My second class of the day was up on the floor of the building that housed the English department. A warm room with a row of windows meant that I could take off my coat and look outside. Sitting for any length of time often blanketed me in heaviness, though. It felt similar to the sensation of falling asleep after crawling into bed, feeling the weight of my body sink into the cushion below.
I hated it when I got this tired. In the fall semester the previous year, I had an American literature class first thing in the morning that I could rarely stay awake for. In my defense, I started my day that semester at 5 in the morning, when I left my daughter, Emilia, in the care of my roommate before I drove to the gymnasium where she went to preschool to clean it for two and a half hours, went home to get her ready, then dropped her off and immediately went to my first class.
Emilia was now in public kindergarten, so I no longer had the gym to clean in exchange for her tuition, but there still wasn’t enough time to carve out an adequate amount of paid work. Cleaning houses takes time. My earned wages were barely $100 a week, and they went straight toward what food stamps didn’t cover — toilet paper, printer paper, books, clothes, soap, fuel and tampons. Night was my only time to do schoolwork at home, and I stayed up late to finish it after I had cleaned someone’s house, picked up my kid from school, cleaned my own place and made whatever dinner I could.
My experience as a single parent and full-time college student was not uncommon. “Single parents constitute the majority of parenting students, and they are often at a distinct disadvantage,” noted a report released in May 2020 written by Sara Goldrick-Rab, Carrie R. Welton and Vanessa Coca. More than one-fifth of college students are parents, and about one-tenth are single mothers.
In August 2023, the Temple University Hope Center for College, Community and Justice reported an even more staggering statistic: 23 percent of undergraduate students and 12 percent of graduate students face food insecurity, which adds up to more than four million students. Eight percent of undergraduate and 5 percent of graduate students, or 1.5 million, reported themselves as homeless. While I forced myself to focus on my studies, I battled exhaustion, hunger and interruptions due to lack of child care. On my days off from school, I cleaned houses while my daughter was in kindergarten and averaged 10 to 15 hours a week.