Vice President for Student Affairs explains mission to help students make choice for life
The latest Bread of Life dinner—a semi-annual event hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture—took place on Tuesday, February 17, at the Morris Inn. Bread of Life features a speaker who reflects briefly on a topic pertaining to life issues, which students and faculty then discuss over dinner.
Senior Erin Stoyell-Mulholland, a Sorin Fellow at the Center and the student coordinator for Bread of Life, explained to the Rover that such discussions “provide a forum for students to speak about life issues freely and openly [and give] students an opportunity to interact with faculty on these important life issues.”
At Tuesday’s dinner, Erin Hoffmann Harding, Vice President for Student Affairs, delivered a presentation entitled, “Promoting a Culture of Life at Notre Dame,” in which she delineated the university’s pregnancy resources. At the start of her presentation she emphasized, “We want to support the choice of life for our students. We are here to support and help.”
“I was very grateful to receive the invitation to speak at the Bread of Life dinner and raise awareness of the pregnancy support services we offer through Student Affairs,” Hoffmann Harding explained to the Rover. “We strive to educate campus by training our hall staff each year, maintaining a website on this topic, ensuring posters appear regularly on campus, and responding to speaking engagements like this one.”
Hoffmann Harding also reconciled a common point of misunderstanding: du Lac’s prohibition of premarital sex and the university’s commitment to life. “While as a Catholic university we believe that sex is reserved for marriage, we unequivocally support the choice of life and our pregnancy support services are a direct reflection of that priority,” she expounded to the Rover.
“This is a topic where unfortunately incorrect impressions persist among our student body. Students will not face any disciplinary action as a result of sharing that they are facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Hoffman Harding continued. “The University and our Division are committed to supporting the choice of life, and we can assist students with academic endeavors, spiritual and counseling care, and financial support.”
In her presentation, she emphasized that unplanned pregnancies affect both men and women, but that resources are available to support the choice of life, which she described as “possible and fulfilling.” These resources include designated pregnancy support advocates within Student Affairs, hall staff and Campus Ministry, counseling and free anonymous pregnancy tests through the University Health Services or nearby Women’s Care Center, and academic and financial accommodations.
Hoffmann Harding advised the attendees to “be empathetic, nonjudgmental, and a good listener” when speaking with an individual who is facing an unplanned pregnancy. She also stressed the need to encourage him or her to reach out to hall staff or one of the pregnancy support advocates in Student Affairs.
Part of the presentation featured a video of student testimonials. Maya Jain, a sophomore and Bread of Life attendee, remarked to the Rover, “These videos depicted strong young women who were able to accomplish their academic, extracurricular, and personal goals in their undergraduate careers and beyond, all the while raising a family thanks to the support system they encountered through Student Affairs.
“I think that wider circulation of this video would be an especially powerful way to concretely demonstrate to students that although an unexpected or crisis pregnancy necessarily involves difficult decisions, one is never alone in making those decisions thanks to the university’s life initiatives,” Jain continued.
Hoffmann Harding noted that an explanation of the university’s pregnancy resources will be incorporated in the new First Year Experience course that will replace the physical education requirement for freshmen. Furthermore, a similar presentation is given at hall staff training, which she emphasized as one of the most crucial avenues for reaching students.
“We view hall staff as a particularly important resource because a student will often seek information or support from a fellow student before reaching out to the administration,” she said.
Stoyell-Mulholland told the Rover, “As an RA, I keep a postcard of information about pregnancy resources outside my door, with the Student Affairs website and phone number as well as a few FAQs about pregnancy on campus. I have also ensured that there are Women’s Care Center pullcards in all the bathrooms in our dorm along with brochures on pregnancy resources.”
“I think the most important thing is visibility so that if a young woman gets pregnant here,” she continued, “she remembers that there are resources available and people who will support her.”
“I think it is every student’s responsibility to educate themselves about the resources available to pregnant and parenting students so that they can pass this information on to other students,” Stoyell-Mulholland further explained. “Building a culture of life means building a culture where every pregnancy is accepted and celebrated. Through education, students can correct the myths surrounding pregnancy and parenthood and encourage this culture of life.”
Jain remarked on the event’s importance to the Rover. “A culture of life is integral to the university’s identity as Catholic, and events such as these which facilitate discussion on life-related issues extend an invitation to students, faculty, and staff to discover in joy that each life is worth living.
“Overall, I believe that it is of utmost importance that the University establish and uphold a consistent ethic of life, which entails a respect for the dignity of all humans across the board of life-related issues,” Jain added. “These are difficult matters, to be sure, but ultimately, fostering discourse about life in all its complexity will make for a more informed and conscious campus community that will cause ripples in our wider cultural context.”
Please visit the Division of Student Affair’s Assistance for Pregnant Students page at http://studentaffairs.nd.edu/health-safety/assistance-for-pregnant-students/ and the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives at https://lifeinitiatives.nd.edu for a list of Frequently Asked Questions, information about the Pregnant and Parenting Student Assistance Fund, and a full list of individuals and organizations for pregnancy resources on campus, in South Bend, and beyond.
Stephanie Reuter is a freshman PLS major who lives in Welsh Family Hall and happily attended her second Bread of Life dinner last Tuesday. She encourages you to attend the next installation in Fall 2015, coming to a Morris Inn near you. Contact her at email@example.com.