Attempting to earn a college degree is no easy task, but for students with young children it can be even more daunting. Trying to juggle studying and raising a child often leaves student parents conflicted as to whether studying or child rearing are more deserving of their attention at any given moment, according to Rachel Barth, a senior studying psychology at Xavier University and preparing for postgraduate studies in social work.
Xavier seniors are encouraged to leave a legacy before graduating. In choosing a topic for her senior project, Barth hoped to shed light on the struggle of the statistically unseen members of the Xavier student body trying to earn their degrees while caring for children. Understanding that administration would be viewing the completed projects, Barth focused on making hers a true call to action.
Barth was bothered by the fact that while other Jesuit universities across the nation (as well as other local universities) offer accessible forms of childcare to students, Xavier, in her opinion, does not.
According to Barth, Xavier’s only current option is a pricey, on-campus Montessori school that does not meet the needs of most students with children.
“A lot of faculty will utilize that as childcare. But it’s just very expensive and there are no scholarships offered, so for students who are parents that’s kind of unrealistic,” says Barth.
Through her attempts to gather information demonstrating a true need at Xavier for either on-campus or voucher-supported childcare, Barth was connected to Dr. Kristen Renzi.
An English professor and director of Xavier’s Gender and Diversity Program, Renzi, as Barth soon discovered, had been working on the same issue for several years.
“I thought I was starting from ground zero,” says Barth. “We had a conversation and (Renzi) showed me the research she had done. It’s hard, because Xavier doesn’t keep statistics on student parents, so she had to go through everyone’s FAFSA forms and see if the students had claimed dependants. She had already written a proposal to the administration. She had gotten knocked down, twice. The administration had declined for different reasons. Finance is one of them.”
“(Renzi) found some really interesting statistics,” continues Barth. “The one that really struck me is that black women were 3.4 times more likely to be single mothers as their white peers. I think it was that one of every five were single mothers versus one of every seventeen.”
“Especially now, there’s been a lot of talk on campus with the Black Lives Matter Movement. How are we making our university as inclusive as it can be to those on the margins? Are we really implementing the programs that are truly going to help the people that need it?” questions Barth.
The two women compared notes and worked to prepare a plan of action that would end in tangible results — in stages, if necessary. Their focus was raising awareness as well as funds, and laying the groundwork needed in order to be viable for receiving grants in the future.
Dr. Kristen RenziWhile nothing has been set in stone, Barth and Renzi have eyeballed properties in close proximity to the university and checked out established sources of staffing for a possible on-site (or nearby) childcare location.
They have delved into voucher systems as well, believing that setting those in place successfully, even in limited scope, might encourage interest in a more solid option for the future.
Renzi, a mother herself, is encouraging a sliding scale possibility, where contributions from faculty and staff toward their own childcare tuition could balance the income gap between well-paid professors and struggling students.
“For over thirty years, this has been an issue that faculty and staff have led various campaigns for,” says Renzi. ”If you look in our university archives you see different committees studying the status of women on campus and childcare availability. “
“In 2017, I decided to do some research to situate our particular campus within the national backdrop. Many universities throughout the country are seeing increasing numbers of students who are also parenting, and those had particularly problematic outcomes in terms of retention and time to degree,” continues Renzi. “The numbers nationally suggest that the burden of parenting while also being in school is disproportionately borne by women and people of color.”
Currently, Barth and Renzi are banking on attention garnered by Xavier’s March Gladness event, in which competing platforms campaign for funds and recognition in a two-day blitz of (mostly small) donations. While the funds are appreciated, the real prize is awareness. Greater numbers of individual donations indicate greater community interest in a particular agenda, thus drawing the eye of administration and donors.
March Gladness begins today and runs through Wednesday. Those interested in helping raise funds and awareness for this cause can use this link
. Donations as small as $5 are accepted and appreciated.