I am a doctoral student in the department of Gender Studies at UCLA, and I’m in my 3rd year. I’m 33, I’ve been married for almost 8 years, and I have a three-year-old daughter.
I want to briefly tell management about how things are working out for me and my family on my TA salary. We live in university family housing and pay 66% of my income for rent. It’s very expensive, but way below typical rental rates for my neighborhood, which is about 4 miles away from campus. Before we moved in to university housing, we lived in a cheaper apartment in the same neighborhood. There we paid $1100 for a cockroach-infested apartment with a meth dealer as a next-door neighbor. It was an incredibly unsafe place to live and added to the insecurity we already experience in our daily lives.
You see, my daughter has a neuromuscular disorder and a severe speech disorder. She is in therapy 14 hours a week and has at least one medical appointment each month, in any number of doctor’s offices all over Southern California. The typical cost for childcare in my neighborhood is between $900-1200 a month for fulltime care. Special needs childcare is about twice that. We pay our babysitter $1200 a month for part time care. We mostly pay for this with the money my husband is earning as an adjunct professor – a job at which he earns $936 a month, and which ends this month. I know that the university run childcare and preschool in the housing complex is a little cheaper, about $900 a month, and we are on the waiting list to get in to that. Last time I checked there would be a spot available in three years. Even if we were to get in now, there is no one there who is fluent in sign language, which is what my daughter uses to communicate.
My husband borrowed $18,000 while he was in school at UCLA. We will start paying that back this month. Next month we will also be paying for his health insurance, which is good because of course as an adjunct teacher he is uninsured. At the end of last summer we sat down and looked at all these expenses, and were fortunate enough to be given a choice. We could either borrow $20,000 to get us through this academic year, or we could move into my parents’ house. This was not an easy decision, because my parents live almost 60 miles away from campus. With the therapies, childcare, and generally lack of support we have here, we opted to move.
I’m on the waiting list for 8 different vanpools right now, and if I don’t get in, I will have a 2-3 hour commute each way. I’ll need to leave campus everyday by 3:30pm if I want to get home in time to say goodnight to my daughter. If I don’t have class or section there is no way I will be able to campus. I won’t be able to attend any special afternoon lectures, and I am concerned about how this distance will affect my ability to remain engaged with the campus community, let alone the ease with which I will be able to coordinate meetings with my committee members. My husband and dad will share the childcare duties. Just saying this now…. This is not an easy choice. But getting even further into debt is not a better option. Borrowing money is just a stopgap until I need to borrow more money, so just I can buy food and pay for childcare.
I know I am so fortunate to have this family safety net, and if it weren’t there, I would have already dropped out. Because this is so hard, and we student workers have to make a lot of really difficult choices to make this work for our lives. Why does working for the university have to be so hard for us? I continue to feel incredibly insecure about how I am going to make this work, how I can teach, study, and parent, without adequate support.