Support for the student parent a work in progress

UW Tacoma, recognizing the need to support students that are also parents, has made changes to policy and facilities addressing some of the unique challenges that student parents face. Faculty, staff and students look to the campus to continue expanding resources with families in mind.

With the onset of the fall quarter came announcements of on campus lactation stations available to all UWT students, staff, faculty and visitors. These stations are located in GWP 410 and MAT 204A and are available on a drop-in basis from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During any other time of day, they can be accessed with the assistance of UWT campus security.

Each room is equipped with two chairs, a table or counter large enough to change diapers and brochures and informational books on the subjects of parenting and breastfeeding, aimed at reassuring a mother she is doing well. Each room also contains a small refrigerator provided strictly for storing breastmilk. There are presently lightly used baby clothes also available for parents in need at MAT 204A. The rooms are locked and accessible only with an entry code; this code can be acquired at the help desk in the Office of Student Engagement, MAT 103.

Student parents are particularly challenged in finding childcare during class times that is affordable as well as accessible. The Childcare Family and Support Services lists possible childcare providers and promotes a Childcare Assistance Program on its website, but students are asking for more resources — such as drop-in childcare.

Students are concerned about the impact that attempting to afford childcare could have on their grades, and ultimately their education. A student is still a full time parent and many must also take on a full time job in order to support the family, including to afford childcare.

“It would be great if there were other resources. It’s unreasonable to expect parents to be able to pay. I think there should be other options for students,” said Kasi Beith, a UWT senior, interdisciplinary arts and science major and student parent.

Feb. 17, the Executive Council of the Faculty Assembly of UWT approved the Infants/Children in Class Policy that outlines that instructor permission is not necessary. It also declares a mother’s right to breastfeed her child or pump milk in class. Although the request may be denied by an instructor, the policy also states that a parent may reasonably request permission to bring a child to class so long as the child is not disruptive and adheres to university policies and rules.

One organization that is attempting to step in is the Huskies and Pups Organization — a student led organization aimed at locating and providing assistance to parents enrolled at UWT. However, due to difficulties with maintaining leadership, getting the word out and navigating bylaws and regulations, HPO has had a slow start this quarter.

“Balancing parenthood, school and work is the struggle that we all have. Our goal is to support our peers as best we can by offering resources and support,” said HPO president, Shelly Orr.

HPO is currently trying to push a proposal for a “student parent study area” with the hopes of creating a child friendly space on campus. This program would also provide opportunities for HPO members’ children that are in high school. The intent is to allow high schoolers to volunteer as a watchful eye, overseeing that the children are safe and comfortable in their play. The high school students themselves would gain exposure to the university environment, hopefully allowing them a comfortable association with college, and assuring the likelihood that they will pursue continuing education.

A long-term goal is to create a student parent resource center, similar to the Pantry but designed with families in mind — complete with a supply of diapers, gently used clothing and other domestic necessities to student parents in need.

“Our motto is ‘You Are Not Alone!’ Being a parent is hard. Being a student parent is even harder. The HPO is here for the silent members of the UWT community and their families,” Orr said.

The organization currently has two separate petitions in circulation to give voice to the need of the student parent study area and the student parent resource center.

UWT faculty and staff recognize the struggles of student parents and want to see more changes to support them from the university itself. Faculty meetings intended to cover many department concerns have turned into heavy discussions on how the university can do more. They are in agreeance that expecting parents to truly learn while simultaneously watching their children is unrealistic and unfair.

“Faculty are aware of the lack of childcare for students and I think many faculty are supportive of finding a way for the university to provide that service so that students can be a student in classroom, not a student and parent at the same time,” said Dr. Ellen Bayer, interdisciplinary arts and sciences assistant professor.