I’m turning the final corner of my graduate school life, putting the finishing touches on my thesis before I go in front of my committee for my thesis. In doing some final research on what constitutes a family-friendly campus, I found this sample syllabus from a professor at Oregon State. It almost brought tears to my eyes with how fair and compassionate it was. And how SIMPLE would it be to have professors adapt this and include it in their syllabus?
Policy on Children in Class: It is my belief that if we want women in academia, that we should also expect children to be present in some form. Currently, the university does not have a formal policy on children in the classroom. The policy described here is thus, a reflection of my own beliefs and commitments to student, staff and faculty parents.
1) All exclusively breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary to support the breastfeeding relationship. Because not all women can pump sufficient milk, and not all babies will take a bottle reliably, I never want students to feel like they have to choose between feeding their baby and continuing their education. You and your nursing baby are welcome in class anytime.
2) For older children and babies, I understand that minor illnesses and unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in the position of having to chose between missing class to stay home with a child and leaving him or her with someone you or the child does not feel comfortable with. While this is not meant to be a long-term childcare solution, occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly acceptable.
3) I ask that all students work with me to create a welcoming environment that is respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status.
4) In all cases where babies and children come to class, I ask that you sit close to the door so that if your little one needs special attention and is disrupting learning for other students, you may step outside until their need has been met. Non-parents in the class, please reserve seats near the door for your parenting classmates.
5) Finally, I understand that often the largest barrier to completing your coursework once you become a parent is the tiredness many parents feel in the evening once children have finally gone to sleep. The struggles of balancing school, childcare and often another job are exhausting! I hope that you will feel comfortable disclosing your student-parent status to me. This is the first step in my being able to accommodate any special needs that arise. While I maintain the same high expectations for all student in my classes regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem solve with you in a way that makes you feel supported as you strive for school-parenting balance. Thank you for the diversity you bring to our classroom!
I love this. It makes me think that this professor understands the unique needs that student-parents bring to the classroom and that any parents in her class would be put at ease by this announcement.
Often, when I’m talking to people about student-parents trying to juggle their multiple roles as they progress through school, they kind of scoff at me as if to suggest that we have to separate our roles when we step on campus. The fact is that a parent is always a parent, even if they are enrolled in an institution of higher learning. We make accommodations for LGBT students, giving them “safe spaces” to talk to professors and staff about their issues. We provide extra help for students with learning disabilities and special groups for those who live off campus. So why not acknowledge that student-parents are a group that has special needs? Who does that hurt?
Tressie McMillan Cottom, a childless PhD candidate, wrote a very moving post on her blog about why it makes sense for schools to accommodate students with children:
Making graduate school more flexible for those who have families and offspring does not just benefit them. It benefits all of us who partake in a better society when people do not have to stop producing, growing, and learning when they have children. There may be lines to be drawn about how far an organization should go to accommodate people but to eschew any accommodation as unwarranted is myopic and counterproductive.
Put more simply:
Society needs people.
Babies become people.
Amen to that.