Law school women respond to Belmont Law statement
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Law school women respond to Belmont Law statement

The Vision reported Monday the stories of four women who said that the law school treated them unfairly during their pregnancies — in response, Belmont’s college of law issued a formal rebuttal Wednesday stating that the information reported does not align with its values.

The Belmont College of Law statement can be read here — it says that the school will fully support an independent review into the matter and that the school commits to supporting all current and future pregnant students.

The Vision shared the law school’s rebuttal of the initial article with the women.

The women, past and present law students, stand by their stories.

In the initial story, they said the law school denied them absences, early exams and scheduling information during their pregnancies. One student was told she had maxed out her absences while she was hospitalized due to a life-threatening condition after giving birth.

Sarah Martin, a Belmont law graduate who initially spoke to the law school on behalf of the four women, said their stories don’t contradict each other.

“They were all offered no accommodations under the strict attendance policy beyond a semester-long leave of absence, and such a so-called accommodation is not reasonable,” said Martin.

“I would put Belmont Law’s academic program against the top programs in the country. But this inflexible attendance policy, and the practice of granting no accommodations under it, is unnecessary and inequitable.”

Cecilia Young, one of the four women with grievances, said she did not receive additional absences despite being hospitalized after giving birth. 

“I stand by my initial statement,” said Young, a third-year law student. 

“My health and well-being seemed to be irrelevant to the law school deans during my pregnancy. I welcome an independent review by the Title IX office and am glad the college of law does too. If it truly is independent, it is a step in the right direction.”

Kendall Ponchillia, another of the four women, agrees. 

“I stand by my initial statement,” said Ponchillia, who is currently pregnant and was told to schedule medical appointments outside of class time to avoid using up absences. 

“I look forward to future conversations with the administration about how it can support my successful completion of the program and a safe pregnancy.”

Juliana Lamar, a Belmont law graduate, returned to classes soon after a cesarean section to avoid using up her absences. She said she hopes sharing her story will lead the law school administration to reconsider its attendance policy.

“My only wish is that the law school allow excused absences for medical emergencies,” she said.

Rachel Clifton, another Belmont law graduate with grievances, also welcomed an investigation.

“My sole goal has been and remains to be advocating for a policy that is inclusive and mindful of the individual needs of Belmont students covered by the ADA and Title IX.”

Belmont law’s statement rejected any suggestion that the school’s behavior was illegal—however, Martin said that whether Belmont’s actions were unlawful or not, its attendance policy harms the college and its students.

“It’s self-evident that no attendance policy accommodations were made,” said Martin. “Had they been made, Rachel wouldn’t have rushed from class to her prenatal appointments, arriving most days under immense stress and with high blood pressure. Juliana wouldn’t have been back at school after major abdominal surgery before she was able to drive or climb steps. And Cecilia wouldn’t have been in class mere hours after being released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.”   

“As long as this practice continues, Belmont—a private university with a young law school—can’t expect to bolster its reputation among the national legal community or climb the rankings (given the importance placed on reputation and prestige), nor can it expect to continue to attract bright young women and nontraditional students, nor can it expect to attract or retain donors,” Martin said.

“If Belmont cares about these things, it should start considering how it can do better.”

Contributing reporting by Marissa Avnaim.

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