Much of the time, life is complicated. Much of the time, initiating change feels impossible. The wait for change, interminable. The status quo, intractable. I think of Susan B. Anthony who agitated for over 35 years for the U.S. vote, and died 14 years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. I had a picture of her above my desk in my home office for years as a reminder of what fortitude and persistence look like…I wonder where that photo got off to. There still is so much work to do, as groups like MomsRising and Mothers Acting Up and Welfare Warriors well know. Intractable indeed.
But sometimes. Sometimes, change happens before its advocates wear out. Sometimes the marginalized don’t have to fund the solution. Sometimes, those with power and finances hear the rest of us. Sometimes change can unfold beginning with a simple email.
Last September, a student at my university, Maria, read an article in our school newspaper about a book signing I was doing on campus for Motherhood and Feminism. She thought I might be an ally and decided to send me an email. That email was the beginning of a chain of similar ones that resulted in concrete, positive change on our campus. Her subject line, “A place to print but no place to pump 😦 ” pulled me in. Maria was a student, a mother of two, and was breastfeeding. Her concern was that she had no place to pump breast milk. Oh sure, she could pump in a restroom that had electrical outlets right up front with the sink and mirrors, you know, right by the door so that anyone who came in could get a gander, with any angle they might miss at first happily reflected in the mirrors above the sink, next to which she would be standing. She would have to get past the discomfort of pumping her baby’s food in a room where people are using the toilet, of course. We do have a breastfeeding room on campus and, though it is located where the child care center is, it also is on the far end of campus, not close to many classrooms and an impractical stop between classes for most students. So Maria emailed me in the hopes that I might be someone who, she said, “could help fight for me.” I sent an email to the (awesome) woman on campus who is our Vice President for Health Affairs and University Chief Operating Officer, asking what provisions we had on campus for breastfeeding moms, and whether the issue of privacy near an electrical outlet and sink had been addressed. She decided to make it matter to the university, and over the course of the last year, many folks on our campus were involved in addressing this need.
What you see in the image I’ve posted (courtesy of Larry Smith and ETSU photo lab) is our all new Lactation Suite, the clearly marked door to which is located in a prominent place in our university center. It has a comfortable chair and footstool, a blanket and pillow, a sink and icemaker, a television, moving table, and outlets. It is nicely appointed. Not, as one of my friends said, some storage closet with a bucket turned upside down for sitting. I went to see it the other day for the first time and it was difficult to keep from crying. I was struck not only by the facts that it actually happened at all and that it started with one student sending an email, but also by the fact that it seemed to have been done with such care and affection. Two women who work in the university center, Lisa and Laura, took appointing it as their personal mission and made it a comfortable, relaxing place, where a woman could care for her child in a way that is dignified and respected. I am so proud, so grateful, and so inspired. Sometimes change can begin with a simple email.