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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Graduate student parent group finds “disconnect” between caregiving needs and NU resources

Samantha Powers/Daily Senior Staffer
Charles Logan, an organizer of the graduate student caregivers survey, presents a summary of the results at the Women’s Center.

The Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Parent Peer Support Group met Wednesday at the Women’s Center to present survey results that revealed a gap between their caregiving needs and resources provided by Northwestern. 

The group outlined plans to advocate for increased stipends and subsidized healthcare in partnership with the NU Graduate Workers Union.

The survey found that even after accounting for The Graduate School’s Childcare Grant — which typically only covers about two months worth of care — many struggle to make ends meet, with caregiving expenses constituting more than 30% of monthly income for 28% of respondents. In comparison, the average Illinois household spends about 7% of its income on childcare, according to 

Murielle Standley, a 4th-year Ph.D. candidate in communication sciences and disorders, created the graduate student caregiver support group, which has been meeting for the past two years. She said she felt isolated as a first-year Ph.D. student with children during the pandemic, and sought a space for emotional support and advocacy.

Standley said her biggest goal for the group is to make it sustainable enough to continue after she and her peers graduate.

“The issue is people graduate and then it falls apart, and then someone else doesn’t know that this whole group existed before and starts something new,” Standley said. “And I just feel like that is such a waste of resources, especially for parents because we have, like, zero time besides grad school and family life.”

Charles Logan, a 4th-year Ph.D. candidate in learning sciences and a key organizer of the survey, said the results helped him to crystallize information on graduate student parents’ multiple needs. It included data on monthly health care and child care expenses, as well as personal testimonials.

“Purchasing just the health insurance premium, not counting the out-of-pocket expenses, offered by NU for my dependent is the reason why we are on food stamps,” read one testimonial. “It puts us further into poverty but given the ongoing pandemic we cannot live without it.”

NUGW is using the survey results in its ongoing bargaining negotiations with the University. The union’s requests include unrestricted access to childcare grants of at least $7,000 for graduate workers with a dependent. 

The union is also requesting that graduate employees enrolled in University health insurance have 75% of their premiums for dependents covered. NU currently offers no coverage of this kind.

NUGW reached tentative agreements on union security, non-discrimination, management rights and “no strike/no lockout” in its bargaining meeting with the University Wednesday.

Logan added that graduate student caregivers, especially mothers, struggle to get ahead at work while raising a family.

He said he hopes NUGW negotiations will prevent graduate student caregivers from having to choose between learning and putting food on the table.

“You have a culture — I think it cuts across the university and the different colleges — of success that doesn’t make room for our full humanity,” Logan said. “And so, that comes through in the conversations we have in the group.”

Kavi Chintam, a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biological engineering and a representative for NUGW, said the union has a good partnership with the graduate student parent group.

“A lot of the demands we have are not specific to the entire grad worker population,” Chintam said. “Not everyone is a parent, not everyone is an international student, not everyone has disabilities. But it’s important that we organize around those issues that are for marginalized or just smaller representative groups of people.”

Chintam said the graduate student parent group creates a path for members to communicate their needs so the union can seek material gains on their behalf.

Matej Jungwirth, a 2nd-year Ph.D. student in political science, coordinated the data visualizations for the graduate student caregiver survey. Jungwirth said he would personally benefit from on-campus child care, an issue not currently being pursued in NUGW’s negotiations.

“It feels like there’s this nominal commitment to diversity and having graduate students from different backgrounds, and that’s reflected on many levels, but it feels graduate student caregivers are a bit of a forgotten group,” Jungwirth said.

Standley said the group meets about once a quarter to talk about issues they’re facing.

She said while it can be difficult to find time in her schedule for the group as a graduate student and parent of two children, she is happy to work on community building with her peers.

“Every quarter I’m like, ‘Oh, what am I gonna do this month? I have no time for this,’ But every time I organize this, it’s just a life-affirming and humanity-affirming thing,” Standley said.

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Twitter: @SQPowers04

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