The stresses of the end of the academic year often seem unending. From studying for finals to trying to fit everything you own into a few suitcases, the tasks of closing out the year can seem insurmountable. Imagine adding more stress with extra things to do, such as putting a temperamental 4-year-old to bed and coordinating doctor’s appointments for a sick 5-year-old. These are the additional stresses and challenges some Richmond students face.
Tracee Carter, 30, is a Richmond undergraduate studying journalism. She is also the mother to Rocky, 9, Cai, 4, and Aree, 11 months. Jeff Karow, 46, is also a Richmond undergraduate, and is studying history and criminal justice. He is the father to Emma, 4, and stepfather to Andrew, 18, and Brooke, 14.
They spend their days balancing their childrens' needs with their academic obligations. Balance is the key to their success – they are both active participants in campus life and are present and accountable parents.
Carter and Karow have mastered this lifestyle, each by adapting in their own ways to manage their circumstances. For Carter, that means almost never sleeping, and for Karow it means moving on campus, away from his family.
In a study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 26 percent of college students are also parents. Nearly 71 percent of those parents are mothers, and the other 29 percent are fathers.
At Richmond, which has a total university enrollment of 4,181 students, the challenges for these student-parents can be magnified. Richmond’s small size and low number of students who are parents (no office was able to give an exact statistic on this) do not warrant resources such as childcare and special housing for students with families.
On the other hand, Virginia Commonwealth University, with a total enrollment of 31,241 students, offers a childcare facility for faculty, staff and students. Richmond does not.
Carter’s organizational skills and support system enable her to be a study on a campus without a childcare facility.
“My mom is everything,” she said.
Carter’s mother is a nanny, babysitter and grandmother all in one. She is always there to take care of the children if need be, Carter said. Her boyfriend is also her teammate, she said, understanding her goals and knowing what needs to be done.
The University of Virginia offers apartment-style housing to students who are single, married or have families, according to the school’s website. This housing opportunity allows students with children to live in close proximity to their academics, but also live with their families without a difficult commute.
But Richmond’s undergraduate housing policy only mentions families once: “Students may terminate their housing contract in the case of marriage or a personal or immediate family medical emergency.”
Two years ago, when Karow was accepted to Richmond, he decided to live on campus, following his wife’s urging. They both agreed that commuting nearly an hour and a half twice a day was not feasible for their family.
“It’s hard studying at home with kids, but it’s hard to be away from them too,” he said.
About once a month, Karow goes home for the weekend to see his family. He is constantly faced with pressure to create an academic schedule in which he avoids late Friday classes, which allows him to leave Richmond quickly. But it’s always been one of his biggest challenges, he said.
Sometimes, when he can’t get home, his family will come to Richmond to visit him. Richmond, he said, is a family campus. He likes that there are activities for his family to participate in when they come to see him.
Even though he is away from his family, he has not dodged the responsibilities that come with fatherhood. Like Carter and her partner, Karow and his wife are a team. Their daughter, Emma, suffers from underdeveloped lungs and goes into pulmonary distress, which sometimes leads to hospital stays. When this occurs, Karow coordinates with his wife, doctors and emergency services so that his daughter is well taken care of.
“My wife is the nurturer, always there to comfort my daughter, and I am the one talking to all the doctors and the hospital,” he said.
Carter and Karow have both had very positive experiences with their Richmond professors in regards to occasional absences or schedule changes.
Last academic year, Carter was pregnant with her third child. She didn’t let that slow her down, but she did have to make occasional adjustments. Her professors were understanding and happy to help her, she said.
“One of my professor’s wives was pregnant at the same time I was and was very understanding when I had to miss a class for a doctor’s appointment,” she said.
The challenges both Karow and Carter have overcome and the sacrifices they have made have actually enhanced their academic careers, both said. They are in school to better their lives and the lives of their children.
“I went back to school for my daughter,” Karow said.
Carter echoed this sentiment. She is going to school to be the best role model possible for her children. Their childhood memories of their mother will be seeing her accomplish academic goals and still be a parent, she said.
Both parents also see their time as a student as a way to better understand the academic process their children will one day face.
Karow’s stepson, Andrew, is about to graduate from high school and is looking at colleges now. Karow knows what being a student really means.
“My favorite motto is ‘college is not a spectator sport,’” he said.
He and Carter both embody this motto for themselves and for their children. Karow has been on SpiderBoard, Richmond College Student Government Association and was a homecoming nominee this year. Carter spearheaded the broadcasting club, joined Richmond’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and performed in the Vagina Monologues.
They both said they want their children to see it is possible to really do it all, to be an active student and an active parent.
As they both look toward graduation, they are excited for new chapters of their lives. Carter will be an on-air DJ for a local radio station, Hot 106.1, continuing the development of a line of lipsticks and working toward her ultimate goal of hosting her own late-night television show.
Karow is looking forward to pursuing his passion for history by volunteering at Civil War battlefields and spending time at home relaxing and fishing with his family.
Contact reporter Charlotte Dowell at firstname.lastname@example.org