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Portland State University is doubling the budget and expanding the space of a resource center that supports its one in five students with children.
The PSU Resource Center for Students with Children offers child care subsidies and emergency loans to students who are parents. This year it moved into a larger space, got a new coordinator, hired more staff, added activities and assumed responsibility for campus lactation rooms where moms can nurse their babies. A new website is on track for completion in January.
The changes reflect recommendations of a PSU task force that concluded the 29,000-student university, Oregon's largest, needs to do more to meet the needs of its large enrollment of students with children. A 2009 survey showed that 22 percent of the school's students are caring for kids, and more than half of those parents attend full time.
One parent glad to have the center is sophomore Tavi Gupta, 31, a student in the honors program working toward a dual degree in history and Judaic studies.
"School would be a lot harder without (the Resource Center), and I think school doesn't need to be any harder," she said. "Any help is appreciated, and this is a pretty massive help."
The center's growth spurt began this July when it moved from one room on the first floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union building to three rooms on the fourth floor. The old office was so cramped that parents parked their strollers in the hall, said Resource Center coordinator Lisa Wittorff.
There's now a student lounge with study space and a children's play area, a larger children's clothing bank and up-to-date books for the lending library. The center also provides one-on-one consultations, support groups and activities, such as a trip toPortland Art Museum and Kids Night Out. The Resource Center team supervises students' children while parents savor an evening alone.
The center not only has taken charge of the lactation rooms but also aims to grow the service.
"We will work to increase the number of rooms on campus and provide education regarding lactation to the campus community," Wittorff said.
She plans to create a PSU student breastfeeding rights policy similar to that of state employees.
Wittorff took over as coordinator in September, invigorating a program that had stagnated after the previous coordinator became ill. The center now boasts a full-time office manager, two student workers and a graduate student rather than one student worker and a part-time office assistant.
The center's budget, funded by PSU students' fees, grew from $105,000 last fiscal year to $229,000 this year, Wittorff said. The 23-year-old resource center, which became a department in September, previously was part of the Graduate School of Education and was called Student Parent Services.
The center now serves about 300 to 400 students, and demand is on the rise, Wittorff said. There is talk of adding evening hours and drop-off childcare at the student library nearby, but, for now, students accompany their children on visits.
Tavi Gupta, the history major, uses the resource center's study space, children's clothing bank and computer. While she works, her children, Aidan, 11; Luci, 10; and Liam, 5, can nibble crackers, peanut butter, and other goodies at a small snack area, where there's a fridge and microwave. Tons of toys and games are on hand. She has made friends with other student parents who are easier for her to relate to than students without children, Gupta said.
"Parenting and being a student is a whole different ball field," she said. "It's a battlefield."
Gupta, whose shares 50-50 custody of her children with her former partner, said her children feel comfortable at the Resource Center.
"I just like it because my mom, she doesn't always know what to do with us," Luci said.
Aidan agreed, saying it's good for their mom to have quiet time.
"That virtually never happens," he said.
"Not really," Gupta said.
– Jillian Daley