Northwestern establishes task force to study needs of graduate students with children

Drew Gerber, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern announced the a new task force Thursday to study the needs of graduate students with children and whether current resources are sufficient in addressing them.

Formed by Lori Anne Henderson, director of work and life resources, and Sarah McGill, senior associate dean of The Graduate School, the task force comprises faculty, staff and graduate students — some of whom are parents themselves.

McGill told The Daily that Provost Daniel Linzer and Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah asked her and Henderson to convene the task force to better understand problems students with children face while at NU.

She noted the University offers several resources for graduate students with children, such as child assistance and facilities for small children, but she said the task force will listen to the graduate student community to find out where needs are not being met.

“We will be trying to find out what’s good, what we need more of and where we aren’t helping students enough,” McGill said.

Matilda Stubbs, an anthropology graduate student, spoke with The Daily in March about the specific struggles student parents face. Issues with childcare, health insurance and spaces for breast pumping — all resources required by pregnant or parenting students — are not areas in which where many student parents feel the University does enough, she said.

Stubbs also felt that policies toward graduate students should be in line with those of University employees, and she said NU should follow the lead of public universities that consider graduate students employees.

“I pay employment taxes to Northwestern,” Stubbs told The Daily in March. “I pay the IRS. I get sent a W-2 from Northwestern. They contend that we are this hybrid category and that we’re not employees … If I have to pay taxes then I’m not exempt from the political and economic responsibilities of being a staff member.”

In 2012, NU’s Graduate Leadership Council, now called the Graduate Leadership and Advocacy Council, released its annual report surveying graduate students on issues including parenting and childcare needs. According to the report, almost 14 percent of respondents were parents or were planning to be parents during their time at the University.

The NU Student Parent Alliance was founded in 2014 after frustration with a lack of progress on student parent issues. The group met with administrators earlier this year to provide input on improving resources. The group expressed disappointment after the WorldatWork Alliance for Work-Life Progress, a group that recognizes institutions that promote a good work-life balance, awarded NU a Seal of Distinction for the University’s progress in improving its faculty and staff policies. The NU Student Parent Alliance noted the University does not extend similar benefits to graduate-student parents.

Linzer acknowledged the importance of the alliance in the formation of the task force.

“As we undertake this assessment, we want to acknowledge, with thanks, the contribution of the NU Student Parent Alliance, a group of students, faculty, staff and community members working to promote better resources for student parents at Northwestern,” Linzer said Wednesday in a news release.

The task force will begin meeting this month. Final recommendations are scheduled to be submitted to Linzer and Chinniah by May 31, 2016. However, McGill said the task force will not wait until the release of their report to start implementing improvements to University policies.

“If we see some things to address, we will,” McGill said. “We have the flexibility to look into and address the issues as we come across them, when we can.”

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