When I was applying to colleges, Amherst, Haverford, Williams, and Swarthmore were all among my top choices: small, prestigious liberal arts colleges where I would find small classes, great professors, and plenty of work to keep me busy. It takes something special to set one of these colleges apart from the rest. The reason I chose Swarthmore was because of something an admissions executive said to me: “Swarthmore students want to change the world.”
On some level, this is true for all of us. Think about your friends, and where they might be working this summer. Many political science students are off to DC to learn how to implement the policy change in which they believe. Environmental studies majors will work towards varied solutions to climate change. Biology majors will search for cures, and theater majors will apply their passion to any number of social causes.
As Swarthmore students, we take pride in our collective “change-the-world” outlook on academics. But as we look for world-changing jobs and internships, as we write letters to the New York Times and try to effect change around problems in far-off places, let’s remember this: social injustice is right in front of us. After many conversations with workers over the past few semesters, members of Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) have learned that—unlike many of its peer institutions—Swarthmore does not provide childcare to College staff. This decision means that members of our community aren’t receiving the same level of respect we demand for ourselves, our families and those with whom we act in solidarity.
Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Pomona, Smith, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Williams and almost all of our other peer institutions offer child care support to their staff. Swarthmore offers nothing.
Child Care at other colleges and universities usually takes one of two forms. Some colleges and universities offer on-campus child care, where staff and faculty are provided with a place to leave their pre-school age children and know that they will be safe and looked-after during the work-day. Some institutions provide programs for students to participate in the process. Here’s a potential solution: many Swatties tutor children or volunteer at daycares in the Ville; one option would be to create similar programs for the children of Swarthmore staff and faculty.
Other colleges and universities offer subsidies to help staff access child care in their area. Many have found innovative ways of providing child care subsidies to their staff and faculty; the program at Kenyon College, for example, receives government subsidies through Head Start and operates on a sliding scale based on income. For some staff on Kenyon’s campus, child care is effectively free. If such an option is available, it’s hard to see why the administration at Swarthmore would be opposed to receiving outside funding to provide child care services to dedicated staff members.
Naturally, we will need to know a lot more about each of these options before adopting either. That said, we already know that providing childcare is not a choice, but an imperative. Now, all we need to decide is what works for us as a community, an answer that can only come from the combined efforts and expertise of students, faculty, administrators and—most crucially—staff.
Child care support is critical not only for parents who cannot afford to be late to work or miss a day. It is also critical because, for many staff who live outside of borough limits, access to childcare is not as easy to come by as it is in idyllic Swarthmore. In January, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was court-ordered to advance the Chester Upland School district $3.2 million to operate on for the remainder of the school year, only a fraction of students’, parents’ and teachers’ demanded $18.7 million. This comes alongside recent school closures in nearby Philadelphia, and the proliferation of increasingly privatized models for education reform as promoted by everyone from Bill Gates to Chris Christie. Just because the state has adopted a for-profit approach to education and childcare doesn’t mean Swarthmore should do the same. Like (and hardly distinct from) education, childcare is a basic human right.
I chose Swarthmore because of the student body’s commitment to social change. Ironically, the same administration that prides itself for acting at the nexus of social justice and education is ignoring the right of staff to the latter for their children
Swarthmore College staff members deserve child-care. It’s time we stood up for it.
Swarthmore Labor Action Project will be hosting the first Chow and Chat, a community-wide discussion about childcare on campus. The event will be held Tuesday April 9th at 2:00 pm in Science Center 105. Staff, students and faculty are encouraged to attend!
Op-Ed submitted by Lydia Bailey and Jason Clayton