Selena Plancarte faced challenges beyond what some transfer students encounter when she left Hartnell Community College in Salinas to continue studying sociology at Fresno State.
“It was a matter of finding the right home for me and my daughter, given that I was relocating [the two of us] by myself,” said Plancarte, who is a junior.
Child care for her 7-year-old daughter was another hurdle, finding an option without a waiting list that could accommodate her child. Options can be more limited for school-aged children than for infants.
Even beyond those issues, there have been times when Plancarte has wrestled with the stigma that student-parents can experience, real or perceived, from professors or from fellow students.
Plancarte found an ally on campus who has helped her establish a support system in a new, unfamiliar city. Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez, an associate professor in the Women’s Studies Program, hopes to give other Fresno State students like Plancarte tools to overcome some obstacles student-parents face as they maneuver toward earning their college degrees.
“We noticed there was not a lot of visibility around resources that existed to support student-parents,” Mercado-Lopez said. “I wanted to create an event where we would be able to showcase the resources that we offer on our campus.”
The first-ever Student Parent Resource Fair will promote services for Fresno State students who have children from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at the Satellite Student Union. Mini-workshops will provide information about CalFresh, pregnancy rights and more. Organizations from both on and off campus will provide information for student parents who attend.
“We are also designating that day as Student Parent Pride Day,” said Mercado-Lopez, who estimated that about 20 percent of Fresno State students are parents, many of them single parents. She bases that estimate on the national average and Fresno State’s high rate of community college transfer students.
More than 25 percent of community college students are student-parents, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Currently Fresno State doesn’t have statistics on the number of student-parents on campus. But Mercado-Lopez has been working with the Technology Services department to make that data more available. As of March 1, students can enter their dependent information into the student portal so Fresno State can begin to collect data on students with caregiving responsibilities.
“I think across campuses we’re having more conversations about student parents and challenging ideas about diversity, who gets to be included and who doesn’t. In those conversations, we want to challenge narratives and the language that we have around students and the path to a college degree, which ideally we see as this four-year endeavor. Student parents, they complicate that in that their path isn’t always so straight and narrow. But it doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong path.”
Mercado-Lopez, herself a mother of four, has done research on student parents, which resulted in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine naming her one of 15 Emerging Scholars in 2018. In an article about receiving that honor, she describes what she felt when she learned, near the end of her time as a Mexican American studies major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, that she was expecting:
“I had totally rejected the idea of motherhood,” she said. Mercado-López added that she did not have any role models who had been able to balance work and a family. “I didn’t see that as a viable option if I wanted to have a career.”
Mercado-Lopez wrote in an article for Inside Higher Ed about a 2016 survey she gave to her students. Her findings reported that student parents feel judged by their peers and professors: “Students I speak to … reveal contradictory feelings of shame and pride, powerlessness and empowerment, as they navigate the terrain of the university and their own family lives.”
Associated Students, Inc. at Fresno State recently adopted a resolution in support of pregnant students, student parents and students with dependents. An Associated Students, Inc. impact grant is funding the resource fair.
“A lot of students are very proud of being parents, and of parenting and of also being students,” Mercado-Lopez said. “They feel empowered for the most part by these identities. … But we don’t do enough to support them…”
For additional information about the Student Parent Resource Fair, contact Mercado-Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 559.278.8599.