Can HKS be a village where families are welcome?


by HKS Parent Advocacy Group
(Jess Ausinheiler, Alex Glade, Elizabeth Patton, Anton Tejeda, and Carolina Zambrano)

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash.

 

Dear Future Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Students,

There is an old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But we need your help transforming HKS into such a village for the student-parents among us. Doing this will further our school’s inclusion goals in ways that both remove barriers talented leader-parents face and cultivate leaders who advocate for pro-family policies, institutions, and societies.

Below are challenges facing student-parents, as well as next steps to which our administration has committed to meet them. We hope this transparency will keep the HKS community accountable for its transformation into a family-inclusive institution. And we hope it motivates similar reflection and action across Harvard.

Many challenges student-parents face may be invisible to our community. These are broad, ranging from inaccessible schedules for popular courses, to difficult-to-locate nursing and diaper changing facilities, to unaffordable childcare. But they go beyond lack of awareness, at times manifesting as intolerance of family issues.

Some first-hand experiences from HKS student-parents:

– CHILDCARE: “Once I was accepted and found out that Harvard daycare was over $3,000/month, all I could think about was finding affordable childcare for my five-month-old. I posted requests for Nanny Shares; I browsed the web for daycares when I woke up to nurse at 2am; I worried, a lot. Two weeks into the semester, my nanny quit. It’s been my most time-consuming extracurricular activity.”

– FACILITIES: “My 14-month-old soiled her diaper, and because I had no way of finding out where the nearest changing facilities were, I changed her on the red couches on 3rd Floor Littauer, which got dirty. While I cleaned them, I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is a health hazard.’ And quite frustrating.”

– ACADEMIC AFFAIRS: “One day, around 7pm, I found myself leaving my kids by themselves at home to come to a class that was meeting from 7-10pm. I was really frustrated. I asked myself, what’s the message I’m sending to my kids? Is it that to be a leader I can’t see them?”

– FACULTY MINDSETS: “I wanted to take a popular J-Term module, but when I told my professor that I had to leave 5 min early to pick up my daughter (I am her sole caretaker) he refused to grant me the option, so I didn’t take his course. It’s clear that he was clueless, or didn’t care about my needs.

– STUDENT MINDSETS: “I was working with students who wanted to schedule weekly meetings on Friday. I told them I can’t meet on Friday’s because I must pick up my kid, but they did not consider this a ‘good enough’ excuse. One responded by comparing my need to pick up my child with her need to walk her dog… My classmates unfortunately turned it into a relativistic issue. It’s hard.”

Given the progress the newly-formed Parent Advocacy Group has already made this year at HKS, the willingness of staff and leadership to work with us, and the presence of strong allies among faculty and the student body, HKS can continue to make positive change happen and serve as an example to the broader Harvard community.

To build on the momentum we built during the 2017-2018 school year through community meetings and playgroup pop-ups, we recently delivered a memo to HKS Dean Elmendorf, Dean of Student Services Isaacson, and Associate Dean of Inclusion Chapman recommending four steps  to make HKS more family-inclusive:

1) Commit to excellence in family-inclusion in our Inclusion work

2) Appoint a well-resourced Liaison of Family Affairs

3) Create family-friendly spaces

4) Create a joint-commission for childcare affordability

Dean of Student Services Isaacson and Associate Dean of Inclusion Chapman each met with the Parent Advocacy Group in April 2018 to discuss our recommendations—and both agreed to implement them!

Future HKS students should expect more family-friendly course schedules; financial aid that accounts for dependents; a single point-person within Student Services for families to contact; a families’ handbook for families moving to Cambridge; monthly Quorum Calls that include a fun-filled, dedicated space for children; a pilot “Family Commons” space where student-parents can safely “be” with their children; “buddy” programs for incoming student-parents; and pilot programs for more affordable childcare. And we look forward to seeing the changes for which you advocate at the HKS and at Harvard writ large.

Our work reflects the desire to make the Harvard journey more accessible and inclusive for student-parents. When we lead by example in how we treat members of our community, we properly cultivate public leaders who will make the world better. We ask that you continue this effort to cultivate an even more family-inclusive Harvard.

Sincerely,
HKS Parent Advocacy Group
(Primary authors: Jess Ausinheiler, Alex Glade, Elizabeth Patton, Anton Tejeda, and Carolina Zambrano)