Catholic University’s Guadalupe Project Offers a Post-Dobbs ‘Radical Welcome’ to Campus Moms and Families
CUA has launched new resources for students facing unplanned pregnancies, as well as parents on the faculty and staff.
WASHINGTON — The Catholic University of America (CUA) saw the Supreme Court’s historic overturning of Roe v. Wade last June as a call to self-examination regarding how the university could better accompany and support students facing unplanned pregnancies as well as mothers and children among the university’s faculty and staff.
“This is a historic watershed moment in the life of this country,” Jennie Lichter, deputy general counsel at CUA told the Register of the Dobbs decision.
Lichter said the conversations that followed that decision, led by the university’s president at the time, John Garvey, and later embraced by its new president, Peter Kilpatrick, were focused on seeing how they could tangibly augment the existing pro-life and pro-family culture on their campus. They examined ways to improve “our own policy, the campus culture and physical space, to make sure we’re taking care of our own people, moms and babies especially, but, dads too, and families,” she said. “How do we encourage family life as a university?”
Creating an Environment of Support
What came out of those conversations was the ongoing Guadalupe Project, which assessed the potential needs of moms on campus and announced an expansion of resources last fall, including a student-run babysitting program, 12 weeks paid maternity leave for faculty and staff, free baby items on campus, lactation rooms, and campus-wide pregnancy-resource materials.
The project’s report said that in the post-Roe climate, “the moment requires us to become more profound witnesses to the love we receive from God by sharing that love with others. Through the Guadalupe Project, Catholic University is making a concrete commitment to living as a community that is radically welcoming to life.”
“We really drilled down on some concrete things that would measurably improve the lives of the moms and dads, and by extension their kids, who are in our campus community,” Lichter said. Implementation of the project has continued with efforts towards additional long-term goals as they receive feedback from the campus community.
“We’ve tried to come up with every way we can think of to get resources to make sure that all of our students know where to find pregnancy help and support on our campus so that if they ever need it or their roommate does or their girlfriend does, they don’t even have to think about where to find it,” she said. “They already know because they’ve seen it around in the form of the posters or the stickers or the booklets.”
The project got its name early on from Our Lady of Guadalupe, due to her patronage of the unborn and her title as special patroness of the Americas. Referencing the miraculous roses given by Our Lady to St. Juan Diego at Guadalupe, the project’s report said “the roses that bloomed in winter symbolize Mary’s radical hospitality: even in a desolate season, she nurtures a new creation. Our task is to model her, to create an environment of care and support for all families — especially the most vulnerable — so that, like roses in winter, they may thrive and bring new life.”
Seeing Results — and Excitement
Lichter noted the immediate use people made of the baby items placed in the campus food pantry, the Cardinal Cupboard, which offers canned goods free of charge to undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty. Diapers and other baby items have flown off the shelves since their placement in the cupboard in the fall.
The nearby St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families, which offers transitional housing and childcare to mothers in need, has partnered with the university to supply these items indefinitely with the excess diapers, wipes and other baby items they receive for their community. “The sisters at St. Ann’s ended up saying to me, ‘How can we help you. We love what you’re doing on your campus. Can we support you with a donation of diapers and wipes?’” Lichter recalled.
Lichter has also been working with the president of the Graduate Student Association on ways to serve that same campus population, as many graduate students are growing their families. She said many graduate students have been excited about the project’s mission of increasing the amount of changing tables on campus because some occasionally do need to bring their young children to campus.
Some of the changes were on Lichter’s radar from her own experience as a mother on staff at CUA. “When I got here, I didn’t get any paid maternity leave at all because, at the time, there was a one-year waiting period for women to be able to access paid leave,” she said. “That's a fairly standard H.R. thing.” So one of the changes the project made was offering full-time staff and faculty 12 weeks paid parental leave, an increase from the eight weeks previously offered, and eliminating the waiting period.
Larissa York, who just completed her junior year at Catholic University, is a research intern for the Guadalupe Project and vice president of the pro-life student organization Cardinals for Life. She told the Register she has seen positive results from the additional resources almost immediately, noting a recent conversation with a professor who was thrilled about the additional maternity leave for her current pregnancy.
York was pleased with the new website for pregnancy support for students, as, prior to the Guadalupe Project, they had only had general information stating that a pregnant student would retain her campus housing situation, but no easily available resource information. In addition to the information and resources listed on the new website, booklet versions are available via student health services, counseling and academic advising offices, as well as through campus ministry. Campus bathrooms now contain stickers that offer pregnancy resources, with a QR code students can scan.
At least one student mom has been made more comfortable on campus through the project. The young mother, who just welcomed her baby recently, had a friend who also had a baby at the school last year but had gone through her pregnancy without the university’s knowledge and assistance, aside from accommodations granted by her professors. York said that, unlike her friend, this young lady was “aware of the supports that we could offer her as a university, and she reached out.” Cardinals for Life supported her through the pregnancy and threw her a baby shower shortly before her baby arrived.
The launch of the Cardinals for Life Babysitting network was also a major additional resource. The university assisted with things like background checks for the babysitters, and the group now has more than 50 babysitters in a database. “I’ve been able to help match up over 10 families with a sitter,” York said, “some of them with multiple options.”
The babysitting network is tailored to the needs of the community, York said, explaining that, “for some of the professors, it’s just while they’re in the class so somebody on campus can easily hang out with their kid for the hour or two that they’re teaching.”
York, a biology major who has always been passionate about the pro-life issue, found that her help with the project was an educational process. “I had a lot of experience with moms and families and even young pregnancies,” she said, “but I hadn’t totally seen how impactful even small changes like having access to a comfortable lactation space would be for someone.” She recalled the “relief and excitement” she witnessed when campus moms heard about the new lactation spaces on campus, as conveyed through listening sessions.
An Expectant Mom’s Perspective
One seemingly small change the project made was to offer reserved parking spaces for expectant moms. Emily Sobieski, the associate director of special events at Catholic University, who is due to have her little girl any day now, told the Register that change has been her “favorite thing” in these final months of pregnancy. “I parked in the garage, and they literally got me a spot right next to the door so I could just walk up the steps,” she said. “That made life super easy.”
“I was able to work with the parking office, and they put the spot exactly where I wanted it,” she added. “It wasn’t just this random spot on the other side of campus.”
Sobieski is also excited about other elements of the program that she will benefit from, including the 12 weeks of paid parental leave. “I get 16 weeks total, and I get to use the Family Medical Leave Act for four weeks, so I only have to use four weeks of leave, and then the other 12 are fully covered,” she said. “It's actually the best in the D.C. area — most schools, their maternity leave is eight weeks.” She’s thrilled to get four months “to bond with my child right in the beginning, and it feels like I don’t have to rush back.”
Other small things have been nice surprises as well, like the “swag box” the university provides to new parents that includes infant clothing, coffee from the pro-life Seven Weeks coffee company, spiritual resources and more.
Sobieski said that, with her work, she’ll likely utilize the babysitting network for events that are outside her normal schedule, adding that “it’s nice to know that there’s a whole network of babysitters on campus that they’ve thought through that I can call.”
The expectant mother is very thankful for the university’s efforts on the issue, particularly to assist students facing unplanned pregnancies. “I really appreciate that we’ve put all these things in place to make these students feel safe,” she said. “We’re not ostracizing them — we’re embracing them.”
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