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New Web site offers help for pregnant students

Maureen Mullen | Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Notre Dame Office of Student Affairs launched a new Web site this week dedicated to providing support to students facing unplanned pregnancies.

Ann Firth, associate vice president for Student Affairs, played an instrumental role in creating the site, which explains the University’s policy concerning pregnancy and offers information on counseling resources and assistance programs for pregnant students. Firth, along with a committee of individuals from the Office of Student Affairs, representatives from the University’s Counseling Center and Health Center and students from Notre Dame Right to Life collaborated to produce the site.

Firth said the site was not created due to any recent increase in student pregnancy, but simply as “an attempt to give students more information.” It is important that this information be accessible to students online, she said, because the Internet is the place students might first go for information.

“Oftentimes people don’t know where to turn,” she said.

Student Affairs has frequently run “Don’t Go It Alone” ads for pregnant students in The Observer, and the new Web site “seemed to be the next logical piece,” Firth said.

Firth said the construction of the site was motivated by a desire to “better articulate what the University believes” – to dispel false understandings of the University’s pregnancy policy.

“I think there is the common misconception that pregnant students could be kicked out of Notre Dame. That,” Firth said, “is completely false.”

Notre Dame’s student handbook, duLac, states that “in keeping with its mission as a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to life and to offering students resources that support the choice of life. Therefore, the University will make every effort to provide pregnant students with caring, non-judgmental, professional assistance and support.”

The new Student Affairs Web site elaborates on duLac’s explanation of University policy by providing a list of assistance programs on campus. The names and contact information for individuals in Campus Ministry, the Counseling Center and Health Services are available on the site as resources for students – pregnant, or simply affected by pregnancy – to contact.

The site features a Frequently Asked Questions page that, Firth said, “presents information in a more user-friendly way.” “Where can I go to get a free pregnancy test?” is one question included on the FAQ page. The answer: Notre Dame Health Center or the Women’s Care Center of South Bend. The page stresses confidentiality in all medical and counseling visits.

The Web site names Firth as one of the University’s three Pregnancy Support Advocates – a position that provides confidential information and counseling assistance to students. Assistant Vice Presidents for Student Affairs Sister Sue Dunn and Sister Jean Lenz are Notre Dame’s other Support Advocates.

Lenz, who served as Farley Hall’s rector for 10 years, still lives in Farley and has long been a campus counseling resource for students facing unplanned pregnancy.

“I have taken a pastoral role in trying to help an individual that is pregnant,” she said.

Lenz said throughout her time at Notre Dame, it has always been a priority of hers to ensure that pregnant students be provided proper medical care, counseling and support.

“That is why we are there – to help in any way we can,” she said.

In addition individuals on University staff, Lenz said a number of students from Notre Dame Right to Life played a large role in the creation of the Web site.

“Students were critical to our discussion,” she said.

Members of the pregnancy resource sub-committee of the Right to Life Club compiled a 20-page proposal for the pregnancy assistance Web site and presented the proposal to Student Affairs last spring, said sophomore Jessica Hagemann, the committee’s commissioner.

Hagemann said included in their proposal were examples of other Catholic colleges across the nation who provided pregnancy support Web sites to students.

“We hoped it would persuade Notre Dame to create a similar site,” she said. “Our reasoning was that Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, needed to present our women with pro-life options on campus so that they wouldn’t feel helpless and be pushed to other options.”