiliated with FSU, but close to campus.