Women in Academia: Making Life Easier for Parents

Last week, I got a barrage of emails asking me to fill out year-end surveys about the various campus programs and initiatives. After several years working in psychology labs and seeing both how important surveys are and how often they are ignored, I have developed an intense guilt complex surrounding my interactions with surveys: now, I fill them all out. One them asked me to report my experiences and awareness of various family support programs, and I was surprised by how little I knew about them.

I should take a moment and say that even though I am talking to women in academia, and even though I am talking about family care issues, I do not wish to reinforce gender roles (women must tend to the family in a nurturing and loving way while balancing work and looking good and having hobbies and cute shoes, men must be big and beefy hunter-gathers who earn money and neglect their children in a manly fashion): I simply wish to address the decidedly bullshit reality in which women are still responsible for the vast majority of domestic duties. And, to be fair, the survey did allude to this issue and tried to discuss childcare and family support programs in a gender neutral manner (parent instead of mother, for example, even when discussing breastfeeding, so right on).

After I completed the survey, I did a quick Google search to find breastfeeding stations, childcare centers, and support groups for families at other universities. I got a ton of hits, which is definitely heartening. In recent years, the amount of support people with families receive has increased – new programs are put in place, breastfeeding stations are being built, and heck, even silly little things like family picnic days are becoming annual events.

The new initiatives are small and limited in their scope, which is to be expected for programs that are in their early stages; however, they are not being widely advertised, at least not from what I can tell. I wouldn’t have looked into the different services if I hadn’t gotten an email asking about my experiences with them. With the exception of a few one-off meetings, discussions, or events, I hadn’t even heard of any of the family services on campus.

Some universities recognize this problem and have organized groups to help spread awareness through word of mouth and targeted emails (wow, in those words, it almost sounds like they’re building a pyramid scheme”¦except no one pays money and everyone gets access to free breast-pumps). Is it working? Do you know about the family services on campus? Are they adequate? Have you used them? What would you like to see?

3 thoughts on “Women in Academia: Making Life Easier for Parents”

  1. I’m just returning to university after a decade and a bit break, so this quite relevant to me!

    My university has a daycare that’s well-recommended, but unfortunately it has a long waitlist. I’ve arranged for off-campus babysitting, but it involves a 10 minute bus ride between the campus and the babysitter’s house. I hope this is temporary and a spot on-campus comes up in the next calendar year.

  2. My university has a parent’s room. The parent’s room is for breastfeeding and changing and just having a space for on-campus parents to have a moment with their child.   It was centrally located, so that had to be helpful. No idea how well it was patronised, but it is still there so that’s a good sign.

    The Uni Council also considered turning an old pub into a daycare for children of lecturers and students, but it was decided it was too far away for parents of small children if they wanted/needed to visit during the day. So hooray for common sense, boo for the fact they haven’t done any thing further about the very outdated and crowded daycare they already have.  However there is another old pub up for sale that is centrally located they could use (yeah my uni was a party one. There are a lot of places to drink there but many of them are being shut down, sob).

  3. I pumped while in the “individual instruction” office for our students.  Which doesn’t have a lock on it.  I got walked in on by a student.  It was awful, awful, awful.  Really awful.

    tBut I never asked about breastfeeding stations, and I probably could have gotten an office that locked if I had pushed for it – it just seemed like I was in this office that was not being used, I had a note on it asking people to knock, no big deal.

    I also never, not once, never ever, went to one of those family picnic things.

    So my experience – could have been better, but I didn’t do much to seek out betterness.  I could, and did, bring the baby into our grad student office and to events with no trouble, and the flexible schedule of graduate school was pretty kickass.


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