Hearing the Voices of Student Parents and Creating a Family-Friendly U of T

Allie Dainow
Design Research Assistant

“What simple things could U of T do to be more family-friendly?” We asked this question at our participatory action event last month, in which we sought the voices of student parents and their solutions to the challenges they face at U of T. The event captured a broad range of student parent experiences, including those of undergraduate and graduate participants from different departments, and built upon a partnership between the Innovation Hub and the Family Care Office that took place last year.

During last year’s project, participants spoke extensively about the challenges they face, including feeling isolated and stressed from trying to balance their roles and responsibilities. They were concerned about barriers to accessing resource and services at the university, particularly childcare, financial aid, and help with time management.

Last month’s event encouraged reflection on these issues and their potential solutions through three activities. In the first one, participants were asked, “What simple things could U of T do to be more family-friendly?” Their responses were displayed on post-it notes and discussed as a group. Suggestions included social opportunities for parents, workshops on parenting topics, more inclusivity within student-parent programs, more resources, and changes to existing services to make them more family-friendly.

In the second activity, participants  were asked to draw a picture of a space that had not been intended for families, but that they felt was family-friendly. This led to suggestions for changing current spaces on campus to welcome children, such as including child-friendly seats, tables, and couches, and having high chairs in eating areas. Parents also discussed the possibility of creating family-friendly spaces based on the discipline of each building, such as having a children’s science-themed space in science buildings. This would not only provide more family-friendly spaces, but also educate children on different subjects and increase the visibility of families on campus.

For the last activity, the participants chose a difficult scenario that they had encountered as a student parent and discussed possible solutions for it, and the benefits and drawbacks of those solutions. For example, a student parent might want to attend a conference where childcare is not available: they could solve this dilemma by either bringing the child with them to the conference or not attending. The first solution could be inconvenient for both the parent and others in the class, and the second solution would disadvantage the parent by erasing an opportunity to learn and participate in professional development.

The suggestions that we heard throughout the event will be used to develop a “Top Ten” list of changes to make U of T departments more family-friendly. We look forward to sharing these ideas with the U of T community, and we thank all the participants for the time and insights that they shared with us.

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