Commentary  Editorial: Rights for student parents

In this campus’s efforts at inclusion, it seems we have missed a step. In our chemistry labs, in our PhD seminars, in our cafeterias, there are student parents who aren’t getting the support they need.

For parents, the academic world remains less than accessible, meaning those who do succeed as student parents deserve not just help but admiration. Student parents are perpetually on the backburner of our political thinking at universities – it’s time for McGill to step up and provide some real structure and support for them.

McGill’s Student Services have begun to respond to the needs of student parents, who over the past decade have organized their own support network and put more pressure on the University. And the movement is growing: PGSS has provided advertising for the McGill Student Parents’ Network, and a SSMU General Assembly passed a motion this year in support of student parents. This spring, for the first time, the McGill Student Parents’ Network will host a forum on student parenting.

But the lack of support for student parents far outweighs these small victories. Student parents tell us that some professors will not accommodate a late paper from a parent whose child has been up sick at night, and bus drivers refuse to allow parents to take the Macdonald bus with their children. These are just a few examples of the hardships student parents have told us they face, and more must be done.

McGill must expand its daycare system, and look to other universities for methods and guidance. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum is dedicated to raising money through the capital campaign. If McGill’s neglect of student parents is a matter of limited resources, we suggest that some money be set aside specifically for initiatives designed to make student parents’ lives easier. For instance, McGill and SSMU both ought to find ways to reduce the lengthy waiting lists for their daycare programs.

McGill must also work to institutionalize flexibility for student parents who need to hand in papers late or take fewer classes. Looking into designating a special “student parent” status would be worthwhile, so students with children would get priority for scheduling conferences or lab work. As well, McGill should make its spaces more accessible and inclusive for parents by providing baby-changing stations and lactation spaces where needed.

Most importantly, McGill needs to invest in a permanent space for student parents – an Office for Student Parents with full-time staff, backed by the expertise of the McGill Student Parents’ Network and the wealth of research on child care and paediatrics from the University’s Education and Nursing programs. This could grow into a centre for advocacy and support, a base from which student parents could lobby the administration and the government, and share resources. Student parents have to balance responsibilities that would be hard for anybody. It’s time the University gave them the support they deserve.