Parenting students and faculty on campus are a forgotten constituency. The voices of nursing mothers have been largely ignored by UCLA, heard only by student activist groups. This column series explores the issues these mothers face and the steps UCLA must take to address these unmet needs.
A woman, bag in hand, speed-walks to a locked room in a building 20 minutes from her classroom.
She’s rushing to get to the room between classes, hoping the key code she has works when she gets to the door.
While this may sound like an intro scene from a spy movie, it’s actually the sad and stressful reality for parenting students and faculty at UCLA trying to breastfeed on campus.
Of UCLA’s 16 lactation rooms, only five are located on the main campus. The rest are distributed throughout the medical center area. This means new mothers have tremendous difficulty finding space on campus to pump.
Consequently, returning to teach after maternity leave can be very difficult for mothers, who not only have to handle their work, but also must figure out a secure location and time in their schedule to pump.
UCLA has been ignoring the needs of parenting students and faculty for too long. Meeting the needs of nursing mothers on campus is no trivial feat, but there are small steps the university can take right now that will have a large, positive impact on the quality of life for mothers on this campus.
Obviously, UCLA needs to expand the number of lactation rooms, especially on its main campus. But the existing rooms should also be made more accessible, with a centralized online database explaining how to access each room.
Lactation rooms are required by California law to be accessible, private, clean and secure spaces where women can breastfeed their children. The lactation rooms on main campus are located in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Murphy Hall, Student Activities Center, Moore Hall and Franz Hall.
As anyone who has ever been late to class can tell you, these buildings are far apart and inconvenient to those in South Campus. Moreover, these women to have carry around cumbersome nursing materials such as pumps.
To add insult to injury, each of these buildings are operated by different departments, meaning each lactation room has a different protocol for use. Some of these rooms must be unlocked with a key code, while others have one key that must be shared between all lactating women on campus. Calling the current situation ridiculous and inefficient is an understatement.
“Right now, the consistency of accessibility (of lactation rooms) is not equal,” said Cristina Hunter, co-project manager of Creating Space.
There have been student-led initiatives to address these accessibility issues. Creating Space, a lactation accommodation program within the UCLA Bixby Center on Population and Reproductive Health, has been organizing to fight for the needs of mothers on campus.
While existing rooms are inaccessible, perhaps what is more egregious is that there simply aren’t enough of them.
Jimena Rodriguez, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese department in Rolfe Hall, found it nearly impossible to access the lactation rooms when she was breastfeeding after returning from maternity leave winter quarter.
This posed a serious concern, as her son was too young to vaccinate during the flu outbreak, and her pediatrician said it was imperative she provide her child with breast milk because she had been vaccinated.
The lactation rooms on campus were all too far away for Rodriguez to get to between the back-to-back classes she was scheduled to teach. She also found it extremely difficult to track down the key for a lactation room because the contact information for these resources is not readily available.
“On top of your work, you have to stress about finding a place and a time to pump,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has a shared office, so she was unable to use the room as a private location to pump.
The chair of her department helped her find a spare room to pump in. Rodriguez said this wasn’t the right place to pump, as the room was neither clean nor secure, but she had no choice in the matter.
“Things worked out for me not because the university had the necessary infrastructure, but because I was lucky to have a supportive chair,” she said.
But the health of a parenting faculty member should not be left to department chairs and student activists.
Creating Spaces, for example, has been researching the needs of parenting faculty and students on campus as well as coordinating with campus stakeholders to better support mothers, said Emily Bell, co-project manager of the organization. The group also plans to add universal locks to the lactation spaces via funding from the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
It is troubling to note that seemingly simple changes, such as making locks on lactation rooms universal and accessible, are only just now being made on campus and are only being driven by a student public health group.
It’s disturbing to see that UCLA is more willing to spend money on initiatives like umbrellas with solar panels than spaces on campus for parenting faculty and students to breastfeed their children. And when the advocacy for working mothers comes primarily from students, not from the administration, it is crucial to call into question UCLA’s commitment to its parenting faculty.
Nursing mothers have been vocal about their needs. It’s time for the university to listen.
“We should have one pump room in each building in order to be inclusive and welcoming to faculty and students with babies,” Rodriguez said.
Luckily, campus stakeholders ,including the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, have been eager to work with Creating Spaces to make lactation on campus more accessible.
But it is not enough for UCLA to simply lend a helping hand to student activists. It needs to lead the charge to support nursing mothers.
“The reason our stakeholder partners on campus want to fix this problem is because this concerns equity,” said Hunter, “All moms on campus need to feel comfortable returning after their maternity leave.”
Right now, the situation is neither comfortable nor convenient. Just ask the mothers rushing around campus in a desperate attempt to feed their children.