A mother and member of the JMU Faculty Senate is advocating that the university add more lactation rooms on campus. The motion is part of an extensive movement to minimize hurdles mothers face in the workplace and academia.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, considerably longer than the family leave time granted to most JMU employees. When away from their children, exclusively breastfeeding mothers should pump every three hours to maintain milk supply — a 30-minute procedure.
“It’s a normal part of the motherhood process,” Tara Parsons, assistant professor of justice studies, faculty senate representative and mother to an 18-month-old, said. “I’m pretty privileged in terms of having an office that has a door that shuts and locks, but even some faculty that do in SSC or HBS have glass walls. Even if they have a private office, they don’t have privacy.”
JMU covers 785 acres and has 138 buildings. There are five lactation rooms on campus, located in four buildings: the University Health Center in SSC, Madison Hall, the Health and Behavioral Studies building and UREC. Three of these buildings are adjacent, with no lactation rooms on east campus or the Quad.
“That is clearly inaccessible, and it’s a matter of diversity,” Kristen Shrewsbury, coordinator of English Language Learner Services and member of Madison Caucus for Gender Equality, said. “So if you want to have women who are having children, and you want to say we value you at this institution, then it’s critical to offer a space for that to be operationalized.”
The motion was brought up at the last faculty senate meeting Jan. 31 and will be debated and voted on Feb. 28. According to Parsons, a lactation room would ideally be a clean and private space that has a chair, an outlet, a sink and a mini fridge and could serve all JMU faculty, students and visitors. At least, Parsons recommends more publicly accessible private spaces with an outlet and a chair.
In SSC’s Health Center, the lactation rooms require an appointment and are closed daily from 12-1 p.m. If a mother wishes to pump during her lunch hour, she must exit the building and enter through the emergency entrance, then navigate through the building to get upstairs and find the space. According to Shrewsbury, there are formidable barriers to the spaces that do exist.
“The resolution just asks for more, and maybe a focus or an attention-paid to where — a little more geographical dispersion,” Parsons said. “We’re constantly renovating buildings, building new buildings, and lactation rooms don’t require a lot of space.”
Madison Caucus for Gender Equality and others in support of the motion argue that JMU is labeling breastfeeding as a private issue that women must navigate in isolation without the structural support of accessible nursing spaces.
According to JMU’s policy 1341 Break Time for Nursing Mothers, supervisors may ask an expectant employee if she intends to take breaks to express milk upon her return to work. The policy encourages nursing or milk expressing time is to run concurrently with any break time
already provided. Any additional time to travel to a private lactation space must be considered, when productivity expectations throughout the day are typically the same as they were prior to breastfeeding.
“Sometimes being a new mom and coming back to school or coming back to work can be a huge life transition, so anything that the university can do to make that transition a little more accommodating would mean a lot,” Kaitlin Pomerleau, assistant director for marketing and social media for UREC and mother, said.
Federal law mandates 12 weeks for family leave, but leave time at JMU is ultimately up to the discretion of the program department head — creating an inconsistency on campus around the type of leave people are able to take. According to Shrewsbury, there are also social ways that women can be pressured into returning to work faster than 12 weeks.
MCGE advocates for a reentry policy that allows women to return from family leave at the hierarchy level of job position that they left. A study done by the University of Berkeley displayed that men who are married move fastest through the tenure pipeline, and secondly, single women with no children.
“So women who are married with children, who have doctorates, are turning into the growing base of part-time and adjunct faculty, which is considered second tier because there’s very little stability with that,” Shrewsbury said. “A lot of the reason there is this pipeline is inhospitality of the institution.”
While there is a reentry policy that allows people to caregive for family, the societal expectation for women to act as primary caretakers can restrict women’s academic ability to advance in their career.
Lactation rooms can additionally serve members of the campus community who need private space to administer medical interventions, such as cystic fibrosis or any health complication that requires hooking up to a machine or administering shots throughout the day. Parsons recommends a collective list as a resource of where mothers can find diaper changing stations on campus to help faculty, students and visitors.
According to Shrewsbury, conversations including students with infants being excused from class to breastfeed have yet to be addressed on campus. MCGE is advocating for designated parking spaces for pregnant women and people with infants. Shrewsbury believes this lack of private nursing stations places the encumbrance of breastfeeding on the individual mother.
“If JMU really wants to live this inclusivity mission that we’ve adopted, I think it’s critical we recognize these structural supports make what historically has been a private concern, a public concern,” Shrewsbury said. “Then we have the structural support to take care of the people we say we value and we say we want on campus.”
Contact Mary Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.