Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy at Miami Dade College

Editor's Note: Today's post is one in an occasional series of guest posts.

The image of Miami, Florida as raging cauldron of sexuality often leaves students confused, trying to live up to the hype, and hopping on the sexuality bandwagon. Oftentimes, this bandwagon does not contain adequate information to make informed decisions about the best contraception practices. Teaching at a college in Miami, there is nothing in the curriculum to address why you should wait to have a baby until after you finish college, but it’s important that students have this knowledge.

Miami Dade College, a state-supported college with seven campuses, three centers, and numerous outreach centers, is the largest institution of higher education in the United States. In 2013, we served about 161,632 students. And with Latino students comprising 68% of its student body, MDC is also a Hispanic Serving Institution.

My experience at MDC has shown me that unplanned pregnancy is a very real issue in the lives of my students, and helping them prevent one could mean the difference between a student completing or needing to drop out.

For these reasons, when I attended a presentation from National Campaign staff member Chelsey Connolly in 2013 at the Community College National Center for Community Engagement conference, I knew this would be the right fit for our college students. When she announced that she was looking to partner with a college, I nearly jumped out of my chair raising my hand.

With the number of students attending MDC spread across various campuses, the idea of bringing this program to our college was daunting, to say the least. At first, we started with the notion of getting The National Campaign’s online lessons into our First Year Experience curriculum, but the lessons became so popular, it captured the attention from other disciplines, such as biology, reading courses, world languages, and sociology. Even the librarians got involved.

And we’ve seen great changes already. In an evaluation of the online lessons, MDC students’ knowledge improved from 57% on the pre-survey to 86% on the post-survey. For those of us who have been out of school for a while, that translates from an F to a B.

Although the material in the lessons was the same for all the students, the group discussions after they completed them took very different turns. The sociology courses used the opportunity to discuss the sociological implications of an unplanned pregnancy for 20-something year-olds, while the biology course discussed the hormonal and barrier methods of contraception. These discussions revealed that while this topic is still very much taboo, students appreciated the opportunity to talk about a very sensitive subject in an educational setting. I hope to see this conversation continue.

It took a lot of strategic planning and partnerships to scale this from an idea to a tangible project. Enthusiastic professors were identified from the psychology discipline, or as I like to call our team "The fab-five," in order to lead this initiative at their respective campuses. I would like to take the opportunity to thank these wonderful colleagues who helped me lead this project: Vellisse Grimes, Arlen Garcia, Trinidad Arguelles, and Miriam Frances-Abety. Another department that helped in the strategic plan was iCED, Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy. The Director, Josh Young, and his superhero team of directors and staff helped to coordinate the workshops and to get the word out to all eight campuses.

My hope is that this project will change the way students think about contraception, family planning and college completion. For any faculty considering bringing the lessons to their college campus, I can testify that this is a win-win for everyone. 

Jessyca Perez is a native of Miami. She graduated with honors and attained a Master's in Guidance and Counseling degree and post-graduate certificate in Family Therapy from St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. She is also an alumnus of MDC and FIU. Perez teaches Psychology and SLS at the Homestead Campus and has been working at the college since 2006. She is a strong supporter of Service-Learning across the curriculum and she co-coordinates with her colleague, Professor Yanely Cordero, a multi-disciplinary literacy project named Pages For All Ages. She is also the lead faculty college-wide for The National Campaign and works closely with faculty, staff and administration on comprehensive family planning education for college students.

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