COVID-19 brings new focus to childcare at BYU

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Leer en español: COVID-19 ha arrojado luz sobre la falta del cuidado infantil en BYU

Justin and Janae Ricks hold their daughter, Blakely, stand in front of the Maeser Building on the BYU campus. The Ricks struggled to balance school work with caring for their daughter while both of them were students. (Janae Ricks)

Editor’s note: During Winter Semester 2020, journalism students examined several societal issues that directly impact the BYU community because “The world is our campus.” This story is part of a series called “The World Meets Our Campus.”

Victoria Rosa, a 2019 BYU graduate who studied elementary education, found caring for her daughter difficult while in school. With a husband who worked full-time and took classes in Salt Lake, Rosa and their daughter often didn’t get to see him during the day.

Mateus and Victoria Rosa take a photo on campus while holding their daughter, Gabriela. (Victoria Rosa)

“He wouldn’t get home until like 8 or 9 every night, because he was working so hard,” Rosa said.

Rosa and her husband, Mateus Rosa, are two of many students and former students who have juggled taking care of children and taking classes at BYU — a university that lacks childcare services in comparison to others.

“I just find it crazy that BYU doesn’t have anything when, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ, they encouraged us to have families and also to continue our education and study,” Rosa said. “But I feel like we have no support in it.”

Unlike BYU, UVU offers childcare for students. Through their Wee Care program, the university offers care for children from 6 weeks to 12 years. It is important to note that because of COVID-19 these services are temporarily closed.

A balancing act

Childcare programs make it possible for students like Rosa to attend class without the distraction of a child in the classroom. With her husband who will soon be attending UVU, Rosa is looking forward to the university’s childcare services.

She said that while at BYU, most teachers were OK with her bringing her baby. However, there was one teacher who was particularly strict.

Victoria Rosa talks about an experience she had with a teacher who didn’t want children in the classroom.

“It was actually really sad. I never missed class,” Rosa said. “There was the one day that the babysitter was sick and she couldn’t watch her, and I wasn’t able to go to class that day, because I couldn’t bring her just that one time. So that was hard for me.”

Though Rosa said there were teachers in her elementary education major who were against having children in the classroom, many of her peers had different opinions.

“As future teachers they all love kids and none of them care if we have our little kids in the room. Because that’s kind of what it’s like in an elementary school classroom anyway,” Rosa said.

Janae Ricks, a fellow 2019 graduate who also studied elementary education, said there were times when she brought her daughter to class. However, she also expressed understanding as to why teachers discourage students from bringing children into the classroom.

Janae Ricks expresses understanding as to why teachers discourage students from bringing children to class.

Ricks and her husband were able to rearrange their schedules so they could take turns caring for their daughter. Ricks said her husband’s flexible class schedule was a huge benefit to them.

“Seeing some of my friends who had babies, too — and they have different situations — it’s just so hard for them,” Ricks said.

Finding the resources

During Winter Semester 2020 and before COVID-19, Ricks’ friend Rosa looked for ways to address the need for childcare on campus. As co-president of BYU Student Moms, she and others created a spreadsheet to help mothers coordinate watching each others’ children. Ultimately, it didn’t work out.

“Everyone had classes at the same time, so it kind of made it impossible,” Rosa said.

Members of the BYU Student Moms club aren’t the only ones seeking to help students find childcare. A survey about the need for assistance with childcare was underway on campus before COVID-19 sent students, faculty and staff home to work and learn.

The Faculty Advisory Council has an interest in the issue. Professors Eva Witesman and Eric Huntsman, council co-chairs, shared the concern they have for BYU students.

“While the Faculty Advisory Council submits proposals about faculty interests, because of our real concern for our students, the issues we raise most often have to do with our students and their well-being.” 

However, because the council oversees faculty more than students, it came up with a plan to work with those who directly represent the student body.

“The way we divided up the labor was that the Student Advisory Council would gather data on student need and student interests,” Witesman and Huntsman said in an email they sent to The Universe. “And the Faculty Advisory Council would focus on faculty (and staff) need.”

The council recently distributed a survey on faculty childcare needs. The council is currently analyzing the data and will use the results to submit a proposal to the administration. Because of COVID-19, the proposal submission and publication of the data will be postponed.

“If we went forward with our old timeline, we felt like that would have disadvantaged our proposals,” Witesman and Huntsman said in an email. “According to FAC procedures, once we submit a proposal to the administration, they have a limited time within which they have to respond.”

They agreed that bringing childcare to campus has its difficulties and those difficulties are not new. Two of those challenges are expenses and the liabilities that come with offering such a service.

“Those are understandable challenges for a university, and we appreciate that the administration is open to exploring this issue with us,” the professors said.

BYU Budget Office Director Paul Behrmann said availability of space needs to be considered, along with ongoing funding.

“Since these services would require ongoing funding, the Budget Office would not have many alternatives to recommend,” Behrmann said. “Likely, we would recommend that this would be a request for additional resources from our sponsoring organization. This would mean that this request would need to be considered by the Church and weighed against all other funding needs.”

With COVID-19 forcing many professors and administrators to work at home, those who have young children are experiencing what it’s like to work while simultaneously taking care of their families, some for the first time.

Witesman said as a working mother and someone who was once a student parent, she relates to what young college students experience today. She emphasized that her comments are personal in nature and don’t represent an opinion by the FAC.

“I have vivid memories of sitting outside the classroom door nursing my daughter so I wouldn’t miss what was happening in class, but not feeling comfortable enough to bring her inside the classroom,” Witesman said.

“For the past 17 years, I have typed at least part of every major paper with one hand because I was holding a child with the other arm. So I understand deeply what it is like to try to harmonize home life and academic life in a way that is pleasing to God and accounts for all the various demands and priorities that come with the ebb and flow of a semester.”

Witesman said that, although she understands what student parents are going through, others less familiar with these circumstances may experience an increased understanding after dealing with the temporary life changes imposed by COVID-19.

“I think this experience has been a good reminder of what it’s like for members of our campus community who are actively trying to integrate their parenting identities with their work and school identities,” Witesman said. “It has given me a deep sense of connection with all of my students, including student parents, because we are all facing a challenge that is bigger than ourselves, and we are all in this together.”

Representatives at the BYU Child & Family Studies Laboratory — which offers a laboratory preschool and kindergarten open to application for dependent children of full-time faculty, administrators, and staff; full-time students; and then community applicants — declined to comment on childcare availability on campus.

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