Petition collects more than 400 signatures in support of student parents
As a single mother, Anjanette Vaidya, president and founder of Rutgers Students with Children (RSWC), nearly failed out of school. She left Rutgers and upon coming back found that there was not enough being done to provide young single mothers with educational resources.
She started RSWC two years ago and has since pushed for the University to meet the basic supports and services needed by single parents.
“We’ve been asking the administration for basic supports and services for student parents that other higher education institutions have provided their student's parents with for years,” she said.
In an open letter to Barchi, the organization details its many efforts to push institutional reform for student parents over the last two years — citing more than 35 in-person meetings with academic deans, vice chancellors and faculty members in multiple departments. The petition currently has more than 400 signatures.
“And yet, in the span of two years, Rutgers University has refused to discuss what it is planning to do to help student parents, or to invite us to engage in any dialogue about this issue," the petition said. “To add insult to injury, we informed Rutgers administrators that we had discovered a simple and painful truth: pointing student parents to already existing resources could prevent them from having to drop out in any given semester. Still, nothing was done.”
As of last week, RSWC received confirmation that it would meet with Barchi and discuss some of its long-term goals such as on-campus housing for undergraduate students with children, child-friendly study spaces, student-parent parking passes and scholarships for single parents.
“I know that parking passes are a source of contention for many commuters but this (is) a population that has dismal dropout rates and rates of graduation and retention are extremely low,” she said. “These interventions, like student-parent parking passes and priority registration, can greatly improve those rates.”
Many of the demands listed on the petition come at no monetary cost to the University and includes priority registration, a website which lists supports and services for student parents and having student parents recognized as a population on campus, according to the petition.
“Rutgers University—New Brunswick is committed to helping all of its students succeed, including students who have children, those who have financial needs, and those who have responsibilities that may make it challenging to balance their academic and family priorities,” said Neal Buccino, a University spokesperson, in an email with The Daily Targum.
He said that Rutgers has created a working group of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and other University officials to review the needs of student parents and that RSWC is a recognized student organization.
As a grassroots program, RSWC lacks the resources that might benefit a recognized student population. Many of the strides made to help students with children — such as brochures on available supports and services, social media campaigns and traveling the country to meet with policymakers and legislators — are attributed to RSWCs personal work.
“We’ve created our own informal networks of faculty who support us so we are kind of on call 24/7,” she said. “ So if a student parent contacts us and says ‘hey, are there lactation rooms on this campus? I’m pumping milk in my car’ … we connect them to resources.”
Knowing where to access these resources can drastically improve a student parent’s experience, Anjanette said. Oftentimes student parents are unaware of where to access this information and can lead to an increase in dropout rates.
“There are student-parent programs at other colleges and universities, there are none in New Jersey,” she said “Even within the Big Ten, schools like Purdue where the Chancellor Deba(sish) Dutta just came from. Purdue even has student parent-student programming in language, Rutgers doesn't even name us as a population.”
The University of Michigan subsidized childcare for student parents by taking a dollar out of each student’s tuition payment, an action that Anjanette said pales in comparison to how Rutgers subsidizes its athletic programs.
She said the RSWC is eager to lend its efforts to aid students parents and become part of the conversation but has been shut out from doing so.
“What it’s important for people to remember is that when a student parent drops out it’s not just that individual," she said. “It represents however many children that that person has because a Bachelor's degree can really end cycles intergenerational poverty, it can get people off of welfare for life, and really change the educational prospects of their children.”