by Kristina Vakhman
Central Connecticut State University has made some progress toward augmenting its childcare services, with plans for the establishment of an on-campus daycare facility underway.
“We have received a tentative commitment by President [Dr. Zulma] Toro to support a drop-in center as part of the Barnard renovation scheduled to begin next fall,” Dr. Fiona Pearson, a sociology professor and the co-chair for CCSU’s branches of the Work-Life Balance Committee and the Committee on the Concerns of Women, said.
A 2017 proposal penned by Pearson and professor of history Dr. Leah Glaser—who co-chairs both aforementioned committees alongside Pearson—calls for the construction of an on-campus Family Care and Education Center (FCEC), stating that it would “provide comprehensive childcare” and “serve as a lab school for CCSU programs” where students can observe the children. It also affirms that a FCEC would increase tuition revenue, attract and recruit high-quality faculty, staff and administrators, increase retention of students and faculty and promote student success.
Furthermore, the proposal mentions the short-term option of “an on-campus Drop-In Care Center,” which would “provide intermittent care for toddlers and pre-k aged children.”
The proposal was submitted to, and championed by, Toro and the former dean of CCSU’s School of Education and Professional Services, Michael Alfano. The CCSU Student Government Association has also become involved, with Senator Victor Constanza, chair of the Student Life Committee, expressing support.
“I believe that parents who want to study have a problem and cannot create better lives for themselves and their family if they have no one to take care of their child. Central should be offering these services to support them. In the long-run, it will end up improving their family life because they got the degree to get a better job,” Constanza said. “It can help them with their education not being interfered. We want people to still study even if they have children.”
The openness to the project on Toro’s and the SGA’s part is incredibly substantial, as getting past university administrations to even acknowledge the need for childcare has been difficult, according to Glaser.
“We’ve kind of been going back-and-forth with the administration for years now trying to get anything,” Glaser explained. “It’s been extraordinarily frustrating. I think this administration is much more sensitive and gets the issue, but in the past, there was a refusal to understand who our student body was. There was an assumption that this wasn’t needed—that our students are 18 to 24 and don’t need this. Even when I started, we were told that people just handled this before and that it’s kind of your problem that you have a baby.”
Pearson agreed with this sentiment.
“The fact that members of [the] SGA are interested is incredibly important because if students don’t feel like they’d be benefiting from these resources, then why should we advocate for having those resources increased or improved? I feel that there are understanding ears on this campus today in a way that we had not experienced previously, so I am very hopeful,” Pearson said.
The drop-in center at Barnard that Pearson and Glaser are pushing for would allow student-parents to leave their children in care for a maximum of three hours, giving them enough time to be the ‘student’ half of student-parent. It would give recourse for those who do not require an entire week’s worth of full-time care, something that the university’s off-campus daycare, the Early Learning Program, does not provide.
“I think [the ELP] is a very valuable facility and we’ll still need it as supplement, but it’s not going to meet the needs of the campus,” Glaser said. “Especially for younger kids, I think on-site care just, you know, makes sense if somebody doesn’t need full-time care.”
“I just got a call from somebody who just started a program in English and she said, ‘I was just looking on the website. I have a 22-month-old daughter and I only need care for Tuesdays and I’m stressing out and don’t know what to do,’ because she doesn’t need full-time care and there’s no options on this campus,” Glaser continued. “So, for people like this woman who called me, she drops her kid off and goes to class or a meeting or whatever, she comes back and gets her kid, and she doesn’t have to pay for five full days of daycare, which is the only option right now.”
The drop-in center could be as little as a small classroom in the Social Sciences Hall, according to Pearson, because the children would not be there for long periods of time and would only need enough space to move around.
“If anyone’s ever been to IKEA and saw the space there, it’s not a particularly big space, but that’s what we would be looking for,” Pearson described.
In addition to the drop-in center’s development, Pearson and Glaser are advocating that its services be subsidized for student-parents. The model for funding this, according to Pearson, would resemble how CCSU guarantees “U-Passes” to students for access to the state’s public transportation.
A small fee of about $2.00 on everyone’s tuition bill would go into paying for the drop-in center’s functionality. Moreover, faculty and staff who desire to use the center would have to pay out-of-pocket, further offsetting the costs of students utilizing it for free.
This progress is long overdue, in Glaser’s opinion, as “ plenty of other institutions have figured out a way to do this” despite the obstacles.
“I was at a conference in Indianapolis last spring and I walked to the Indiana State Capitol, which is where Mike Pence used to work,” Glaser recalled. “That capital had an enormous playground [and an] in-house daycare. This is a trend that’s going on in the most conservative of places.”
For Pearson, who called the need for childcare an “invisible issue,” it is important that the campus becomes aware that a lack of childcare is a problem that should and can be solved.
“Just having a center on campus could change the culture. A drop-in center could be a place where student-parents could meet and realize they’re not alone. Making parents comfortable that they can bring their children to campus and an acknowledgment of the complexities of our students’ lives on this campus is something I’d like to see fostered,” Pearson said.