August Pelliccio – News Writer
Two Southern alumni now co-chair a coalition whose initiative is to bring the social justice angle to accommodating new parents who are community members in our faculty and staff, student body and otherwise.
Michele Vancour said it was roughly one year ago, that she was invited to deliver a keynote address in Ontario, where she first noticed the concept of a breastfeeding-friendly campus initiative.
“That’s when I first started to think about what did it mean to be a breastfeeding-friendly campus,” Vancour said, “and how is that different from what universities were already doing.”
She said the laws in this country protect the rights of breastfeeding women who need to feed or pump during the course of a workday. The initiative for a breastfeeding-friendly campus supports the entire community, Vancour said, including students.
“I’ve encountered other campuses in other states that expressed issues from students who were not gaining access to the lactation rooms,” said Vancour, “because they’re typically under lock and key.”
She said faculty and staff in each department represent the Breastfeeding Champions. They serve as guides to students and community members who need assistance gaining access to facilities and resources regarding breastfeeding.
Vancour said a result of the initiative will be expanding the facilities on campus to include several new locations, where breastfeeding will be encouraged and protected.
Many of the members and both co-chairs of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition visited Buley Library on March 29, to officially name Southern the first breastfeeding-friendly campus in the country.
“It’s just so great,” said Vancour, “to see so many people supporting this right now.”
Vancour and her co-chair for the coalition, Chandra Kelsey, said they give this recognition traditionally to workplaces, but that they hope Southern is the first of many universities to be awarded.
“Right now I believe Yale and UConn are in a good position to follow-suit,” said Vancour, “and be the next two.”
Kelsey explained how the fight for this cause, for her, is fueled by personal experience.
“I went back to school as a new mother,” said Kelsey, “and I had to pump in my car.”
The cultural support of having this designation, Kelsey said, will be a loud message to mothers on campus. She said the event recognized the volunteer work that the Breastfeeding Champions have done to bring this all to fruition.
“Everybody’s really excited,” said President Joe Bertolino. “I’m thrilled, but I can’t take any credit for this.”
Bertolino said that on behalf of the university, he is honored by the recognition, but the initiative was really spearheaded by Vancour, and the team of Breastfeeding Champions on campus. Being cognizant of this issue reflects on Bertolino’s mission of social justice.
“I think [the initiative] particularly important,” said Bertolino, “because individuals get to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Kelsey said that being having the first university receive this designation will “set the fire,” and start the trend.
“I think we’re set up for success with this,” said Vancour. “I really think other universities are going to step up for the challenge.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio