UChicago Scholars Agree: Childcare Oughtta Be Subsidized

babysheep-background-grayscaleAs longstanding advocates for affordable childcare at the University of Chicago, we were tickled to come across an article on this very topic in the Summer 2015 issue of SSA Magazine.

The article features an exchange between Julia Henly and Marci Ybarra, two professors at the University’s School of Social Service Administration. While their conversation focuses on imminent threats to public (state and federal) subsidies for working parents, the need for more childcare access is felt everywhere in this country — including right on our campus, where recent efforts to expand financial support for working parents at the University of Chicago have met with mixed success.

As Henly notes, she and Ybarra share a scholarly interest in “the challenges that working families—especially low-income working families—have raising kids, finding decent jobs, and accessing social safety net programs that support work and children’s development.” The challenges they describe are also faced by families employed by the University of Chicago, where many of the instructors who teach undergraduates still struggle to pay for childcare for their children.

Through its Childcare Campaign, GSU has drawn attention to the difficulties faced by graduate student parents living on stipends and teaching salaries designed for single people with minimal expenses. We have called for truly affordable childcare on campus: flexible, sliding-scale facilities that would allow graduate employees to raise children and pursue academic careers at the same time.

The recent adoption of a flat-rate grant for PhD students is a step forward, but we continue to look forward to the day when every University employee receives truly affordable childcare in the amount they need.

GSU Delighted to Welcome Affordable Child Care to U of C Campus

First, the good news:
Thursday afternoon brought amazing news: an email in every doctoral student’s inbox from Deputy Provost Deborah Nelson bearing the subject line, “Need-based child care grants for doctoral students.” It looked so good that a few of us had to read it twice before daring to ask: could this really mean affordable child care for graduate student employees?

It sure looks like it. The Deputy Provost’s email outlines a number of concrete policy changes that collectively signal a huge victory for graduate students across the University of Chicago, and for Graduate Students United, whose 800-plus members can congratulate each other on having once again changed their university for the better. The central goal of our nearly three-year-long campaign to bring affordable child care to the University of Chicago appears to be in sight. As the Deputy Provost explains,

“This spring we will begin a pilot program to offer need-based child care grants to doctoral students, who typically have the greatest child care needs among our student body. […] It is our sincere hope that the grant pilot program will prove successful at helping to alleviate some of the financial hardship our student parents face and that we can launch it on an annual basis next fall.”

The flexibility of this childcare support is a wonderful thing, and we hope to see it thoroughly publicized, effectively allocated, and well-used by graduate student parents. We look forward to learning more about the eligibility requirements for these new need-based grants, and the amount of support they will offer. We also hope to see the policy expanded to include non-doctoral students, who were some of the founding members of our campaign and whose needs remain unmet through this measure.

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The Last Lactation Station

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:

Beecher Lactation room

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.

On the latest child care survey

Dear members,

We are delighted to draw your attention to an email from the university’s Deputy Provost of Graduate Education that landed in your inbox last Thursday with the subject heading “Child care survey for graduate students.” You may have missed it, but embedded in this email was the following momentous declaration:
“The University of Chicago recognizes the challenges of raising a family while pursuing graduate and doctoral studies.”

Towards a Parent-Oriented University

GSU has joined with Student Parent Organization (SPO) and the Doctoral Students Association at the School of Social Service Administration (DSA @ SSA) to create an opportunity to discuss parenting in the academy. Please join us on Thursday, May 10th at 2pm for a faculty-staff-student panel entitled “Towards a Parent-Oriented University”.

In her landmark 1973 essay, “Towards a Woman Centered University” Adrienne Rich puts quality childcare at the center of an inclusive and gender-egalitarian university. As the fortieth anniversary of Rich’s call to arms approaches and the University of Chicago is opening a child care facility, this panel looks towards the future of what a fully parent friendly university could be. Faculty, staff, graduate student panel on the current state of support for working parents across the university. Presentations will include: the faculty movement to create a childcare center on campus, current challenges to student, faculty, and staff parents, and the role of parents in the academy more broadly. In a general discussion, attendees will be invited to present their own suggestions.

May 10, 2012 (Th), 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Center for the Study of Gender & Sexuality
Childcare provided, please RSVP.
https://www.facebook.com/events/391583777531027/ 
Co-sponsored by SPO, GSU, and DSA @ SSA
Food and refreshments will be served.

Administrations grad student need survey ignores grad student needs

At the end of Fall quarter, as the holiday exodus from campus was in full swing, graduate students received an invitation to participate in a survey intended to explore graduate student needs “beyond coursework and research”. The email invitation stated, “our goal is to work with you to better align the resources the University provides with your most pressing needs”.

We were excited to be offered an opportunity to express these pressing needs and were thoroughly disappointed with this deeply flawed survey that appeared intent on focusing on our study skills and consumer habits while only tangentially addressing graduate student needs.

Matters of material importance to graduate students such as wages, lack of teaching opportunities, lack of funding, AR tuition, bad health care, lack of childcare, lack of interaction with faculty advisers, etc. were completely left out of the survey. The survey designers seemed more concerned with filling the next batch of glossy advertising material with meaningless dribble than with actually finding out about graduate student needs.

As this survey was partly in response to Graduate Students United pressure on the administration to recognize the child care needs of graduate student parents, it includes questions for student parents — but only for students who are already parents. Aspiring student parents are excluded from expressing their projected needs as these questions are only accessible if you declare dependent children.

If this survey was intended to provide quick answers to fiscal planning it does not reassure us to know that the administration makes such decisions based on a methodologically flawed survey on surveymonkey.com. Rather, it indicates to us that the results of this survey function rather as a simulacra intended to assure us of the “valuable input” we provide in what is pretended to be a process in which our voices “count”. It is yet another sign that our needs as graduate students will not be substantially and meaningfully addressed unless we are recognized as employees and enjoy the right to bargain for our own conditions of employment.

Columbus Day Family Picnic a Success!

The Columbus Day Family Picnic, held Monday, October 10 from noon to 2 p.m. on the main quad just outside the Administration Building, was a smashing success. Dozens of graduate student families and allies turned out on a beautiful fall day to enjoy lunch together draw attention to the university’s growing need for affordable childcare options.

Columbus Day, a federal holiday, is a day when most Chicago schoolkids have the day off, while their U of C-affiliated parents do not. The picnic, a joint effort of the Student Parents Organization and Graduate Students United, was held to assert the presence of student families as part of the university community and urge the administration to make needed changes to its childcare, healthcare and parental leave policies.

Around 60 people–students, spouses, and children–joined us for lunch on the quad, and dozens more stopped by to sign postcards urging President Zimmer to make the new U of C Childcare Center open and affordable to graduate students and their families. The Child Care Campaign of Graduate Students United also shared copies of its recent report on “Graduate Student Parents and Family Life at the University of Chicago,” which compares the university’s policies with those of peer institutions. (A copy of the report is available in the previous post.)

In addition to postcards and reports, there were a variety of potluck dishes on offer, both savory and sweet. A Ph.D. student in the social sciences was on hand to make balloon animals, which were enjoyed by children under close adult supervision. Sidewalk chalk, crayons, and non-toxic temporary tattoos also formed part of the afternoon’s entertainment.

Thanks very much to all who came out and helped make the day a success! Much more is on the horizon… To get involved, please drop us a note at gsu@riseup.org.

Read GSU’s Report on Grad Student Parents and Family Life

Recently our Child Care Committee drafted a report outlining the current situation for University graduate student parents and their families and compared them to other institutions around the country. The report concludes that current University policy “fails to adequately meet the needs of graduate student parents, let alone clearly define the University rules and regulations related to maternity and paternity leave, childcare, and family life.”

As many of you know already, GSU has been pushing the administration to make the new child care center available to children of all families in the University community on a sliding scale payment basis. The report was handed to University administrators earlier this month by a contingent of graduate student parents and their children.

Download the Report Here (in PDF format)

If you would like to hear more about GSU’s child care campaign or get involved, email us gsu@riseup.net!

Child Care Town Hall Meeting: May 19

Did you know that grad students occasionally find time to procreate?

Neither did the administration!

Graduate Students United is calling on the Administration to recognize and support graduate student parents. Please come to the Child Care Town Hall to tell us how YOU think the University of Chicago can be a better campus for graduate student parents.

Where: Reynolds Club South Lounge

When: May 19, 5pm

Childcare will be provided!