COLUMBIA — LaNee Bridewell knows that many onlookers stereotype her when she carries her 18-month-old son, Jai, around campus.
"It's like the scarlet letter," Bridewell said. "I don’t have an A on my chest, but I do have a baby. All the time. Everywhere I go."
The 23-year-old MU student said she recognizes the stereotype of young, black single mothers: that they have a baby as the result of a promiscuous lifestyle.
But she does not perpetuate the stereotype. For one, she had Jai while in a four-year relationship with a boyfriend who still remains a part of Jai's life, despite the fact that he and Bridewell have parted ways.
In addition, she decided to do things for her and Jai that oppose what people expect of them. She said that choices such as buying nicer clothes for the two of them and being on time to activities make a difference in others' perception of her.
She said people often say, “'Oh you have a child? ... I never would have thought.'”
Bridewell maintains a very busy schedule, much of the time accompanied by Jai. She is a full-time student, has a job and is an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Bridewell noticed how easy it was for other student parents to isolate themselves by not taking their children out with them to activities, and she didn’t want to do that to herself.
“He’s used to being around a lot of people,” Bridewell said. “It’s a part of our lives.”
While others might have let a child be an obstacle in their life, Bridewell sees her son as the opposite.
“The ironic part of all of this is that I thought I had ruined my life when I had Jai,” Bridewell said. “But actually, it was the beginning of everything I love about my life.”
Although Bridewell began her educational career as a communication major, she plans to graduate in December with a degree in sociology. She wants to be an advocate for student families in college and plans to continue on to graduate school at MU as well.
“Student family advocacy is my passion,” Bridewell said. “It's like I was born to do this. If I hadn’t had my son, I wouldn’t have known this.”
Bridewell didn't think she was an exception to a rule, but she was proud of what she has accomplished.
“Not to brag on myself, but I like people to know that I am a student parent,” Bridewell said. “I work two jobs, a full-time student, a mom — I did all of that. I am the bomb, but don’t judge me because I’m not just that girl who you think I am.”