On July 25th and 26th, Forging Equitable Futures for Student Parents in California: A Virtual Statewide Summit was hosted by The Blue Shield of California Foundation, California Competes, The Education Trust West, Tipping Point Community, Ascend at the Aspen Institute, and the Michelson 20MM Foundation. The event was fueled by the groundswell that has surfaced in California in support of student parent success, particularly within postsecondary education. Over the course of the summit, advocates, practitioners, philanthropists, systems leaders, student parents, and student parent allies gathered to learn about practical, evidence-based examples of student parent success efforts across California. They also sought to identify connections across student-parent advocacy efforts and to build relationships with each other, which will help sustain the momentum of this growing movement.

Removing Failure Options for Student Parents

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”, keynote speaker Waukecha Wilkerson asked. She shared that this was the question she faced as a Black single mother of three striving to rebuild a life for her and her kids through her pursuit of higher education. 

Waukesha said that as she took steps to get ahead, she felt invisible and alone; she struggled with confidence but was filled with curiosity, resilience, and tenacity–so much so that she managed to succeed and became a college graduate, despite dealing with the  trauma of domestic abuse. With her personal experience as a testament to the resilience of all student parents, Waukecha reminded everyone that the summit’s title pointed to what we all needed to do to help: “Forge is defined as to form or to bring into being especially by an expenditure of effort, and equity is defined as dealing fairly and equally with all concerned.” And to forge equity, we all needed to ask ourselves: How do our actions help remove failure as an option for student parents? According to Waukecha, “Once you remove the failure option mentally, everything moves you forward, even your perceived failures.” 

Forging Equity

After Waukecha set the stage, what followed was a series of plenary sessions and breakout sessions meant to provide examples of how people across California are working to forge equity for student parents. On day one, participants heard from California Competes’ Executive Director Su Jin Jez about what policy solutions might help student parents succeed. Participants also learned how to increase the availability of affordable, quality dependent care, how to improve higher education affordability for student parents, how to advance family-friendly institutional design, and how to better collect and share data on student parents at college campuses. On day two, participants explored family-friendly campus resources, what it means to be campus allies to student parents, and the best practices surfaced by projects from throughout the state.

Forging Ahead

During the breakout session “Sustaining Momentum: Leveraging a Statewide Student Parent Coalition,” Christopher Nellum, Executive Director at the Education Trust West (ETW), and Mahagoney Borrayo-Gilchries, Student Parent Success Fellow at ETW, helped lay the foundation for what will hopefully be a statewide student parent coalition focused on sustaining the momentum created by the summit. As Michelson 20MM Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives Miguel Leon alluded to in his remarks, philanthropy is listening to what student parents and student allies are saying, and at least nine foundations are at the table looking for ways to sustain the support of this community via a statewide strategy. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is at the forefront of these efforts and is ready to continue to support student parents through its pregnant and parenting student project and its collective philanthropic action. 

If you would like to learn more, recordings from our State of Pregnant and Parenting Students series are available on our YouTube channel.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.