How to Build Solidarity with Student Moms

I had been a mom only for a year when I returned to college to finish my undergraduate education. It was difficult learning to be away from my toddler daughter and even more difficult learning how to dedicate time to schoolwork and extracurricular activities without cheating my daughter out of our story time and playtime. I was fortunate enough to encounter two faculty members who had recently assisted students in starting an AAUW student organization on campus to fight for women’s empowerment. This community not only respected my role as a mother — they supported it, which made AAUW a perfect fit for me as a student parent. I would like to honor other student mothers by encouraging AAUW student organizations to be inclusive to parents.

Here are four simple steps that can make your AAUW student organization more inclusive and welcoming to student mothers.

Step 1: Discard your ideas of what a student is or should be.

When I returned to college as a newly minted mommy, I was very self-conscious of the fact that I was different from my seemingly responsibility-free contemporaries. But the truth is that anyone can be a student. Some students work one or more jobs, some already have their associate degree or have been in the workplace for several years. Some students still live at home, and some are joining the campus from abroad. That is what makes universities great — they offer a space for people from all walks of life to pursue a mutual goal: education.

AAUW student organizations can continue to preserve the integrity of university space by encouraging empathy. Acknowledge that a growing amount of students have responsibilities beyond class assignments and that there is room for everyone on your campus.

Step 2: Make your activities and events child friendly.

As a student parent I was initially timid about bringing my daughter on campus. I soon realized, however, that I could either pack her a toy bag and hope that I didn’t receive annoyed glances from my fellow students or skip campus events altogether and not be engaged on campus. When I joined my AAUW student organization I did so knowing that the women and allies in the group were open to having my daughter attend. Their actions spoke volumes to me — I decided against joining other campus organizations that didn’t appear to be open or accepting of having my daughter there.

Ensure that your campus knows that you are a child-friendly organization by making a note that “student parents and children are welcome” on promotional flyers and asking members to volunteer to watch children in a separate room if you expect to have several in attendance.

Step 3: Advocate campus child care.

As an undergraduate student I was living 100 miles from the closest relative, and my partner and I had conflicting daily schedules, which complicated planning day care drop-offs and pickups. In urban areas many parents have to rely on crowded and sometimes unreliable public transportation. Campus child care frees valuable time for parents to spend with their children and gives them back time to focus on schoolwork. The U.S. Department of Education has reported that 26 percent of students are also parents and 15 percent of students are single parents. That means that a quarter of university students need quality care for their children while they attend classes and complete group projects. But the reality is, 62 percent of higher education campuses do not offer on-site daycare or preschool.

Reach out to your university administration through petitions or other creative measures to encourage funding for campus child care. Ask students to share what campus child care would mean to them and how it would serve the campus and greater community.

Step 4: Advocate national affordable child care and parental services.

Child care is expensive, as are the health care costs associated with birth and child rearing. Washington, D.C., claims the highest child care costs in the nation at an average of $1,886 per month for an infant and is also one of 33 locales where infant care is more expensive than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. How can a student work, take on a full-time class schedule, and afford care for their child? The answer is, they can’t. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is considered affordable only if it costs no more than 10 percent of a family’s income, which is often not the case. Child care is a huge burden for student parents and can prevent them from continuing their education.

AAUW supports legislation and advocacy that affects parenting students and workers. You can keep up to date by signing up to be a Two-Minute Activist and advocating AAUW-endorsed policies that affect parents.

We can all better support mothers by encouraging their pursuit of higher education and making the resources necessary for that attainment possible. After all, who do you think is going to raise the next generation of feminists?

This resource was written by Campus Initiatives Intern Theresa Hice Johnson.


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