One little-celebrated aspect of USM’s diversity is the school’s high percentage of student parents. On-campus daycare and the full selection of evening classes are making it easier for parents to get a degree. Easier, but not easy. The Women’s Resource Center sponsored an event last Wednesday that gave mothers and mothers-to-be a chance to get together and relax.
“I’m a single mom of two, so I know how stressful it is,” said Jenn Burnham, an undeclared sophomore who planned the event for the WRC. “This day is about de-stressing and taking care of yourself.”
The Pregnant Students, Breastfeeding Moms, and Student Parent Day offered food, belly casting, henna body painting, and anti-stress gift packs, as well as an array of magazines and information on parenting and childcare. It also offered student moms a chance to talk about the challenges of being a parent at USM, and ways to make the most of what the University has to offer.
Access to daycare is a primary concern among student moms. While the USM daycare program is helpful, with centers in Portland and Gorham, the waiting list can be as long as two years.
“We have good programs, they just need to be expanded,” said Jennifer Spear, program manager of the daycare. “We do give priority status to students, but I wish we could serve more families.”
Many families find themselves juggling children around classes for lack of affordable, quality daycare.
“We’re very selective about where we’ll send her,” said Jill Moody, a senior media studies major, of her 16-month-old daughter Trinity. “My husband and I have stacked our classes so that he goes to school during the day and I go at night.”
Lack of family housing is another problem. The housing market in Portland is extremely tight, and there are few options available on campus. There is a long waiting list for the limited spaces in Portland Hall.
On top of the logistical stresses of raising children, student parents need to find time to study.
“I don’t want being a parent to sound like an excuse,” said Meaghan Whalen, a sophomore communications major and mother of a 14-month-old son. “I’ve never come right out and said, ‘Look, I’m a mom. Everything’s going to be late.'” Whalen has been on the waiting list for USM daycare since last March, and won’t get in until next fall.
Other student parents look to professors to be aware of the unpredictability of a parent’s schedule, and to be willing to be flexible when necessary.
“A big part of it for me has been being a better advocate for myself,” said Keita A. Whitten, a senior social work major and mother of two. “Saying to professors, ‘I’m a student. I’m a mother. This and this might happen.’ I pay to come here, and I have needs, like any student, that need to be met. It’s about creating an atmosphere on campus that supports student parents.”
Whitten, like many other students, has turned to organizations like the Women’s Resource Center and the Multicultural Center for support and community.
“I think the University could help by providing funding for resources, to help people succeed as parents and as students,” Whitten said.
The Women’s Resource Center is hosting a Parent Support Group, from 12- 1:10 p.m. on Fridays. They can be contacted at 780-4996 for more information.