By Genevieve Broadley
Setting the Scene
Where do I begin? It all happened so quickly, and I feel like I don’t know what to do. My boyfriend and I have been dating for some time now, in fact it will be two years later this month. We met during frosh week, and now we’re almost half way done our undergraduate. Crazy how time flies! But, I guess a lot of things can change over two years, and crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it. I found out that I was pregnant two weeks ago, so I guess that puts me close to two months… I live with a bunch of girlfriends in our student house, and they all told me they would support me in my decision. My boyfriend told me the same thing. I guess what has been bothering me the most, is that I don’t really feel like I have a decision to make in the first place. Decisions can only be made when choices are present, but right now, I feel trapped. How am I going to finish my program with a new baby? I would have to move. I would have to take time off (is that even allowed?). I don’t have the money. What about daycare? Would my student benefits cover my child? Will I have to finish my classes online? Is there a support group on my campus? In my two years here so far, I have never seen a pregnant woman on campus. Will I stand out? Be ridiculed or gossiped about? What do I do?
The Canadian Context
This is just one of the many stories of a pregnant student trying to survive in the postsecondary setting. As Canadians we take pride in our cultural mosaic, our inclusivity, and the availability of resources and care we provide to the members of our society. Nevertheless, we cannot take this for granted. If we stop and ask ourselves who isn’t included and which pieces don’t fit into our mosaic, I think we would realize that universities are often not an inclusive space for pregnant and parenting students (Bierling, Cassidy, & Carter, 1994). According to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, at the University of Saskatchewan, one of the major issues in lifelong learning is the question of how to create a culture of learning for all. Postsecondary institutions must strive to be a culture of learning for all by providing access to learning for the less advantaged (CHSS, 2007). A study conducted in 2010 by the deVeber Institute investigated resources for pregnant and parenting students on university campuses in Canada (Bonomi, 2010). They found that only one Canadian university (University of Toronto) offered a Family Care Office, or central location from which students and their families can find resources and support through their education (Frances, 2016).
One of the most common resources provided at Canadian universities is flexible class times such as evening and weekend classes and distance studies options, at 91% and 76% of Canadian universities respectively (Bonomi, 2010). These were considered to be some of the most helpful options for pregnant and parenting students. Another very important resource for families is childcare. Brock University is one of 51 of Canadian Universities, out of 86 total, to offer a daycare on campus (Bonomi, 2010). The Rosalind Blauer Centre for Childcare offers their services to students, faculty, and staff of Brock University as well as to the community at large, with a priority given to students (Rosalind, 2010). Currently the daycare here at Brock has a waitlist of 1 year to 18 months, and the cost to enroll an infant is $245.07 per week (Rosalind, 2010). The centre is open Monday to Friday, from 7:30 in the morning to 6 at night (Rosalind, 2010). Despite these very long hours, students may struggle to find babysitters or childcare providers for evening or weekend classes. Negotiating class schedules and securing childcare are tip of the iceberg. Becoming a new parent can be challenging enough to navigate, without trying to decipher your school’s administrative policies, and build your own network of support. A central family care office would be an excellent asset to any school wishing to create an inclusive culture of learning for all (Frances, 2016).
The rhetoric surrounding “choice” in North America emphasizes a woman’s right to choose, but choices have seldom been provided for those who want to pursue family life and their education (Bierling et al. 1994). The 21st century woman is more likely than ever before to attend postsecondary school, and often females are outnumbering males in the university setting (Frenette & Klarka, 2007). The need for family-friendly campuses will only become greater as Canada opens its doors to immigrant and refugee families who are required to upgrade licensing or re-certify themselves in order to become professionals in the Canadian context (Houle & Yssaad, 2010; CIC, 2015).
Without critically assessing why we do not already have a vested interest in pregnant and parenting students, and why we are not striving to make education more accessible to students with families, we cannot move forward. If resources cannot be provided to support families on campus, pregnant and parenting students will be left behind during a challenging time. So why should we care? Family life is important. Often family is even referred to as a microcosm of society (Ugal & Orim, 2009). If families are the foundation on which society is built, then our educational institutions must do everything in their power to buttress this foundation and reinforce it. Education can not be viewed as incompatible with family life, but rather a means of enriching it; ensuring that the society of our future is built on a strong foundation.
Bierling, G., Cassidy, E., & Carter, E. (1994). Agency and maternal perceptions on the decision to parent. UFL Proceedings 1994. 290-308.
Bonomi, G. (2010). Resources for pregnant women, single mothers, and parenting students on university campuses in Canada. The deVeber Institute of Bioethics and Social Research. http://www.deveber.org/blog/2010/10/14/resources-pregnant-women-single- mothers-and-parenting-students-university-campuses-c
CHSS – Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences (2007). Issues in lifelong learning. University of Saskatchewan (May 26- June 2).
CIC: The refugee system in Canada. The Government of Canada. Nov.24 2015 http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/canada.asp
Francis, K. (n.d.). University of Toronto, Family Care Office. Retrieved March 9, 2016. http://www.familycare.utoronto.ca
Frenette, M., & Klarka Z. (2007). Why are most university students women? Evidence based on academic performance, study habits and parental influences. Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 11F0019MIE – No. 303.
Houle, R., & Yssaad, L. (2010). Recognition of newcomer’s foreign credentials and work experience. Perspectives – Statistics Canada, 75(01), 18-33.
Rosalind Blauer Center for Child Care (2010). Enrolment and costs/ waitlist. Retrieved March 10, 2016. https://www.brocku.ca/childcare
Ugal, D., & Orim, P. (2009). Family as a microcosm of the larger society: Implications for societal development. Social Science Research Network, (6) 12, 1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1518894