Despite a strong mandate for action at the fall General Assembly, the issues facing student parents remain on the backburner of political discourse at McGill.
Last fall, undergraduates voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion calling on SSMU to lobby the National Assembly for a special academic status for student parents, which would allow student parents to take fewer classes without losing full-time student classification, go on paid parental leave, and obtain priority access to daycare.
The GA motion was drafted in response to the difficulties of balancing the time demands of being a parent and a McGill student.
“Sudden changes in exam and class scheduling can wreak havoc for student-parents,” said Elizabeth Punnet, a Master’s student at McGill with a three-year-old daughter.
Elena Lonero, a mother and graduate student in Nursing, emphasized that the McGill Administration’s apparent indifference to the needs of student parents is a major barrier to involvement in campus life.
“[Raising a child is a] full-time job on its own,” Lonero said, adding that the competitive attitude at McGill can make parents feel unwelcome.
Agathe Streiff, Director of the McGill Student Parents’ Network (MSPN) – which organizes services for parents such as volunteer babysitting and Saturday get-togethers for children – echoed Punnet and Lonero’s concerns.
“Their study time is really difficult to manage with a family life at the same time,” Streiff said of student parents.
Punnet thought that some of these time stresses would be reduced if parents could alleviate their course load without losing full time status.
“The MSPN has been a godsend,” Punnet said, but added that more needs to be done to facilitate student parents’ participation in campus life.
Despite being intimately connected to large numbers of McGill’s student-parent community, the MSPN was unaware of the student-parent GA motion.
Max Silverman, SSMU VP External Affairs, said that SSMU has take many steps to address student-parents’ concerns.
“In all of our mobilizations that we do, we’ve started making the student parents demands one of our central demands,” he said.
According to Silverman, this includes pushing for flexible daycare and accessibility for student parents in the literature for events like the Day of Action in Quebec City on February 21.
In addition, SSMU executives included a statement of support for flexible daycare in their January meeting with the Minister for Education – but Silverman admitted this produced “no real concrete response” from the Minister.
None of the measures he cited addressed setting up a special status for student parents.
However, Silverman pointed out that the SSMU Daycare is the only daycare on campus that primarily caters to student parents, and that SSMU accommodates all undergraduates who seek daycare services.
“There are no undergraduates on the waiting list [for SSMU Daycare],” he said.
But Streiff’s perception of the SSMU Daycare differed strongly from Silverman’s. She explained that some student parents explored using SSMU’s daycare service, but balked at the waiting times – which she said could total up to three years.
“There’s definitely a need for the current daycare to be expanded,” Streiff said. “There is a significant population of undergrads who join the MSPN because there’s no room [in SSMU’s daycare].”