GSAÉD works to implement motion adopted from Canadian Federation of Students

Photo by Jacob Botter (CC) 

A campaign by the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) aiming to create nursing and breastfeeding spaces at the University of Ottawa was launched with a panel discussion Jan. 22.

Panelists included a professor in nutrition, an associate professor of sociology, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) vp equity Nicole Desnoyers, and a representative from the Women’s Resource Centre. Together, they discussed the current student-parent situation at the university, and the need for child-and parent-friendly zones.

“Breastfeeding rooms are only one of the pieces needed to make campus more accessible for parents,” said Kyla Harkins, a women’s studies student and parent.

She added that child space, changing rooms, and spaces with toys would be a future step. Harkins pointed out that professors receive yearly emails reminding them to leave their children at home, and campus holds only one private daycare.

The motion for breastfeeding rooms on campus was originally put forth by the GSAÉD and adopted at the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) national general meeting in November. Seamus Wolfe, external commissioner for GSAÉD, said he feels optimistically about the possibilities because they have not been examined in several years. He said there is a misconception about the current student reality.

“It’s not just on your Facebook feed. It’s real,” he said. “Our generation is having more babies right now than any generation since the baby boomers. The idea of a student being an 18- to 20-year-old is no longer a reality.”

The GSAÉD started a petition, will distribute buttons, and will focus on raising awareness. However, Wolfe said there are space constraints on campus and safety considerations that must be taken into account.

“There’s always going to be someone in the administration worried about risk management,” he said. “They’re going to see this as a liability, rather than what it is, which is a necessary support for student parents.”

He added, “education and student-parent support are parallel needs, one and the same.”

Bénédicte Fontaine-Bisson, an assistant professor in nutrition, said there are several advantages to breastfeeding, including reducing the risk of infections, cavities, and allergies.

Naomi Martey, a volunteer at the Women’s Resource Centre, said temporary measures are available to women in the meantime.

“The Women’s Resource Centre is one of the only places on campus that is open to breastfeeding,” she said. “Women can breastfeed and pump their milk here, and chat with other volunteers, or do it in private if they prefer.”

However, she added that it is a “very small area, and therefore, if mothers started to use this space in earnest, we would quickly be overwhelmed.”