How One Professor Makes Life Easier For Student-Parents


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?

From Dr. Melissa Cheyney’s 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.

Let’s have a conversation – let me know how you would feel if you read this in your syllabus at the beginning of the semester.


  1. Interesting….. I think in purpose of having a family friendly campus this would be great…. As a single parent who attended graduate school in the more traditional setting where children are not permitted, had to make many accomodations and sacrifices along the way, etc etc thinks “if u want your degree you WILL find a way to make it happen”

    1. What happens for the mother that has 2,3,4 children do they bring all the kids?

    2. What about the learninv environment of others …. if this is a policy in the syllabus then that means students have already signed up for the class, enrolled, and attending the first day and the professor and parents have assumed that those whom may not have children would be okay with this policy and now that student is stuck in a class where the environment may not be ideal for them or they are forced to go through the withdrawal process and locating another class.

    3. What about parents myself who enjoy learning and are excited to go to class because they get to get away from children and do something they enjoy …. shoot when im in my kid free moments I dont want to be bothered by my child or any other persons child.

    4. Maybe having daycares on campus would be a better option …. you use your student id to sign children in and out and again its not a permanent fix or substitute for regular child care.

  2. As a student-parent, it feels good to have a professor that is empathetic, accommodating, flexible etc. There are times when I had no choice but to bring my daughter to class with me. I don’t make a habit out of it at all, but it’s good to know that I have that option and I won’t get the side eye from my professors. OR there have been times when I just needed that extra day or two to turn in an assignment due to juggling so many other things outside of school.

    The commenter above makes some very valid points though. But in all honestly, I’ve never had experience with a classmate bringing in a disruptive child. They have always behaved and sat quietly either doodling or watching videos on the laptop with headphones in. It doesn’t bother ME but I guess that’s subjective.

  3. I love this! Especially about allowing exclusively breastfed babies to attend. I assume that word of how (awesome!) this professor is would spread so you would probably know these things before enrolling in the class anyway.

    In response to the first commentor- it does state that she knows things come up so if you had to bring your child it would be ok. It’s not sounding like you could bring your child with you every day, but if it occasionally happened it wouldn’t be a big deal. I think that most parents who are going back to school would be serious enough about school to not take advantage of this policy… (I’d hope!)

    Just found your blog while searching for some tips on going back to school as a mom. Looks like you have some great info! I think it’s going to be a lot harder juggling 3 kids and school than it was juggling school, work and going to party’s like the first time 😉 thank you!

  4. Wow!!! Standing Ovation is needed!!! I’m not even in her class but I appreciate your understanding in accommodating parent students.

  5. This is awesome. Besides, i think it’s great for children to sit in on their parents lectures/ classes at least once a semester just to get a feel for college life. This will probably make them excited about going to college one day.