By Kori Tuitt
Jean Bowen, a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, has a part-time job on campus, manages her own apartment and she has a 5-year-old daughter.
Bowen’s life changed at 17 when she had Isabella, whom she calls Bella. She said when people find out about Bella, they are impressed at how she manages her time, but Bowen said she never expected to do anything else.
“I don’t see what other people see. I don’t see it as cool or amazing,” Bowen, 22, said. “For me, I didn’t want to just settle down and do nothing — I always wanted to go to college.”
According TeenHelp.com, only 1.5 percent of women who are teen mothers obtain a college degree by the age of 30. But Bowen said, the reason usually isn’t that these women do not want to go to school. There are only three schools in New York that offer family housing, including Stony Brook University.
Bowen stumbled upon Stony Brook University when searching for schools to attend. She said people often think she planned this whole experience thoroughly, but she said it was really just luck.
She is no longer with Bella’s father, Giuseppe Divanna, who she met in high school and her divorced parents are not involved in her life, so the financial burden of going to school and raising a child is all on her.
“If you look at these statistics,” she said, “these girls aren’t going to college because they don’t have the option.”
Bowen gets financial aid, but she also has to take out loans to pay for school, her apartment and the daycare Bella goes to while Bowen is in class. Since she went to Suffolk County Community College for two years and has been attending Stony Brook for two years, she will no longer receive money from the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). By the time she graduates she’ll be thousands of dollars in debt.
“I work part time/full time at the Chapin [Apartments] offices,” Bowen said. “I’m also trying to become an RA [Resident Assistant] to help with rent,” which covers $900 of the $1,200 rent.
Bowen’s parents were divorced when she was very young. Her father abused drugs and, after the divorce, distanced himself. Jean said for as long as she could remember, her mother was an alcoholic. When she got pregnant with Bella, she was living with her mother and stepfather. She had to make the choice of either living with her mother and stepfather or having Bella. Bowen was evicted from the house and her mother changed the locks on the doors.
Her only option was to go to her aunt’s house.
“I was with her when this came about,” Bowen’s paternal grandmother, Dorothy, said. “She came to the house, she didn’t have anything, she went to bed in my pajamas.”
Her grandmother said despite Bowen’s life-changing experience of having a child, her drive, personality and beliefs stayed the same.
According to Bowen’s close friend, Debbie Gross, even though Bowen has busy a lifestyle, she still manages to do extra.
“She’s always been involved,” said Gross, who also attends Stony Brook University. “Even at Suffolk [Community College] she was in Club Board and Student Government. She even started her own club called Cradle of Success.”
Bowen was founder and president of Cradle of Success while she attended Suffolk County Community College and Bella was only nine months old. She started the organization to provide resources, events and support for pregnant and parenting students.
“I was able to do fundraising, collect baby items for students, have holiday events with food and giveaways and hold support groups for different topics,” Bowen said. “I was super proud of my organization, and though it was very small, I made good friends and did help some moms out.”
Although Bowen no longer runs the organization since she transferred to Stony Brook, she still has a Facebook account in her name to help young parents.
Bowen plans to become a doula, also known as a labor coach, after she graduates from Stony Brook. Her experience with an abortion at 16 and taking an introductory Women’s Studies course during her last semester at Suffolk County Community College solidified her goals for the future and her decision to major in Women’s Studies.
“I just think it’s really fascinating how people view abortion because nobody ever wants to say the word, no one wants to say what they think about it and no one wants to say if they’ve had one,” Bowen said. “If girls were to talk about it more, it could be helpful because it’s so lonely.”
Bowen said she’s been very open about her abortion experience and she’s neither embarrassed nor happy about it. Bowen said she remembers the doctor and nurse talking to each other about their children, as if she wasn’t in the room.
Although she felt sick and depressed after the procedure, Bowen said she doesn’t believe in regret.
“Regret doesn’t make sense to me because you can’t change it,” she said, “so you’ll never know if you really regret it or not.”