Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Time 2019 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Conflicting Temporalities:The Student Parent and the Neoliberal University, By Kristen Bass (Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time)

This final paper was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum courses ANT473 and ANT6200, “Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time”

A tall white man with dark hair and a trimmed, grey-streaked beard stands in an open doorway, blocking my way into the Robarts Library Family Study Space. Seeing that the reading has already begun, I explain my research project and how a worker from the Family Care Office suggested I attend this event. With that, he smiles warmly and waves me in

I make my way towards a child’s table and perch on a toddler-sized plastic stool. A few feet away, children and adults sit in a semi-circle, some on the floor, some on a couch, facing a woman with long dark hair generously streaked with grey. She too sits on a toddler’s stool, a tote bag at her feet, picture books spilling out. She holds a book, her body angled so she can read and let her audience see. Her voice brings the characters and story alive; eye contact and an animated reading captures her audience of six children and five adults. 

One boy, around the age of four, fidgets in his seat. He stands up from the couch and wanders near my table, grabs a book off the shelf next to me, then puts it back a moment later. An area of large cushioned mats shaped like blocks, arranged as walls of a fort, draws his attention. He throws himself headfirst over the wall, falling onto the mats with a thud. The other children don’t notice, as they lean in toward the storyteller, eyes wide. 

The reader, a children’s librarian with the Toronto Public Library, opens a new book and says, ‘For this story, I need you to whistle. Can you whistle?’

‘I can!’ another little boy exclaims with a grin, although his eagerness turns to bashfulness when the librarian asks him to demonstrate. Yet when the story’s protagonist learns how to whistle, this same boy follows the librarian’s lead and attempts his own. The entire audience, kids and adults, form an o-shape with their pursed lips and let out their best whistle. 

This event, a storytime reading for student parents and their young children, was hosted by the Family Study Space in the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library. Here, in the institutional space of the university, social actors occupy the role of parent and caregiver. Here, the student parent population is made visible. Yet this is not often the norm. More commonly, these parental roles and responsibilities, along with other roles that exist outside of the university context, are unknown and unseen. 

Further, the specific practices and strategies for managing these roles also remain invisible. While shadowing Julia, a step-mother of two and full-time worker, she explains to me her dilemma as she attempts to balance her varying roles — student, step-mother, bartender. Some days it is overwhelming. As the semester rolls on, school demands increase and take more of her time, so she was trying to get rid of that day’s evening work shift. 

We sit in the back of a small seminar classroom, seated in chairs that line the perimeter of the room. Another ring of about fifteen chairs wrap around a rectangular table in the room’s centre. With her phone in her lap, Julia texts her co-worker, asking to switch shifts. Wondering if they will need one or two staff that evening, she texts her manager, hoping she might get cut from the schedule. She describes her anxiety, as in this moment she feels stuck in-between roles. 

‘It’s stressful. I’d never normally wear this makeup to class, but I had to be prepared for my shift. And I’m carrying my work outfit in my bag,’ she points to her backpack on the seat next to her. I now notice her makeup: a thick black line of eyeliner with a slight cat-eye flick on the outer edge, above which a shimmery bronze eyeshadow paints her lids. Her cheekbones too are darkened by brownish-red blush.

Julia’s anxiety comes though as wishful thinking. If her shift gets cut, she could stay on campus and get some schoolwork done. Really focus without having to rush off to something else. She sighs. ‘This never happens.’ There is always something waiting to be done, another unavoidable responsibility, be it a shift at work or picking up the kids from school. She and her husband have his kids tonight. His ex-wife will drop them off after dinner. Weariness enters her voice as she explains how her bartending shift means she doesn’t get to sleep until 3 or 4 a.m., but she has to be up at 7:30 with the children. Sleeping in isn’t an option. 

Julia’s phone rests on the chair beside her; every few minutes she presses her index finger onto the home button. With her chin up, her face pointed straight ahead, only her eyes look down at the screen of her phone, lingering there for a moment. Her gaze goes up, then back down, teetering back and forth until her phone’s screen eventually lights up with a text message notification. Her breath catches and she snatches up the phone.

The work of coordinating her schedule so she can more readily balance school and parenthood remains invisible. Yet this experience has implications for Julia’s performance as a student. The pressure of the unknown as she tries to change her shift, manifests as anxiety and an inability to focus in class. She is distracted, her other responsibilities conflicting with her student responsibilities. 

This project seeks to understand how student parents manage their time across varying and often conflicting roles as students, as parents, and as workers. It attempts to identify the often invisible time-management practices and strategies of this marginalized population. At the same time, this project questions how the university addresses the needs of this population. This project thus engages with the puzzle of the invisibility of student parents in the institutional context of academia. My research asks, how do undergraduate student parents temporally manage their distinct roles — as parents, workers, students? And how does the University attempt to bridge the temporality of these different roles?  


For this project, I conducted an ethnographic study of student parents at the University of Toronto during October and November of 2019. The methods included were varied and included participant observation, semi-structured interviews, time-use data collection, and unobtrusive data analysis. The two primary participants for this project are both female student parents and their names, as they appear in this paper, are pseudonyms. One participant, Julia, is a white, twenty-six year old, step-mother of two school age children. The other, Sarah, is a South East Asian, thirty-five year old mother of one toddler. Both are married to full-time working male partners and both attend school part-time while working full-time hours outside of school. Each of these participants filled out a time-use diary for a minimum of three days. I also conducted formal, semi-structured interviews with each, in addition to several casual conversations related to the project by nature of our time spent together in shared classes.

Further, I conducted participant observation in two sites at the University of Toronto, the lounge in the Family Care Office and the Family Study Space in Robarts Library. In each, I observed and took note of the layout of the spaces to understand how the University creates space intended to bridge the temporalities of the student role and the parent role. In addition, I attended a story time reading for families with children ages 2-5 hosted by the Family Study Space. Supplementing my own data collection, I analyzed unobtrusive online sources concerning the Family Study Space, including recent reports on student parents at the University of Toronto. 

Theoretical Frameworks

The daily time management of student parents does not occur in a vacuum. Rosa (2005/2013:8) theorizes three levels of separate but interconnected perspectives of “temporal mediation”: the everyday, the lifetime, and the epoch. First, social actors interact with the “time structures of their everyday lives;” for example, the synchronization of work, school, and social routines (Rosa 2005/2013:8). This is daily time management. Second, social actors construct a temporal perspective of their lifetime. At this level, social actors reflect on stages of the life course, such as education, securing gainful employment, having a family, purchasing a home, retirement. Third, Rosa argues that “actors experience their everyday time and their lifetime as embedded in the encompassing time of their epoch, their generation, and their age” (8). At this level, time is a historical process, uniquely experienced through the context social actors live in. In this paper, I draw on Rosa’s temporal perspectives to conceptualize how the daily time management of student parents intersects with their lifetime, especially through their family and career goals. Further, I consider how daily time is structured by the epochal time of neoliberalism.

Several scholars argue that the contemporary post-secondary student is a neoliberal subject (Estes 2011; Read 2009; Crothers 2018). This theory has origins in Foucault, who argued that under neoliberalism, the social actor is an entrepreneur of the self. A new neoliberal subjectification produces the homo œconomicus, or economic man. This subject is an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings” (Foucault 1979/2008: 226). All action undertaken by this subject, including university, is thus understood as an economic investment in the self. According to Read (2009:152), those who attend university see it as “an investment in their human capital.” Similarly, Crothers (2018:79) argues that students function as “customers” purchasing an education that will adequately equip them for the labour market. Thus, the self-interested student seeks personal capital gain through education. Moreover, the university facilitates and promotes this process of subjectification by producing the ideal student subject, who is individualized and responsibilized for the self. González-Arnal and Kilkey (2009) argue that the model of the “rational economic man” undergirds higher education funding policies by framing students as highly individualized social actors making decisions about their educational and occupational futures based on cost-benefit analyses.

Feminist critiques, however, draw attention to the masculinist framing of this logic. Largely overlooked in the neoliberal student model, González-Arnal and Kilkey (2009) argue, are mature students with caring responsibilities, for whom the student role cannot be easily disentangled from the familial and social relations they exist in. In balancing temporal demands, their social networks become crucial to the navigation of their university experience, both in the everyday and in conceptualizations of future benefits. Feminist research also shows how daily time is gendered. Hochschild and Machung’s (1989) canonical feminist study of dual-worker families found that women work a “second shift.” They perform paid work during the day then come home to a second shift of housework and childcare. Building on this theory, I find that student mothers experience three shifts: school, work, and home. 

In this paper, I ground my analysis in these theoretical frameworks. I employ Rosa’s (2005/2013) temporal perspectives to structure my findings on student parents’ time management. In analyzing the daily temporal perspective, I draw on gender theory to show how, for student parents, the management of their everyday is gendered. Here I will use Hochschild’s (1989) theory of the second shift to discuss how the student mother experiences a triple-shift burden between school, work, and home. Conceptualizing the epochal context in which the student parent operates, I take up Foucault’s (1979/2008) theory of the neoliberal subject.

Findings and Analysis: Daily Time

Emerging from my data is a story about conflicting temporalities. Student parents occupy two roles simultaneously, sometimes more. They are never only a student, never only a parent. Temporal demands often overlap, intersect, or conflict, as student parents manage their daily responsibilities between parenting and schooling. For the student parents in this study who were also full-time workers, this emerges a triple-shift burden between school, work, and home. In this, I draw on the theory of the “second shift” experienced by women who work all day, then come home to a second shift burden of unpaid work (Hochschild and Machung 1989). However, for student parents, the demarcations between these shifts are fluid. They overlap and intersect in unique ways throughout the day. For Sarah, a student mother, this becomes especially acute in how she balances school with full-time employment. Many of her programs’ required courses are not offered in the evenings, but Sarah works a standard, eight-hour workday. So for some classes, Sarah must attend a tutorial or part of a lecture during her hour-long lunch break, or not attend class at all. Other days, Sarah leaves work early for a 3 p.m. course. Her free evenings are then spent with her family, until her daughter goes to bed, after which Sarah resumes her schoolwork. Throughout the day, Sarah fits school into her lunch break, in the evening, between caring for her daughter. She describes her schedule as “juggling a lot of things at the same time.” For Sarah, the responsibilities of school, work, and family thus are sometimes conflicting, often overlapping, and her daily time-management becomes an unending negotiation between roles.

For Julia, a step-mother, part-time student, and full-time worker, her varying responsibilities render the everyday temporality as fragmented. She describes how her “life is broken up into different arenas” and “every single day has a distinct rhythm to it.” She explains:

Four days a week I wake up at 7:30 with the kids essentially and it’s an hour of getting them ready, lunches, breakfast, walking them to school. I find that when I’m around the kids, it’s a lot of like, “come on, we have five more minutes, you’ve gotta save your game, five more minutes.” I’m really conscious of having to keep track of time because they’re really absent-minded towards that. And I find that even with my husband, I have to be like, “we’re going to be late!” […] So yeah, I deal with the kids, and then usually I either have classes or I’m doing homework. […] I will try to eat something and then either if […] my kids and husband are home that night then I’ll usually clean and start prepping dinner or something. Or […] I’d go to the grocery store. And then I go pick them up. And then if I don’t [have to pick up the kids] then I hop on the bus to work at 3 o’clock. So, it kind of feels like I live my day in really fragmented [blocks], it’s a little jarring, if that makes sense. I’ve managed to integrate it all together, but sometimes it feels like it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit tough.

Here, Julia reveals how her daily time-management is dictated by the obligations she has to her family. They come first, while school is integrated into the spaces between. This integration creates a fragmented schedule wherein a single day is broken up across multiple intersecting and overlapping responsibilities. As Julia notes, managing this fragmented temporality is challenging. Moreover, Julia’s comment regarding her constant reminders to her husband and kids about the time indicate that she assumes the role of household manager. In this way, time management for Julia is gendered, as her own temporal horizon requires assuming responsibility for the family time management. Historically, the home has been framed as the domain of women, while the public sphere is the domain of men. While we see this shifting with sharp increases in women’s labour force participation, Hochschild and Manchung (1989:7) contend that women still tend to feel responsible for the home, more so than men do. Julia’s comments suggest that she feels this responsibility, which may increase her individual burden as she attempts to manage the demands of her varying roles.

Throughout the day, the student parent must make conscious and intentional decisions about how to prioritize their time between school, work, and family. For both interlocutors in this study, family is always the priority, then work, followed by school. When asked if she has devised strategies for combining school and motherhood, Sarah described how she does her assigned readings on the subway during her daily commute or sacrifices her own sleeping hours to finish work after her daughter falls asleep. She explains, “I work on my work stuff or school stuff after she’s gone to bed so that she doesn’t feel like I’m not around for her.” For Sarah, her relationship with her daughter takes priority over other responsibilities. Julia prioritizes her time in a similar way:

We have [the kids] basically four days of the week. So those four days, they are the priority. And then the other three days, I’m able to not make them the priority. Those other three days typically work becomes the priority. School never really is number one.

Here, Julia emphasizes how for her, family always takes precedence, except for those days when her step-children are with their mother. Even then, school is prioritized last. 

However, sometimes assignment deadlines alter Julia’s normal daily rhythm. She states, “Last night, for example, I had something due at midnight. So, after dinner I went straight upstairs, and I closed the door, and I worked.” In this case, school became the priority. Her husband and kids understand this, she assured me. When the demands of school peak, student parents may have to sacrifice family time, as in Julia’s case. This causes conflict between roles. She negotiates her ability to fulfill parenting obligations against her student responsibilities. Between these two roles is a seemingly constant, recurring two-way pressure. Julia describes how this pressure can manifest into feelings of guilt:

I always have the fear that I’m being either a shitty student or a shitty parent when I prioritize one too much over the other. It’s no doubt that sitting in a room for four hours [doing schoolwork] is not being a good mom. […] Let’s say that [my husband] randomly had to work a Sunday then it would be tough because I inevitably would be kind of a bad mom and kind of a bad student because I’d do just enough to do both. You know? So I think that’s where there’s a lot of conflict. I think with school, I put things off a lot, because I’m busy and it doesn’t feel like the priority. So I feel like I don’t necessarily do a great job with it all the time or I feel like I should be trying harder. But I can only try so much, so I kind of allocate [my time].

In this statement, Julia indicates how she allocates her time in a way that inevitably compromises both parenting and schooling. Experiencing an internal conflict, this causes her to feel she’s not being a good mother. Although not all student parents are mothers, Estes (2011) suggests that student mothers may experience this conflict more acutely. Normative gender ideologies regarding women’s caregiver role, and the ideal model of intensive mothering, may produce “a greater pressure on [student] mothers to manage the parenting side of this equation successfully” (Estes 2011:208). This suggests that the experience of student-parenthood is not gender neutral.

This prioritization also conflicts with the model of the ideal student, who always puts education first. Julia’s comments suggest that she feels guilty for not trying harder at school, but she simultaneously weighs that against the guilt of being a bad mother. Thus, she struggles to be both a good student and a good mother. Financial obligations also enter into the negotiation. Julia explains:

Everyone at school is like, “school’s the most important; don’t worry about work.” And I’m like, “well I pay rent.” There’s a point where I have to just take a B and accept that over an A because I need to work.

Julia’s statement indicates that attending to financial needs comes before university obligations. Sarah also spoke to this, saying that after her daughter, she prioritizes work above school because she needs to make money to provide for her family. Financial pressures may compound for students with dependents, as they are not only financially responsible for the self, but for other members of their families. González-Arnal and Kilkey (2009) found that mature students with caring responsibilities do not fit into the individualized ideal student model. Rather, their choices, actions, and obligations are firmly rooted in familial social networks, affecting the economic well-being of those beyond the self. 

For both student-parent interlocutors, attending to family caregiving responsibilities always comes first, while performing paid work is a given considering their families’ financial and material needs. In this ranking of prioritization, schoolwork becomes relegated to the margins of everything else as student parents negotiate their conflicting temporal demands.

The Lifetime

The daily time-management negotiations of student parents intersect with their temporal perspective of the lifetime. This becomes clear in how Sarah rationalizes the challenges of balancing the everyday. She explains:

[My schedule is] very busy. It’s very stressful. But when I look at the end goal, that once I’m done school it will really ease things up for me. […] So I know I will feel better and I will be happier with my goals […] coming in line with where I want to be in my career. So I just keep thinking of that end goal and I just keep going.

For Sarah, the stressful demands of her daily schedule are justified by the benefits she will accrue in her career. These future lifetime benefits thus function as motivation. 

Education thus benefits Sarah’s personal career trajectory, while also enabling the future financial benefits a higher-level career will provide her family. Sarah explains:

Having a degree these days is sort of a minimum requirement to be considered for mid to high-level roles. So it would really open up some more opportunities for me at the next level where I can look into getting into a leadership role. [… And] it will be good for [my family] if I’m making more money!

Here, Sarah frames her university degree as beneficial to lifetime goals and family well-being by assuming that a degree will set her up for a leadership position, and in turn, a higher salary. Estes (2011) also found this pattern among American student parents who framed the future financial security produced by their university education as a benefit to their family and children. In this, they saw themselves as better parents because of their education. Student parents thus “join their seemingly contradictory identities and construct and assert a new, positive student-parent identity” (Estes 2011:214). 

Building on this, I argue that long-term family benefits become a way for student parents to justify the challenging day-to-day management of their conflicting roles. The lifetime temporal perspective thus emerges as a motivating factor for getting through the everyday. This is especially acute when Sarah describes the temporary nature of her daily challenges: 

I feel stressed a lot! [laughs] Yes, I get overwhelmed a lot. Because sometimes I feel like the housework is spinning out of control, or maybe I’m not giving my daughter enough time. But then it’s just a matter of regrouping with myself. I’m like, it’s okay. It’s temporary. It’s going to be over in a few months. That’s what keeps me going.

Here, Sarah understands her stress as finite. In speaking about her career, Sarah states, “I just keep thinking of that end goal and I just keep going.” Thus, Sarah can rationalize her temporary stress through the assumed promise of long-term gain. 

The Epoch

Student parents manage their daily time and frame their lifetime goals within the temporal perspective of the neoliberal epoch. In the academic institution, the ideology of homo œconomicus, or economic man (Foucault 2008 [1979]: 226), largely mediates the subjectification of the student. Thus, the student has come to be understood as a neoliberal subject who is an entrepreneur of the self. This subject is a self-interested, rational, economic actor seeking personal capital gain through education. 

González-Arnal and Kilkey (2009) argue that a conceptualization of the ideal student model as a “rational economic man” excludes students with caring responsibilities who, because of their familial obligations, cannot be responsible only for the self. Although despite this incompatibility, I found that student parents have internalized these individualistic ideals. Julia, for example, explains how in between her work and parenting obligations, she schedules specific blocks of time dedicated to school:

[School] becomes number one when I have these pre-scheduled slots where it’s like, I have eight hours free, let’s say, on Tuesday during the day, and I don’t have classes. So it’s like, I have those eight hours to literally just work, and that’s on me to work.

Here, Julia emphasizes her personal responsibility to her education when she states, “that’s on me to work.” Regardless of the demanding workload of her other roles, Julia internalizes an individualized responsibility towards her schooling. Her comments suggest that a rational student would get the work done within the allotted time. Implicit in this statement is also a personalized blame if she cannot complete this task. 

This individualized personal culpability manifests as stress and anxiety when she struggles to meet the demands of school in between her other obligations. This became especially apparent as Julia described a particularly challenging couple of days. Beginning on a Thursday morning, Julia cared for her step-children and saw them off to school, did homework during the day, then worked a 4 p.m. – 2 a.m. evening shift. After sleeping only a few hours, she then attended a 7:30 a.m. appointment at the hospital for a recurring injury, which was followed up later in the day by another 4 p.m. work shift. Here, she explains the challenge of completing a school assignment in the midst of this schedule:

I had from 11 until 3 to write this essay. It was my fault for leaving it, but I don’t know. Sometimes you’re just not creative. It sounds really weird, but that’s a struggle I’ll find.  I’ll allot certain amounts of time to school, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood to do the thing that I planned to do in that time. So it creates this stress because then I just sit there and I’m like, you’re not doing anything, you’re not doing anything, you only have fifteen minutes left.

In the period between a visit to the hospital and another shift at work, Julia dedicated a set amount of time to meet a course deadline. Yet when she struggled to produce work, Julia became frustrated, blaming herself for her perceived creative lack. She explains, “it was my fault I hadn’t got it done, but because of the structure of my time, it made it really difficult.” Here, she acknowledges the demands of her other obligations, yet reinforces an individualistic framing of academic responsibility. In this way, Julia internalizes the idealized model of a neoliberal student subject and blames herself for not achieving the standards set by this model.

Bridging Temporalities: The University Response

To address the needs of student parents, the University of Toronto has established family-friendly spaces, including the Robarts Library Family Study Space. This space, I argue, becomes a site wherein the University attempts to bridge the conflicting temporalities of the student parent. Rather than solely occupying one role or the other, in this site, the student parent can be both student and parent simultaneously. The Family Study Space opened in the spring of 2018 after the library received a comment from a graduate student requesting a room where they could study with their children present (Carliner and Everall 2019). After an event that I attended as part of this project’s fieldwork, the librarians who coordinate the space said they understand it as addressing an issue of equity. Student-parents often remain invisible in the space of the university. At the micro interactional level, their roles outside of school remain unseen by other students, faculty, and administration. Further, statistical data agencies do not gather information on the number of Canadian student parents (Carliner and Everall 2019), rendering this population invisible in macro-level statistics as well. But, as the librarians expressed to me, the Family Study Space tells student parents, “We see you.” It provides them a space where they can be both student and parent. 

To access the space requires a key fob, which student parents register for. The space contains computers and workstations, round tables for group work, whiteboards, a large sofa, and television, as well as child-sized furniture, toys, and children’s books. Here, parents can study with their children present, in the institutional space of the University. The University also provides additional supports through the Family Care Office. Here, student parents can receive “guidance, resources, referrals, educational programming and advocacy” (Family Care Office). In addition to providing information on childcare and Family Leave, they also assist student parents in their everyday struggles by offering workshops on various topics, such as how to pack healthy lunches or how to manage time effectively (Family Care Office “Workshops”). 

By offering spaces and providing supports, the everyday challenges of student parents are rendered visible and institutionally validated. When a marginalized group is recognized, their struggles validated by the University, this may positively shape their educational experience. In a recent report produced for the Family Care Office, a student expressed how important the Family Study Space has been to them:

I use the family room at Robarts semi-regularly. And I was thrilled when that came into existence […] It acknowledges student parents, and that’s huge actually, mentally speaking. […] Acknowledging that student parents exist and are possibly feeling the same way and putting some stuff in place for them. Yeah, I think that’s important. (Innovation Hub 2019:4)

This student’s comment suggests that institutional recognition of student parents positively affects their mental health. In saying that student parents “are possibly feeling the same way,” this comment also hints at the collective struggle of student parents, and in turn, the community created through the Family Study Space. Not to say that all student parents share the same experiences, far from it. But in these student-parent spaces, this population can gather as a collective group. They can gather in community. 

Discussion & Conclusion

Student parents experience conflicting temporalities. The pressures and demands of school, home, and work dictate how they negotiate the temporal mediations of daily time, the lifetime, and epochal time. The daily time of student parents becomes a constant negotiation as temporal demands overlap, intersect, or conflict across their multiple roles. The student parents in this study experienced regular, recurring pressure from three points: school, home, and work. Management of the everyday thus becomes a complex, recurring negotiation of their triple-shift burden. The lifetime perspective becomes a means by which student parents justify the challenging demands of the everyday, as career and fiscal benefits are assumed to follow their university degree. Finally, all of this occurs within the context of the neoliberal epoch. Here, the ideal student subject is a rational, economic actor who is individualized and self-responsibilized. Student parents, however, do not fit into this model because their caring responsibilities demand that they act in the interests of not only the self, but of their family as well. Even still, student parents have internalized notions of the rational, individualistic self, and embody a personal blame when they cannot approximate the neoliberal student subject.

Moreover, the temporal role negotiation of the student parent remains invisible in the context of the University. The ideal university student is conceptualized as, first and foremost, a student. As such, they are expected to maintain school as their top priority. For student parents, the day-to-day work of attempting this prioritization, goes unseen. The coordination between family members and managers via text, email, or phone calls; the multiple transit rides between school, work, and home; the family dinners ordered or cooked; the late nights studying after the children have been put to bed — all of these daily actions of coordination go on behind the scenes, unseen. The university only sees an attendance record and assignments submitted. Yet, there has been a growing awareness at the University of Toronto as to the unique experience of post-secondary attainment for student parents. The University has attempted to make the student-parent population visible through the creation of family friendly spaces. In the Robarts Family Study Space, for example, the University attempts to bridge the student and parent temporalities such that they can simultaneously be both student and parent. This act is meaningful for student parents who, through the existence of that space, feel that their everyday struggles are recognized and institutionally validated. 

However, the student-parent interlocutors in this study both expressed that they were unaware these spaces and services existed. Neither had used the Family Study Space. Julia describes how her experience of being a student parent at the University feels isolating:

I think it’s a little isolating in that sense because, I mean, I personally have never met anyone on campus that has been in the same situation as me or anything even similar. And I mean, I’ve never attended… I think there’s a childcare something centre, I don’t know. That thing next to the library, I don’t even know what it is. But I was walking past it the one day and I was like, Huh, maybe I could even go in there, who knows? They don’t really publicize information for student-parents or anything, especially at the undergrad level, I feel like. They just assume you to not be one.

Despite the University’s attempts to address the issues student parents face, the invisibility of this population remains a salient issue. Julia expresses how the University automatically assumes she is a conventional student. The other roles student parents, like herself, occupy outside of the University are unknown. In class, they only appear as students. Professors, administration, even fellow students, just assume that is all they are. Because of this invisibility, the group cannot locate itself, to gather in collective solidarity, thus creating an experience of isolation for student parents like Julia. Although the University is addressing the struggles of student parents in meaningful ways, by providing spaces and services, my research suggests that this is an ongoing issue. Student parents continue to experience their own invisibility, which makes their daily temporal negotiations that much more complex.


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