McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) hired Tanya Lalonde in August as McGill’s first family resource coordinator, marking a consolidation in services for students and staff with children. The funding for the position came from the Sustainability Projects Fund, a student-funded program matched by the administration to ensure a commitment to sustainability at McGill. Lalonde will serve as a bridge between the two student unions and the McGill administration on matters of family care, as well as conduct research on a way forward for McGill in terms of establishing a permanent family care program.
“There are a lot of people that are doing a lot of different things on campus related to family care, so part of my position is to centralize that,” Lalonde said. “I work with [the Students’ Society of McGill University] SSMU, I work with [the Post-Graduate Students Society] PGSS, I’m on the Senate subcommittee on family care, and I’m in touch with the daycare. So I’m just trying to bring together all of the different resources.”
Lalonde’s job will involve best practices research of established family care programs found at other universities, conducting one-on-one meetings with student and staff parents at McGill to answer questions or provide assistance, and planning events.
“[One] way we’re supporting student and staff parents is by doing workshops, events, and activities,” Lalonde said. “The [Student Parent Orientation] event took place in September. We’re putting together a workshop series and a discussion group. [There is] also opportunities for parents to come together and talk about what it’s like and to meet each other. That social support is going to be a really big part of this.”
Lalonde explained that the idea for a family resource coordinator position, which is on track to becoming a fully institutionalized position leading towards a permanent family care program, came from research conducted by the McGill Senate subcommittee on women, which showed that the waiting list for acceptance into SSMU and McGill daycare is so long—700 children as of 2014—that many applicants will not get spaces for their children.
“[The daycare] has been a really big issue for people who want to go to school here or want to work here,” Lalonde said. “In that research, it was identified that it would be helpful to have someone who could […] navigate that system and who could help support parents on campus.”
The recent hire of Lalonde, herself a McGill graduate and student parent at the time of her studies, has already proven to be helpful to the PGSS.
“We’re very happy that the family resource coordinator was hired; […] we were in the works of putting together resource material, resources for parents to let them know what they have on campus or even outside of McGill and Montreal,” said Brighita Lungu, member services officer of PGSS. “It’s really relieving for us because it’s a lot of work to do just that.”
PGSS is in the process of renewing and updating its Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with SSMU Daycare Services, as there still exists no daycare specifically for graduate student parents. Lungu cited a massive deficit in the fund for special projects within PGSS—alongside continued rejection by the Quebec government towards the request for their own daycare service—as reasons why graduate students with children must seek childcare through SSMU.
“We submitted [applications] for subsidized daycare, but the government refused us twice,” Lungu said. “The other option would be private daycare like SSMU has, which is also very hard to get because it’s downtown—[it’s] not a priority area, it’s not a residence area as the government sees it.”
Currently, SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim has been acting as the director of the SSMU Daycare Centre, following the resignation of the daycare’s former director.
“As we are currently without a daycare director and [SSMU] general manager, I am taking on the entirety of the administration of the daycare, with the help of a very reliable educator in the daycare,” Ibrahim wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “This is a massive undertaking.”
To help reduce some of the administrative responsibilities Ibrahim will face, SSMU will be hiring a family care commissioner. Ibrahim also hopes to create a student committee to help in the creation of new family care initiatives on campus, and to further existing initiatives.
“We have many students, both with and without dependents, who are eager to get involved in family care at the SSMU,” Ibrahim said. “[This] is incredibly exciting.”
Beginning at the end of October and running through December, Lalonde will be conducting focus groups among student and staff parents, administrators, and with non-student parents who are interested in the issue, to determine a path forward for family care and daycare services at McGill.
“We’re really going to be looking at what people think are the issues around family care,” Lalonde said. “We’re hoping to reach as many people as possible on what they think are the issues, how being supported has impacted them, and how they think having more support will impact them in the future.”