Most college students believe they will be forever young, without responsibility, in a world where graduation is in the hazy, distant future and weekend plans are in the here and now. Lauren Noxsel, a senior pre-nursing and psychology student at the University of Georgia, would beg to differ.
When a close friend unexpectedly became pregnant as an undergraduate, Noxsel saw firsthand the reality of being a pregnant student. Her friend was able to return to the University of Georgia after having her child, but only by relying heavily on the support of friends and family. Noxsel wondered what was happening for others in a similar situation, those without a solid support system. She knew something had to change.
“Lauren is one of the most driven people I know. She is so passionate and caring and ready to do what it takes to get things done,” said senior human development and family science major Holly Lane.
Noxsel began to explore where university students went if they found themselves in an unplanned pregnancy. While the UGA Health Center offered medical assistance and referrals to pregnancy centers in the Athens area, she found there was little to no unity among support groups in Athens.
“Most groups had either had strong Christianity undertones, or extreme pro-choice agendas. There really wasn’t a between,” said Noxsel.
Upon this realization, she saw what pregnant students needed: an unbiased support group who would be there through all steps of their pregnancy.
And so the seeds of UP@UGA were sown. Starting Unplanned at UGA was not too difficult; the real challenge came with promoting it and getting students interested. Noxsel was the woman with the vision, but she needed help putting her ideas into action. That is where her friends came in. With Noxsel leading the way, six women created a club where expecting students can find refuge and support.
“Lauren is a connector; she has a strong gift in connecting people from different circles together for the common good. She finds the gold in people and calls it forth, even when they may not know it’s there,” said UP@UGA advisor Christa Childs.
When UP@UGA was created, Noxsel made it her mission to exclude any bias, whether by people identifying with pro-choice or pro-life. Because she had previously found the groups that did offer support often had ulterior motives, she decided to take a different approach with her club.
“We’re not a Christian club, we are a progressive club,” said Noxsel, “What is so cool is these people can come together and put aside their beliefs. That way the women we are helping know they will be welcomed with love and support, not conflict.”
This is the message she wants to send to those who find themselves unexpectedly expecting. However, she is sending a different message to the University of Georgia.
“We can all yell and scream about being pro-choice, but what about the choice to have a child? Where is the support?” Noxsel said.
Noxsel argues that while these students work hard to attend and stay at UGA, the university does not reciprocate this effort. It is no secret that once a woman becomes pregnant while still in school, her chances of returning and graduating are extremely slim.
“I believe that my friend was the exception to this rule, and I hope every pregnant student who joins UP@UGA has the opportunity to succeed just like her. I hope that through creating this club and building awareness, UGA will follow suit and support the need to raise awareness” said Noxsel.
Noxsel understands the reasons why the university did not see the initial need for a student pregnancy support group. After all, there doesn’t appear to be a surplus of pregnant women on campus. While Noxsel acknowledges that some choose to abort or drop out, often times the students that choose to carry to term keep their pregnancies well hidden.
“When I spoke to my lecture class of 150 students, three different girls contacted me separately about my club. Either their friend at UGA or they themselves were pregnant. That was just one class, imagine how many more girls are out there,” said Noxsel.
Lauren Noxsel has identified a small, but pertinent need for the women on this campus. Those who are currently in this situation, or find themselves in it in the future, can now know they have an option. They have an option to choose support and encouragement in pursuing their education even if they have a child. Women on this campus now do not have to choose between a child and a degree. They can have both.
“Lauren is so passionate about the girls we are trying to help. She goes above and beyond to make a difference in any way she can,” said Lane.