Student Parent Services expands into new resource center

Lisa Wittorff, coordinator of the Resource Center for Students with Children, knows that raising a child while taking classes is no easy thing.

“I’m a single parent,” Wittorff said. “I know what it’s like.”

Lisa Wittorff, coordinator of the Resource Center for Students with Children, knows that raising a child while taking classes is no easy thing.

Vanguard Staff/Portland State Vanguard

“I’m a single parent,” Wittorff said. “I know what it’s like.”

This first-hand knowledge of the “juggling act” of being a single parent is part of what makes Wittorff look forward to helping other parents at Portland State who might feel overwhelmed.

The center formerly existed on the first floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union and was known as Student Parent Services.

While SPS was limited to helping students with more urgent needs, such as emergency loans, child care scholarships or short-term child care, the new RCSC provides a comfortable family room with features that put children and their parents at ease.

“With more space, we can do more things,” Wittorff said. Now the center has couches, a refrigerator and microwave, a study table, toys for the kids and a wall stocked with children’s clothing.

The university still has a long way to go before student parents are close to having a more comfortable student experience, she said. Wittorff cited limited on-campus housing options for families, a small number of spaces for parents with nursing children, and a short supply of on-campus child care options as issues parents face.

She estimates that approximately one-fifth of students have children, and that the majority of those students are single mothers.

Confirming these estimates was a 2010–11 task force that Portland State’s President Wim Wiewel commissioned to examine the needs, met and unmet, of PSU students with children.

The task force report found that three-fourths of the student parents at Portland State are women and that over half of those women are single parents.

The task force also determined that the university needed to expand child care on campus for student parents, provide more financial assistance to student parents and provide more family-friendly spaces on campus.

When grouped together, at least three-fourths of PSU employees with children and students with children said they would use on-campus child care if it were available, the task force found.

Though securing a slot for a child at the Helen Gordon Child Development Center—the largest child care provider on Portland State’s campus—takes too long for many student parents, those who are able to enroll their children speak highly of the HGCDC.

The HGCDC’s convenient location and student discounts make it very popular.

“I was on the waitlist for a year and a half for Helen Gordon,” said Deena Anreise, a graduate student in the publishing program. Once she was able to enroll her son at the HGCDC, she was very satisfied.

“Having that on campus was a lifesaver,” Anreise said. “I could just go over and hang out with him while I was on lunch. It’s really great.”

Ellie Justice, director of the HGCDC, expressed her hope that Portland State will continue to strive to meet the needs of all students with children.

“I wish we had more capacity on campus, but we’re still trying to accommodate existing students,” Justice said, adding that her participation in the president’s task force last year was an attempt to outline those needs.

“I’m really excited about the possibilities,” Justice said of the RCSC’s expansion. “Many people at PSU recognize that we have a large amount of nontraditional students…Our students have multiple things pulling on them.”

In addition to the shortage of child care options, Wittorff said PSU should also expand its on-campus housing options for students with children.

According to a spokesperson in the office for University Housing and Residence Life, the Blackstone and Parkway residences are most suitable for students with children. Eight of the two-bedroom units are designated for families.

Within these particular residence halls, referred to as “the historics,” the prospective student-parent family is likely to be surrounded by a mix of other students, though residents are, according to Housing, more likely to be upperclassmen.

The lack of family housing on a commuter campus can be detrimental to the student parent’s ability to find a supportive community for his or her diverse needs as a parent, Wittorff said.

However, she is optimistic about her office’s transition from the limitations of being simply a provider of services to being able to “build community for [the students] and to help them to be a voice for themselves.”