Welcoming Mothers On Campus

Photo by Nate Sheidlower.

“I can’t go a day without pumping,” Marykate Marley, a SUNY New Paltz student and nursing mother, explained. “If you stop feeding you get really backed up and your breasts will leak and if you don’t stay consistent with it you’ll lose your supply and you won’t be able to feed your child.”

The third-year journalism major attends classes full-time and cannot go a single day without caring for her 15-month-old son, Louie. This care includes breast feeding and with Marley’s busy life of school and freelance work, this means pumping her breast milk when she’s not with him and saving it for the next day. When Marley transferred in last fall, her life did not stop and she found herself pumping milk in public bathrooms that lacked a comfortable place to pump and exposed her to all of the sounds and smells that fill the air.

She quickly decided this was a problem and, with the help of journalism professor Lisa Phillips, began working toward a place for her to provide for her child’s nutrition privately; a place like the new Mother’s Room in the Student Union Building (SUB) that opened on April 21, with a mass email sent to all faculty and staff.

The Mother’s Room, located in SUB 429, has a couch, reclining chair, desk, refrigerator, microwave, and a private bathroom with hot water, offering mothers a quiet and private place to pump and, if necessary, store breast milk. The windows overlook the Gunk and a bulletin board displays baby pictures with an open invitation for additions. Faculty or staff who wish to use the room can get a key through the human resources department. Students can sign out a key at the student activities office in SUB 211.

“Just as breast-feeding is the best nutrition for my son, being a college-educated mom is one of the best things I can do for my son’s future,” Marley wrote in a personal essay written for her entrepreneurial journalism class and published in The New York Times on Dec. 3, 2014.

This essay came out after Marley had already emailed administrators letting them know about this problem that she and undoubtedly other mothers were struggling with.

Little did Marley know, efforts to create this room were already underway. The creation of the Mother’s Room was set in motion with work by the Woman’s Rights and Concerns Committee, chaired by Professor of Elementary Education Kiersten Greene, along with a one-time allocation request from Fine Arts Professor Anne Galperin in October of 2014 and with a request from the United University Professions. The project was headed up by Vice President for Administration and Finance Michelle Halstead and completed with the help of the facilities and student activities departments.

Galperin, who said she was fortunate to have her own office in which to pump for her child in 2002, made a request similar to what is required of employers under the New York State Labor Law. The request was for “a centrally-located space on campus in which faculty, staff and students who are nursing mothers can pump breast milk.”

While the SUB is not of equal distance to all buildings on campus, the creation of this room is a step in the right direction, according to Halstead. She added that although nothing is final, there may be another room installed in the Sojurner Truth Library during its renovations.

“We want to do more than we are legally bound to do,” Halstead said.

The labor law calls for employers to “make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, where an employee can pump milk in privacy.” Halstead said there are plans to acquire lockers for the room so mothers can leave their pumps there instead of schlepping them around, as well as partitions to provide complete privacy if desired.

Originally an apartment, SUB 429 was being used for storage and with only a few renovations, it became the Mother’s Room it is today. Most furniture was taken from residence hall storage. The work, a new rug, the appliances and a water heating apparatus made the whole project cost only around $2,000, according to Halstead – less than a third of Galperin’s initial request for $6,140.

“I’m delighted that the President and Administration were receptive to this idea,” Galperin said in an email.

Last fall semester and most of this one as well, students like Marley were restricted to pumping in bathrooms or finding another space. Professor Phillips, who taught the entrepreneurial journalism class and another journalism professor, Dr. Rachel Somerstein, allowed Marley to pump in their offices in the meantime until this room was opened.

Marley said this room offers the unique benefit of not having to move around on campus so much in one day.

“Say I have a four hour window,” Marley elaborated. “I’ll pump at the beginning, then have to close everything down and find somewhere to do my work. Then I have to close everything down again and pump before my next class. Now, with this room, I can work and pump in the same place.”

Upon arrival to campus, the lack of a space to pump made Marley feel unwelcome. “Having this room sends the message to mothers that you belong here,” Phillips said. “That is a really important message.”