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Photo from Annie Weinstei/Penn Business Services

Every now and then, I think how chaotic class would be if I showed up with my twin two-year-old sons in tow. 

Would I be allowed to access my class buildings while holding two additional tiny hands inside of my own? Would little pairs of feet trotting through Van Pelt turn lots of heads? 

Penn doesn’t have a policy against bringing children to class. Yet, I cannot imagine the nature of the average small child meshing smoothly with a Penn classroom. 

Thankfully, I do not have to worry about bringing my twins to class with me. They attend a full-time program at a Montessori school in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. We commute roughly two hours a day, sometimes a tad more depending on traffic. This daily routine is not easy, but it is a necessary aspect of the current stage of my life and academic career. 

Penn Children’s Center is the only Penn-affiliated child care facility on campus available to Penn students. However, the waitlist is years long. To my knowledge, I have not met a single person who has a child or children enrolled at Penn Children’s Center. 

When I first learned about the circumstances surrounding Penn Children’s Center’s waitlist, I was taken aback. It seemed unfair that so many people were not able to have access to an on-campus child care center. I was more shocked when I learned there were about 1,500 student parents at Penn the last time data was collected in 2017. 

Why haven’t more child care centers been created to relieve the demand of child care needs for Penn students? As soon as possible, more child care centers should be made available at Penn to accommodate the needs of student parents and post-docs.

As a Student Parent Advisory Board member, I often discuss the difficulties associated with being a parent and a student at Penn. Blending the identity of a scholar with parenthood is not easy. There are complications inside and outside of class. Parenting can feel stressful and exhausting by itself — adding more stress through the avenue of worrying about who will care for your child/children while you’re attending class and/or working can be overwhelming. 

Although my twins are in school full-time, their dad and I are over an hour away from them when they are at school and we are on campus. As he and I are both Penn students, each of us spend at least five days a week on campus. When there is an urgent need for one or both of my twins to be picked up, it takes over an hour to get to them and an additional 40 minutes for us to get from their school to our home in Manayunk. We live about a 15 minute drive from campus. 

But if child care was available on campus, the bulk of our travel time would be eliminated. That could mean more concentrated family time or more study time, both of which would be greatly welcomed. My commuting routine is tiring, but not uncommon among Penn students with children.

The Family Center is currently conducting a child care needs assessment survey to obtain data on how many student parents there are at Penn, and what their child care needs are. It is exciting to know that student parent voices across campus will soon be heard. I enthusiastically filled out and submitted my survey last week. If not performative, this is a huge step in the right direction towards appropriate child care accessibility for the Penn community. Parenting is not a new societal concept; Penn needs to be more inclusive towards the needs of student parents. 

In terms of comparisons, Harvard has six on-campus child care centers available to its student body. Princeton University, which has far less than half the student population of Penn, has two on-campus child care centers available to its students. Penn is not keeping up with the needs of student parents; access to more child care centers is imperative. 

Not having access to adequate child care can be detrimental to any parent. For student parents specifically, not having access to adequate child care can erode the opportunity to obtain the education of your dreams. Penn students with children should be able to behold the beauty of parenthood and flourish in the curiosity of academia as seamlessly as family life will allow.

JESSICA GOODING is a College junior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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