Oral History Project

Tell Us Your Story – U of T Student Parents Oral History Project

Storytelling is a culturally universal interaction in which the pivotal events that shape our lives are shared. It has the potential to be therapeutic - a detailed recounting is an ancient method of coming to terms with our own experience (Sullivan 1997).

This project was conducted by the U of T Family Care Office, and its goals are to raise awareness, assess, and document the successes, struggles, and needs of U of T student parents, a quasi invisible population on our campus, as well as validating their experience. These interviews will hopefully give prospective and current student parents information that will help them in navigating the system, as well as the tips and tricks of making life easier when integrating study and family issues.

It is our hope that in the end, this oral history project fosters the connection between personal issues and large-scale social issues for all who are speaking and listening.

To the students who volunteered their stories, our heartfelt thanks and our hope that this account of their experiences may assist other students to enrich their own experiences and versions of their stay here at our university. We would like to thank the following collaborators: Work-study students Alice Burke and Charity Mwebaze; Vinicius Jardim, project poster; Naomi Szeben, audio; Martha Rangel, audio edition and video; and Maria Jardim, who conceptualized and managed this project, whose inspiration came from a Summer Course sponsored by the Transformative Learning Centre at OISE/UT.

Sample Interview

Snippets of four interviews from the Student Parents Oral History Project, showcasing two graduate and two undergraduate students' perspectives on challenges they have faced and their tips on how to navigate the system at U of T.

The Process

After some publicity and a session where the program was explained to students in general, student parents signed up to be interviewed.

They filled an anonymous questionnaire about their background and social identity, and we selected the interviewees based on those questionnaires, to ensure that we had equitable representation from various types of families, situations, and also as many backgrounds as possible.

The students representing this diverse sample were then contacted for the interview, and the list of questions and a consent form given to them in advance explaining the process, asking if they still wanted to participate, and clarifying that they could decide not to participate any longer at any point during the process.

Full audio interviews were edited to fit a shorter duration. We then edited the excerpts and altered the voice pitch to preserve their privacy, with the exception of two students, one who asked that her identity be made public and another who preferred not to have the voice pitch altered. Each interview was submitted to the interviewee for approval. Interviewees have also approved or even written the text to go alongside, and some were edited and re-submitted to them for their approval. Another consent form was then signed.

We were concerned that listeners would not be able to capture all that was said, or that the audios were too long. To make the interviews more interesting, videos were created from the audios, and again student's privacy was protected by utilizing general pictures.

The Interviews

Interview #1

This 26 years old, 5th year undergraduate student and single mother of a preschooler shares her perspective on how to juggle these two roles by offering advice on how to choose courses and talk to professors, the importance of making her story heard at her registrar's office, and how to successfully access various resources and supports at the University.

Interview #2

Teresa is a single mother who has been at UofT since 2000. During this time she completed her undergraduate studies and is now doing her Masters in European Studies. She talks about the university resources that help her balance her life at U of T, including financial resources such as the work-study program, and about eventually becoming a UofT employee, as well as being a don at her residence. She also speaks about attitudes towards pregnancy and single parenthood, and about childcare arrangements.

Interview #3

This 33 year-old Doctoral candidate started his Master's program at U of T in 2006 when his wife was a stay-home mother caring for their first child. Now, he is also currently a full-time student and they have since had their second child. He talks about the two different situations his family has faced in the course of his program at U of T and shares his perspective on many aspects of the student parent life. He also offers tips and advice on time management.


Interview #4

This undergraduate, single parent and mature student who decided to attend university after her third child was only six months old, gives a number of simple but great tips on managing finances and also on juggling children and her studies. She shares her insights on the importance of taking the time to build your support network and to ask for help when you need to do so.

Interview #5

This 3rd year PhD candidate is in a two-parent relationship and is the mother of a 3½ year old son. She accessed the services at the Family Care Office even before starting her program, and has been balancing mothering and academic life - an enjoyable, rewarding, and often challenging juggling act. She encourages others to take on the challenge, and suggests always to remember that family life comes first - academic deadlines and opportunities come and go, but childhood and early parenthood are fleeting.

Interview #6

This undergraduate student describes herself as not being the typical undergraduate student or the typical university student. A single parent of a three-year-old, she shares her experience of working to support her small family and to pay for her studies at U of T as she isn't eligible to receive OSAP funding. This interview debunks the myth that students who cannot afford university can always pay for it with OSAP, and describes what are the options if you are in a similar situation.

Interview #7

This 2nd year undergraduate student and single parent has to also care for her ill mother; she is an OSAP recipient and identifies herself as a lesbian. She comes from an underprivileged background and one that usually doesn't make it to university. She talks about the struggles and the rewards of being in her situation, and offers encouragement to other parents who might think university is not for them, or who have other types of family responsibilities.

Interview #8

This very accomplished undergraduate student immigrated to Canada as a child, came to university as a single undergraduate student, and got married and pregnant before her second year. She continued in school receiving awards from the Faculty of Arts and Science, working in work-study positions and also having a second baby. She offers a glimpse of how she has accomplished all that she has. She discusses navigating the system, alternating between being a part-time and full-time student, learning how to apply for loans and bursaries, and at the same time not losing sight of the fact that motherhood is the most important job she holds.

Interview #9

This international PhD student is in a two-parent relationship and is the mother of a 7 year old daughter who was born soon after the student arrived in Canada to start her PhD program. She accessed U of T services when still in her home country and when she and her partner arrived, they had already arranged for an apartment at U of T Student Family Housing. She talks about time management, being far away from her family, about a difficult experience with her supervisor, and how it was resolved.