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Transforming the Struggles of Young Parenthood in Academia

Note from the Editor: this post was written by Muneezeh Kabir. She is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where she earned degrees in English Honors and Women’s and Gender Studies. In college she spent several years tackling feminist issues, including chairing the Orange Jackets’ university-wide “Week of Women,” working as student staff in the UT Gender & Sexuality Center, and serving as Director of the Women’s Resource Agency. She currently lives in Houston, TX where she works in Accenture’s management consulting practice.

 

It’s hard to think that I’ve ever thought of myself as either an activist or philanthropist. I spent much of my time in college advocating for the women’s and LGBT communities in all the usual ways—organizing panels, participating in rallies, even producing “The Vagina Monologues” one year. I majored in Women’s & Gender Studies, led the campus’s most ambitious women leaders in an initiative to improve access to feminine hygiene products across campus, and attended all the feminist lectures offered.

I think I did it because after spending my childhood watching men behave discriminatingly towards my mother in the Middle East, reading about the plight of women in Afghanistan and Iran in high school, and experiencing my own fair share of new age, social media sexism in college, it only made sense. So when a student parent approached me on campus with horrifying narratives of insensitive faculties and outrageous policies, this too only made sense to pursue.

It began as a small group—two graduate students and myself. I had introduced the first student parent to the President of the Graduate Students Assembly who, to our surprise, said he had already been working on advocating for policy changes himself. We spent weeks seeking out more student parents and suddenly stumbled upon what seemed like an underground community of folks who were too tired from studying, grading papers, and working side jobs to make ends meet to share their issues with anyone.

And I listened to their stories.

I listened to the way the nurses on campus had mistreated them, the way so few buildings had comfort rooms or changing tables, the way the university daycare was unaffordable and had a year-long waiting list, the way academic advisors spoke to them as though they instead needed to speak to Services for Students with Disabilities. Young parenthood, I learned, was hard, and young parenthood in academia was even harder. Even the simplest of things, like library access, was restricted to mothers on maternity leave who needed materials to continue their dissertation work because of their so-called “inactive” student status.

Change came slowly. Our group grew. And once we compiled a comprehensive list of grievances and identified numerous achievable goals, we began to make our asks around campus. We asked for improved bus routes that would no longer force moms to walk up a hill with their baby and their books just to reach the daycare, we asked for student parents to have an administrative resource to help them navigate through the university bureaucracy, and we asked for discounted breast pumps to be sold at the university pharmacy.

We were successful in achieving most of these things. When I was elected Student Body Vice President, my Executive Board and I cut our stipends and used the money to create a need and merit-based scholarship fund for students who exemplified our campaign narrative of “Together Students Can.” We organized it in a way such that each of us could choose a student who best exemplified our own interpretations of the adage.

When I saw one applicant in particular, I knew immediately of his hardship. He was a bright international student from Korea with a family, and he was making a profound academic impact while struggling to make ends meet. I count few moments more precious than the one when I was able to hand him a $1000 check and he told me he couldn’t express how much it also meant to his wife and son.

And on my first Mother’s Day as an alumna, I’m thinking about them—the incredible student mothers and parents I met throughout my college career. I realize now even my small-scale organizing had a profound impact on the lives of people whose courage in the face of adversity remains, in my mind, unparalleled. And I realize now how easily all of us can make an impact.

Jolkona is the epitome of making our small drops add up to create a ripple of change. And as you celebrate this Mother’s Day with your loved ones, I ask that you look carefully at what you can do. Perhaps you can elevate Haitian women from “poorest of poor,” provide healthcare for Nepalese women, or prevent postpartum depression for mothers in Japan.

We no longer need to fear the overwhelming inability to impart positive global change—the answer is now at our fingertips.

On Mother’s Day, find and give to one of over 15 projects which supports mothers and their infants the world over by going to our projects page and filtering your search by selecting “Improve Maternal Health” or “Reduce Child Mortality”.

Or give one of our Mother’s Day gift cards to a Mother you love – you choose the amount and the recipient, they choose the project, they see the impact. Click here or on the image below:



 

 

 

Medrol

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