Parents at the Community College of Aurora are excited at the upgraded lactation and chestfeeding spaces on campus.
Megan Dempsey, who has been serving CCA as Student Parent Navigator Project Manager for the Office of Student Advocacy since February 2022, said the upgraded spaces are the beginning of a new direction regarding families and education on campus.
“What we’re trying to do is change a culture here,” Dempsey said. “These services, while they are a direct benefit for students, they’re also a great benefit for all the CCA community.”
Dempsey notes these spaces are for students, staff, instructors, and faculty. Previously, the spaces for chestfeeding at the Lowry Campus in CCA’s North Quad 205 and the CentreTech campus in classroom 111 had only a paper towel holder, a table, a chair and nothing else.
CCA student support services have upgraded the spaces to have added adjustable color-changing lights, pumping stations and full-length mirrors. Corkboards covered in affirmations, student resources and places to build community now hang in each lactation space. A QR code is available to scan in the spaces, allowing users to anonymously give feedback. The updates have included making sure the spaces are inclusive of all genders and feeding needs. The rooms have been updated with a new Universal Lactation Symbol that highlights the different ways babies receive nutrition.
Dempsey said the changes have been overwhelmingly supported, with many students and professors saying they feel recognized and supported.
“It’s an upgrade that looks aesthetically great and is the starting point for more meaningful upgrades,” Dempsey added.
Other upgrades for consideration include sinks, microwaves to warm up milk and formula and refrigerators to store these items.
In her role on campus, Dempsey works with students who are raising one or more children while attending school. The Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents organization has supplied a $150,000 grant to the Community College of Aurora that pays for student stipends, emergency funds, programming and supplies. The grant dollars have helped CCA service 50 student parents this semester. Dempsey said as many as 70 student parents may receive help in the upcoming spring semester.
Dempsey said Aspen takes a two-generation approach to education, where “if you support a student, you have to support their family too because education is a familial experience.” This has translated to providing emergency funds to parents for rent, transportation, health needs and removal from domestic abuse situations.
“When we’re talking about emergency funds, it is primarily for basic needs and that’s what we’re seeing a lot from our student parents,” Dempsey said. “They’re incredible scholars, incredibly capable, they just need help because times are hard.”
In one instance, Dempsey said a straight-A student and parent of four kids was almost evicted after a child put items down a toilet. The student parent was faced with eviction if they failed to pay a hefty fine. Emergency funds were able to cover the fine, preventing eviction and ensuring the student could finish school strong. This student went on to achieve honor roll and is reaching their goals with higher education.
After conducting a needs assessment for the CCA campuses, Dempsey said her office received responses from 289 students who identified as parents or caregivers. Moving forward, the Office of Student Advocacy plans to continue updating the chestfeeding spaces while providing case management, scholarship, resource support and a community for student parents.
“This grant has been instrumental as a launching point, but since then we’ve had a lot of traction,” Dempsey said of the grant funding from Aspen. She added the CCA Foundation awarded an extra $100,000 for scholarships for student parents and recently received a REACH Mini-Grant through the Lumina Foundation for $40,000 to directly support Adult Learners of Color.
By leveraging the grant support of organizations, such as the Aspen Institute and the Lumina Foundation and the CCA Foundation, CCA is changing the landscape for student parent scholars. We are building a community where learners who carry multiple layers of responsibility can access transformative education and workforce training and still care for their families. Responsive student support which validates the identities our students carry is part of CCA’s DNA and we are excited to collaborate with our CCCS partners to make this model a standard in community college education across Colorado.
Student parents who have questions or need support can contact Dempsey at (303)360-491 or email [email protected].