The Importance of Child Care on Campus: An Interview with Nakita Valerio
Nakita Valerio and I first met in a university course called "Topics in the Study of the Middle East and Africa". As the class went on, I came to know her as a strong academic, an effective advocate and a good friend. Sure enough, we made sure to keep in touch after the semester ended.
We often ran into each other at local events, talks or rallies. In the year since I met Nakita, I have been consistently impressed by the community work she does. Nakita is somebody who not only cares about those facing struggles, but boldly takes action to help and empower them. I was surprised to learn that she is able to accomplish all of this as a university student while struggling to find child care on campus. Somehow, she is able to do all that she does while dealing with the high cost of child care as well as the lack of child care spaces.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Nakita to share her story, as well as her perspectives on the issue of child care on campus.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I did my Bachelor of Arts at the University over a period of 4 years, majoring in history and minoring in English. I took 5 years off from academia and had my daughter in Morocco in 2013. I returned the following year and began my Masters degree in History and Islamic-Jewish studies, examining the how the Jewish departure from Morocco is remembered.
How have you been able to balance child care and studying at the U of A?
With great difficulty. Finding good child care that was reasonably priced for the first 2 years of study was really tough because my daughter was just under one year old when I started. There was a drop in centre I used to take her to that was hourly so I would commute there before class, race back to campus, go to class for a few hours and then race back to pick her up. It was so stressful because if you were held up by traffic at all, you would be charged for the extra time. It was also very expensive. I was paying anywhere from $900 to $1000 per month on top of my home expenses, food, tuition and so forth. It was really challenging and if I hadn't received funding from various scholarships and the department, I would have had to leave school. Since that time, my daughter has grown and can now go to a combined preschool/play school program which is subsidized by the government for lower income families and that has really eased the burden for me. I can work on my thesis and research assistantship for longer periods during the day now without having to rush around insanely and the financial burden is substantially lessened. All of this makes it a lot easier to focus on the work I love and am being paid to do.
Can you talk about the accessibility of child care centres on or near campus?
There are a couple places for daycare on Whyte Ave (one is actually closing this spring) which is just a short transit ride from campus but is a nightmare during rush hour. I can't tell you how many times it was easier for me to run in -20, instead of hitting a bus that would just get stuck in traffic. There are a few preschools south of Whyte Avenue but they have set hours of operation and you have to decide at the beginning of the year if your child will be in morning or afternoon classes - often without knowing your own class or work schedule first. In other words, it is complicated. I ended up moving away from the area because the options for my child were so terrible. In the new neighbourhood, we found an excellent school with good programming, good hours and reasonable prices. I have to commute over an hour every day but that peace of mind is worth it.
What do you think can be done to improve child care on campus?
Something less than a 2 year wait list would be nice. I never did get on the list because it seemed so inaccessible and unrealistic. More childcare spaces would be nice, especially if they are subsidized. I don't think the University is aware of how many students and faculty actually use off-campus childcare and don't recognize the need for more spaces to be opened. The institution itself tends to do everything on a "by-demand" basis (see: never-ending arts cuts) without actually assessing what people need. Childcare on campus is just one part of that continuous oversight.
Why should child care matter to the average student?
It should matter because parents are students and faculty too. People shouldn't have to decide between starting a family and getting an education. Families enrich the university community and the neoliberal system that transforms academics into family-less, isolated workaholics is a relic of a dark past that should be dispensed with. Making space for parents to study is one way to deal with that.