The cheapest child care available on Yale’s campus costs more than two-thirds of my pay as a graduate teacher.
I’m a graduate employee in the Political Science Department and a parent of two — a two-year-old and a two-week-old. Balancing my academic work and my family commitments is a challenge, but I love both and the challenge is worth it to me. It has been made more difficult than it needs to be, however, by the Yale administration’s decision not to cover the costs of child care. And I’ve experienced the effects of that decision every day in the two years since my daughter Alice was born.
Like my peers who don’t have children, I teach classes, grade student work, conduct research and publish papers. But the playing field isn’t even. As graduate parents, my husband and I face many challenges. But the most significant one for my family has been the lack of affordable child care near our workplace.
Instead of running its own day care at a rate its employees can afford, Yale has established affiliations with private day cares, which cost anywhere between $1,300 and $1,950 per month for full-time care. Even the cheapest option would cost over two-thirds of my monthly graduate stipend. It is simply not an option for my family.
Because we can’t afford the Yale-affiliated day cares, my daughter goes to Sunshine Preschool in Hamden. It costs $1,160 each month — still a major expense, but significantly less than Yale’s cheapest day care. But Sunshine is far from campus, where we both work. And we couldn’t afford both day care and a car without going into debt. So for the past two years, we’ve taken turns taking Alice to and from Hamden on our bikes and by bus. As a result, we weren’t able to be on campus as often and were cut off from the social and intellectual life of our department.
I’ve tried to raise my concerns with the Yale administration but have had little success. Last semester, I attended a “Dine with the Dean” event, intended as a forum in which graduate parents could share their experiences and concerns with Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School. But graduate parents were just a handful of attendees, and we had just a few minutes to make our points. In what little conversation we did have, I was concerned that Cooley did not seem to be familiar with the problems that today’s graduate parents face. In response, Cooley told the News on Wednesday that I must have “misunderstood something [she] said.” (“GPSS details child care struggles,” Feb. 17) I didn’t misunderstand. I know from experience that Yale has not committed to providing the affordable child care graduate students need.
Yale has made real changes to support graduate parents in the past, but only when graduate parents have demanded them. The News story on Wednesday noted, for example, that Yale offers free health insurance to the children of graduate employees. This is a critical resource for graduate families. Just over a decade ago, the children of graduate students were not covered under Yale’s health plan. In 2003, after the Graduate Employees and Students Organization released a report detailing the conditions faced by graduate families, Yale announced it would offer free health care to dependent children. I’m grateful that previous generations of graduate employees organized around this issue — otherwise my family would not be able to afford health care right now. We must keep pushing for change, and we need the administration to recognize our union and negotiate a contract with us to ensure that we have the support we need in the future.
Cooley told the News that “providing greater child care support is extremely important so that we can attract and retain the best students, especially women, in graduate school.” I am glad to hear this and I agree entirely. Child care is essential to gender equity: Too often, women in particular are still forced to choose between a family and a career. It’s no wonder that there are fewer women at the highest levels of academia. To be a progressive employer, Yale should do more than pay lip service to diversity; it should provide the resources and support that will make diversity a reality.
Employees of an institution with a $25 billion endowment should be able to afford to have children and take care of them. Yale’s employees — including graduate employees — cannot keep the University running every day if we are not able to care for our families.
I intend to hold Cooley to her word.
Anna Jurkevics is a graduate student in the Political Science Department who will graduate in 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .