Recently, a survey was sent out to the Swarthmore community assessing the potential for a child care program on Swarthmore’s campus. The survey, sent out by the Childcare Committee, asked questions about how important Swarthmore community members feel childcare is to “Swarthmore’s values of social responsibility, excellence in education, and best employer practices.” The survey also questioned how many staff and faculty would take advantage of this program and how many hours students would be willing to work for a childcare program.
We at The Phoenix strongly support establishing a childcare program on Swarthmore’s campus. Not only should Swarthmore be providing an on-campus childcare program, we should have been offering one a long time ago. Not doing so has been antithetical to the institution’s claim to social responsibility; it is time to make a change.
Swarthmore stresses its commitment to access and inclusion. However, access and inclusion in the Swarthmore community are nearly impossible without a robust childcare program. Parents with children to care for at home face more barriers in working for the college. These barriers are especially problematic when considering how Swarthmore strives to create a community that welcomes faculty and staff from all backgrounds or statuses. The lack of a childcare program disproportionately impacts employees of the college who are paid on a wage-based system.
Some professors have to cancel class or bring their child to class because they cannot find childcare when their child’s school cancels for inclement weather. Dining services and EVS staff face these same issues, but they also have far less job security to not come to work if they cannot find child care. Hours missed are wages unreceived. Therefore, if the college requires essential staff to be at work even under conditions of inclement weather, it also has a responsibility to make sure staff have reliable care for their children.
While the college does offer a child care subsidy grant for some staff members to receive free external childcare, this is not enough. Childcare needs to be on-campus. When inclement weather is present, staff members should not have to be without child care if their primary daycare is closed. Any babysitter an employee might need to hire should not have to risk the weather either. Rather, employees deserve to have the option for their children to be cared for on-campus.
Of course, this should not only be limited to inclement weather. Childcare should be a service offered to employees of the college for all the hours they are working. Even if staff members and faculty are able to afford and find quality child care, the fact that they need to sacrifice some of their salary and time to an outside organization to care for their child is inequitable. This inequity is in contrast to Swarthmore’s mission to “tend to its community with care,” especially with the amount of resources the institution has to devote to mediating these disparities.
A childcare program would also provide students with more opportunities for employment on campus; it would be a mutually beneficial system supporting the college’s values of community responsibility.
While instituting this program will be a large change, it is far from unprecedented. Roughly half the colleges in the United States provide some sort of childcare and most notably many peer institutions near us such as UPenn and Dickinson, as well as those of a similar size and nature, such as Williams, Bowdoin, and Vassar.
As an institution that stresses the importance of community and promises to shape socially responsible leaders of the future, Swarthmore has an obligation to provide quality support for its employees. Childcare is crucial to shaping a community where all members are able to both do their jobs and care for their children, without having to choose one over the other.