Student-parents seek help

A student senator is proposing policy changes that would aid post-undergraduate students.

Charlie Bartlett

Veterinary medicine student Ashley Hall recalls with frustration the day she had to bring her 6-year-old son to class so she could take an exam.

“That was not the best situation,” she said, adding that her son spent the length of the exam running around the classroom.

Hall, a student senator and vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, is now working to alleviate some of the burdens students with children face, which she says include strict absence policies and a lack of resources for graduate and professional student parents.

One hurdle is a University policy that says students will not be penalized for absences because of illnesses of their dependents but doesn’t include excused absences for days when the dependent doesn’t have school.

Hall said there have been several days that her son’s school was canceled and his day care was closed, making her decide between taking an unexcused absence or bringing her son to class.

While some professors understand when she needs to miss class on those days, she said, others are less lenient.

“Most are supportive, but I’ve had some say I have to stick by the books,” Hall said.

She is drafting a resolution that would expand the University’s absence policy to include days when students’ dependents don’t have class, such as snow days and certain holidays.

The University has resources specifically for undergraduate student parents, like the Student Parent HELP Center located in Appleby Hall.

The center caters primarily to low-income undergraduate students, program director Susan Warfield said, though it wouldn’t turn away other students in need.

Hall said she has scheduled meetings with University officials to discuss the resolution and will likely bring it to the Student Senate next month. She also plans to send a survey on the issue to graduate and professional students.

Veterinary medicine student Alicia Donnelly has also found herself in tough situations where she’s had to bring her infant daughter to class.

Once, she said, her daughter couldn’t attend day care, so she brought her to class. And though her daughter behaved, Donnelly later received an email complaint for disrupting classroom activities.

While instances like this are rare for Donnelly, she said she likely wouldn’t have been able to continue her education without her family’s childcare help.

“I’ve been really lucky that my parents live close by,” she said.

Ashley Johnson Fetch is working toward a biological sciences master’s degree in the College of Continuing Education while parenting two children under age 10.

She said she’s run into conflicts with child care but prefers to bring her children to class rather than missing any material covered.

In addition to rigid absence policies, Hall said the University provides few parent resources for graduate and professional students.

Warfield said the center has assisted post-undergraduate students through initiatives like holding drives to raise money for low-income students and writing letters to professors requesting excused absences on days when student parents can’t find child care.

She said graduate and professional students don’t receive as much financial assistance through the state, though, which makes it difficult to provide them with resources like financial counseling that undergraduates have access to.

Donnelly said she’d like to see more financial aid resources and scholarships for post-undergraduate student parents.

Hall said her resolution calls for more overall University funding and support for post-undergraduate students with children.

Though most of her professors don’t take attendance and typically don’t mind her children tagging along, Johnson Fetch said the University should be more lenient with student-parents, especially those at the post-undergraduate level.

“Anything that can alleviate the stress of being a graduate student and a parent is good,” she said.