In the Fall of 2012, I had the unfortunate experience of finding myself crouched in the corner of a bathroom in Mahoney Hall, trying to maintain some level of privacy, while I pumped breastmilk as quickly as possible during a class break. While I was tucked under the sink, I thought to myself, “No one should ever have to use this as a last resort.” The moment inspired me to look more closely at the experience of parenting students, both at UML and more broadly.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 50% of nontraditional undergraduates (which themselves make up 56% of the entire population of college students) are either parenting or currently pregnant. Parenting students have doubled their enrollment in 4-year universities over the last 20 years.
Unsurprisingly, enrollment is not evenly distributed between mothers and fathers. Significantly more single mothers are enrolling compared to single fathers (17% of all undergraduates compared to 8% respectively), a phenomenon that intersects with other issues, like socioeconomics and race. Women with dependent children represent the largest poverty sector in the US. Almost 60% of low-income women students are single mothers. Increasingly, parents, particularly single mothers, are seeking four-year degrees rather than two-year degrees, especially in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts in 2005, an associate’s degree netted an additional $8,154 of income; a bachelor’s degree resulted in an additional $18,346 per year. This earnings gap is particularly critical in Massachusetts, where the estimated required annual income to support two dependent children is $65,880.
But in the absence of proactive University policies to support parenting students, they have some of the poorest academic outcomes; 60% of parenting students will withdraw before graduation according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s almost double the non-parenting student withdrawal rate. Average 6-year graduation rates for all undergraduates are about 29%, but for single parents, that number is just 5%.
In the fall of 2013, in conjunction with the Center for Community Research and Engagement, Professor Robin Toof and I launched an effort to explore the size and needs of the UMass Lowell parenting student population. In two weeks, 197 parenting students from UMass Lowell completed our survey. Most participants were full-time undergraduate students (35%), followed by part-time graduate students (31%), full-time graduate students (20%), part-time undergraduate students (7%), continuing education students (5%) and other (2%). Importantly, these results dispel a common assumption that parenting students are primarily part-time or graduate students.
We also discovered that while most participants reported having just one child under the age of 18 (52%), nearly one quarter (22%) of participants reported having 3 or more dependent children, and 35% of participants have at least one child under age four. These findings suggest that our parenting students are highly likely to have a need for childcare other than public schooling.
We also asked participants to rate their experience with access to and quality of resources, sense of community, and overall experience. A significant majority (91%) of participants disagreed that they understood the types of services available to them; 86% disagreed that they would know who to talk to if they needed help with school-life balance. Only 11.9% of participants believe that the University provides adequate support services to parenting students.
67% of parenting students disagreed that they had connected with other parenting students; nearly 60% disagreed that they felt connected to the broader UML community; and nearly 50% disagreed that they felt comfortable bringing their children to campus events.
Despite this, 67% of participants reported that, overall, their experience had been positive, and 77% reported being confident they would complete their academic goals on time.
The results suggest a strong need to address issues of resources and integration for parenting students, two factors that are highly correlated with academic success. Written comments echoed these issues. One participant wrote, “Before taking this survey I knew nothing of support for parenting students.” Another commented, “The school is very friendly and a wonderful academic environment, but I will admit that as a student and parent it’s a little lonely, especially [as] nontraditional students.” The challenge of breastfeeding was repeated by several participants, with one writing, “I feel it is degrading that I have to pump in the bathroom…the bathrooms [in my building] don't have an electric outlet for my pump machine.” Another asked for “cozier” lactation rooms. Several respondents expressed the need for information about childcare; the request for on-site childcare was also repeated.
A university like UMass Lowell is particularly poised to answer this challenge. As a state university, we have a commitment to educational efforts that reflect the best interests of our community. In Lowell, 66% of households living below the poverty line are headed by single mothers. Increasingly, these mothers are seeking higher education as a pathway out of poverty. Public institutions in particular have a responsibility to meet the growing demand for parent-friendly policies that serve the economic interests of their constituents.
To spearhead this effort, I am proposing to organize parenting students and their allies in the effort to promote a parent-friendly campus culture at UMass Lowell. A coordinated effort between students, faculty, staff, administrators and community stakeholders is the most effective means of leveraging resources and accomplishing goals that are both feasible and high-impact. If you are interested in this effort, please contact me at Hannah_tello@student.uml.edu.
Written by: Hannah Tello
UMass Lowell Highlights
The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA, Division 27 of the APA) hosted their biennial conference in Miami this past summer and UMass Lowell faculty and students presented their research and engaged in dialogues on a number of topics. Here is just a sampling of what faculty and students had to offer:
Four recently graduated CSP students attended the conference and contributed their research to other professionals in the field of Community Psychology. Hannah Johnson and Kristy Shockley presented a poster on “Community Participations’ Role in Issue Campaigning” which included an archival analysis of a local Lowell non-profit to examine the process of community organizing and how community participation can benefit issue campaigns. Marlene Abreu, along with Professor Ashleigh Hillier, presented a poster on how disability services are utilized in a university setting and found that the most used service is extended time on tests. Recent graduate Susie Paterson participated in a symposium on empowerment tools and presented her thesis research findings on women’s subversive use of humor. Susie Paterson mentioned that she was pleased and surprised that the Community Psychology values she learned in the CSP program were actually very evident in the way people at the conference interacted with one another. She also relayed that it was a fun, enlightening experience and hopes that other CSP students will attend the next biennial.
Professors Meg Bond, Robin Toof, and Michelle Haynes hosted a roundtable discussion on “Transforming settings for social change” in which they discussed the conceptual frameworks of community settings, approaches for assessing, and strategies for intervention on multiple levels. Meanwhile, Professor Urmitapa Dutta took part in a roundtable discussion on ethical dilemmas that may arise when engaging youth in participatory action research. Professor Andrew Hostelter organized, chaired, and participated in a symposium on “Engaging Seniors in Healthier Communities” in which he discussed his research on senior centers and the data he acquired from interviews, focus groups, and computerized tracking of participant activities at senior centers around the Northeast. He also participated in a roundtable discussion on teaching methods and presented a poster describing the successes and failures of the course structure for his Advanced Community Dynamics class from the spring 2013 semester.
SCRA 2015 Biennial in Lowell
The next SCRA Biennial will be held from June 25-28, 2015 right here in Lowell! Current students and CSP alumni are encouraged to attend and submit proposals to highlight their research. The SCRA Biennial is a wonderful place to find out what is happening in Community Psychology both at other Universities and non-profit organizations. Students considering application for PhD programs may find it especially helpful to meet faculty and students from other universities to get a sense of where they want to apply. I attended the 2011 SCRA Biennial while taking undergraduate courses and the students I met there from the CSP program are the very reason why I am here today!
Here’s a quick look at what the Psychology Graduate Student Organization has been up to this past year and what the group hopes to accomplish in the future:
Last year, the PGSO hosted two successful fundraising events. We operated a booth at the Women’s Works craft fair where we sold a variety of homemade baked goods and unique Christmas ornaments. A portion of the proceeds went to UML’s very own Center for Women and Work. We also donated a portion to a local non-profit called Catie’s Closet, an innovative organization that sets up locations inside of local schools where students in need can obtain donated clothing and other essential items. The PGSO also hosted an Open Mic fundraiser event for this organization, and between that and the Women’s Work fair, we were able to donate a total of $350 and several boxes of clothing. We hope that through events like these they can build stronger partnerships between the psychology department and community groups.
Another of our goals is to foster a sense of community among all of the psychology graduate students. In order to achieve this we will be hosting some fun and informal social events. For example, this semester we have already held a fundraiser at the 99 Restaurant, where people who came to be part of the event had 15% of their bill donated back to the PGSO in order to pay for future social functions.
As part of Lowell’s Women’s Week, the PGSO made and decorated a silhouette of Rosie the Riveter with the theme of “We Can and We Will” which included student signatures and inspiring messages of change. This silhouette was part of a larger, community wide art project for Women’s Week that was displayed at Lowell City Hall.
We have also been collecting books around the psychology department as everyone prepares to move to the new Health and Social Sciences building. We are donating the books to a group called More Than Words, which empowers marginalized youth to operate their own bookstore and embodies many principles of community psychology.
We have also requested that the CSP Community utilize their artistic talents to create a T-shirt design for our department. Anyone is welcome to participate in our contest and submit a design to PGSO@uml.edu by April 8th! Additionally we would like to encourage students to join us at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference in Amherst, MA from April 12-14. We encourage all psychology graduate students to get involved in any way they can, and everyone is welcome at the bimonthly meetings.
If you would like to participate or have any project or event ideas please email PGSO@uml.edu!
The Community Social Psychology program at UML is proud to employ a number of talented, nationally regarded faculty members who tackle issues of social justice both in their work and in their every day lives. Professor Jana Sladkova is no exception to this rule. Dr. Sladkova came to UMass Lowell in 2008 and has taught in the CSP program since her arrival. Originally hailing from the Czech Republic, Dr. Sladkova received her PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City in 2006. Though her main interests are immigration and deportation issues, Dr. Sladkova has recently been working on a project with fellow psychology professor Dr. Alyssa McCabe on the lived experiences of children with immigrant parents. Working from a small grant, the project has morphed from children’s experiences with deportation to studying the children’s narrative development as bilingual in a country that mostly values English speakers. CSP student Isabel Cano serves as a research assistant on this project, helping with specific tasks such as recruitment. The project is currently being written up for the journal Latino Studies.
Dr. Sladkova also continues to work on her PhD dissertation that looked at the experiences of Honduran migrants. When I asked why she focuses on the experiences of Latino people, she described that she feels a special connection to Latino culture and finds the power differentials involved in the experiences of different immigrants to be interesting. The manuscript for her dissertation will be published in the Psychological Interventions journal, and because it is published in both English and Spanish, she is excited that she will finally be able to share her work with the community she studied in Honduras.
Perhaps one of the most important points that Dr. Sladkova elaborated on was that she is “excited that the government is finally talking seriously about immigration reform.” Though it may not be the direct result of research on immigration, she believes it has “helped to push in that direction.” This belief that socially responsible research may lead to real world policy change is one of the common threads that binds CSP faculty members. Stay tuned for other profiles of faculty work!
In 2007, the Center for Women & Work hosted its first ever Women’s Works event as a celebration of the creativity of UMass Lowell affiliated craftswomen. Five years, the annual Women’s Works event has expanded to celebrate the creative lives of women artists beyond the borders of the university grounds. This year, the event is boasting nearly 40 female artists and performers, all gathering to celebrate the often private world of women’s creative pursuits.
The Women’s Works event has three major goals. The first is as a fundraiser for the Center for Women & Work, a University research center committed to the advancement of women and diversity in the work force. The Center for Women & Work is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of dedicated scholars and students invested in the exploration of the role of gender in work as well as a commitment to developing programming that addresses the institutional inequities faced by diverse groups. Women’s Works is one of two major fundraising events for the Center: vendors agree to donate 25 percent of their proceeds to the Center after the event.
The second goal of the Women’s Works event is to provide voice to the often private realm of women’s creativity. Most of the vendors featured at the event have a professional life that is entirely detached from their creative pursuits: a psychiatric nurse makes intricate handmade cards, an English professor designs colorful stained glass, and a retired optician knits wool hats. The skill of these crafts often remains under-appreciated as women consider them hobbies tangential to their professional work. The Women’s Works even provides a public forum for women to share their own work and celebrate the works of others in the context of acknowledging the personal and social value of such creative endeavors.
The third goal of the Women’s Works event is to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship among craftswomen. Some of the vendors have well-established small businesses dedicated to their artistic pursuits, while other vendors have never even considered that their skills could be financially lucrative. The Women’s Works event encourages women to recognize and be compensated for the monetary value of their work, and to network with other successful female entrepreneurs while considering the potential of their own crafts to move from hobby to business.
Like all the years before, this
year’s Women’s Works event promises to be a vibrant, energetic opportunity for
members of the Lowell community to explore the more creative side of many of
the people we interact with professionally every day. The event is open to the
public and we encourage anyone interested to stop by, check out the vendors,
bid on a silent auction item and support the Center for Women & Work.
WHEN: Thursday, November 29th from 2-7pm
WHERE: UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center (50 Warren St., Downtown Lowell, MA)
5pm for Wine & Cheese with special performances
I believe that we can take pride in the fact that Community Social Psychology is a self-selecting program. Only those who have a strong sense of social justice and drive to make the world a better place for all people tend to apply. Many of our CSP students have already applied classroom experiences to the world beyond, even before coming to the program. One student in particular, Alessandra Cecala, is the founder of the non-profit organization, Take Heart, dedicated to furthering education about organ donation. Originally inspired by her father’s need for a heart transplant, Alessandra’s project has grown from idea to 501(3)(c) organization in only a few short years. Most of Take Heart’s events have been benefit concerts that charge no admission, but take donations. In addition, they have some really cool custom-made t-shirts to help support their cause. Check ‘em out, they’re pretty rad! In the spring, the organization launched its first media campaign reaching over 1000 hits on YouTube. Alessandra also recently told me that Take Heart is in talks for a possible credited internship for a UMass Lowell undergrad. This sounds like a great next step for expanding the organization. Seeing work like Alessandra’s is inspiring and shows that as community psychologists, we are able to make changes and spread awareness in our communities. In her own words, “it’s not what you say or do, but what you leave behind.”
Take Heart has an event coming up on Friday, October 19th called the “Superheroes Show” at 7 pm at the 119 Gallery in Lowell. Please come out and support donning your finest superhero costume! Admission is free, but donations are always welcome and suggested.
Posted by: Susie Paterson
ONE WEEK AWAY! Please forward to friends and colleagues. Spread the word!!
Please come, support this event, support the beneficiaries, support the cause, and support a classmate (I'm performing one of the pieces in the show). I'd love to see you all there! Details are on the attached poster. Please forward this to friends, other classmates/groups and spread the word!
From the Producers of The Vagina Monologues
V-Day Lawrence presents:
A MEMORY, A MONOLOGUE, A RANT & A PRAYER
3 Shows only! Friday, April 13 at 7pm & Sat, April 14 at 2pm & 7pm
JOIN US! Get your tickets today! $15 Admission
your tickets here: http://
Thanks so much!
Mirakel G. Mayoral
Many students and faculty in the Psychology Department have teamed up to create the Psyched for a Cure Team. We're participating in the 2012 Relay for Life Fundraiser. Check out our team page to learn about how you can join our team or send a donation.