Advocacy can be tricky; sometimes we just have to dive in, take chances and learn from our mistakes.

Diving in, I decided to target a population that is very near and dear to my heart: student parents at WSU. The Student Parent Program offers pregnant and parenting students direction and resources, along with a peer lunch each week and a family dinner each month that offers students a place to connect with other student parents. This is huge for a population who is struggling to find an identity in a college atmosphere seemingly absent of this atmosphere.

My advocacy project was very personal to me. As a student and single parent of three kiddos under the age of four, this group of individuals attributed to how I made it through my undergraduate years. I chose to explore the struggles and hardships of student parents, however, I realized this population was experiencing even more struggles than I was aware of; being away from the group for so long, I didn’t realize what all was going on. In addition to the unfair circumstances placed on this population, the funding aspect of the program has recently placed this group into crisis mode.

I took some time to identify the main issues with previous work in my multicultural class, so this semester I decided to try and advocate for the cause with an action plan. I approached the topic both on the individual level as well as the administrative level. I met with the student parents three times. The first encounter was to identify barriers and strengths along with strategies of proposed self-sufficiency. Empowering the population through counseling was a way to advocate for them in their own socioeconomic environment (Newsome & Gladding, 2014). The second and third visit was based around a hashtag and letter writing campaign I designed to allow the student parents to use their own photographs and narratives to self-advocate. I let the students write whatever they wanted, and came up with some pretty cool results!

advocacy

“As a single parent, I get totally caught up worrying about finances and how to get everything done. I feel great to be able to stop in the middle of the day and join others who understand what I am going through; so I come for the lunches and sometimes don’t want to leave to go to class. It is so nice knowing that I am not alone.”

“I used to walk around campus when I was pregnant and I would get people staring at me like they had never seen a pregnant person before. Kids in my classes would make comments like they were surprised I was in school. If felt as though they were looking at me with some moral judgment.”

“Our lunch group has provided me a nice break; to come in and talk with and relate to other parents on so many different topics. One day a week, I don’t have to worry about lunch which is a huge treat as a single mother.”

“At times, I’ve started out my day, being down for whatever reason….then when I remember it’s Tuesday (our lunch day), I smile and perk up and make it to our group. I think this is so valuable for so many reasons and the ones I noted, I feel, are probably the most important reasons. I feel this way because this type of support contributes to positive mental health and for so long as a single mother I have really struggled in this area. Parenting groups like this are such a crutch and I truly appreciate them so thank you for all that you do; thank you for your support.”

After compiling this information, I met with some key players of the organization and advocated for the cause, offering copies of the letters and videos to give to current and potential donors. Next, I reached out to past donors thanking them for what they have done for us. These letters strategically and intentionally were absent of requests for funding. However, I was able to invite them to a weekly lunch and to the student parent center on campus.

This whole process taught me first that there is no one way to advocate, it could be on the local level, it could incorporate stakeholders from different parts of the state, or it could be global. However, the path chosen must be strategic and intentional. I learned that giving information to powerful people isn’t always the right strategy. Instead of giving it to powerful people blindly, I had to do my homework and give it to the right, powerful people.

I will take my experiences from this class and add them to the plethora of experiences I have already acquired with this population, and continue to be mindful that any of this could be helpful to a future client someday. Even though the assignment is over, I have continued to advocate for the student parent support initiative on campus. The next stage of my plan is to begin to record oral narratives to give potential grant funders, and other donors to give them a view of what it’s like to be a student parent and how important it is to continue this program. Like my efforts with this group, I will continue to spread my efforts elsewhere as time and resources become available. Advocacy isn’t easy, sometimes it’s tricky, but I dove in, learned some lessons and hopefully helped some folks along the way… AND SO CAN YOU!

-Kathryn Tibbs

The following two tabs change content below.

Guest Blogger

Guest writers are sometimes featured on the WSU Blogs. If you would like to contribute, please submit your post here: https://blogs.winona.edu/submit-a-post/