After exhaling deeply, third-year transfer student Tiffany Perez* sits on the sofa of her dimly lit Family Student Housing apartment. Perez gazes intently at her nearly 2-year-old daughter napping on the couch opposite of us.
“My daughter’s father was very abusive, and I was in a very abusive relationship,” Perez said. “That is the reason I moved to Santa Cruz, to get out of the city that he was going to be paroled to.”
Perez came to Santa Cruz for a better life. She expected similar resources to be available here as they were at her former San Diego City College campus. There, she had access to their Child Development Center’s early hours of operation, beginning at 7:30 a.m., and an on-site Cal-Works location.
Cal-Works is a program that provides financial services to low-income families with minor dependents.
The Cal-Works location in Santa Cruz is five and a half miles away from campus near a small residential neighborhood wedged in between Highway 1 and Highway 17. Visitors must have access to a car or bus route 4, Harvey West/Emeline.
Five and a half miles is only an inch on a Google map, but it is more of an obstacle course for a single mother with a pre-toddler at hand.
“I was under the impression the UC system was like [SD City College],” Perez said. “It would be nice if they had something specifically for single moms [at UCSC]. I was disappointed.”
Single mothers find themselves struggling with the lack of services offered on campus, as well as with the structure of the university calendar itself.
For Perez and other single parents, the current arrangement is not good enough. Resources are being cut left and right, leaving single mothers disappointed. The recently proposed cuts to state-funded aid for single parents would jeopardize their efforts to become financially independent and limit their ability to provide for their children.
Picking up where former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger left off, newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to cut the third stage of Cal-Works, a resource that Perez used to depend on.
This last stage provided services to more than 81,000 children and around 60,000 families during the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
“These cuts will be painful, requiring sacrifice from every sector of the state, but we have no choice,” Brown said when he announced his proposal.
Perez says that these cuts would be detrimental to her financial stability, as Cal-Works covers one third of her total rent at Family Student Housing and almost $400 monthly for groceries.
“I wouldn’t be able to [continue school],” Perez said. “I don’t know what I’d do. I’m stressed on having two jobs already.”
In the midst of all this distress, single parents around the state are limited by the few resources offered in California. UCSC is no exception.
“Financial aid only covers nine of the 12 months you’re here,” Perez said. “I have to figure out how to pay the other three months.”
Full-time UCSC Dining employee Maria de la Cruz* can relate. Her petite frame and youthful-looking face hardly reflect the difficulties life has made her endure. De la Cruz moved to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1999 at the age of 19. For her, the limited resources present an especially significant challenge because she has no family members here to support her. She is solely responsible for her 12-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
“In the summer, when we don’t work, it’s very hard for me because it’s nearly three months that [many UCSC Dining workers] are out of jobs,” de la Cruz said in Spanish. “I’m breaking my head trying to figure out what I’m going to do to give my children food, to give them everything they need.”
To keep up with the cost of diapers, baby wipes and PG&E, Tiffany Perez works at the front desk for the Ethnic Resource Center (ERC) and has recently added another job to her load. She is also the head of the front desk for the IT department. After Family Student Housing’s recent $65 monthly rent increase, rent now costs $1,366 for a two-bedroom apartment.
In the past decade, rent at FSH has increased by 62 percent.
“I have to decide between the gas bill and diapers,” Perez said.
No more than a decade ago, the campus had a few more student-parent resources, but many were student-led.
After receiving several automated responses informing me that my messages failed and calling recycled numbers, it was clear to me that many of these resources left with the students that created them.
Single Parents Action Network (SPAN) was a former committee under the UCSC Graduate Student Association (GSA). It dissolved in mid-2002. Until the previous academic school year, GSA maintained a position for the Child Care Advisory Committee, but the organization is having difficulty filling empty seats left behind.
“This year we have a new core of Executive Council members,” said Jeff Sanceri, president of GSA, in an e-mail. “Since the beginning of the school year, we have been trying to address the problem of membership turnover and the revitalization of committees that this necessitates.”
The recently ratified United Auto Workers contract, representing more than 12,000 Academic Student Employees (ASEs) such as readers, tutors and TAs, has a clause dedicated to child care. Now, according to the UAW Local 2865 website, funding for child care will almost triple. The site contract states that “the total annual amount of child care expenses an ASE may be reimbursed for (from $900 to $2400 a year).” The program will also continue into the summer terms.
Currently, on-campus resources specifically for parents are limited to events held by the Family Student Housing (FSH) community and UCSC’s Child Care Services (EECCS), which according to its website offers “children of UCSC students several child care programs, serving children ranging in age from 14 months to 12 years.” In addition, EECCS sees “parenting education, social events, and family participation” as crucial points to their work.
Exiting the back entrance of EECCS’s playground together, third-year transfer student Sarah Minos* and fourth-year transfer student Michelle Sanders* trail behind their two playful children on the way to their respective homes a few buildings away.
“There’s like a little community they offer for everybody that meets up and hangs out,” Minos said. “This community itself has helped me meet other people.”
Minos is new to the FSH community and added cooking get-togethers, craft parties, Saturday morning brunch, Friday breakfast, and harvest feast as a few of the welcoming community events she has attended.
In addition to social gatherings, parents in FSH collaborate with each other in practical matters, like caring for children during EECCS’s off hours, a bi-weekly food pantry visit and forming carpools to and from their children’s schools.
Though the community provides some support for these single parents, there are several instances when they cannot be there for one another.
“My loop [area within FSH complex] is a little different,” Sanders said. “I have adults with little babies, so nobody really knows each other in my loop, and I don’t make it much to the events either because I have so much work.”
Minos adds that everyone also has different schedules.
“I’m the only one who has a kindergartner,” Minos said. “Nobody’s going to go at 12 p.m. to pick up my kid when they have to pick up their kids at 2 p.m., so that’s really hard. I have a class on Tuesday and Thursday that starts at noon, so I have to have him go to a [Campus Kids Connection] program at school, which I have to pay out of pocket.”
Both Minos and Sanders say they would like a few changes on campus to make their life easier.
“There are so many people, so many parents that are just driving to Westlake [Elementary School] to pick up their kids,” Minos said. “All these people are driving when we could just take one big old bus and pick up the kids. That’ll save on gas. That’ll save on gas emissions that are going in the air.”
Minos gets pulled away by her daughter, who’d been patiently waiting next to Sanders’s son.
“Mommy, Mommy, can I go to the house and get a drink?” she says.
“Yes, we’re going right now,” Minos answers. Her daughter’s face lights up, and she rushes ahead of her mother.
Many single mothers, including Minos, Sanders and Perez, are also in need of additional child care support, since Child Care Services (EECCS) doesn’t offer services for most of December and only operates from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the rest of the time.
Arriving at the EECCS, third-year transfer student Lea Campton* prepares her daughter’s cereal inside the FSH Coffee House. Had it not been for the attached kitchen, the building would more closely resemble an arts and crafts room at a kindergarten than a coffee house.
Campton also finds herself struggling with EECCS’s hours of operation.
“I just signed up for a class that starts at 8 a.m. for next quarter,” Campton said in early December, over her daughter’s repeated requests for a napkin. “I’m not sure how that’s going to work.”
Perez has the opposite problem. Her major requires her to take a course that is only offered once a year, and it happens to be at night.
“How am I supposed to graduate if there are classes I can’t take?” Perez said.
Despite the need for more services, changes like shuttles to elementary schools and extended hours in Child Care Services (EECCS) are unlikely. EECCS has already been forced to downsize. It no longer extends services to faculty and staff.
While waiting for a recently hired employee outside of the EECCS Infant Center’s green door, Emili Willet, director of Early Education Services, had a chance to comment on this issue.
“People think that because of [faculty and staff removal] Child Care Services is only for students now and there’s more space, but that’s not the case,” Willet said.
EECCS went from having 100 spaces for children to 60 when its budget was reduced in January 2010. Of the original 100 spaces, there were 18 spaces for infants. Space for infants is now limited to 12. Currently, there is a waiting list of about 15 to 20 children, which reached up to 50 children when the children of faculty and staff were accepted.
“Child care is so hard to find in Santa Cruz,” Willet said.
Because of these limitations, dining hall staff members like de la Cruz cannot seek child care on campus.
“Most of the time, you have to leave your kids with someone else,” de la Cruz said. “It’s hard. Even more so in this country. Over there [in El Salvador], it’s the poverty, but you can be with your children. [In the U.S.]I have to pay for my kids to be taken care of.”
In spite of all of her labors, de la Cruz feels she must remain optimistic about her children’s futures, and she dreams of the day they will go to a university — not as workers but as students.
“I tell [my son], ‘The good thing is that, when you’re big, you’re going to help me out’,” de la Cruz said. “I say ‘OK? You’re going to work, and you’re going to help me,’ and he says, ‘¡Sí, mami! I’m going to give you everything.’”
Staring out of a College Eight Dining Hall window, de la Cruz clenches her fist and expresses, in a fit of frustration, her anger at having been left by her children’s fathers.
“I don’t understand why there are men like that, that just leave their children,” de la Cruz said.
Unlike de la Cruz, however, Perez desperately wanted her toddler’s father as far away from them as possible. After four years of difficulties, Perez worked with the district attorney and a detective to sentence her abusive partner to eight years in prison.
“I used it to motivate me and really focus me in what I want to do in my career and achieving my goals,” Perez said. “I want to do prosecution for victims of abuse, which would be child abuse, spouse abuse and elderly abuse. I don’t want to see anyone else fall victim and feel like they’re not being protected.”
Perez is now majoring in politics and minoring in legal studies. She has her eyes on law schools, including Stanford, Berkeley and John F. Kennedy University.
Though funding her own education has been difficult, Perez did not give up. Thanks to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Smith Renaissance Society she has received the support she needs. EOP serves to promote academic success for disadvantaged student populations, and SRS cites itself on its own website as “California’s first university-based comprehensive path to college admission for foster youths and other independent students.”
“Sometimes, I have to believe everything will work out, and I was fortunate enough to have everything fall into place,” Perez said. “There are a lot of voices that go unheard. I just cried to the right people.”
*Names have been changed.
Statements by de la Cruz were translated by the reporter.