This guest blog post is authored by Zoe Erickson. Zoe graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in June 2020 from Portland State University and is expected to obtain her Master of Public Policy at Portland State University by June 2022. Zoe is also a recipient of services of the Resource Center for Students with Children program at Portland State University. The article was written in collaboration with IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative.

I have one son who is now five years old, but my college journey began when he was just 11 months. At the time, I knew that earning my degree was the best way to provide a solid future for him as a single parent. COVID-19, however, made it much more difficult for me to finish my Bachelor’s degree over the past year. I struggled with limited child care due to the pandemic, my graduation commencement was cancelled, and working from home while doing remote schooling was very difficult to navigate.

Nevertheless, I persisted and graduated.

Being able to advocate for myself while working two jobs and going to school was key to my success even though it wasn’t easy. I had to let people know that I needed to take breaks to make my son lunch and that you might hear him in the background when on video calls. Before COVID-19, I felt like no one cared about being a working student parent, but now since more people are in similar situations, they know what it’s like to manage work, school, and child care.

Moving forward from this pandemic, continued support for student parents through emergency aid can help keep many single parents afloat. With the support of the Black Resilience Fund, when my work hours were reduced due to the pandemic, I was able to continue to pay my bills. Additionally, COVID-19 has also made it clear that access to technology and the internet is vital for student parents to achieve success. For low-income families without reliable access to the internet and computers, remote education is especially challenging. Closing the digital divide—the gap between those with access to technology and those without—is essential to ensure these families do not get left behind.

Colleges should also invest more in resource centers for students with children because having these supports and spaces are crucial to a student parents’ sense of belonging on campus. My access to on-campus child care also played a role in my ability to pursue my undergraduate degree. Child care subsidies were vital to my graduation. Greater access to subsidized child care would help other student parents like me stay enrolled and complete their education. Having a reliable, safe, and trustworthy child care center right on my college campus took the stress out of the whole process: I never had to worry about my son while I was at school.

Throughout my educational journey, from getting my GED to becoming a first-generation college student, my goal has been to one day help underserved students navigate higher education and achieve their dreams. By completing my first degree, I witnessed firsthand how students struggle to navigate the higher education system. After that experience, I was empowered to reimagine my future and apply to graduate school. I started my graduate journey in September 2020.  With my eyes wide open now, I am pursuing a job that allow me to be in places where I can apply my education and pursue my passion to become a dean at a university.

Every obstacle I have faced has been worth it and overcoming these struggles has only made me stronger. I never let my status as a parent limit me as a student and I truly believe that being a parent has enhanced my college experience. As a single parent, working and attending school full time may seem impossible, but when you are motivated and resourceful, you will find a way to overcome anything to achieve your dreams.

The Resource Center for Students with Children (RCSC) is part of the larger Services for Students with Children (SSWC) at Portland State University. SSWC offers integrated services that support students’ goals to be effective parents while succeeding in their academic pursuits.

The Black Resilience Fund is a program of nonprofit Brown Hope and is dedicated to fostering healing and resilience by providing immediate and direct financial assistance to Black Portlanders. Going strong into its second year, the Black Resilience Fund distributed a total of $2.1 million throughout 2020 to 7,100+ individuals.