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Letter to the Editor: Rice isn’t pro-choice until it supports both choices

By Elisabeth Torres-Schulte     1/10/23 9:48pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

A choice, by definition, must be between two or more possibilities. As I read about Rice’s Reproductive Health Working Group in the Thresher’s Nov. 30 Special Project, I’m struck by the fact that only one response to student pregnancy was presented. Reproductive health is not limited to contraceptives and abortions, but also includes prenatal, postnatal and maternal care and it is critical that the RHWG include these elements in their priorities. For Rice to be pro-choice means that it supports students regardless of their choice, and while some might choose to procure an abortion, others may choose to keep their child. 

Presently, Rice is woefully unequipped to deal with student pregnancy, especially at the undergraduate level. With Texas’s total ban on abortion, the university needs to reckon with the fact that its students will get pregnant, and some will choose to have the baby. 

At the graduate level, students may apply for a six-week parental leave after birth or adoption, with an option to extend the leave for an additional six weeks due to health complications. While students are released from their academic responsibilities during their leave, they are expected to complete all the semester’s coursework upon their return. There does not seem to be a formal policy for undergraduates. 

Title IX prohibits discrimination against pregnant and parenting students (students cannot be expelled, kicked out of the dorms before the infant is born or lose financial aid due to pregnancy), but it is vague on what accommodations are necessary. Typical accommodations include larger desks, bathroom breaks, access to lactation rooms and excused absences or flexible deadlines for medical reasons. I believe Rice could go well beyond that and follow the lead of other universities who offer highly subsidized child care or even free housing to parenting students. Rice can also mobilize its student body to support parents, such as by offering volunteer babysitting opportunities or expanding the meal-swipe donation program to better accommodate families.       

It is not only students that Rice can support with improved family policies. While full-time, benefit-eligible faculty who are primary caregivers can receive up to one semester of leave at full pay, this benefit is not offered to other Rice employees. While Rice Children’s Campus is a fantastic resource offering convenient, high quality education for preschoolers of current Rice affiliates, it’s on the more expensive side and is inaccessible to many. 

One fifth of American undergraduates are parents, and they are not supported. 61% of student fathers drop out of college, along with 41% of student mothers, yet those who do graduate have higher average GPAs than their peers. Parenting students are a valuable group in education, and the solution isn’t getting rid of them — it’s making sure they’re cared for. Rice claims it wants to increase its enrollment and diversity, yet neglects this demographic. It touts a Culture of Care, but fails to foster a culture that cares for families. 

If “Abortion Through the Ages” shows us anything, it’s that Rice students will face unplanned pregnancies. What if Rice went far beyond contraception vending machines, and truly supported students, no matter which way they chose?

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