Increasing Cultural Diversity through Scholarships: An Interview with Heidi Fillmore

FEBRUARY 2013 Enews Articles

Increasing Cultural Diversity through Scholarships

Birthwise Midwifery School, a three-year midwifery certificate program located in Bridgton, Maine, offers up to two Diversity in Midwifery Scholarships to incoming students per cohort. This scholarship funds 30% of a student’s tuition throughout the course of the program. AME recently interviewed Heidi Fillmore, Executive Director of Birthwise, to learn more about this scholarship.

Who are these scholarships for? Recipients of this scholarship must be a member of a distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural community inside or outside the United States that desires to incorporate respectful birthing practices into their community. She (or he) must demonstrate, through an essay, that the community is in need of services that she will subsequently provide as a midwife. She must make a commitment to Birthwise and to her community to return to her community to work as a midwife and help improve conditions for pregnant women and their families when she has completed her training. She has the support of her community, which is evidenced through a letter written by a reference. She has the potential to be a leader in her community. She can demonstrate clear financial need.

Why does Birthwise offer this scholarship? Birthwise is located in a place where there is no racial diversity and very little cultural diversity. I felt it was important to have students from all sorts of backgrounds in order to enrich the experience of all students. I wanted to be able to train midwives to serve all populations, not just those they were most familiar with, to be able to break out of the white, middle class communities we traditionally serve. I knew I needed to make an effort to make that happen here.

Tell us a little about students that have received this scholarship and how they have utilized it. We have awarded the scholarship to a diverse group of students. One of these students was a woman who came from the Mohawk territory that straddles Canada and upstate New York. She had a family, and already had a college degree. She wanted to be able to serve her reservation. During her preceptorship, she worked with a native Maori population in New Zealand. After completing her training she returned to her community to work on a political and social level, especially in Canada, which is doing a lot to be respectful of native practices. She is working to ensure that midwifery care can be an option for native families.

Another student who received the scholarship is a transgender man who came from California with the intent of learning midwifery in order to work with the transgender community. We have learned a lot from him, and he learned from us, too, about how we all have some commonality in our differences. He is a great example of how a student can bring something to the classroom and better help others understand their particular community. We are excited that there can be a midwife who can intimately understand the trans community.

Other recipients of the scholarship have included an Orthodox Jewish woman who plans to serve the orthodox community near New York City, a woman of mixed ethnicity who had already done a lot to serve low-income communities in Detroit, and a woman of Caribbean descent who plans to serve urban African-American women when she has finished her education.

How do you feel that giving this scholarship has benefited Birthwise? The recipients of this scholarship brought their backgrounds with them, which has helped to enrich classroom discussion and helped us break out of a homogenous viewpoint. Diversity in general helps make the educational experience so much more broad and deep, because it provides different viewpoints in the classroom. It is humbling to recognize that there is no one way to practice midwifery, and no one community that midwives serve. It builds skills in our students in terms of tolerance of differences and the ability to work with a diverse population.

How has this scholarship benefited the midwifery community in general?There’s a lot of talk these days about midwives serving the white middle-class. We know we need to break out of that because we know there are a lot of other women to be served. One of the ways to change this is to change from the bottom up, to bring those women to training programs to go back to serve their communities.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? I just think it’s been a really great thing to offer this scholarship. From a financial point of view, it is definitely worth the expense due to the value that it has brought to the program. Just the fact that Birthwise offers this scholarship has changed the way that women of color look at the program. I think it will have a snowballing effect – those students who received the scholarship will go out into their communities and people will know that Birthwise is a place that’s welcoming and inclusive of all people. This scholarship has helped Birthwise achieve my goal of representing our country’s diversity in our student body here in rural Maine.

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