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Photo from Nicole Chaney

Each class of Penn's School of Nursing’s Nurse-Midwifery program delivers a class gift to their professors, usually including artwork or donations to charities. The Class of 2017, however, decided to do something unconventional: they created a scholarship for midwives of color. 

2017 Nursing masters graduate Nicole Chaney originally had the idea for the scholarship. She said that, first and foremost, her inspiration for the scholarship was simply looking around her classroom, which only contained two students of color out of a 21 person class. 

Penn Nursing’s Nurse-Midwifery Program Director William McCool said over the past seven years, an average of 22 percent of graduating classes have been people of color, with each class consisting of around 20 people. While last year's graduating class had two people of color, this year's class currently has four out of 18, he said.  

“The point of the scholarship is to address the fact that over 95 percent of midwives in the U.S. are white, whereas the people they care for, the majority are people of color, are poor people, are immigrants, LGBTQ,” said 2017 Nursing masters graduate Kateryn Nunez, one of the two students of color in her graduating class. 

A midwife provides a personalized approach to childbirth for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies. 

While originally common among black and immigrant populations in the United States, stigma around home births in the 20th century discouraged people from communities of color from going into the field, according to the Columbia Journal of Race and Law. In recent decades, the "natural birth" movement popularized midwifery, but created a racial imbalance within the profession.  

“We are more likely to serve people of color. We are more likely to serve vulnerable populations,” Chaney said. “There is a lot of research that says when people who look like the people who they care for, they end up having better outcomes.” 

Nunez, now working as a midwife in a private home birth practice in New York City, explained the racism she experienced in the classroom.

“It was very awkward for me, as a black Latina, to be at clinical and hear from a white midwife who is supposed to be teaching me, say something so racially inappropriate and me just have to sit there,” Nunez said. “Because the profession is so white, there is invariably going to be a lot of midwives with prejudices and biases, and they’re caring for black communities.” 

Chaney added that “like anything, there are a million barriers for people of color to become midwives, but money is a big one,” which is largely why the scholarship was created. 

Currently they have raised $11,062 from grassroots fundraising alone, primarily from family and friends. Chaney said that their goal is to raise $125,000 in total. Should they do so, Penn will contribute an additional $25,000, making this scholarship an official endowment. In Chaney’s words, reaching this mark will let the scholarship “live on forever.” 

“This scholarship, it is a very downstream solution,” Nunez said. “It is one school and it is a drop in the ocean but we’re hoping that this sends a message to other universities and sends a message to the administration that this matters.”

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