Between writing their dissertations, working as teaching assistants and class instructors, and holding other jobs on and off campus, graduate students have a lot of demands that take up their time. For graduate students who are also parents, their time is stretched even thinner.
Limited resources for parents attending The Graduate School prompted a group of graduate students last summer to form the NU Student Parent Alliance to advocate for more support from the University. The group is building upon the work of other graduate students who have been pushing for improved policies for years.
“Graduate student parents have been advocating for many years through the Graduate Leadership and Advocacy Council for improved resources,” said Robin Hoecker, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate and member of the Student Parent Alliance. “Things like financial support, childcare support, lactation rooms and just overall institutional support, so we are continuing that advocacy effort. We’ve been making some strides recently.”
The group met with Provost Dan Linzer on April 2 to discuss the campus’ attitude toward student parents and the six specific areas in which they think the University needs to improve its support to student parents.
“They did a very good job of presenting the problems graduate students face,” Linzer told The Daily. “It’s tough to juggle everything. It’s tough to take advantage of certain options available for childcare.”
However, Linzer said he didn’t feel the group acknowledged recent efforts by the University to help student parents, such as the University’s partnership with and subsidies for nearby daycares.
Hoecker, who has an 8-month-old daughter, said she recognized that the administration has been trying to improve childcare, but she would like more options for in-home childcare or students who live in farther neighborhoods.
Assata Kokayi, another member of the group, said she sees student parents as a marginalized group within NU. The fifth-year Ph.D. candidate has two children, an 8-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
“We hope that our advocacy efforts create greater institutional support systems for student parents, shed light on student parents’ compounded marginalization and encourage critical scrutiny of diversity and inclusion practices at NU,” Kokayi said.
In addition to more comprehensive childcare policies, the group is advocating for greater financial support, lactation spaces for nursing mothers, more affordable dependent health care, a more inclusive paid parental leave policy and broader institutional support for student parents.
“We’re trying to get the support and the policies that match where we are today in terms of gender equality,” Hoecker said about the parental leave policy. It currently offers a six-week “academic accommodation period” for graduate student mothers who have recently given birth.
“Men and same sex couples should be recognized as parents, too,” she said.
The group is working with the administration to create a task force of stakeholders, which will include representatives from the Graduate School and the Office of Human Resources.
Both Linzer and Kokayi stressed the necessity of not assuming that one size fits all when it comes to student parents.
“Even though we’re not a homogenous group, oftentimes resources for student parents are tailored as if we are,” Kokayi said. “Our activism is important because we showcase the varied needs and concerns of a heterogeneous student parent group at Northwestern, and the importance of tailoring resources at NU to meet individual student parents’ needs.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed the quote, “We’re trying to get the support and the policies that match where we are today in terms of gender equality.” The quote was said by Robin Hoecker. The Daily regrets the error.
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