The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday June 29th

There's no official policy providing family leave for undergraduate student parents

A stack of parenting books that is available to students in the Carolina Women's Center, located in the Stone Center building. The Carolina Women's Center provides information about parenting resources in the UNC community.
Buy Photos A stack of parenting books that is available to students in the Carolina Women's Center, located in the Stone Center building. The Carolina Women's Center provides information about parenting resources in the UNC community.

Despite a growing number of resources on campus, undergraduate and graduate student parents at UNC still face various challenges ranging from time management difficulties, to feelings of social isolation, to economic strains as they juggle both family and coursework. 

Angus Lyall, a doctoral candidate in UNC's geography department, takes care of his two-year-old daughter, Emma, with his partner, Nancy Carrión Sarzosa. Carrión Sarzosa previously worked for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, but now stays home to take care of Emma. 

“There are difficult choices involved with being a parent and a graduate student,” Lyall said. “And they are related to how you want to be parents, how present you are committed to being in the child’s life, balancing that with getting work done and also trying to keep the family economy sustainable.” 

The Carolina Women’s Center offers a resource hub for students, faculty, staff parents and parents-to-be at Parenting @ UNC. The site highlights a variety of different parenting resources at UNC and the greater Chapel Hill community ranging from finding child care services, lactation rooms and LGBTQ+ family support groups. Students can also contact the CWC directly for more individualized advice, said Clare Counihan, the CWC program coordinator for faculty and staff. 

Much like the common issue of needing child care, many student parents also share a feeling of being isolated from other students. 

“Folks don’t walk around campus with their kids, so it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh, you’re a student parent too, and I can have a community with you,’” Counihan said.

UNC also partners with Child Care Services Association, a nonprofit dedicated to providing child care resources and referral services for parents in the Triangle area, under the UNC Child Care Resource and Referral Program. CCSA provides both English and Spanish-speaking child care referral counselors who help guide students and faculty through the process of finding the appropriate type of child care for them based on various standards including location, cost and the North Carolina Star Rated license. 

CCSA can also expedite the child care search for parents by using their databases to track which programs have waitlists, said Christy Thalheimer, child care referral regional manager for CCSA.

“The goal for our services overall is to help families identify and access a quality child care program that’s going to meet their unique situation,” Thalheimer said. 

Lyall said his family considered looking into child care services around Chapel Hill, but ultimately decided against it after taking the waiting period and financial burdens into account. Lyall said graduate student stipends aren’t sufficient to cover child care expenses. 

“They’re designed to keep single people afloat while they’re trying to graduate,” Lyall said. “They don’t take into account people who have families.” 

To combat some of these issues, CCSA does offer child care subsidy programs and the Child Care Association’s Scholarship Program. Thalheimer said CCSA serves about 100 UNC-affiliated children each year through the scholarship program. 

The UNC Graduate School Parental Leave Policy provides up to six weeks of parental leave for eligible graduate students. To be eligible, graduate students must have been a full-time graduate student for at least one academic year and be anticipating the birth or adoption of a child.

However, there is no official policy governing students' family leave provided for undergraduate students, according to the CWC website. 

“Faculty are encouraged to allow Students to take short-term absences for responsibilities pertaining to parenting, including caring for their child during the child’s injury or illness, attending medical, mental health, or dental appointments for their child, and meeting with their child’s teacher or school administrator,” according to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office Policy on Pregnant and Parenting Students and Applicants. 

Elizabeth Hall, assistant director of the EOC, works with students after they submit a request for accommodations to the EOC Office. 

“After getting input from the student, faculty and relevant administrators, my team makes a determination of what accommodations are reasonable and notifies the student and their faculty," Hall said in an email statement to the DTH.  

Despite services and accommodations available for student parents, Lyall said being a graduate student parent requires extensive coordination with his partner to construct and maintain his busy schedule around his child. 

“One thing about becoming a parent as a graduate student is that you become more efficient with your time. You get things done a lot more quickly,” Lyall said. “I don’t turn to Facebook. I don’t get distracted the way I used to. There’s just no time to get distracted.” 

@camedson

university@dailytarheel.com

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