More than five million undergraduate students in the US have to balance their studies with parenting or pregnancy, but many do not receive the relevant support to navigate this challenge from their schools. The Varsity spoke to Batool, a pregnant second-year UTSC student who has been having trouble getting accommodations from the university and her professors. Batool requested that The Varsity use her first name only for privacy reasons.

When in-person classes resumed, Batool found commuting to class difficult due to the physical and emotional challenges that come with pregnancy. She contacted her professors and requested accommodations such as uploaded lecture recordings, but was told by one of them that such accommodations would not be possible. 

She also reached out to her program coordinator, who suggested that she contact accessibility services for help in getting accommodations. However, when she did so, she was informed that their assistance was “limited to people with disabilities.” Batool has been trying to contact the program manager again to seek accommodations for one of her in-person final exams that is scheduled close to her due date.

The role of accessibility services

The description on U of T’s accessibility services website states that their assistance is designed for students “navigating disability-related barriers.” For the university, pregnancy does not count as a disability-related barrier. 

A U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that the Family Care Office is in charge of supporting students, staff, and other U of T community members with “family care related issue[s].” The spokesperson advised pregnant students to book an appointment with an advisor at their registrar’s office to discuss their pregnancy and their plans to manage their studies. 

Graduate students also have the option of taking a one-year parental leave for pregnancy, birth, or adoption, as well as access to further support and benefits. 

Batool, however, revealed to The Varsity that she didn’t feel emotionally supported by the university’s administration or faculty. “I did expect them to respond with… encouragement and excitement. I remember emailing a bunch of professors and they didn’t even say congratulations, and I was kind of bummed out,” she said. 

Pregnancy causes a series of bodily changes that can involve symptoms like fatigue, nausea, headaches, back pain, swelling, heartburn, and many others. The emotional effects of pregnancy — such as frequent mood changes, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, stress, among others — can also represent a challenge for pregnant students. Having to commute to class regularly can be a challenge while experiencing any of these symptoms. 

How society views young parents 

Many young parents report having difficulties managing their education and parenting. 

A study from 2013 shows that teen and young parents constantly face a societal stigma that labels them as “unmotivated, irresponsible, and incompetent.” This can influence the way universities perceive these students and can then contribute to a feeling of exclusion and limit the support these students receive. 

The lack of accommodations can demotivate student parents and make their experiences even more difficult, on top of any financial or institutional barriers they already face. 

Having the support of loved ones and the institutions they are a part of is extremely important for young parents, and Batool reinforced this idea as well. “Institutions just need to… provide services and accommodations without any hesitation or without making it difficult for us,” she said.