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The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Student mothers share challenges they face as they work towards graduation

Courtesy of Ilse Arciniega
Ilse Arciniega holds her daughter and poses for a photo at a graduation celebration in June 2022. Arciniega is a DePaul graduate student and mother who is graduating June 2024 after achieving her Masters degree.

It’s a bright and early Friday morning as the sun peeks through Ilse Arciniega’s window blinds. Arciniega, 24, is a DePaul graduate student and a mother who will walk the stage this June 2024, after pursuing her Master’s degree in Education and Social Science.  

She wakes up at 6 a.m. to get herself and her four-year-old daughter ready for the day, then heads off to George Washington High School to student-teach from 7:45 p.m to 3:30 p.m. Afterward, on certain days, she’ll take on remote meetings at home as a graduate assistant for DePaul’s Office of Multicultural Success, where she helps undocumented students navigate their education.

With her busy schedule revolving around her daughter, work, finishing graduate school, and long hours of student teaching, she forgot about Mother’s Day this year, she said.

Arciniega received her undergraduate degree at DePaul in 2022 in Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. When she found out she was pregnant in 2019, her freshman year in college, she tackled a whole new set of challenges.

“It was hard at first juggling everything when I had my daughter, taking care of my motherly responsibilities, all while dealing with my student responsibilities as well,” Arciniega said.

Complicated class schedules and professors not providing extensions due to her child’s sick days were all factors that weighed heavily on her shoulders.

One of Arciniega’s most disheartening experiences while being a student mother was when a DePaul professor told her, “(My) class is too advanced, it might be best for you to find a class that’s more suitable for you” — to which she politely responded, “No thank you, I’m going to stay in this class and figure it out.” 

At one point in her college career, she refrained from disclosing her pregnancy so professors wouldn’t think she was making an excuse to get out of assignments, she recalled. 

Initially, she wasn’t aware that certain laws, like Title IX, protect student parents from discrimination. 

Title IX” of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, pregnancy and parental status in educational programs and activities. DePaul’s Gender Equity office informs student parents that professors or administrators should not tell students to drop out of their classes, academic programs or change their educational plans due to pregnancy. 

Still, Arciniega felt like some of her professors disregarded the law.

Facing isolation and gender discrimination are just some of the many conflicts student parents face throughout their college experience.

Amanda De Leon, 40, who’s been married for several years and became a mother in 2007, worked for five years to obtain her associate’s degree in Art History.

“Even though I wanted to finish up my degree, I put that on the back-burner, raised my daughter, and slowly took one online class at a time,” De Leon said.

She is on track to graduate from DePaul with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History with a minor in museum studies.

De Leon’s museum trips with her 16-year-old daughter have inspired her daughter to study Anthropology when she goes to college.

Amanda de Leon and her daughter Coco de Leon, pose for a picture in September 2023 outside De Leon’s home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, Ill. De Leon is a DePaul student and mother on track to earn a Bachelors degree in Art History. (Courtesy of Amanda de Leon)

De Leon quickly realized that society has unrealistic standards for mothers — but especially student mothers. Setting an example for your children instead of being the “all-sacrificing mother” is the advice she often gives to others.

Knowing the pressures of these unrealistic standards for moms, Arciniega says she is on a mission to help other student parents as much as possible.

She is the president of Mothers of Color Handling Academia (MOCHA) — a DePaul student parent support group committed to uplifting and bringing awareness to student parents.

Two years ago, MOCHA in collaboration with DePaul’s Basic Needs Hub, began gathering supplies, including diapers, formula, and wipes for DePaul student parents in need. Parents can request supplies for their children using an Amazon wishlist. The University then processes the requests and sends the parents the supplies. 

The past year, Arciniega began to advocate  with the College of Education for a free on-campus daycare service for student parents. The Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) application supports the participation of low-income student parents in postsecondary education by providing campus-based childcare services. 

The cost of child care is at an all-time high and student mothers all over the U.S. depend on close family members or relatives as a means of child care, according to the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor

Hillary Magallon, 25, of South Bend, Indiana, faced her own struggles with access to child care while being a single mother. This contributed to her decision to drop out of college twice, but she later re-enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College, pursuing an associates degree in general studies. 

“I’m a single mom, I can’t necessarily ask anyone to watch my son, especially during the pandemic where I was alone with him, doing online classes, and dealing with postpartum. It was a very difficult time,” Magallon said.

Magallon is one of four million student parents in higher education in the U.S., 43 percent of them are single mothers, while 16 percent of those are of Hispanic ethnicity.

Though she has gone through several ups and downs throughout her education, it hasn’t stopped her from getting involved in her school’s extracurricular clubs, which encouraged her to complete her degree.

She is the public affairs officer for her school’s Latino Student Union and praises them for being the most supportive throughout her entire academic career. She would often take her son to their meetings and events. Sometimes other group members would encourage her to bring her child along. 

She advises other student mothers to get involved in extracurriculars to stay motivated. 

Ilse Arciniega and her daughter Esli sit in a pumpkin patch in October 2023. Arciniega is a DePaul graduate student working towards a Masters in Education and Social Science. (Courtesy of Ilse Arciniega)

Magallon spent this Mexican Mother’s Day on May 10 walking across the stage at her commencement ceremony where her son cheered on from the crowd.

Later this month, Arciniega is scheduled to graduate as well. Like many other student mothers, she recalls all the hard work and sacrifices it took for her to get to where she is now.

“I remember those long nights and lack of sleep and wondering when is this going to be over; now that it’ll be over soon,” Arciniega said.

She thanks her family, her support system and MOCHA’s advisor Ann Russo, for helping her throughout her journey. 

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