New children on campus policy combines working group’s efforts and administration’s concerns

By Zoë Takaki, Staff Reporter

Elias Gonzalez

On Nov. 22, students, faculty and staff woke up to an email titled “Children on Campus,” a topic responsible for numerous meetings, countless emails and rallies on campus that sometimes included children of faculty.

In last month’s email from Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David and Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Wilson-Taylor, the administration announced a replacement to the original Children on Campus policy that was implemented in October 2021.

As of Nov. 21, the new policy allows children to be on campus with a responsible employee or student present and will allow children at all public events.

Children are now welcome on campus for both brief visits and extended visits. Examples of this can include an employee bringing a child to see their workspace, a student bringing their child to class or an employee bringing their child to work.

Extended visit scenarios must be occasional, due to “exceptional circumstances” and require approval from the employee’s supervisors or the faculty member teaching the student’s class. Brief visits no longer require approval.

The college assumes no responsibility or liability for child visitors on campus, nor for any accidents or injuries children may encounter.

The new policy was created with the help of a working group tasked with examining the original children on campus policy. The group was made up of different stakeholders across the institution, including full-time and part-time faculty, staff and students as well as administrative departments, like Human Resources and General Counsel.

Kelley Engelbrecht, a creative nonfiction writing graduate student and graduate student instructor, was a voice for the student population in the working group. She said the policy is now more expansive and much more welcoming.

But the new policy has some limitations, Engelbrecht said.

“There are boundaries that are necessary from a legal and liability perspective, but the fact that it starts with ‘This is where children are allowed on campus,’ to me speaks of a reframe of how they’re thinking about children in general.”

The original policy, created by the administration, had intentions of protecting the Columbia community and unvaccinated children from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations.

But Lukidis said some members of the campus community had the impression that the college was not being family-friendly, not accounting for pandemic restrictions.

“The perception [was] that we don’t care about families,” Lukidis said. “We do — we were in a difficult spot because of COVID.”

Lukidis said the initial policy potentially helped keep the college safe while it was in effect.

“It potentially helped keep lower cases, not necessarily to say that children were the only vectors of COVID; there just weren’t vaccines available to them,” Lukidis said.

The working group was created in October 2021, the month the original policy was announced, with the help of Senior Associate Provost Nate Bakkum, said Jessica Young, associate professor in the Dance Department and one of the Faculty Senate representatives who served on the working group.

“When the children on campus policy was first announced, the Executive Committee of the Senate put forward a response that really expressed their dismay of the policy,” Young said. “And then in response to that letter, Nate Bakkum, in the Provost Office, created a working group.”

Young said the group tried to have as many people’s voices present in their discussions as possible.

Their discussion revolved around essential questions about Columbia’s culture.

“What kind of a culture do you want to establish at Columbia College Chicago?” Young said. “How can we be inclusive and welcoming of children? Of families?”

Engelbrecht said being a part of the working group gave her a space to voice her perspective.

“We were able to share openly about how this policy has impacted us, me from the student perspective, my peers from the other staff and faculty perspectives,” Engelbrecht said.

As reported by the Chronicle, in March 2022 the working group proposed changes to the policy, but they were denied by Chief Financial Officer Jerry Tarrer and David, saying more review and consideration from campus leadership was required before any changes could be made.

After the administration said they could not adopt the proposal, Young said the working group “went back to the drawing table.”

Young said Melissa Carter came in as general counsel and helped the working group capture what was important for them while also staying within the parameters of what the college is able to provide legally.

The original policy created some difficult situations for caregivers in the Columbia community over the past year.

Engelbrecht found it difficult to balance being a new mom, not being able to bring her child to campus and dealing with the financial expenses of school and childcare.

“It was time to register for classes, and I was just like, ‘How am I going to do this?'” Engelbrecht said. “Childcare is so expensive. The cost to go to class now is more than just tuition because I have to find somebody to watch my daughter. I have to teach. It was really overwhelming to think about ‘How can I pull this together?’”

One time during the original policy, Engelbrecht said she wanted to attend an in-person reading hosted by the English and Creative Writing Department on campus, but could not due to the policy.

It was not until she joined the committee that she learned the original policy was much more expansive than stated in the email sent to the Columbia community.

“In my work in the committee, I found out that the policy was much more expansive than it had been communicated,” Engelbrecht said. “Children were allowed to events that are open to the public, and things like that, but if you look at the original email that was sent out to campus and what was available on the website, it just says children were not allowed on campus for any reason.”

This pushed Engelbrecht and the working group to focus on how the new policy is communicated to the Columbia community.

“A really big, important aspect of our work was to clearly communicate what the policy entails,” Engelbrecht said.

Young, a mom of two, said she also faced moments of conflict when the original policy was in place.

“I am often downtown on Saturdays, and a lot of times I’ll be like, ‘I’m also going to run into my office and get this,’ and then I’m like, ‘No, I don’t think they can do that, because I would have my child with me. Am I going to be stopped at security?’ So it has been a barrier in those ways,” Young said. “It has impacted the way I interface with campus, so I’m definitely looking forward to just being able to walk into a building with ease with one of my children, or both my children, and not feel like I need to offer some sort of justification.”

Young said some members of the working group plan to continue advocating for children and families on campus.

“Out of this working group there is an expressed interest, desire and intention for some people to continue to work on building resources, whether within the institution itself or within our surroundings and our community outside of Columbia for caregivers to be able to access,” Young said. “So there is further work that’s going to be done that’s not so much policy related, but resource related.”

Examples of these resources are cultivating relationships with childcare services in the Loop and providing on-campus resources for caregivers, like lactation facilities, clearly communicated to the college community.

Lukidis said the college is open to these efforts and the possibility of supporting them.

“I think that is something that we’re actively trying to look into, just because we always want to be able to provide resources for families, as well as individuals who are responsible for children both in the areas of health care resources, mental health care resources, as well as child care,” Lukidis said. “I don’t have any specifics to share at the moment, but I do know that that is something that we’re open to.”

Young said she feels “grateful” and “heard” with the new policy.

The original policy and its reasons for controversy have caused some in the working group to question policy implementation at its core at Columbia.

“This was an example of how we can bring collective voices to the table and come to an agreement,” Young said. “And hopefully it will also get to the point where policies like this aren’t implemented to begin with, that people are brought to the table ahead of time.”