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Grinnell College student parents share their stories

By Philip Kiely

Being a college student is a demanding job; classes, activities and work take up a lot of time for everyone. At Grinnell, several students balance these responsibilities with the incredible task of raising a family. There are millions of student parents in the United States, and though their challenges are not often discussed, their stories are inspirational and admirable.

Hassan Thompson ’19 is a defensive lineman on the Grinnell Football team, a full-time student and is married with an eighteen-month-old son.

“It’s a blessing. I guess it is hard, kind of stressful at times, but then you’ve got that motivation every day of why you’re here, why you’re doing what you’re doing, it keeps me motivated to keep pushing to try for greatness for him,” Thompson said.

Hassan Thompson ’19 and Grace Thompson live in town with their eighteen-month-old son.

Thompson had nothing but praise for his son.

” He’s a wonderful kid, a smart, independent, strong-willed kid. He wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, just like his mother. Funny kid, loving, couldn’t wish for anything else. It’s a blessing,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s wife attends Iowa Valley Community College, and they work together to raise their son.

“A lot of it is through my wife, her taking on a big role as a mother, being there for away games and long nights when I’m still in Noyce studying … being able to take on both parent roles for me at times,” Thompson said.

He is able to play on the football team due to extensive time management.

“You have to really prioritize your time. Definitely, with different components of life, being a father, student, athlete and husband, just being sure I dedicate the right amount of time to each one and put my family first,” Thompson said.

Football allows Thompson take a couple hours for himself every day.

“I’m still just a big kid just taking on these roles. I have to be an adult for my kid, but there are times that I still am a kid. That’s why I still play football, that’s the one part of the day when I get to run around on the field and be a kid, I don’t have to worry about all of these responsibilities that I have for school and making sure that my son is okay,” Thompson said.

Thompson also credits his faith for helping him cope with the challenges of being a student parent.

“I’m very strong in my faith, so first I give all props to God for keeping me strong … obviously I couldn’t make sure that I take care of my family and not go to college at the same time because you just can’t stop me from being strong, can’t stop me from wanting to do what I want to do or stop me from wanting to reach my goals,” Thompson said.

The Thompsons have also found support within their church and community.

“Spring semester I met Nathan Smith, he’s a coach and a part of Facilities Management, I attend church with him, I told him about my family, he opened up his doors for them until I got on my feet to get us into a house for the next semester to live off campus,” Thompson said.

Thompson credited Robin Campbell ’18 as a mentor. Campbell is a psychology major who is married to an alumnus and has two children, ages two and one.

“I have a husband who works for Grinnell; he works for alumni relations, and two children, a two and a half year old and a one year old,” Campbell said.

She echoed many of Thompson’s thoughts on raising a family as a full-time student.

“It’s really hard, I think that having a spouse to alienate some of the task and roles has been very helpful, I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own at all. Having a good social support system, I have a few friends who have children and are trying to finish their education at Grinnell. I know a lot of people in town who are very supportive as well, and my advisors help and assistance has been very helpful,” Campbell said.

For Campbell, being a mother is rewarding and challenging.

“I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I love it; I love being a mom, if I could go back and not have kids that wouldn’t be an option for me,” Campbell said, “Now that I have a family … I’m trying to find a new way to still be great at everything.”

Some people in the community have been supportive, but many believe the college could do a lot more to support student parents.

“Certain people have been very supportive, and there are those who have not been at all. There are a lot of things that myself and a few other students have tried to advocate for, specifically for student parents, that we either weren’t heard about or they didn’t think was a good idea so they just brushed it off,” Campbell said.

Campbell, however, has noted the role housing has played.

“One of the biggest things that kind of sucks is that we don’t feel that sense of community with the campus. Being closer to campus, maybe having a project house, the student parenting house or something. We also mentioned having a child-friendly space on campus … we talked about receiving some type of aid to help with childcare because working at Grinnell College doesn’t pay much at all, not enough to support a family,” Campbell said.

Overall, Campbell considers Grinnell to be a good city to raise her family.

” There are a lot of opportunities here that I wouldn’t have had back at home, also it’s very safe, a very small community. I wouldn’t want to go back to Chicago and raise my family,” Campbell said.

Chanyce Williams ’17 is another student parent at Grinnell.

“For me, it’s been hard because there’s always a sacrifice somewhere. Right now I’m working about sixty hours a week in town plus about twenty on campus, and I’m doing eighteen credits worth of school, and I’m raising my child. There’s always a sacrifice somewhere, for me it’s about learning to balance those sacrifices so that one area is not always lost,” Williams said.

There are also significant intersectional issues to consider with student parents.

“This is going to sound blunt, but it doesn’t help that we’re students of color. Robin and I were working with Title IX last year and this year and just to see the haste in some of the decisions they were making with other types of students and how quick they respond to their urgencies and concerns. It was amazing, but when it came to us and our concerns, yes, there are only three sets of families on this campus, but it doesn’t help that we’re students of color. I think it adds a stigma that black people just have kids earlier, they are then on these types of assistance, because that was the vibe that we were getting when we were asking for help,” Williams said.

Being a student parent is an enormous responsibility that many undertake without sufficient institutional or communal support. Fortunately, these student parents at Grinnell are truly extraordinary people, and are able to make the most of the situation.

“I’m pretty happy, so I’m blessed for that,” Thompson said.

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