[Parentsgroup-list] Notes from Deans meeting concerning student parents

Tonya Cropper cropper at fas.harvard.edu
Wed Jun 1 19:53:33 EDT 2005


Hi everyone,

Here are the notes from the meeting yesterday (31 May 2005) with three GSAS
deans concerning student parents’ issues.  This meeting was a follow-up to a
response to questions that we posed to Larry Summers during his meeting with
GSAS students on 2 May 2005.  Summers directed us to meet with Dean Margot Gill
first.  The meeting was very productive and we all feel that the deans are in
full support of our mission and are willing to help us in achieving our goals.

In attendance: Margot Gill (Dean Student Affairs), Garth McCavana (Associate
Dean for Student Affairs), and Rise Shepsle (Assistant Dean), and student
parents: Pär Cassel, Tonya Cropper, Ryan Larsen, Liang Luo, and Brandeis
McBratney-Owen (and little Jacqueline).

Our first priority was to gain the support of the deans in identifying all of
GSAS student parents, assessing the needs of the students, and assuring that we
are recognized and organized as an official GSAS student organization by the
fall. We also briefly addressed three of our core issues -  affordable housing,
health care, and childcare.

1. IDENTIFICATION OF STUDENT PARENTS:
To accurately and identify student parents, we want GSAS to include three
questions on the mandatory registration information form during fall
registration.  The questions are whether the students have dependent children,
what ages, and whether their spouse/partner is also a student parent. 
Currently, there is a separate optional form that asks students whether they
have any children, but many students for various reasons do not fill out this
form.
Deans’ Response:  They understand why it is important to gather an accurate
count of student parents therefore they will assess what is the most effective
basis to gather the data and report back to us.
What student parents can do: If we add the questions on the mandatory form
(ideal since all the demographic information then will be available) or use the
separate optional form, we need to communicate to all student parents that it is
to their advantage to identify themselves by filling out the information during
registration.  So, please answer the questions concerning your parental status.
We also need to make ourselves visible on campus, especially during
registration.  We will set up a table during registration and bring our kids.

2. ASSESS THE STATUS AND NEEDS OF STUDENT PARENTS
To better understand the needs of student parents, we want to conduct a
comprehensive survey during the fall and a brief qualitative survey this month.
 Ryan Larson and others are working on the format and questions for the
comprehensive survey.  To meet a June 30 reporting deadline, we would like to
provide general information about the experiences of graduate student parents
to the Harvard task force on women report.  To achieve this, we want to conduct
a brief survey to the Parents Groups distribution list similar to the questions
posed during Bright Horizons conducted focus group.
Deans’ Response: The deans agree that the comprehensive survey will help to not
only assess, but also prioritize the needs of student parents.  Since GSAS
conducts a limited survey during registration, Garth McCavana will work with us
to review our questions to compare what types of question have been more
effective in the past.
What student parents can do: Please complete the surveys.  We will send out an
email soon with the directions to take the survey.  Also, please complete the
comprehensive survey during the fall.

3.  Harvard’s Policy on Financial Aid Calculation for Dependents and Spouses
We believe that Harvard’s policy concerning students’ financial aid budget for
spouses and dependents is unclear.  Furthermore, we believe that there is not a
standard application of budget allocation amongst Harvard’s financial aid
advisors.
Deans’ Response: Margot Gill stated that Harvard has a standard budget
allocation for dependents and spouses.  They will conduct a financial aid
workshop during the fall that explains Harvard’s policy, loan eligibility
rules, international students’ concerns, and the special circumstances process.
What student parents can do: Attend the workshop and bring questions.

4.   Recognition as an Official GSAS Student Organization
We have the application to complete, but official approval is needed by a GSAS
committee that normally meets during the fall.  Since, we want to be an
official organization during registration, this time frame may pose a problem.
Deans’ Response: They will “fast track” our student group application, so we
need to complete it as soon as possible.  Therefore, we should be an official
group by registration.
What student parents can do: Please join! Among other items, the application
requires us to list our members, officers, and three faculty advisors.  Please
email me (cropper at fas.harvard.edu) and place on the subject line “Member.”  We
have to provide members’ name, school/dept., and address.  If you know of a
faculty who would like to be an advisor for our group, please let us know.  We
also need to include officers (at least president, vice president, secretary,
and treasurer).  We will hold elections in the fall, but in the interim if you
have suggestions for officers please let us know.

5. Affordable Housing for Graduate Students
Availability and affordability of campus housing are a major concern for all
graduate students.  But, this issue is especially critical for students with
children.  Currently, a committee composed by Harvard Real Estate set Harvard
Affiliated Housing rates. We would like to have student parent representation
on this committee.
Deans’ Response: The deans agree that affordability student housing are a major
issue and discussed Harvard’s progress in relation to its peer institution. 
They will follow through with Susan Keller at Harvard Real Estate to see if
there is student representation on this committee.  This is an issue we need to
“address sooner than later.”
What student parents can do: Complete the survey.  The survey includes questions
about your housing cost and location.  The survey will assess graduate student
parents housing needs.

6. Childcare
Everyone agreed that Harvard’s affiliated childcare centers are not only scarce,
but also very expensive.  Pär Cassel and Liang Luo are international student
parents of Ingrid who attends one of Harvard’s affiliated co-op childcare
centers.  In addition to the cost, they also discussed the hardship of the
center’s required 12-month lease, especially since students often do not
require the three summer months' services.
Deans’ Response: They recognized that affordability and availability of
childcare is an issue with many in the Harvard community, including faculty and
staff.  However, GSAS has no control over the Bright Horizons-run childcare
centers.
What student parents can do: Complete the survey.  We have questions on the
survey about your current childcare arrangements and needs.  The survey should
help us better understand the impact of low availability and high cost of
Harvard’s childcare.  We realize that this may not be an issue for some
students for various reasons.

7. Visibility of Graduate Student Parents
At the Harvard sponsored focus group concerning childcare issues (conducted by
Bright Horizons) several student parents spoke of feeling invisible on campus. 
We shared our feeling about increasing our presence on campus.
Deans’ Response:  They suggest we work with Dudley House masters and Dudley
fellows to assure that there are more programs that are considerate of students
with families.
What student parents can do: Complete the survey coming out this month and
become involve with our official organization in the fall.  Make your voices
heard in the various arenas that you interact with.

8. Previous Attempts Within Harvard to Address Student Parents Needs
Margot Gills stated that previous attempts to address the specific needs of
student parents had met resistance. The resistance was mainly due to
prioritizing and allocating limited resources.  She emphasized that a great
window of opportunity has opened and we must act quickly.
What student parents can do: Get involved!  Complete the survey.  Since this is
a new organization, we will need your input about how to address your needs. 
We have to submit a projected budget for the year, so we need to know what type
of programming you would like to have next year.


Tonya Cropper




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