Dear President Sands,

Ever since I read your open letter and comments to the Virginia Tech community earlier this summer, I have been excited for Virginia Tech to begin a new chapter under your leadership. Your first commitment to “inclusive excellence — a commitment to bring every voice to the table compelled me to find my voice and write this open letter to you.

In 2009, I had the voice of a normal freshman; I often complained about dragging my feet to complete my quiz at the Math Emporium or struggling to get a football ticket through the lottery. I wasn’t sure what I wanted from Virginia Tech. In 2010, I gave birth to my son William. In Spring 2012, I returned to campus with a 1 year-old on my hip. I was a Hokie again, and also a single parent. This life-changing experience forced me to engage with Virginia Tech through my education, through the administration, and through the community in ways I never imagined would be necessary.  

That spring, I had sole custody of William. I also took 15 credit hours and worked 22 hours per week at Subway. I earned a 3.75 GPA. I felt like I had done something impossible. Hokies never cease to amaze me, from the girls who babysat William for free, to the professors who hugged me as I turned in my final papers, to the liveliness of this campus. In one semester, Virginia Tech became home for William and me. Yet, my newfound empowerment was fleeting and my transcript of As felt meaningless — I could not afford the childcare I needed to stay in school.

I had to find a way to stay. William and I were in this together now. Nothing but privilege has kept me enrolled at Virginia Tech; my family is ready, willing and able to keep me here. I wonder to myself, was there ever a mom who walked off this campus, taking all of her dreams and intellect with her? Are their single moms who don’t even bother to apply to Virginia Tech?

One of your aspirations is to compete successfully in attracting and retaining talent.I believe that if Virginia Tech offered subsidized child care for its faculty, staff and students, the most talented individuals across the nation would covet a spot in this community.  Women leading in their fields of academia and research would turn their heads toward Virginia Tech and think to themselves, “Now that might be the place for me.”

The cost of child care is driving the decisions of the undergraduate single mom, the newly married graduate student, the adjunct faculty member and even the tenure track professor. The epidemic of waiting lists and affording child care are issues ubiquitous despite income. Furthermore, it is impossible to maintain the quality of the places in which our little Hokies thrive without raising the price of this necessary service. In Blacksburg, the interests of children, families and the child care center are forced to stand at odds with one another.

President Sands, Virginia Tech happens to be a leader and innovator in research on Human Development and Early Childhood Education.  Together we can realize your aspiration,  “to translate our discoveries into impactful products, services and policies, by removing barriers and bringing resources to our innovative students, faculty and staff. ”Embarking on an initiative to bring subsidized child care to a public university of Virginia Tech’s caliber would garner the attention of academics and policy makers all over the country. Most importantly, if we can accomplish something of this nature, we will have invested,“in student success, so that any Virginia resident who is prepared for Virginia Tech has an opportunity to earn a Virginia Tech degree, regardless of family income.”

Together, the Virginia Tech community must see that no grade suffers because a child is sick and that no dissertation is turned in late because a family can’t afford child care. Let no professor give up her dream of tenure because she wants to have more children, and help female faculty achieve their research goals without sacrificing mothering. I do not want to see a young, single mother leave this campus with a baby on her hip because she lacks the resources to stay.

Then, one day, a woman will stand in pink sneakers filibustering Congress in the name of justice, and when a younger generation searches her name on Google, Virginia Tech will be one of the first things they see. They will see that she achieved her dreams against all odds, turning what she learned on this campus into impact and influence on humanity and the human condition. They will see that Virginia Tech is inventing the future. 

Sincerely,

Emily Schwarting