Requel Rope with her daughter Sterling and son Hunter

U of S nurtures support for student parents

Requel Rope’s day starts at 5:30 am and goes until 11:30 pm or 1 am, depending on the next day’s assignments and exams.

She is a second-year full-time nursing student, part-time cook in the Royal Canadian Navy, and a single parent to six-year old son Hunter and three-year old daughter Sterling.

“After I graduate I want to go back to my home community of Carry The Kettle First Nation and be a community health nurse or become a nurse in the Navy,” said Rope.

Rope came to Saskatoon for university and has no family in the city. During the school day, her son attends elementary school and her daughter plays at the USSU Child Care Centre.

While the U of S has operated a campus daycare since 1969, it wasn’t until 2014 that the group Parents on Campus was created. A community for on-campus parents, including students, staff and faculty, Parents on Campus is focused on providing support, advocacy and events for U of S families.

Kayla Madder, Parents on Campus and Comfort Room co-ordinator, founded the group with Rita Hanoski, U of S health education co-ordinator. As a student, Madder contacted campus resources at the end of her maternity leave to see if there was somewhere on campus where she could pump so that she could maintain her breastmilk supply to continue breastfeeding her son.

She was met with responses like “I wish we had something like that to offer, but at this time we don’t,” or “Can’t you just use a bathroom?” and “Wow, I’ve honestly never thought of that being a need for our students before.”

Madder was unable to find a location on campus and had to abandon her goal of breastfeeding her son for the remainder of his first year.

“As my first couple months back after maternity leave went on, I noticed a feeling of being seemingly the only parent on campus,” she said.

Madder’s experience led her to start Parents on Campus with Hanoski. Today, the group offers important services such as the Comfort Room in the Thorvaldson Building. The Comfort Room is a safe space for parents to breastfeed, pump or have a break from campus life and spend it with their children. Other designated breastfeeding locations on campus include the Student Wellness Centre, the USSU Food Centre, GSA Commons, USSU Women’s Centre, Education Building, Williams Building, and the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre.

There is also another comfort room located at the U of S Prince Albert Campus. Breastfeeding is acceptable in any place at any time, but these designated spaces allow parents more privacy and less noise.

In addition to the physical spaces Parents on Campus offers, it also connects fellow parents with each other. Student parents can find it hard to relate to their peers and can experience a lack of belonging on campus, as Madder initially experienced.

Resources such as Parents on Campus and the Aboriginal Students’ Centre (ASC) Parent Circle allow parents to network. The ASC Parent Circle offers programming such as MEND (Mind, Nutrition, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It), family literacy and parents nights. Rope attends Parents Circle and appreciates the friends she’s made through it.

“They help not only with babysitting, but they also understand my struggle,” said Rope. “They are easier to talk to.”

Parents on Campus offers community building activities such as family items swap meets, information sessions and family fun days. A new initiative this year is family friendly study sessions every Wednesday night in the Education Library. Volunteers are on hand to entertain children while parents study nearby.

The initiative arose out of a School of Public Health survey that found many parents struggled with leaving university to pick children up from daycare or school, then dropping them off with a babysitter so they could return to campus to study.

“Our most recent assessments indicate around 10 per cent of the total student population are parents,” said Peter Hedley, director of student affairs and services.

Students have the choice of self-declaring as a parent, which gives the university an accurate number to strategize what resources to devote to student parents.

“Students may be able to access university, but for some students without the necessary accommodations, it’s not equitable,” said Hedley.

The U of S is growing accommodations and services for all students. In November 2017, Disability Services for Students (DSS) became Access and Equity Services (AES). AES is guided by Saskatchewan’s Human Rights legislation and the duty to better accommodate individuals based on disability, religion, family status (including pregnancy) and gender identity.

The university’s new wellness strategy also launched in October. The goal is to create an environment that promotes and supports the health and well-being of all who study and work on U of S campuses.

“We’ve already done a lot of good things (for student parents) but could do so much more,” said Hedley. “Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Brett Makulowich is a communications officer with the Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning portfolio.

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