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Gaining a new perspective of students who are also mothers

It is undeniable that mothers confront very real disadvantages in the work and study environment. How can we understand their needs better?

Photo of Gabriela Hernandez
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As a professor in a Hispanic-serving institution, I have been able to discover the biggest differences between our student body and the more "traditional" students. For example, we receive a considerable number of parents, and mothers especially encounter many more obstacles while attending school than their male counterparts. How can we leverage this discussion so that we can find ways to understand better their overall living environment and facilitate better support systems for them, in order to increase retention of this population in our universities? 

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Tell us about your work experience:

Being a professor in a Hispanic-serving institution with a substantial population consisting of minorities has opened my eyes to diversity—ethnically and socioeconomically. Traditional students (caucasian, 18-24 y/o, full time students) are actually our minority, being working parents one of the most prominent groups attending our institution. Traditional gender roles are still in many ways prevalent, preventing mothers to invest the time they would desire to invest in their studies.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

We don't talk enough about parenting and education! Although we try to be as egalitarian as we can in the way we treat all our students, we really need to be more open to the fact that mothers need more support and better understanding of their life context, especially those coming from lower income backgrounds. Those are the students who are at higher risk of abandoning higher education or delay graduation. Retention is one of the biggest challenges for minority-serving institutions.

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Photo of Gabriela Hernandez

Hello Kate,

Currently, our university offers Child Watch, a partnership with the local YMCA. Parents of 3-12 y/o can use the service in four hour blocks, up to 12 hours a week, for a $5 per hour fee. This is great step forward. Although, I have observed that mothers of children who are 2 years old or younger are the ones that find it more difficult to get support. The university is also very active in finding ways to inform students about their possibilities in case a students is not able to finish a class or the assignments due to conflicting parenting obligations, but there is only so much we can do, because of the precepts of Title IX, that focuses on egalitarian ways to treat and protect students. 

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