The human resources group WorldatWork has awarded the 2015 Seal of Distinction to the University of Rhode Island for progressive work life policies, including those for mothers and pregnant women on campus.

Over one quarter of undergraduate college students across the nation are raising children. Of those students, 78 percent are women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Before 2005, there were no policies in place at URI protecting or aiding new or expecting mothers. But, after one student who was expecting realized she would lose her academic scholarship if she took a semester off from school, the Work Life Committee felt plans needed to be put in place.

“We’re really pushing the fact that this is a Title IX issue, and so it’s a legal issue. You can’t discriminate against pregnant students or parenting students,” said Barbara Silver, who is a research coordinator for the Work Life Committee.

After receiving a grant, Silver spearheaded a lactation program for new mothers on the URI campus beginning a few years ago. This program’s main goal was to provide nursing women with a comfortable and sanitary place to breastfeed or pump breast milk while at work or as a student on campus.

“We’ve worked hard at normalizing the conversation and talking about breastfeeding as a family issue not just a woman’s issue,” said Silver. “It’s a health issue, and it’s a structural issue, and institutions have to provide support to workers and students.”

Since then, lactation facilities have been put in across campus in the Pharmacy Building, the Memorial Union, Mackal Field House, the Library and more recently Tyler Hall. Although the committee campaigned for lactation rooms to be placed in every new building built on campus after the program was implemented, that has not been followed through on the most recent constructions.

Another issue was for faculty and staff, whether lactation breaks should be paid or unpaid, and another was if nursing female students should be allowed breaks during class or tardiness to class because of nursing. In both cases, it was decided women should work with those involved to find a suitable solution.

“We don’t have the resources to oversee those details,” said Silver. “For the rooms it’s kind of first come first serve.” For example, the facility in the pharmacy building is just open, but in the library a key is needed for access.

Despite this, since the early 2000s, the university has made a lot of progress in accessibility for mothers at work and in school. There is now paid maternity leave for faculty and staff and even a travel fund for mothers who need to go to conferences and wish to take their children, so they can hire a babysitter to come along.

Another newer addition is a website where mothers in the URI community can look for babysitters. Eventually, Silver said she wants to expand that access to undergraduate and graduate students.

“A lot of schools will have a subsidy for students to pay for child care,” said, Silver, which is the biggest goal she wishes to see implemented. “If you’re a poor college student going to school all day with a low income, how are you going to get childcare?”

Many of these issues are over sighted because, as Silver pointed out, no one really thinks about them unless they need them.  “It’s not the problem of the mother,” she said. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved by the organization. It’s a gender equity issue.”