Giving birth in the Ivory Tower: A closer look at the unique needs of pregnant and mothering graduate students
Ellis, Erin Graybill
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The purpose of this study is to examine the lived experiences of graduate student women who pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering while enrolled in graduate school using Berlant's (2011) "cruel optimism." The primary goal of this study is to understand the subjective experiences of pregnant graduate students and how accommodations for pregnancy and birth related absences are handled. To accomplish this goal, the following questions guided my research: In what ways was the student facilitated or hindered by the formal and/or informal policies (or the lack thereof) in place to guide decisions about pregnancy related absences and maternity leave? What sort of support networks and institutional supports helped students be successful or how did a lack of support negatively impact their success? How can graduate departments and universities best support pregnant and mothering graduate students? There are rarely formal policies set in place for pregnancy during graduate school and this leads to departments making decisions on a case-by-case basis. Such a tactic leads to inequality and unfairness across universities and departments (Ellis 2014; Ellis and Gullion 2015). Further, while faculty mothers would likely qualify for maternity leave or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most graduate students are employed by their departments on a part-time basis and do not work enough hours to qualify for FMLA. Title IX is supposed to protect pregnant students from discrimination as far as their coursework goes (Mason, Wolfinger, and Goulden 2013; Mason and Younger 2014), but is generally not applied to protect graduate students' employment at the university. Pregnant graduate students who work at their university are in a gray area where they do not receive the benefits of faculty members but also do not fully receive the protections of students. This study explores how a lack of formal policies impacts graduate student mothers and how universities can better support graduate student mothers.