KeepHealthCare.ORG – The job that calls you at three in the morning | Wellness
For many students who go the traditional route of attending college straight out of high school, the idea of raising a child while getting their degree might be far from their minds. But here at the UW, there is an entire community of student-parents working to support themselves and each other. They are undergrads and grad students, and they are students who had families before attending university and students whose families began while they were at the UW.
The Student Parent Resource Center (SPRC), located on the fifth floor of Schmitz Hall, is one resource hub for these students. Each year, it distributes financial aid to students in need through the Childcare Assistance Program. According to a a report released by the SPRC, this grant is distributed to nearly 300 students annually and subsidizes “from 150 dollars to 800 dollars a month of a student’s actual childcare costs.”
The SPRC is run by Diana Herrmann, who had the experience of being a student-parent herself and recently supported her daughter through the same thing. For Herrmann, the work that the SPRC does is motivated by a wish to help others manage the difficulties of being a full-time student and full-time parent. She often invites students into her office to get connected with resources or simply to chat.
In addition to distributing grants, the SPRC connects students with child care in the community, including the three child care centers available at the UW. It also maintains a lactation center in Schmitz Hall.
“When they changed federal regulation to require spaces for breastfeeding, we actually had big businesses like Boeing come to us to ask for advice about how to implement that,” Herrmann said.
The ultimate objective of the SPRC is to increase access to education for students who might otherwise have had to leave school to take care of families. Approximately two-thirds of the students it serves are graduate students, while one-third are completing their undergraduate degrees.
Travis Windleharth, a grad student at the UW and a single father, attested to the necessity of the Childcare Assistance Program.
“The child care benefit was a huge boon,” Windleharth said. “I would not have been able to do this Ph.D. program without the child care subsidy.”
Haley Fuchs, a student at the UW MEDEX physician’s assistant graduate program, described working 50 to 55 hours a week to save up for child care. The Student Parent Resource Center, UW Housing & Food Services, and the veteran’s department (since her husband is in the Navy) all came together to ensure she could begin her graduate program shortly after giving birth.
“This scholarship [from the SPRC] has truly been a blessing and has helped us budget and save for all the unexpected costs of child care that have continued to come as [my daughter] grows up,” Fuchs said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and in my case, it truly has. Collaboration between multiple departments … as well as among instructors and my fellow peers has made my success in school possible. I would not be where I am today without all these people and feel they truly deserve a note of recognition.”
However, many UW students have pointed out shortcomings of the university’s resources for aiding student-parents. During the 2017-2018 school year, a total of 58 student-parents were stuck on the waitlist for the Childcare Assistance Program.
Thomas “TJ” Walker, a grad student and father to a 1-year-old son, said that extremely long waitlists have marked his time as a student-parent at the UW.
“We got on the waiting list for the UW child care system when he was minus three months old,” Walker said. “It was February, and he was born in May … The waiting list for all those [child care places operated by the UW] is like 18 months to three years.”
Similarly, waitlists have prevented eligible students from accessing the financial resources distributed by the SPRC.
“If you get them, it’s wonderful,” Walker said. “But for the folks who don’t, they’re left out in the cold.”
Elizabeth Oestreich, an organizer of the Student Parent Advocacy (SAP) RSO, said she is dissatisfied with the resources for student-parents offered by the UW in comparison to peer institutions.
“When you start at UW as a student-parent, there’s no one place to go,” Oestreich said. “There’s no one office to ask, ‘What resources are for me?’ The SPRC is just one woman in a cubicle, and I found a list of peer institutions that had parent centers with a staff of two to seven people.”
While the SPRC strives to connect student-parents with resources, it’s mainly focused on distributing financial aid (hence its location in a tiny cubicle in Schmitz Hall). UW parents, many of whom live in on-campus family housing, have had to find other ways to band together to create a cohesive community.
Travis Windleharth is a member of an informal single-parents group based in student-family housing. They will regularly cook for each other, share information and resources, and supervise each others’ kids. On Friday, in honor of Mother’s Day weekend, Windleharth invited single moms to let him watch their children so they could go out and ended up watching 13 kids.
“I consider the single parents group to be my primary community in Seattle,” Windleharth said.
The SPA is another group that was formed to address student-parents’ needs on a more political level. The RSO is in its first year, and it aims to be a mouthpiece for the community.
“We’re trying to figure out what it is that student-parents want,” Oestreich said. “Our long-term goal is to try to create an office that has a more holistic focus [than the SPRC], sort of like the Office of Student Veteran Life.”
Walker, Windleharth, and Oestreich all identified packed schedules as a reason why UW student-parents have not been a very vocal minority. Though there is still more work to be done in meeting the community’s needs, student-parents are often too busy to demand it. This is what the RSO is trying to change.
“The way UW is set up, you have to advocate for yourself, but as a student-parent, you don’t have time,” Oestreich said.
When asked what they wished the UW community as a whole understood about the student-parent community, the respondents had similar answers.
“Imagine everything you’re doing, and how hard school can be, while working … and then imagine essentially having two more full-time jobs on top of that,” Walker said. “And it’s never off. It’s a job that calls you at three in the morning.”
While student-parents have not always been the most vocal minority at the UW, they are a vital part of the University’s community. They are fellow students, TAs, employees, and researchers.
“We exist, we’re here at the table with you,” Oestreich said. “Don’t forget us.”
Reach writer McKenzie Murray at [email protected] Twitter: @merqto