By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY. N.Y.- It is 2019 and that means it’s been 100 years since women won the right to vote in the United States. In honor of that, I have decided to do a series of articles looking at women’s issues on campus to see where we are now and where we still have to go. This article features the second installment in this series.
For Michael DePietro, his academic life is not much unlike that of the average student. He sports the usual college attire that includes a yearlong hoodie top with alternating bottoms depending on the season. Students can find DePietro traveling from class to class with his black messenger bag and he will cheerily chat you up about a class project he might be working on. However, conversations with DePietro inevitably shift to the main way he is not like other college students because he cannot stop talking about his son Milo, and rightfully so. It is here where he shares the weekly antics of his son getting into all sorts of mischief or lamenting how the immune system of a father is not much of an immune system at all. Now, of course, it is worth nothing that the introduction to this article framed childcare as a women’s issue because well, DePietro is clearly not a woman. That is because despite much progress on the matter, societal expectations still often lay the issue of childcare on that of women. So, a discussion of access to it is deeply intertwined with that of agency for soon-to-be women professionals. Therefore, while childcare affects both genders it disproportionately affects women providing an additional impediment to attaining college degrees or higher-paying jobs, particularly for non-traditional students. DePietro also noted another way in which his situation is different than that of other parents. DePietro receives tuition remission because his wife Brittany DePietro works for the university in the IMPACT office. You may recognize her name from community service opportunity emails. This has allowed DePietro to pursue his schooling with no loans and even despite that, childcare affordability can still be an issue.
It is no secret to anyone who has been around children for an extended period of time that taking care of them can often be stressful. The same can be said for the average college student workload, so now imagine having both. For DePietro, his time spent watching Milo is almost never conducive to doing work because children need to be watched diligently. While his college schedule offers flexibility in which he can watch Milo more often than a working parent, managing the time he cannot watch him can still be an added stressor. Emergency situations up until this point for DePietro rely mostly on nearby family members and while faculty members have been more than accommodating, DePietro often feels like it is disrespectful to his fellow classmates to bring his son without knowing how he might behave, which then translates to missed classes. So, what can be done?
Well, childcare facilities on college campuses, specifically in the Western New York area, are not that uncommon. SUNY Brockport, Niagara Community College, University at Buffalo, St. John Fisher College, SUNY Buffalo State all feature campus-housed childcare centers. Even still, some smaller colleges like Daemen offer childcare subsidy plans that operate similar to a flexible spending account where participants can pay money to support childcare costs. Oddly enough, it is the smaller Catholic institutions in Western New York that find themselves with no childcare services, with NU in fellow company with Canisius College and St. Bonaventure University. However, while I cannot speak to the culture at the other colleges, interviews with administrators around childcare here at Niagara has been incredibly positive. Father Aidan Rooney and Dr. Tim Ireland both focused on Niagara’s commitment to community. Their comments echoed sentiments surrounding how NU has consistently tried to create a campus culture that has a familial element. Dr. Debra Coley, Executive Vice President, was arguably the most enthusiastic about the prospect of childcare on campus that was matched with her experience as the former Dean of the College of Education. The general consensus surrounding such a facility on campus is that it would allow the university to further expand its Vincentian mission while offering an experiential learning opportunity to students. Former conversations about a childcare center on campus were mostly preliminary and one of the primary barriers at that time was a lack of space. However, the introduction of the new master plan seems to present the perfect opportunity to discuss the university’s needs. While a physical facility would take quite some time, this should not restrict our community from finding innovative ways to support childcare in other ways. One such avenue that may be worth exploring is expansion of the Niagara County Early Child Care Qualitative Improvement Project (QIP). The QIP is an existing partnership the university established in 2010 with early child education facilities. The goal of the program is to boost proficiency in individual areas to ensure young students are set up for success as they transition into Kindergarten. It seems to me that this program offers the perfect opportunity in the interim to foster a partnership that allows NU to offer affordable childcare, mixed with an educational focus to its community members as we move towards childcare here on campus. Even if the QIP does not allow for this expansion, a larger conversation is surely needed as to how we can better serve our overall community. In providing a facility on campus, the university can distinguish itself moving forward not only as a welcoming community but as one of the most innovative childcare centers in Western New York, and hopefully, New York State.