Letter to the editor: Student leaders call on UB to reduce access barriers for students with care responsibilities

This is a slightly altered version of an open letter that was sent to the university administration on Mother's Day 2017. In it, we address the access barriers and de facto Title IX discrimination that students who are parents face at UB. We invite all UB students—along with faculty, staff, administrators, and guests, who face many of the same challenges—to engage in a productive conversation about including those who are parents in our educational landscape. Currently, parenting students face numerous obstacles to participating in UB's “transformative educational experiences," from missing lactation rooms to unaffordable childcare to inflexible work assignments that force graduate students into leaves of absence that result in loss of health insurance and funding. In the end, the access barriers mean parenting graduate students oftentimes drop out, which means we all lose out on a more diverse, highly skilled, and inclusive institution.

As the representative of over 7,000 graduate students, and with the full support of all student government leaders representing the entire student body at the University at Buffalo, we have created a report on the status of students with care responsibilities, with a focus on parenting students. As student government leaders, we are concerned with the lack of support and the manifold access barriers that students who are parents face, especially in light of the freedom from discrimination based on familial status, marital status, and gender that UB promises under Title IX.

Based on a preliminary survey of parenting students, and as a result of conversations with key stakeholders across campus, we recommend UB implement a task force this summer whose sole purpose is to assess the access barriers that students with care responsibilities face. We call on UB to broaden its support of parenting students campus-wide by instituting a universal parental leave policy, expanding child care assistance and hours, reducing spatial access barriers (such as the lack of lactation rooms and changing tables, as well as subsidized family-friendly on-campus housing), providing funding increases and creating an emergency loan program, and offering free or reduced family attendance at UB events and facilities. Other comparable R-1 universities offer far more support for students who are parents, and as a leader in higher education in New York state we would like to see UB continue to attract and retain the highest qualified students independent of their familial status. This can only be realized if UB reduces the access barriers that parenting students currently face.

We have issued a preliminary report, including a plan for action, student testimonials, and the GSA resolution, that can be found on our website (http://gsa.buffalo.edu/governance/policies-and-letters/). We sincerely hope that this will propel UB's conversation about discrimination and inclusive excellence into action, and look forward to being part of the university's efforts to reduce access barriers for parenting students and others with care responsibilities.


Tanja Aho, GSA President