It took me exactly three years and four months, countless networking meetings with academic mothers, 22 separate requests with staffers, administrators and faculty, four diversity and inclusion related grant proposals, one op-ed, several Stanford Daily articles, a letter to Title IX and a university sponsored working group (Stanford Families Working Advisory Group) to initiate a process by which the University now, in 2018, 127 years since it became a co-educational institution, has developed a lactation accommodations policy for the community of 12,148 staffers, 9304 graduate students, 2180 faculty members and 7032 undergrads.
For most members of the Stanford community, this may be a surprise. Yet, in my conversations with numerous new graduate and postdoc mothers who may be “pumping in a phone closet with no power source for her pump” (long-range planning, white paper C4, page 9, para 4); recommended by colleagues to produce milk for their babies where people defecated; or, in my case, forced to pump in my open cubicle and in my car, the process of securing a safe and clean lactation space was humiliating and dehumanizing as a first year doctoral student and a new mother.
I knew I was making a political gamble in my initial request for a lactation space. I wanted to be remembered for my scholarship, not for pushing an agenda for nursing mothers. Yet, I knew my narrative was not isolated amid a sea of graduate students and postdocs families. With the support of VPGE, I have been able to channel my energies to listen to issues and concerns that differentially impact the lives of graduate students and postdoc families and serve as an advocate for students and their families as they navigate their familial and academic careers at Stanford.
Through this work, I learned that lactation space is not the only obstacle parent scholars face. If you don’t (yet) have children, you may not realize that Stanford currently provides no support for childcare or health insurance for the children of your classmates. This lack of institutional support creates significant hardship for many of your fellow students. Quality childcare, in particular, is scarce and expensive in Silicon Valley. Grad school is often described as a good time to have children. It can make sense to get the labor-intensive early years – and sleepless nights – of parenthood out of the way before starting the tenure clock. But without support, this choice comes with untold stresses. Inadequate support contributes not only to fewer Stanford-trained parent scholars than we might otherwise have but also to a culture that devalues the work and importance of raising children.
I know that Stanford can do better. As an engine of social change, Stanford can, through its actions and policies, lead the way toward establishing a new norm of respect and set a new standard of support for the essential work of raising children that has long gone unacknowledged, unappreciated and unsupported by institutions, perhaps especially in academia. In a recent proposal to the long-range planning committee, our team of student leaders advocated a Family Resource Center committed to the holistic support and success of undergraduate and graduate student and postdoc families. This proposal garnered over 500 signatories from undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, staff, faculty and alumni who signed in support.
If you have children, I urge you to share your stories, and if you don’t, I encourage you to support your friends and colleagues who are parents and scholars by writing a statement of support for a Family Resource Center via the long-range planning open comment process at email@example.com by the end of this month. If we all take just a few minutes to endorse this critical step toward institutionalizing support for parent scholars, maybe it won’t take another century before Stanford takes its next step to support those among us who are simultaneously learning at Stanford and raising the next generation.
Tina Cheuk, Ph.D. candidate, Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Mothers in Academia & Student Parent Alliance