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Variety

For students with children, education has become a ‘juggling act’

Some students face the challenge of balancing parenthood with academic responsibilities, highlighting the need for support for student parents within the higher education system, especially at HBCUs like Howard.

Jazmine Mangrum in the College of Fine Arts on Sept. 20 (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

Jazmine Mangrum knew that she was pregnant before she took the test. 

The 21-year-old senior acting major and theater administration minor from Frederick, Maryland, confirmed her suspicion one evening after sharing a meal with her best friend.

“We actually just came back from eating ramen down in Chinatown, and I was like, I knew,” Mangrum said. “And so we bought a pregnancy test on the way home and then took it that night. Obviously, it said ‘positive’ with this little guy.” 

The next step for Mangrum was a call to her boyfriend. She says they had conversations about having children together, so to them, it wasn’t much of a shock. 

“We were joking a lot about babies and pregnancy before this. You know how…you can speak things into existence? Thankfully, we did have those conversations beforehand…We’re both still in college,” she said. 

Now, Mangrum’s days bleed into her nights. Since the arrival of her baby boy in early August, she has begun delicately balancing her academic responsibilities with the complexities of motherhood, attending classes virtually for the first four weeks of the fall semester.

Mangrum belongs to a demographic that is often overlooked – students who are working through the nuances of parenthood while simultaneously completing coursework.

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“He only sleeps in like two to three-hour increments. After a long night of feeding him throughout the night, I try to wake up on time and feed him before I go to class,” Mangrum said.

Corinthians Payne, Mangrum’s boyfriend, is currently a Master of Finance student at Howard. 

“She’s been amazing. I mean, just what we’ve been able to accomplish so far, with school, with extracurricular activities that she does. She really knows how to multitask in a lot of different areas, on and off campus. So, to me, she’s really powerful and honestly has shown what motherhood is,” he said.

The two work together as a team to maintain both their academic responsibilities and their new responsibilities as parents.

“I also pump before I go to class, so my boyfriend can watch him while I’m not there. Then I go to class. I actually pump in between classes. I have, like wearable breast pumps. I sometimes even wear them in class,” she said. 

When Mangrum found out she was pregnant, she followed the recommended path for parenting Bison. Federal civil rights law Title Ⅸ of the Education Amendments of 1972 explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including parental status and pregnancy. However, after notifying the University, Mangrum felt the Title IX office wasn’t as helpful as it could have been. 

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 “I did let Howard know. I did go through Title IX. Title IX wasn’t very…supportive,” Mangrum said. 

The Hilltop reached out to the Title IX office for comment but was referred back to the Howard University policy. A statement specifically regarding pregnant and parenting students is not included, despite the official U.S. Department of Education highlighting it.

Jazmine Mangrum in the College of Fine Arts on Sept. 20 (Keith
Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research, one in five undergraduate college students are parents, and of those parents, roughly 70 percent are mothers. Howard sits at an intersection of the data, with two in five Black women in college being mothers. 

“Some of the specific stressors that students with children face include time poverty, or not enough time to manage all their responsibilities, lack of access to affordable childcare, student debt and limited financial resources, which can make it difficult to complete their degrees,” Jennifer Turner, social scientist for the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research said.

Despite the “lack of support” from the university, Mangrum says that she finds solace within her family that’s nearby. She also credits the family-like atmosphere and support in the College of Fine Arts. 

“Professors are not just professors. They are your mentors. You know, people that you can talk to and lean on. And so, I haven’t had a problem with any of my professors,” she said.

Turner explained that specific ways to support a parenting student include increasing access to affordable, quality childcare, flexibility in course time offering and learning modalities, including virtual and hybrid options, financial aid and student debt relief.

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“Even if they just take the baby for a good hour while I do something by myself, is really important. Just keeping yourself through finding who you are as a mom is how I’m keeping my sanity,” Mangrum said.

Outside of the classroom, Mangrum has curated an online community of more than 97,000 followers on TikTok and over 5,000 on Instagram that she says have also served as her support. 

“It’s just the community aspect. It’s like a warm feeling and sometimes, especially when it was COVID and nobody was going out, it was hard to find those connections at Howard, and I found that posting on social media has helped,” Mangrum said.

Katrina Murphy, a Master of Divinity student at Howard’s School of Divinity, is also no stranger to the “juggling act” that is balancing life and school. She works full-time, 40-plus hours a week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Once she finishes her work day, she transitions directly into her school day. 

“First class is like 4 to 6:30 p.m., then 7 to 9:30 p.m. and then I get home about 10:45 p.m. Twice a week. I have to do it twice a week,” Murphy said. 

According to the Urban Institute, nearly a third of graduate students are student parents. Murphy’s son, Zion Murphy, is a Master of Fine Arts in Film candidate at the School of Communications. The two attending Howard at the same time were both a coincidence and purposeful. 

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Katrina and Zion Murphy at the chapel on Sept. 29. (Keith Golden
Jr./The Hilltop)

“I actually visited one of my mom’s classes. It was ethics. It was the first time I was ever in a classroom with all Black people or mostly Black people. And I just thought it was awesome,” Zion said. “I mean, of course, I’ve known about HBCUs and Howard and all that, but seeing it and being there in person, I was like, definitely want to look into going there for film school.”

Murphy hopes that Zion, as well as her other son, learn from watching her manage the difficulty of wearing the two hats of motherhood and studenthood. 

“I want them to know never to give up on their dreams. While also realizing that dreams shift and change and they morph and that’s all right,” she said. 

Murphy plans to use her degree to advocate for the racial justice and reconciliation work she feels called to do within faith communities. She carries her Bible along with her grandmother’s ushering glove and handkerchief as physical reminders that she carries her village with her everywhere she goes. 

“I want my boys to know about the God of Perlene, Charlene and Doris. My grandmas. I want them to know, these grandmas, that that’s what got us here. Praying women,” she said. 

Murphy’s “village” is a main component in maintaining stability within her life. As she continues to matriculate through both Howard and motherhood, she is grateful to have a wide variety of people to turn to.

Katrina and Zion Murphy showing Katrina’s mother’s bible at the
chapel on Sept. 29. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

“I have a lot of, just wonderful, I said, great support for my husband. First of all, I’m so grateful for him. Great support from my sister, friends and my extended family. Like everyone just circled around me,” Murphy said.

One of the Howard-sponsored resources available to parenting students on campus includes the student-led organization support group Mothers of the Mecca at the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership.

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Created in 2022, their mission is “to reimagine the stigmas associated with parenthood when we are wearing multiple professional hats and instill pride and community around parenting at Howard University,” along with learning the needs of the parenting community at Howard. 

The School of Education has an Early Learning Program (HUELP) that enrolls children from 2.9 to 6 years of age. There are tuition options for Howard students and employees.

“It takes community,” Murphy said. “So you don’t do this alone. We haven’t arrived here at Howard. It’s by the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors, of our immediate family members who sacrificed so much.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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