Student parents ask for more supports from University of Alberta

Student parents at the University of Alberta say the school should be doing more to support them during their degrees.

University plans to create a new policy in 2019

Jaylene Martial, 27, is student at the University of Alberta and mother of three. She is pictured here with her husband Michael Scrignar, Lilly,6, Malik,4, and two-year-old Zander. Finding affordable daycare is one of the hurdles she has faced as a student parent. (Jaylene Martial)

Student parents at the University of Alberta say the school should be doing more to support them during their degrees.

About a dozen people met with university officials in Lister Hall's Glacier Room on Wednesday night and shared concerns about childcare and housing options.

The meeting was the first in a series the university is holding in a new effort to learn more about student parents and their needs.

"We were seeing an increasing number of situations arise where the institution was not necessarily equipped as well as it could be to manage the unique needs of students who parent," said Kevin Friese, the assistant dean of student health and wellness at the U of A.

The school surveyed more than 200 students in the fall and started a working group to study the needs of students with children and discuss potential solutions.

One of the issues students have raised is a desire for more changing stations on campus — in washrooms for all genders. 

"There are so many things, on top of being a student, that you have to deal with," Katherine Belcourt said Wednesday on CBC's Radio Active. Belcourt studies science at the U of A and has a seven-year-old daughter.

Family residence building 'past its prime'

Katherine Huising, associate vice-president of the university's ancillary services, said one of the working group's goals is to gain a better understanding of student parents' housing needs.

For the past four years, the university has seen a steady decline — between 10 and 15 per cent — in the number of people applying to live in Michener Park, the school's only family residence. Nearly 300 people live in the residence, which Huising said is "past its prime."

"Is it going down because the facilities are aging or is it going down because there's less students who parent?"

Childcare challenges

Sixty-six percent of the students surveyed this fall said there was a lack of affordable, accessible and flexible short-term childcare on campus.

The university operates two full-time daycares, but student parents expressed a need for short-term options, which would allow them to go to the gym or attend a night class.

Native studies and sociology student Samantha Roan, 30, said she has learned to warn professors in advance if she plans to bring her 11-year-old son or seven-year-old daughter to class.

She said she brought her daughter to class one day when the child was too sick to go to daycare. Her daughter started crying, prompting her professor to ask, in front of hundreds of students, "who the heck would bring a kid to class?"

"Sometimes it can get really awkward," she said.

Other university staff members have been more accommodating, Roan said. She calls staff at First Peoples' House — formerly the Aboriginal Student Services Centre — her "campus moms" because they have been a consistent source of support.

Sometimes it can get really awkward- Samantha Roan

Jaylene Martial, a 27-year-old U of A student who has three young children, also said university staff could be more understanding of the problems facing student parents.

"I've had professors tell a class that we will get docked marks if we have our phones out," she wrote in an email to CBC. She said she will look at her phone if it rings in case the call is coming from her child's school or daycare.

Next steps

Information from the consultations will inform a report on future housing decisions next year. 

Friese said there are also plans to create a policy on supporting student parents.

"I hope it leads to action," Belcourt said.

"I appreciate that it's a start, but I hope that there are steps that are made to actually make it more accessible and welcoming and easier for students to succeed."

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings

Journalist

Madeleine Cummings is a journalist and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.