Grad students express frustration with lactation stations

Graduate students are not considered employees by the University and thus not guaranteed lactation stations under federal employment laws.

By William Rhee

Since last year, members of the University’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) and the Student Parent Organization (SPO) have voiced discontent with the administration’s provision of lactation stations for breastfeeding mothers on campus.

The complaints stem from the fact that the majority of lactation stations on campus are located in public spaces that have a lounge or in handicapped bathrooms. In addition, several of the lactation stations were reported as non-operational by graduate student parents.

Federal law requires that employers provide working mothers with “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

The complication arises from the conflicting viewpoints shared by the University administration and graduate students over whether graduate students should be recognized as full-time employees.

SPO President and second-year Ph.D. candidate Claire Roosien maintains that the administration should treat their graduate students as employees.

“GSU would argue, and I would argue too, that graduate students should qualify as employees because we do paid work for the University,” she said.

Students have noticed that the location of the stations is no longer publicly available. At the beginning of the year, the link to a list of campus lactation stations was removed from the graduate student resources website, although the list can still be found via Google search.

According to Roosien, Director of the Family Resource Center Lizanne Phalen said at the beginning of the year that she didn’t know who had put up the link of the campus lactation stations initially, but that she would take it down.

In hopes of creating a parents’ lounge that included lactation stations, SPO unsuccessfully applied for funding from the Women’s Board, a group of approximately 500 University-affiliated women who pool their donations yearly and allocate them to provide financial support for project grants, Roosien said.

“We basically just wanted a room with a private place, an outlet, and a refrigerator that could be used for that kind of purpose,” she said.

University officials have pointed at the limited space on campus as the reason for not installing more stations, according to Roosien.

“I find that hard to believe, because all we need is a large closet,” she said.