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Hinds Community College treatment of pregnant student violated Title IX, feds say

Mississippi’s largest community college violated Title IX when it failed to provide a pregnant student with proper accommodations and course adjustments, resulting in the student failing the semester, a federal civil rights agency said last week. 

The student had to pump milk in a bathroom stall because Hinds Community College did not give her a private space, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found. An instructor even referred to this student’s unborn child as a “parasite” that was “sucking out minerals” from her body. 

“Instead of assisting the Student with her pregnancy-related needs, these College administrators attempted to discourage the Student from trying to complete the Program due to her pregnancy, and even mocked and penalized her for requesting adjustments,” states a letter the agency sent Hinds last week.

Hinds did not respond to Mississippi Today’s requests for comment. In a campus newsletter earlier this week, President Stephen Vacik noted that Hinds had agreed to a settlement with the federal agency, which included revising its policies pertaining to pregnant students and reimbursing the student for her final semester at Hinds. 

“The whole situation was regrettable, and shouldn’t have happened, but we are committed to meeting the required activities set forth in the agreement with OCR,” Vacik wrote. “Our goal is to be better prepared in the future to serve the needs of our students.” 

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program receiving federal funding.

The student’s name, area of study, and the identity of the instructor were redacted from the Office of Civil Rights letter, but the spring 2021 incident took place at the Jackson campus. The dean of health sciences was involved. 

As a result of Hinds’ treatment of her, the student had to retake her final semester, causing financial hardship, the agency found. But Hinds repeatedly denied the student’s requests to reconsider her grades, and the health sciences dean ultimately told the student that “caring for a newborn while still trying to attend class, [redacted content], and study were likely contributing factors to you being unsuccessful in the course.”

Hinds also claimed the student had not reported issues with the instructor’s treatment of her earlier, even though the student had repeatedly done so, according to the Office of Civil Rights. The agency found the college had “no process in place” to handle the student’s complaints. 

Nationally, more than one-fifth of community college students are parents, and the majority of those are mothers who are likely to be unmarried. Though these students are more likely to have higher grades than students who are not parents, they can struggle to graduate on time due largely to a lack of childcare and financial support. 

In the Hinds’ student’s case, the college’s treatment of her was “humiliating and degrading,”  according to the federal government. 

Before giving birth, the student’s instructor bemoaned giving her breaks to express milk, according to emails reviewed by the feds, writing to other college employees to ask, “do I just let her do it? . . . it’s not like she would leave a lecture at 9:30 because of her ‘pumping schedule’.” 

The student delivered three weeks early after developing preeclampsia, a condition she attributed to the stress caused by the instructor’s treatment of her. 

While recovering in the hospital, the student attended a Zoom meeting for class, but had to leave 20 minutes early for medical treatment. Because she had not notified her instructor that she had to leave earlier, the student was marked absent for the entire class. And she was not provided study materials until the afternoon of a test, which she ultimately failed. 

When the student returned to school, the initial room she was provided to pump in had a glass wall. Instead, she pumped sitting on a toilet in a bathroom stall. Her uneven pumping schedule resulted in pain and anxiety about her milk supply. 

Meanwhile, her instructor complained about the student when she was absent from class, telling her fellow students that she was “allegedly pumping” and casting doubt on whether she would be able to graduate from the program. 

The instructor also belittled the student in front of her peers, the agency found. 

“Later that day, when the Student finished her pumping session just before lunch, the Student stated the [redacted content] Instructor told the Student in front of the other students, “you cannot pump and then go to lunch,” the letter states. “You have to pump during your lunch break, and you are supposed to find me and tell me anytime you are going to pump.”

The student ultimately submitted a Title IX complaint. That instructor resigned, though Hinds claimed during the course of the Title IX investigation that it had fired the instructor. The three campus police officers assigned to investigate the complaint did not interview key witnesses, the agency found.

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