Being a full-time student is hard. Being a full-time student and a new parent is even harder. Rackham School of Graduate Studies recognized the difficulty students face in pursuing an education while starting a family, and recently announced its Graduate Student Parental Accommodation Policy to ease the strain on new student parents. Offered to both male and female students, the policy allows students who are soon to be parents, including those adopting a child under six years old, to still be considered full-time students while affording them six weeks leave with extended deadlines on assignments. While this policy eases the hardship, the services offered by the University after this six-week window will really show its commitment to helping new parents who happen to be students.
It’s difficult to harshly criticize the new policy. All too often, prospective parents must choose between having a family and pursuing a career, but these two options shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Rackham’s new policy gives students the option to combine an academic career with a family life, eliminating the difficult and unnecessary “either/or” decision.
By reaching out to student parents, the policy also works to remove the stigma that so often accompanies a student pregnancy and creates a more welcoming atmosphere for students with children. This will in turn increase the University’s ability to attract graduate student instructors with different experiences. Before the new policy’s proposal, GSIs risked losing their insurance coverage if they required maternity leave or needed to support a spouse in child delivery. This kind of harsh penalty is unacceptable.
Perhaps the best aspect of the policy is that it applies equally to men and women. The days of women staying home to cook dinner and raise the kids are as outdated as corsets and dowries. Men are now more involved in the parenting process, and Rackham should be applauded for its efforts at gender equality.
But as progressive as Rackham’s policy sounds, the University’s work on supporting student parents is far from over. The responsibility of caring for a child requires more than a six-week commitment. While Rackham supplements the policy with other resources like workshops and online explanations of the policy, the greatest benefits will come from concrete resources to benefit both parents and children, like affordable child care centers.
By providing affordable and flexible day care, the University can show its commitment to students beyond the six weeks given in the policy to new parents for leave. Of those who use the University’s childcare centers, some have complained that the University’s current childcare centers offer limited hours with a limited number of slots. Expanding this service would greatly benefit employees and students.
To truly serve the needs of student parents, the Graduate Student Parental Accommodation Policy must provide more long-term, concrete resources for parents to use. Six weeks may be enough time to complete assignments in extended deadlines, but it is not enough time to meet the challenges that come with parenthood.