As part of creating a better working and learning environment for staff with families, SFU felt that a safe, inclusive, welcoming space for breastfeeding/chestfeeding and other feeding-related activities (i.e. pumping, preparing formula etc.) would benefit the entire community.
According to the BC Human Rights Commission, a BC employer has a duty to accommodate lactating employees. Currently, SFU appears to be meeting this obligation only minimally. The good news, however, is that the University is working to improve its performance in this area (more on this below).
Why Are these Spaces Needed?
One perspective is that private offices or bathrooms can be used as spaces where people can breastfeed. This, however, doesn't ensure privacy or a sanitary environment for those who must feed their child in an office designed and dedicated for work or similar functions.
If the University provided dedicated spaces for breastfeeding/chestfeeding, this would exemplify SFU's robust support for its employees with young families and would acknowledge that statistically, more university students are now female. As you may expect, SFU parents do talk about such issues and negative talk about a lack of breastfeeding/chestfeeding spaces can do reputational harm.
The Must-haves for these Spaces
An ideal chestfeeding/breastfeeding space would have, at minimum, a space that's not gendered and that's not just part of a washroom. The room must include armchairs (to prop up the baby), privacy, a table, a water source, an electrical outlet, tissues and paper towels. A changing table would be a plus, but there should be a sanitary way to dispose of diapers.
Things like dimmable lighting, cup holders for bottles, a clock, phone charging, a sink, fridge and a labelling station would be very helpful for parents, too.
The Current Situation at SFU
The current situation for breastfeeding/chestfeeding spaces at SFU is a difficult one at best. Some staff and students have been using bathrooms, lunchrooms and offices to feed their children. Although we imagine a mother with their baby when we think of these spaces, feeding children affects parents of all genders who use a variety of ways to feed their children(breastfeeding/chestfeeding, pumping, formula, pre-made bottles, etc.)
Currently, the Vancouver campus has a small space in Harbour Centre. Since the sign there indicates that it is for female-identifying people, other genders may feel uncomfortable using it to chestfeed or bottle-feed their child. Burnaby and Surrey campuses don't have dedicated spaces for breastfeeding/chestfeeding for staff. The Women's Centre at Burnaby campus has an area that can be used for feeding, but it's not a dedicated breastfeeding space, and the location limits its usage. While this space is funded by students for students, the Women's Centre won't turn away community members who may need a space, if a parent can't find one on the SFU Burnaby Campus.
Moving Towards Positive Change
SFU has set up a working group to address these issues. The task of this group includes planning, speaking to groups on campus with a focus on inclusivity and intersectionality and coming up with a plan for spaces where parents can feed their children.
The working group will be meeting with stakeholders from the University community to consult moving forward with this project.
The working group also understands that there will be campus-specific and building-specific needs. The Vancouver campus facilities' team has researched this and is motivated to find appropriate spaces. The facilities team at Surrey may have identified space that can be converted into an appropriate breastfeeding/chestfeeding area, and there may be a small but viable space available at Burnaby. In the interim, the SFU Daycare Society at Burnaby has limited space for parents to feed their children.
There have already been productive discussions with the Human Rights Office, the Wellness and Recovery Office, Ancillary Services, the Office of the VPSI and the EDI office at SFU. There have been various conversations with Faculty Relations and Human Resources, but the working group would also like to hear from you.
If you would like to provide more information on the need for breastfeeding/chestfeeding spaces or have ways to support this project, please contact Laya Behbahani at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "SFU breastfeeding/chestfeeding project."