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Linda Yu for Spectator

Amber Erwin, GS ’15, and Katharine Celentano, GS ’16, discussing the future of CUFSN last March.

In an op-ed last year, Amber Erwin aptly framed the problem: "We, as a united student body, have recognized that when one of us struggles, we all struggle."

Last April, all four undergraduate student councils unanimously passed a resolution presented by the Columbia University Family Support Network "to eliminate disparate treatment of undergraduate and graduate students with families." The resolution was an attempt to replicate the support that Graduate School of Arts and Sciences students receive in the form of a subsidy and backup child care for children under the age of five who are not yet attending kindergarten.

This resolution is an important first step in ensuring that the University administration supports the needs of a diverse student body that includes student-parents. Student-parent assistance is often forgotten when it comes to undergraduates, but it is a particularly pressing need in the School of General Studies. GS boasts a median age of 28 and, as a result, has a much higher population of student-parents than many of Columbia's other undergraduate (and even some graduate) schools.

It is the responsibility of the University to further evaluate and understand the extent of the student-parent population. Last year, CUFSN surveyed GS students and found that of 157 respondents, 83, or about 50 percent, had a child under five. These numbers of respondents are small, but they demonstrate that a survey of this nature needs to be expanded to all schools and made public in order to properly evaluate the needs of the student-parent community at Columbia. Columbia's failure to assess the needs of this demographic is indicative of the overall neglect of the student-parent population.

Given the financial strain on GS students, which leaves many students with hefty debt loads and the stress that accompanies them, the added financial and logistical burden of taking care of young children can be academically crippling. This can range from student-parents missing a high number of classes to choosing not to attend Columbia.

This is unacceptable. Students with children should be aided, not ignored and left to handle everything on their own.

In addition to using the GSAS subsidy as a model, Columbia should start taking cues from other institutions that have successfully implemented assistance programs and resources to aid student-parents. Cornell demonstrates an exceptional level of support and since 2004 has had a subsidy program that financially assists all student-parents enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, or professional programs. The University of California, San Diego, has vast on-campus resources, including family-oriented study rooms. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania has backup child care for all full-time students and a family resource center.

Student-parents should not have to struggle to receive financial and logistical support. Columbia's demanding workload places student-parents in an especially challenging position, in which they may not have the time to advocate the change that helps their own demographic. The Columbia student community needs to take up the cause on their behalf to ensure that our fellow students have every opportunity to succeed.

We urge the administration to seriously evaluate the prevalence and importance of the family at Columbia in order to create an effective assistance program.

Finally, we hope that the student body of Columbia further advocates on behalf of the student-parents, as they are an integral part of the student body.

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Correction: This article previously stated that GSAS students also took part in the survey. They did not. Spectator regrets the error.

To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

CUFSN Columbia University Family Support Network student-parent gs gsas children Amber Erwin
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