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?