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Stephanie Stewart, My Hero!

A few months ago, my employer, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), filed an administrative complaint against the City University of New York (CUNY) for violating Title IX by discriminating against a pregnant student, and just this morning we settled the case with CUNY, which has agreed to take some important steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Stephanie Stewart

Stephanie Stewart

A little background: Stephanie Stewart, a student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), was pregnant at the start of the Spring 2012 semester. Because BMCC, like the vast majority of colleges and universities, receives federal funding, it is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex by Title IX. Unfortunately, BMCC left it up to instructors to determine their own policies for absences and make-up work and didn’t explain that pregnancy-related absences must be excused.

Stephanie’s professor in her anthropology course called “Roles of Women” refused to accede to Stephanie’s request that, if she had to miss class to attend a pregnancy-related medical appointment or to deliver her baby, she be allowed to make up the work she missed. The professor told Stephanie that she doesn’t allow make-up tests or assignments, even in cases of unforeseen emergencies – including Stephanie’s pregnancy, and refused to grade homework turned in via email when Stephanie had to attend a doctor’s appointment.

Stephanie didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She brought her case to the attention of NWLC and helped score a BIG-TIME victory for all CUNY students. As a result of the settlement, CUNY will adopt a policy regarding the treatment of pregnant and parenting students, making it clear that absences for conditions relating to pregnancy are excused and students will be allowed to make up missed work. CUNY will also conduct trainings on the policy for all of the colleges’ Title IX Coordinators and Directors of Student Affairs and include training on university obligations relating to student pregnancy and related conditions in any Title IX trainings for faculty, administrators, and/or students. CUN Y’s office of legal affairs will advise the lawyers at every school about their Title IX obligations and will discuss those obligations at the next meeting of the colleges’ Chief Diversity Officers. Each CUNY school— there are over 20—will include the policy in its student handbook and on its website..

I grew up in New York, and have strong ties to CUNY. My grandmother earned her college degree there the same year that my mother and uncle earned their JD and bachelor’s degrees, respectively, and we have a wonderful photo of all of them in graduation gear; my cousins attended CUNY; my mom works for CUNY, and I worked there for a while right after I graduated from college. I’ve considered CUNY seriously for graduate school programs – their schools contain some of the best professors and some of the best price tags.

My connections are common threads for New Yorkers – CUNY is ubiquitous. Currently, 269,114 New Yorkers are enrolled in some program in the CUNY system, approximately 15% of whom are parents and 58% of which are women. These steps to educate faculty and staff about their responsibilities and ensure they follow through is huge –this education is half the battle, and knowledge of what they must do to make sure pregnant students are able to get an equal education will allow more New Yorkers to take advantage of the AMAZING education CUNY has to offer.

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