I believe that, for parents, access to childcare in graduate school is not a matter of ease or difficulty, but can determine whether the opportunity to be in graduate school exists at all. To this end, it is a matter of diversity and inclusion not just for parents and non-traditional students. It is a matter of access to higher education and nothing less. It may be attractive to think that this is hyperbole: I can assure you that it is not. Take me for example. My partner has a full-time job and I have taught my own class the last three terms, plus I am finishing classes, I have taken my comprehensive exams, I am preparing for my dissertation by pulling together a prospectus, I am securing funding and planning for summer research, and I am leading an interdisciplinary project team from four universities to study Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico that was recently funded by a NSF-supported organization. Put it all together and it often exceeds a standard 40-hour week, and not only by a little bit. Last year my daycare costs for two small children—the only way that I can be the researcher I want to be and the teacher my students deserve—were over $19,000. That’s nearly as much as in-state undergraduate tuition, and even with a summer teaching gig that’s nearly my entire take home pay. I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who is employed but what about others? Single parents? Those who have a partner who cannot find employment sufficient to pay all household expenses? Those who have a partner in graduate school?
Lack of access to childcare is not only a matter of convenience, but presents an real and substantial obstacle to the university’s efforts to attract highly qualified graduate students from a diversity of backgrounds and experience. In 2016, I served on a committee that surveyed the campus’ childcare needs, as well as the unique challenges faced by parents in academic development. Parents choose schools not only for their children, but for themselves on the basis of the needs of their children. Outside of finances, the demands of being a parent may exert pressures on everything from time to the ability to form informal networks, and may do so differently on the basis of gender. I have been enthused to see my department take parental concerns seriously in ways that recognize their attendant challenges: for example by actively arranging informal assistance and coverage when my children were born and by providing childcare at department social events. I hope that these efforts signal the beginning of a serious university-wide effort to provide a truly inclusive environment for graduate employees (and others) with families (and, at the same time, make UO a more attractive choice for prospective students). These negotiations provide a platform for the university to do just that in ways that will benefit both graduate employees and its overall mission.