More of This: Doing something about it
The United States doesn't have an official language, but if we did, it would be complaining. We love complaining, and most of the time not doing anything to help the situation, just sit around and complain. I think it's okay to complain if you're in an unfair situation, but it's better when you're complaining turns to action.
I was inspired by a friend of mine, Ashley Beatty-Smith, a graduate student at Ohio University who realized the need for new programs for student-parents at the University when she found herself not getting the kind of care and help she and her family felt they needed and definitely deserved. Ashley created an organization called PrOUd Parents on Campus and they have made incredible strides for student-parents for years to come.
I spoke with Ashley and asked if I could share her story. Here are her words:
During the time of our second move, I was turned away for childcare at three different care facilities, including the OU Child Development Center. The CDC listed us at 63 on the waiting list; however, my supervisor’s daughter, who is several months younger than my own daughter, was offered a spot from the waiting list at only 5 months old. Now at 19 months old, we are still buried on the waiting list with no time frame for when we can expect care.
Many of these factors exhausted me; I felt let down by the university I cared for so much.
Realizing something needed to be done
The turning point for me was the moment I felt bullied by my peers in a campus dining hall with my daughter. I accepted an invitation from friends to the Nelson Dining Hall, and many of my “fellow bobcats” stared, pointed fingers, and took to Twitter to express their feelings about a baby in the dining hall. The tweets said, “Would it be rude of me to ask to borrow this girl in the dining hall’s baby for the white trash party tonight?” and “Okay teen mom parading your baby around Nelson, you’ve officially made us all uncomfortable. #awkward.”
I felt alienated for the first time on the campus I had been proud to call home for nearly 4 years.
I started speaking with fellow classmates I had met who also had children. Their stories were the same: no housing, no childcare, and reluctance in taking their child on campus. I realized that something had to be done, not only for myself, but for all of us living under the same circumstances. I felt that we deserved equal access to resources necessary for our success.
Doing Something about it
I first approached Dr. Jenny Hall-Jones, the Dean of Students, and Dr. Susanne Dietzel, the director of the Women’s Center. Next, I approached Dr. Ryan Lombardi, Vice President for Student Affairs. Additionally, I reached out to The Post asking for their coverage of the issues.
My goal was to raise awareness, and finally administration was aware of the issue and the community was able to engage in dialogue about this invisible, but significant, population. Around this time I was graduating and starting my graduate program in College Student Personnel, working as an academic advisor in the Allen Student Help Center.
Through my advising work I started meeting at least one or two student-parents per week who shared many of the same struggles. I started connecting them to one another, forming an unofficial support community. With the help of a fellow student-parent, I co-founded PrOUd Parents on Campus to have an official avenue of support for these students.
I became so entrenched in each of their stories. While their struggles were all so different, the need was the same- some type of resource not offered by the university. I put together a list of these needs and started meeting regularly with Dr. Lombardi.
Because of his support, the university has chosen a more inclusive healthcare policy that will include additional prenatal coverage; the university is actively seeking a family housing replacement; we are building a resource website including information on healthcare, housing, childcare, and support groups; we are implementing a poster campaign to combat the negative culture; and we are beginning work on a medical/parental withdrawal policy inclusive to both support partners during the birth of a child.
Visualizing Real Change
I have felt more fulfilled by this work than anything I have done previously. I remind myself that although my time as a student here is limited with graduation just a year away, these policy changes will positively impact other students for generations to come. There are freshman students in my support group who will likely see change prior to their time ending here. And that is what keeps me going. After becoming a parent, finishing their education becomes more important than ever for these students. So it is my hope that these positive changes will empower them to continue on to the finish line."
I am so encouraged by people like Ashley who have the guts to actually do something about the real mess they found themselves dealing with. It takes nothing to complain, but it takes a lot of work, courage and heart to actually get up and do something about the problems we face.