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January 17, 2007 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-17

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9 S






At 8 a.m. on a weekday morning, the sun is just coming up over
a row of Family Housing units on North Campus. Its rays poke
through evergreen branches, casting orange streaks on the
sides of townhouses. Near Central Campus, students are wak-
ing up to yards littered with empty red plastic cups and rusty
bicycles. Not here. On the edge of campus, small bikes with
training wheels are strewn about the sidewalks and plastic
playhouses are anchored next to tiny pink kitchenettes in mas-
sive sandboxes.

Inside one townhouse, LSA junior
Koretta Gray hurries to get out of the
door. She's been up since 6 a.m. Not only
does she have to dress, eat and prepare
herself for the day, she has to coax her
son, Andrew, to complete the routine
with her. She must do all this in time to
drop him off at day care, catch the bus
and make it her early class.
Her persuasion is gentle, but insistent.
"Time to get up, got to go to school
today," she says, flipping the light on in
Andrew's room.
The 4-year-old opens his large brown
eyes, sees his mother and dives back
under the covers. Feebly, he protests.
"I don't want to go to school!"
"Come on, Baby Gray," she says, wad-
ing her way through the toy train tracks
and miniature boxcars on the floor.
Finally, the 28-year-old communica-
tions major succeeds, and Andrew, still
clad in blue footie pajamas, heads off to
the bathroom.
For students like Gray who balance the
roles of parent and pupil, a daily routine
is no easy task. Most carry a full load of
classes to ensure the flow of all-impor-
tant financial aid. Not only do they attend
class, complete homework and take tests,
they negotiate their schedules with their
children's spontaneous needs - typically
harder to handle than exams.
It's unclear how many student-parents
are at the University. The administration
has no formal system for tracking them.
On most standard forms it is illegal to
inquire about a students' familial status,
so administratorsrely onvoluntaryonline
surveys of those most likely to have chil-
dren - graduate students, professional
students and undergraduates who claim
dependents on their financial aid forms.
In a 2004 survey sent to about 15,000 stu-
dents, 1,286 of 5,280 respondents report-
ed having or expecting children.
Six years ago, several concerned voic-
es called on the University to examine
and improve the condition of student-
parents. Then-University Provost Nancy
Cantor commissioned a 20-person Stu-
dent Parent Task Force to examine the
needs of students like Gray.
At the time, discontent over the lack
of resources for student-parents was
growing on campus. Shortly after the
committee first convened, the Graduate
Employees' Organization went on strike,
in part because of what members called
a serious deficit in child care subsidies.
In June 2001, the task force submitted
a 50-page report to Cantor with 25 rec-
ommendations to improve conditions for
student families. The report found, among
other things, that student-parents needed
more understanding from professors who
sometimes criticized their dualroles, more
baby-changing stations in campus bath-

rooms and a way to better extend Univer-
sity health insurance to cover dependents.
Northwood Family Housing, where about
23 percent of student-parents live, lacked
high-speed internet access. On top of that,
the task force said, the University needed
to better advertise the services it already
had. Many student-parents had little or
no knowledge of the resources available
to them.
Task force member Beth Sullivan,
a policy associate at the Center for the
Education of Women, said the report was
well-received. But it was poorly timed,
issued just amonth before Cantor left to
take the chancellorship at the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"It was given a'that looks great, but I'm
leaving,' sort of response," Sullivan said.
Six months later, Cantor's successor,
Paul Courant, took up the report's rec-
ommendation. Supportive of the move-
ment, Courant created the Committee
on Student Parent Issues, a group of
researchers, faculty, student-parents
and GEO members. He gave them three
years - and $450,000 - to fix things.
They had a lot of work to do.
Like many student-parents, Gray's aca-
demic career has been non-traditional.
She came to the University straight
out of high school in 1996. She spent her
first two years trying to figure out what
she wanted to do with her life. She took
a lot of French, some ballet classes, other
odds and ends. In her second year, she
copied her friend's schedule, clueless as

to what she wanted to study. Then she
realized she had to makea change.
"Ithought,'if Ikeepthis up, I'mgoing to
graduate with some kind of weird degree
that won't help me in anything,"' she said.
By April 1998, she'd finally decided on
an interest: cooking. Dismayed she could
not pursue her studies at the University,
she said goodbye to Ann Arbor. That fall,
she enrolled in a culinary arts program
at Johnson and Wales University in
Providence, Rhode Island.
She enjoyed her studies and met Brian
Gray, whom she married in 2000 after
graduating with an associate's degree in
culinary arts.
Soon after graduation, she was man-
aging the kitchen in a four-star restau-
rant. But she grew weary of the job,
and after she became pregnant, she
switched to real estate.
Andrew was born on his due date,
Sept. 17, 2002. After several months of
trying to be both a busy professional and
a mother with an infant, she decided it
was too much.
"(I thought) I'll relinquish my rights
to be a working woman and just enjoy

(being a mom)," she said. "But I knew
eventually I had to get out of it."
And so in March she and her husband
packed up their small family and moved
to Ann Arbor. She re-enrolled atthe Uni-
versity, this time with a clear vision of
what she wanted to study: mass media
marketing and syndication.
For the most part, she and her fam-
ily have found Ann Arbor hospitable.
Andrew, she said, loves the Northwood
neighborhood and the Child Development
Center, where he spends weekdays. Her
husband, a former member of the Army
National Guard, found a job working with
mentally challenged adults at Spectrum
Services in Scio Township. By summer
2006, they'd settled in, just in time for
Gray to jump back into school work.
Undergraduates like Gray who go to
school while raising kids are few and far
between: In the 2004 survey, only 9 per-
cent of student-parents were pursuing
bachelor's degrees.
Undergraduate parents often fly below
the radar. And because the situation is a
social oddity, they often don't tell others
about their families. She's not ashamed of

her family, but Gray rarelytells professors
and classmates about Brian and Andrew.
"I contemplated whether I should say
whether I was a returning student with
a child and a husband," she said. "I didn't
want to use my family for an excuse for
why I couldn't do things."
Members of Courant's committee said
student-parents who let professors know
about their children are sometimes criti-
cized. Professors, department chairs and
fellow students sometimes think that
students who split their time between
biology class and Tickle-Me-Elmo can't
possibly be committed to their studies.
One student, in a letter to the 2001
task force, wrote, "The whole University
system is set up in a waythatassumes the
normal grad student doesn't have kids. I
then internalizethis and feel bizarre that
what is quite normal - being a 37-year-
old married woman with a kid - feels
abnormal in this context."
In October of 2004, the committee
tried to solve the problem through edu-
cation, sending out a memo to deans and
department chairs telling them to talk to
their staffs.Butnotsurprisingly, the memo
wasn't enough. Two years later, Sullivan
said the hostile climate is one of the top
issues facing student-parents on campus.
Without more institutionalized action,
this sentimentcould linger indefinitely.
Gray is not a natural complainer.
When pressed, her few complaints
about juggling her motherly and schol-
arly duties are small and not unlike the
grumblings of every busy student. She
has a heavy load of reading this semes-
ter and is amazed that while she can
finish a thick paperback novel in a day,
it takes her three hours to read 50 text-
book pages. She laments her bad luck in
catching buses ("I'm constantly missing
them by seconds"), and wishes the stu-
dent employment website would purge
old jobs more frequently so she'd have
an easier time finding a way to use her
work-study award.
But when it comes to child care, Gray's
voice joins the plaintive student parent
chorus. The sound is complex, but can be
reduced to one melody: It's tooexpensive.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Andrew Gray, 4, peeks out from underneath his covers. Engineering graduate student Myung-Gyu Kang picks up
his son Dae-Hyun from the Child Development Center in the Northwood Community Center yesterday. LSA Junior Koretta Gray holds her son

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