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Students with Bruin mothers reflect on navigating college together

Nyala Bingener (left) is pictured alongside Cicely Bingener (right). (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

By Saya Mueller

May 9, 2024 8:15 p.m.

Every fall, new Bruins hug their families goodbye and face a daunting four years of navigating friend groups, difficult course loads and newfound independence.

But some navigate their college journeys with an unconventional classmate – their mother.

One is second-year chemical engineering student Nyala Bingener, who attends UCLA alongside her mother Cicely Bingener, a doctoral student in education.

Although some may find it disconcerting to navigate college with a parent, the Bingeners said communication has been key to their positive experience.

“I really didn’t want to cramp her style as far as being on campus, but I was very excited,” Cicely said. “I wanted to make sure that she was able to experience college without a helicopter mom around or anything like that, but I enjoy having her there.”

Since Cicely is a doctoral student in the humanities and Nyala is in the engineering field, they rarely cross paths on campus, Cicely said. One way Cicely allows Nyala to navigate college in her own way is by sending a text message before she arrives on campus, Cicely said.

“I tried to be respectful, give her space and all that. Sometimes, (I’ll) text her and say, ‘Hey, I’m on campus,’” Cicely said. “It’s kind of a warning/invitation – however she wants to take it.”

The text usually leads to a mother-daughter lunch on campus, Cicely said.

(Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)
Cicily (left) and Nyala (right) are pictured alongside the Bruin Bear statue. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

In addition to the Bingeners, Max Muench, a fourth-year transfer philosophy student, attended UCLA alongside his mother, Marla Carlton, an alumnus who graduated in fall quarter.

Muench said he also did not mind sharing a campus with his mother, adding that he respected her for returning to school.

“Many people would … feel awkward – especially my brother and sister – to go to the same school as your mom,” Muench said. “For me, I found it cool and didn’t care at all.”

Since the two pursued minors in film, television and digital media, they took a film development class together, Carlton said. After their Monday lectures finished, they would head to Kikka Sushi in Ackerman Union for lunch, Muench said.

There are benefits and drawbacks to having a parent on campus, Muench said. For one, Carlton helped ease Muench’s academic transition from community college to UCLA, but there were still typical mother-son annoyances, he said.

“She has the note of UCLA, so therefore, she helped me find better classes, and she did tons of research for me about the professors and which ones are really easy and fun to take,” Muench said. “Sometimes, it got annoying, but you can’t have both of them without the other one.”

Maha Maturo, a friend of Carlton and Muench, said she also saw the benefits of having a family member present from an outside perspective. As a mother to an incoming Bruin, Maturo regrets not being able to do the same for her son, she added.

“They (Marla and Max) were able to support each other, navigate a new campus together and figure things out together,” Maturo said. “I think it was great because they both had a support system going into the university.”

(Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)
Nyala (left) and Cicely (right) are pictured on the lawn by Janss Steps. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

Mark Bingener – Nyala’s father and Cicely’s husband as well as a UCLA alumnus – said both his daughter and wife provide emotional support for each other.

“There’s definitely a benefit in continuing to be nurtured and cared for by your parent,” he said. “I think my wife likes it too. I think it’s exciting to be an older student coming back now and connecting with the younger people.”

The Bingeners often go to the Rose Bowl to watch football games but separate into different seats, with Nyala heading to the student section and the rest of the family sitting elsewhere, Cicely said.

Cicely also said her position as a graduate student researcher allowed her to further discuss campus events with her daughter, including the UC academic worker strikes in 2022.

“I was able to share with her the perspective of the graduate student workers and the things that they were asking for,” she said. “It gave her a little bit of an insider perspective as an undergraduate student to maybe have some more empathy for what the graduate student workers were doing.”

[Related: UAW ratifies contracts for graduate student workers, ends historic UC-wide strike]

Cicely also said her status as a mother to an undergraduate Bruin helped her understand the worries students voiced about how the strike would hurt their education.

“That experience – being a mother and daughter in two different parts of UCLA during the strike – was also a time for us to both grow in empathy and understanding,” Cicely said.

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