Graduation Stories: President of Rutgers Students With Children graduates after initial enrollment in 2002, increases awareness of resources for student parents on campus
The story of Anjanette Vaidya, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, is deeper than meets the eye. This year she will graduate with highest honors — summa cum laude — but her Rutgers experience redefines what it means to be a non-traditional student.
Vaidya majored in Geography and Africana Studies, founded and led Rutgers Students With Children (RSWC), won the top prize at an Undergraduate Research Writing Conference, created lifelong bonds with other student parents as a teen parent empowerment advocate, but most importantly, raised her three children — Adia, Sai and Asha — all during her time here.
Her academic career was not a straight shot. She dropped out twice. Her first semester in 2002 she said her transcript came back with F’s and W’s. Two years later, she re-enrolled again only to drop out because of the lack of resources available for student parents.
Fast forward to 2015, Vaidya came back to New Brunswick and let her status as a student parent empower her, she said. After finding heartbreaking statistics about student parents and how other universities in the United States support their students, she started to put up flyers around campus with the line, “R U a student parent?”
The feedback she received astounded her. She said, being a student parent is extremely lonely because you feel like you are the only one, but with the organization she created she connected with other young mothers who were also struggling to graduate. At times, she said she met mothers who completely hid who they were, who would not even disclose they had a child the entire time they were studying at the University.
“You feel the definition of student and scholar doesn’t include you,” Vaidya said.
Some student parents carry a deep stigma about who they are, she said but she wants to change that for anyone that identifies as a nontraditional student. Part of the RSWC mission statement says they are a group of scholars and feminists who believe in educational equity. They want to change the narrative on how other students and professors think about student parents because they are also research assistants and are going to graduate school just like everybody else, she said.
To end her last semester, Vaidya along with other student parents like Indira Grullon, a School of Arts and Science senior and member of RSWC, organized a play called “Dreams Deferred: Monologues from College Drop Outs”. The performance allowed non-student parents to tell their story in prose of others who lived the reality of juggling school, battling domestic violence and sexual abuse and struggling to make ends meet while raising a child.
The play raised more than $1,000 into a scholarship fund for a student parent this fall. From her journey, Vaiyda said she understands she cannot change the failures that have happened to her but she could use her story that binds her with other student parents, to create an organization that will make other nontraditional students, like student parents, feel welcomed at Rutgers.
After battling with administrators, Vaiyda and RSWC won priority registration for student parents for the fall semester among other resources for students with children. These institutionalized changes were justice for student parents, she said.
The next step for Vaidya is graduate school. Her dream is to become an English professor.
“What is most human about us is all resilience but my story is a story of resources … because if I didn’t have the resources, I wouldn’t have been able to come back to school,” she said.
Editor's Note: Sections of this article have been updated to better reflect student parents and the accomplishments of Rutgers Students With Children.