What’s been frustrating graduate students lately? If you read the Maroon, you’ll know the absence of private spaces to breastfeed is on the list. As the article explains, “The complaints stem from the fact that the majority of lactation stations on campus are located in public spaces that have a lounge or in handicapped bathrooms. In addition, several of the lactation stations were reported as non-operational by graduate student parents.”
The absence of private spaces on campus for nursing parents to breastfeed or pump milk is a growing embarrassment for the university, and as the article points out, it also happens to be a violation of federal law. That may be one reason why the university a few years ago put together this list of lactation stations to include among its “Resources for Graduate Parents.” But the list appears to have been somewhat hastily composed and not adequately vetted — a wonderful vision that has yet to be matched with the kind of institutional support needed to make it a reality.
After the Maroon article came out last Friday, one intrepid student parent and GSU member decided to go on an expedition to complete her tour of the listed lactation facilities by visiting the “lactation station” identified on the list as Room 103 in Beecher Hall. Here’s what she found:
I just went and checked the last “lactation station” from the list. Most are locking bathrooms and/or public lounges, but this one is a locked asbestos-containing closet.
Just try expressing breastmilk under those conditions! (The sign reads: “B103 / Mechanical Room / DANGER / Thermal systems in this mechanical room contain asbestos / Avoid creating dust and breathing asbestos fibers / Cancer and lung disease hazard / Please contact Safety and Environmental Affairs at 702-9999 before disturbing materials in this area.”)
For an idea of what the U of C can aspire to, check out the list of Lactation/Personal Care Rooms available at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Not only is there a map, but the rooms are rated by a five-star system, ranging from “available for use but not recommended” (these are mostly bathrooms) to “designed with nursing mothers in mind.”
Update (11/5/13): Today’s issue of Inside Higher Ed has a reported article on the lack of places to pump on the University of Chicago campus (“A Room of One’s Own,” 11/5/2013). The article quotes a University of Chicago spokeswoman with the following statement:
We are grateful that a student alerted us that some places on this list were substandard as lactation stations, and have been working with graduate student parents and the University Deans of Students on updating this list over the last month. Leaders of Graduate Student Affairs are also working with graduate student parents to identify additional places on campus that could be used as lactation stations.
That’s an encouraging start. But let’s be clear: the challenge here is not to identify existing places to nurse on campus; it’s to create them. If there’s one thing we’ve learned so far, it’s that most of the spots already “identified” as lactation stations are not actually suitable for this purpose, and “additional places” on campus are unlikely to do the trick without at least a few modifications. What we need are dedicated spaces and equipment to make pumping easier for nursing parents.
This will take some time and money — i.e., university resources — to get right. But if the University of Michigan can do it, there’s no reason we can’t give it a try down here in Hyde Park. We look forward to working with administrators to get there, and we’ll keep folks posted on our progress.