As a proudly self-declared Social Work and Spanish major, senior Rocio Hernandez (pictured right) was inspired to be the voice of other parents like her who are underrepresented. She began the Poet Parent Association (PPA) on campus, which helped bring support to and eliminate the stigma behind being a college parent.
Hernandez entered her first year at Whittier College after recently giving birth to a baby boy. For Hernandez, Whittier seemed like a place to grow, especially for a first-generation college student and full-time mother. Often having to bring her child to class because she had no babysitter to watch him, she faced changing her baby’s diapers on a blanket on the hard bathroom floor with no changing stations as students walked by and murmured.
As a first-year she felt scared and uneasy to find that she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and four disc herniations, yet she still managed to wheel herself to work and class with her child in his carrying pouch. “I felt different and so left out of everything because I was a mom,” Hernandez said. “I would make sure to attend classes regularly and move forward just like everyone else.”
While juggling work, college and parenthood, Hernandez gave birth to her second son in the spring of 2016. He was born with a sensitive stomach requiring a diet of breast milk. Every day Hernandez would make sure to pack a little cooler with a breast pump and extra bottles. In between classes she would go to the nearest bathroom and pump out milk.
“I remember going into the restroom one day and, as I was pouring the freshly pumped milk into a bottle, I saw a girl walk in wearing her Poet gear who said ‘That’s fucking gross!’ and just walked out,” Hernandez recalled. “I couldn’t believe her reaction. There are other students on campus, ones like me, who are tired, get no sleep, wake up or don’t sleep at all to make sure homework is done. I thought about the struggle that we go through. I also thought about the audacity of this girl’s reaction, who was welcomed into a school like ours where we build community and are supposed to respect each other’s boundaries.”
“We all work hard to become a professional in what we do, regardless of what that is,” Hernandez said. “I can imagine if it’s hard for a ‘traditional’ student to keep up with classes, it has to be twice as hard for a parent to keep up with life. Our community of parents and myself want to make sure we are known because we can also be the ones to make a change for our community.”
Commencing at the end of last year, with only three members including Hernandez, the PPA has grown into a united group of young women, along with a few participants, totalling almost15 members, openly share information about scholarships, pass along hand-me-downs, food, advice and all things baby to one another.
Some of the group’s ongoing initiatives include starting a petition to install changing tables in the bathrooms and having a storage space to keep personal and emergency items safe while their children are on campus. “We were surprised to find out that Human Resources does offer a room for breastfeeding that many students are not aware of,” Hernandez said. “However there is a need for a center for the parents or even a child care center.”
With hopes to get these new accommodations for Poet parents on campus, several PPA members were able to graduate with their children by their side this last year with promises to offer support for new and continuing members.