The small talk before my Shakespeare lit class started was always the worst.
“Did you rush?” one of my female colleagues asked another.
I half-listened to the conversation, thinking that it was going to be about why she was almost late to class.
“Yeah I did, but I think I seriously fucked up my chances with Alpha Chi Omega. I slept with the VP’s ex-boyfriend last year.”
“What the fuck?” I thought to myself. “I’m getting old.”
I was only 22 at the time, but being a parent in your early twenties surrounded by people without kids has a funny way of making you feel like the mom chaperoning your daughter’s prom.
Every Monday, I had a mandatory DeCal for my academic scholarship that entailed meeting with my fellow scholars and our advisors. In a class with more than 50 students, all in our first semester at UC Berkeley and all from eclectic backgrounds, I found myself surrounded by students that each fit into a different demographic. Though we were all from very different walks of life, the one thing that many of us had in common was that we were feeling isolated at the university. While the majority of students were out partying on the weekends, I was at home watching Sesame Street on repeat and vacuuming my floors five times an hour. Though I was able to engage with my peers on an academic level, I still craved a sense of community outside of the classroom. Essentially, I just wanted to make some friends.
Toward the end of the semester, after my 50th time over-hearing a story about a frat party that ended with a couch on fire, I snapped.
“Anyone form some new relationships on campus last week?” my advisor innocently inquired during a roundtable for my DeCal.
“I just need friends with kids!” I accidentally answered out loud at a decibel much higher than the one in which the question was asked. “The only people in my classes are in sororities and they won’t talk to me ‘cause I have a kid and I’m not their sister”.
I instantly regretted it; one, because it was all but my third time talking in class, and two, because I didn’t have some secret vendetta against sorority girls, but rather envied the community that they seemed to have so early on in the semester.
“That was me!” my advisor exclaimed, breaking through my worry that I had offended someone in the room. “ You didn’t tell me you had a kid? I know so many people at the student-parent center.”
My sharp tongue had finally worked in my favor.
I left class that Monday and instantly followed my advisor’s directions to the SPC.
Upon entering the center, I was met with the sight of two kids playing Connect Four on a leather couch while their parents were vigorously typing on their computers.
“There’s just never enough hours in the day,” one parent said to the other.
I instantly felt at home.
As student-parents, and as nontraditional students in general, it is very easy to feel isolated and without resources in academia. With student parents representing only 15 percent of the total four-year undergraduate student body at U.S. colleges, finding the student-parent community amongst the 30,574 undergraduate students at UC Berkeley seemed almost like an impossible feat. I increased my chances, however, when I was vocal about my feelings of isolation.
Until student-parents are no longer considered a minority on college campuses, resources like the SPC will continue to be discovered by chance, rather than presented to us by the university as something as common knowledge, like the financial aid office. In fact, in spending more time at the Student Parent Center, I found that many students discovered SPC by luck, as well. Some were directed to the SPC after voicing being overwhelmed with their course load while raising their kids. Even then, it was only academic advisors who had previously worked with student-parents that recognized their struggle and could direct them to the correct resources.
In order to make student-parent-centric resources better known on campus by officials and students alike, we have to be vocal about the struggles we face as student-parents. Go to your L&S advisor and tell them how you need to plan next semester around your kid’s daycare. Speak with your teachers about possibly having to miss next week’s class if your kid’s cough gets any worse. Tell your classmates about your weekend spent watching “Cars” on loop with your kids.
The more we talk to others on campus about our experiences as student-parents, the more notarization our unique demographic gets. As our notarization grows, so should our fire to demand more readily available resources for student-parents.
We can rely on luck, but only while raising our voices as well.
Mia Villanueva writes the Thursday column on her experience as a student-parent at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected].