Student parents say they need support

Undergraduate students with children face isolation on campus from professors and peers

Logan Weaver and her daughter Kennedy.
Logan Weaver and her daughter Kennedy.
Credit: 
Supplied by Logan Weaver

When Logan Weaver told her classmates that she had a child, most of them stopped speaking to her.

Weaver, ArtSci ’16, gave birth to her daughter Kennedy when she was 18. She took an extra year of high school after giving birth because she didn’t want to start university with a three-month old child to take care of.

Some undergraduate students with children feel there are no resources on campus to help them.

Until her third year at Queen’s, Weaver said she’d had a negative experience because of the way both students and professors treated her when they heard about her daughter.

“I tell my profs that I have a child within the first couple of weeks, because I’m more likely to miss a lot of class and if anything happens and I get called, I need to leave class,” Weaver said.

But she has found that it doesn’t matter to some professors if she has a child. Professors have had very mixed reactions when she explains her situation, she said, and some haven’t given her exceptions to certain classroom rules.

“I’ve had profs say ‘no cellphones in class,’ and I’ll go up to them and say that’s not an option for me and explain my situation,” Weaver said. “If something happens, they need to be able to get a hold of me. A prof [once] looked at me in the eye and said: ‘oh, you have a kid? Well, I don’t really care’.”

According to Weaver, professors have also told her to drop classes or take the course through distance studies because of her daughter.

Fellow students have also been a problem.

“I’ve found that in a lot of my first- and second-year tutorials, once it came out that I was a teen mom, all of a sudden students stopped talking to me,” she said.

“It was a distancing factor and I felt like it really isolated me from the people in my classes … I’ve had a couple good experiences, but it’s mostly been negative.” Weaver has found the hardest part of doubling as a mother and student has been finding time for everything she has to do — particularly now that Kennedy has started school herself.

Although she now has more time to study than she once had, Weaver finds it difficult to work around not only her homework, but also Kennedy’s homework and extracurricular activities.

Weaver said she hasn’t received any financial support from Queen’s, adding that she doesn’t know if bursaries are available for students in her position.

Queen’s offers a general bursary for both undergraduate and graduate students with dependent children, changing in value depending on their cost of living.

Doctoral students with children can receive $5,000 in maternity or parental leave funding from the School of Graduate Studies, while the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) offers emergency bursaries for SGPS members with financial difficulties.

According to the University, a number of Student Affairs units offer child-friendly services, including the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, the Queen’s University International Centre and the Ban Righ Centre.

The Ban Righ Foundation is a University organization that provides support to mature women students. They operate the Ban Righ Centre on Bader Lane.

Weaver said Queen’s needs to provide a support group or club for undergraduate students that are parents.

“Not that [Queen’s is] ashamed that they have parents that go to school, but they don’t want to make it known and they don’t want it out there. That’s the vibe that I get from it,” she said. “It would be nice to know how many other parents there are out there at Queen’s.”

While the Ban Righ Centre is intended to help mature women students, they provide aid to any student who comes through the door, according to director Carole Morrison.

Morrison said 41 new students with children registered at the Ban Righ Centre for the 2013-14 school year — a large percentage of which are graduate students.

The centre includes a child-friendly space where parents can spend time with their children, quiet rooms for parents to study or nap and rooms for women who want to breastfeed their infants.

Students, faculty and community members work at the Ban Righ Centre to offer support for any problems these student parents may have.

“Our student advisors help mothers to locate community resources when required,” Morrison told the Journal via email.

According to Morrison, students often reference challenges they face in three areas: finding funded, conveniently-located day care spaces; maintaining a flexible schedule; and approaching professors for leniency because of their situation.

She added that allocating the University’s resources is always a challenge.

“I expect many students would benefit from having additional, affordable child care options and services,” she said. “In my view, it is important for the university to balance using resources to help the greatest number of students with the use of resources to help address equity issues.”

Doulton Wiltshire, director of the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC), said that although the SHRC usually deals with issues surrounding sex and sexuality, their volunteers are willing to listen to anything.

“We’re always here as someone that can listen to you and have empathy and if there is something that we can help you with or lead you to other resources, absolutely,” said Wiltshire, a PhD candidate in Management Science.

Wiltshire said the SHRC often provides guidance to parents — not exclusively students — who want to speak with their children about sex, sexuality and health.

She added that the centre refers students with more serious issues to professional counsellors.

“I know in other universities, there are if not a lot better but a lot more pronounced support systems for those who are navigating young children with their studies,” she said.

Katharine Tessier, ArtSci ’13, said she found support from her family and significant other after giving birth, rather than resources or guidance on-campus.

Tessier gave birth to her son Joey three weeks before starting fourth year at Queen’s in 2012.

Instead of taking a few months off after giving birth, she went back to school in September, which she said was the hardest part for her.

“I think because [Joey] was so young and that I took no time off, he wasn’t even a month old, I jumped back into the school semester after beginning the whole parenting adventure,” she said. “I guess the lack of time to adjust made it difficult.”

Even though she moved from full- to part-time studies in fourth year, Tessier said it didn’t make as big of a difference as she had hoped. She could only spend 40 minutes to an hour studying per night, as opposed to the few hours she had before she had her child.

Tessier said she didn’t have any resources on campus to help her, adding that she felt as though the Ban Righ Centre was only for mature students.

“I didn’t fit the bill age-wise, and I didn’t want to feel out of place when I already felt out of place in the greater campus community to start with,” she said.

She found it difficult to be at Queen’s and have a child.

“I found there was a distinct divide between people that were cool with someone having a kid and the people that didn’t want it to ruin their university experience.”

A number of her friends stopped wanting to spend time together when they found out that she would soon become a parent, because she couldn’t go out to parties anymore. Professors weren’t a great support system either, Tessier added.

If she handed in an assignment late and explained the situation to her professors, they were fairly reasonable, but she still felt judged.

“The second someone saw a student with a belly, there was a look that you caught — not that it wasn’t accepting but it was a shock,” she said.

There should be awareness that there are people on campus with kids, Tessier said, and more accessible services need to be made available.

There were no resources provided for her, she said.

“Not by the AMS, not by any organizations I was involved with — and certainly not by any of my peers.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.