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. 


Emily Schwarting

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(17) comments

Anonymous Commenter

This is a letter to the editor, not an Op-Ed. Will the CT figure out what an Op-Ed is by the end of the year?

Anonymous Commenter

For your information:

A letter to the editor is short – 200 to 300 words. An Op-Ed is a longer piece – 750 to 1000 words. A letter to the editor can be in reaction to a day to day or a larger issue. An op-ed should generally be about a larger issue. A letter to the editor is generally a reaction to an editorial or an op-ed or a news item. An op-ed on the other hand, can be a submitted piece of writing that addresses issues introduced by the writer.

Anonymous Commenter

Very nicely stated, Emily. I hope there is always a place at VT for phenomenal young women like you. And while I do think it is nice that you include faculty in your piece, and we certainly face our own challenges, I think the issue of childcare is especially pressing for staff and students at VT. This has been an issue at VT for a very long time, and it would be wonderful to see a resolution.
-Lisa Belden, Biological Sciences

Anonymous Commenter

Emily - Kudos on taking the time to speak up and share your story. Your piece is very well written and your logic is sound. This is absolutely something that many students and employees (faculty AND staff) face and I love that we are at a university that empowers our students to do what you've done here in sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous Commenter

Very well put. I am faculty and I was fortunate to be able to find spots for both of my children shortly after beginning my career here. Luckily, we were also thrilled with the preschool education they received at the spots that happened to be open. I agree with Lisa Belden--the problem is much more acute for students and staff. Even so, words like "fortunate" and "luck" should never have to be spoken in regards to affordable, high-quality childcare. To "invent the future," we must come up with viable solutions to this pressing problem. -Sarah Ovink, Sociology


I would just like to put in that this issue impacts both male and female graduate students. It is not just a matter of attracting female graduate students with children, or who plan to have children, although that is very important. But for students whose partners need to work to support the family through graduate school, childcare is a major factor. For students who are single graduate students and who don't have a partner to care for children (and I know male and female single parents in the NRV), the issue may well determine whether and where they complete their graduate work. A subsidized daycare would advance the cause of social justice at Virginia Tech. It would be line with the modern, progressive ethos that brought us the extensive collection of lactation rooms across campus, that so impressed me when we first moved here. This is another step into a more equitable and successful future for Virginia Tech.


My previous comment dealt with graduate students explicitly, but I also think it's time we acknowledged that undergraduates sometimes have children to factor into their lives. How much easier could we make it for young parents or non-traditional students to get their degrees by investing in a childcare solution for students! I would be so proud to see this happen at Virginia Tech.

Anonymous Commenter

I must say, you seem a tad entitled in this piece.

That said , I applaud your responsibility and industrious attitude, your child is fortunate to have you as a mother.

Understand, no one owes you anything, and that is good. If someone makes you, they can also un-make you. Asking for " subsidies" is a dangerous thing, they will always come with many strings attached.

Do it on your own, you will be better off in the long run.

I am proud of you.

Emily Schwarting

I just wanted to write an informal response to everyone from the top of my head, so here it goes!

The support I have gotten from various organizations and people around campus (and beyond!) has been both exciting and overwhelming. Clearly, this is an issue that resonates with many different people from many different backgrounds, which I already knew in my heart of hearts.

There were a couple of things that I did not elaborate or discuss in my letter through an effort to stay focused, concise and stay under 800 words. One is that the issue of child care is more than something that affects me--it is the center of my research in every aspect that is possible in my undergraduate studies. Let's just say, I turn every paper into a discussion on child care. I have spent time studying every aspect of child care: the customer who needs and purchases the service (parents), the person who receives the service (the child), and the person who gives the service (the often underpaid and overworked child care worker, who has no benefits and little incentive to stay in the business, which leads to very high turnover rates in child care centers across the country).

I also have looked into the owner of the child care business, who needs to make a profit to keep the doors open, but also runs an expensive business. Raising the price of tuition means that he will lose lower-income customers. This leads to his direct conflict with interest groups in Washington and Richmond who work to increase federal and state-level standards regarding the care of children. When any legislation is passed to improve child care, this is an expense placed on the shoulders of the business owner, which forces him to raise tuition for his customers. Where there are less high-income families, child care is no longer a profitable business. This has lead to a shortage of child care centers in rural and low-income areas (hence, long waiting lists).

It also puts the parent in a situation where they may have to leave a child care that they were happy with, and "choose" a child care within their budget, sacrificing the quality of the care that their child will receive for 40 hours a week. The inequality within the child care system in this country is that children under the age of five who have parents with lower incomes, are getting lower quality care for forty hours a week in their most formative years. Sometimes this can even be dangerous, since many parents can not "choose" to be a stay-at-home mother. There have been cases where highly unregulated home care centers have had one adult watching over a dozen children, and a child will die because he is not being watched properly. It's rare, but it's tragic, and it happens.

The parent wants the best for the child, and the child is entitled quality child care. The child care worker in the United States is one of the most exploited workers I can envision, especially for the extremely valuable work they are doing in helping parents educate and care for little children. The business owner knows this service is a necessity in the community--parents work, and that is reality. Yet, he has to keep wages of workers as low as possible while also making tuition affordable, while adhering to federal and state regulations. I think we need to think about that fact that a lot of this comes from a simple fact: the care of children as it stands in America right now, is a business. People profit off the care of children. As parents we have to decide what is the most important thing when we examine this issue.

To the person who commented below me, I took your compliments deeply. I work so hard, and I love being a mom. Still, the fact of the matter is, I would not be graduating if my family was not helping me through school--I would not even be a student here. In the end, I'm here, and I never take a day of class for granted.

But this letter was about all of the young parents who aren't here, and want to be. Even if I were to agree with you, and admit that I'm entitled, what about my son William? Is he entitled? Is he deserving of quality child care? Does a child need to "earn" quality child care? A small three-year-old boy with his whole life ahead of him, isn't he entitled to a safe and loving place to spend his days? Furthermore, doesn't my education directly affect the value of his future, if it means I am able to get a better job, and live in a better neighborhood, with better schools, etc. In the end, I'm not at Virginia Tech to join a sorority or go to TOTS Tuesday. I'm here for William. I get A's because of William. It happens that I love Virginia Tech (my dad, my sister went here, and my brother-in-law was in the core), and I love my coursework. I'm here for a lot of reasons. Being a single parent and undergraduate is a dynamic lifestyle, that looking back on three years, I think I have learned immensely from.

When I started off at Virginia Tech as a normal freshman, that was entitlement. I came to college because that's what everyone from Arlington, Virginia did. I went to college because my parents went to college. And my son William will go to college because I went to Virginia Tech.

Everyone involved in the child care system has interests geared towards providing children with the best care possible. I have unraveled this issue from every point I can imagine and I'm telling you, without rich parents, and without subsidies, that is impossible.

Anonymous Commenter

If everybody subsidized your dreams, then they would no longer be against the odds, would they ?

Anonymous Commenter

Out of curiosity, where do you think the money or subsidies for child care should come from, at the either the state/federal/school level? I understand that a child should not be punished for the life they are put into... but that is reality. At our school.. and in everyone's work, both at VT and other places, childcare has never been a "right", it has always been something offered by the school or work as a benefit.

Coming from a young single mother myself, I know first hand, as I'm sure you do, that there ARE sacrifices that have to be made. You should be able to give your son what he wants, but I'm sure most parents want that too... I don't understand exactly how you think this should work. If you could please elaborate on that, it would provide more clarity on WHAT the solution could be, and maybe Virginia Tech can make this happen.

Emily Schwarting

I'm not sure what I think on that issue! I am not a policy maker and I don't know where the university gets all of it's money for various initiatives. That is what I am hoping to make more transparent. I think as others offer their perspectives and engage the administration, dynamic policy could be brought forth. I do think that Virginia Tech, as a community, has the right to democratically move forth with the policy on child care. That includes staff, faculty, administration, graduate student and undergrads. This university being able to exist every day depends upon thousands of parents showing up for work, and showing up for work depends on child care. For example, on Labour Day, many people may have seen William and I on campus. He came to work with me, played with legos on the library, and even attended two classes: Gender & Language and Intro to Humanities. The campus was crawling with children. So, while the argument could be made that undergraduates aren't affected by people in the Virginia Tech community and their children, I disagree. If all of the child care workers went on strike this university would have to shit down because the campus would be rampant with children and parents would be calling in sick to work. Papers wouldn't be graded by TA's, classes would be cancelled, and chaos would ensue. Obviously, I'm being a little bit facetious, but there is a truth in it! Children exist in our society, and it is difficult to be the citizen who says, "What happens to children during the work isn't my problem because I don't have children." I bring the same philosophy behind public education to child care--it is central to labour, and is central to democracy. This is why I think that figuring out a solution with all perspectives in mind could benefit the entire Virginia Tech community, and also create a great example for other academic institutions to follow. I have already seen students at Stanford and Yale agreeing in response to my Open Letter that it is time for women and families in academics to have more options when it comes to child care. Let's beat them to it. I want Virginia Tech to be the example that other great institutions follow, and take the lead on this important issue that is certainly on the political horizon. If you interested in child care policy, Dr. Craig Ramey is a wonderful source of information, and lot's of his longitudinal studies are online. I saw him speak one time and I was forever inspired. He is a leader in the study of early childhood education and development. Oh, and he happens to be a recent addition to Virginia Tech's faculty.

Anonymous Commenter

I'm a graduate student at VT. I started my PhD in Computer science when my twins where 2, and since then I need them to be in a day care. I pay more than half my income on daycare!
I think my fault that I was good in research.

We have 3 solution:
1- enough for women to take high school.. don't talk about equal opportunities.
2- have babies near menopause so that wo en have the chance to study and work.
3- support us to be able to participate in the society

I wonder why should education be all free from age 5 to 17
and extremely expensive from 1 to 4 !!!

Anonymous Commenter

Standing in front of congress in pink tennis shoes filibustering for justice ?

What about justice for the baby ?

Fortunately wendy davis is going to lose.

That women is no heroine or role model.

I would look elsewhere for your inspiration.

Anonymous Commenter

Grad student phd in comp science,

quick lesson for you:

education is not " all free " from 5-17.

we pay through the nose for it in our taxes

it is not free, nothing is.

Emily Schwarting

I think the point the PhD in computer science was trying to make wasn't that education is "free." We all know public education is paid for through taxes. I'm from Arlington, Virginia--we know all about paying taxes (happily) toward public education! Her point is that: why is the education of a five-year-old considered a public good, but the education of a four-year-old is considered a private decision? Where does the education of children begin? When do children begin to learn?

Emily Schwarting

And an AMAZING point that she makes at the end is that child care would not only enable but ENCOURAGE women to participate in society. When we lived in world where women belonged in the private sphere, this all worked. It does not matter what your personal beliefs are: women work, women vote, women even have some political rights I think. There was a time when a woman working was considered "adorable," and so the service of child care was considered a frivolous byproduct of a woman who did not know her place in society--at home.

Except, there are have been distinct moments in history when women were NEEDED in the work force. For example, during world war two the government bought and paid for child care centers around the country so that women could scoot their behinds on to work for the cause. World War 2 was a cause worthy of overtly ENCOURAGING the participation of women in the work force. Equality in the workforce and the economy? The policy currently written on child care reads: "Do not encourage women to work alongside men, or pursue economic equality."

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