Due to budget cuts, Mills College is planning to slash two of the three student staff positions that support parenting students on-campus at the end of the Spring 2019 semester.
Being eliminated are the peer adviser for parenting students at the Center for Student Leadership, Equity, and Excellence and the resident assistant (RA) for the Underwood Apartments.
“Now they’re taking away this one position that we have here through the Center and pretty much on-campus that supports parents,” current Mills Peer Adviser for Parenting Students Chiany Dri said. “Basically, we don’t get a voice at the table, and we don’t get the proper representation that we deserve to have on-campus.”
According to Dri, the Center’s professional staff explained to her and her colleagues that the eliminations are part of restructuring the remaining positions to be more intersectional and less identity based. She said that the reasoning they provided is that such roles are more general and, therefore, could be a resource to more communities.
“We have a positive working relationship with the student leaders on this issue,” Mills associate provost for recruitment and student success Margaret Hunter said. “We are working together to develop new strategies to improve the academic experience for parenting students.”
More than one-quarter of American undergraduates are parenting students. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 4.8 million college students have dependent children, based on 2011 data. Most of them—71 percent—are women.
At present, the number of parenting students on the Mills campus is unknown.
To aid parenting students in accomplishing their collegiate goals, the peer adviser for parenting students guides them to resources and creates programming that connects them to each other and the larger Mills community. Part of this role is also managing the parenting lounge.
“Being that I’m a parent on-campus and experiencing the same things and needing the same types of support, I feel like I can actually fight for that support in a way that is maybe more effective than somebody who doesn’t have kids and doesn’t know what support to fight for,” Dri said.
Dri has been in communication with multiple campus offices, such as Career Connections, Student Access and Support Services (SASS) and ResLife, to create a workshop and develop resources that fit the needs of parenting students.
“We definitely have a lot more on our plate, I would say, which means that we need a lot more support,” Dri said.
In addition to being a full-time student, Dri parents two young children and works forty hours a week outside of school.
The Journal of Higher Education recently published findings that it’s much harder for parenting students to complete their degrees than their childless peers. It takes them longer to finish college, putting them at higher risk of dropping out, and most struggle to find childcare and maintain financial solvency.
“I have advocated for myself as a parent on-campus, and for other parents on-campus, because I don’t want to be invisible on-campus,” current Underwood Apartments RA and graduate coordinator for resident life Jocelyn Robinson said. “I wanted to have as close to a traditional experience living on-campus as possible, but I also wanted my children to be free to roam the campus and really get an idea of what college life is like at a young age.”
The Mills Underwood Apartments are designated as family housing and its RA focuses on assisting residents with finding campus tools and resources needed throughout their collegiate experience. The RA also helps plan events for parenting students, their children and the Mills community.
The position not being eliminated is the Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) parent senator. This role also helps address the needs and concerns of parenting students, including planning an event per semester, and supports the peer adviser for Parenting Students. For instance, Dri and ASMC are collaborating on allocating funds for parenting students to create book grants and meal stipends.
“If they’re taking away two of the roles that helps support parents then that means everything is going to fall on me, which would be okay if that were my full-time job, but I’m a full-time student and I’m a parent,” ASMC student senator Rebecca Galicia said. “I just don’t think that’s reality, and it’s not fair to parent students that they’re not being supported and there’s only one person.”
Dri has proposed Mills implement an institutional position for a parent student support coordinator, adding more structured assistance for parents who are earning their degrees. She led a petition requesting that Mills leadership create this role. It exceeded their goal of 100 signatures and garnered 117 signatures.
“Parents are already lacking a lot of support, even with my role here, which is why I’m pushing to have a more institutionalized role,” Dri said. “I don’t think it’s really fair for the college to place all the responsibility on students.”
Dr. Chicora Martin, Mills vice president of student life and dean of students, said that there isn’t funding and resources to hire a full-time institutional position for only parenting students, but they’re open to seeing how shared needs between parenting students and their childless peers could become part of existing centers and staff positions.
Mills leadership is also in the process of creating an academic policy for parenting students, meaning better visibility for them and structured guidelines about children on-campus. Other things planned include an updated map of changing stations and a page for parents on the upcoming redesign of inside.mills.edu.
“Mills College values family life and works to develop policies that support parenting students and families. The College seeks to provide an environment that is welcoming and affirming of children and families,” Martin and Hunter said in an email. “To that end, the College encourages faculty/staff and parenting students to communicate about the best ways to create a supportive learning environment for parents.”
Dri contacted around six other women’s colleges, including Wellesley College and Smith College, about their services for parenting students. She learned that these colleges offer parenting students almost no, if any, resources and support, highlighting a common institutional gap.
“Mills has this really great opportunity to be a top college that is providing top services for students who are marginalized on-campus, especially since that’s part of our mission—to provide those types of support for non-traditional students,” Dri said. “I think it also means that in some ways Mills is ahead of the curve, but we need to continue doing that work.”