Student Alliance Helps Propel Wharton to Add Lactation Suite, Gender-Neutral Restrooms
Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett a few weeks ago sent out a briefly worded email with the scintillating subject line “Wharton Facilities Updates” to the Philadelphia business school’s community. Some may have been tempted to delete it without reading. In fact, the updates and the process that helped bring them about offer fascinating insight into efforts at the oldest business school in the country to foster a more welcoming and inclusive community.
Stating simply that the school will be creating a four-room lactation suite for nursing parents and adding gender neutral restrooms in Huntsman Hall—the main business school building—Garrett’s email gave little hint that the changes were the culmination of a multi-year campaign waged by diverse student groups working together as allies. Those groups included Mothers @ Wharton, a subset of Wharton Women in Business; Out for Business (O4B), Wharton’s LGBT MBA student club; Wharton Alliance, the LGBT club for undergraduate business students; Penn NonCis, a group serving transgender students at Penn, and Return on Equality (ROE), a student-led organization launched this year to improve the way students think about diversity at Wharton and beyond.
“Strategically we decided to all work together to present options for gender-neutral restrooms and a lactation room as one proposal,” explains Divinity Matovu, a rising second-year MBA student and president of Mothers @ Wharton, which seeks to provide a supportive community to moms pursuing an MBA.
The student groups thought that the proposal for gender-neutral restrooms—an issue contributing to current national controversy—might meet with administrative pushback. “If we advocated for the facilities separately, it might be easy to dismiss the restrooms,” Matovu says. “Through strategic collaboration, we could underscore the importance of both while working together as allies.”
Multiple Campaigns Combine as One
Wharton faculty first brought a request for a lactation room to Wharton’s dean and deputy dean as far back as 2013, according to Anita Henderson, senior director to the deputy dean. Though there are multiple lactation facilities on the larger Penn campus, having to leave the building and, in many cases, wait for a room elsewhere to be free presented a challenge for faculty and staff. “We felt it was a good idea, but space is kind of the final frontier,” Henderson says, and without an immediate solution for where such a room might be located, the idea languished.
Fast forward a bit to fall 2014, when then-incoming MBA student Gil Kaminski (MBA ’16) found herself facing the same challenges that had prompted the female faculty’s request when she arrived on campus having recently given birth to her second child. One of the founders of Mothers @ Wharton, Kaminski began campaigning for a lactation space on behalf of MBA students who were also nursing.
Meanwhile, the leadership of O4B was championing its own cause—safe spaces for gender non-conforming individuals to use the restroom. “There are people who are genderqueer or non-binary or anywhere on the spectrum of gender expression—we understand that these different identities exist and that not everyone feels comfortable using a single-sex restroom,” explains Jennifer Redmond, a former co-president of O4B. For this reason, campaigning for gender-neutral bathrooms within Huntsman was high on the group’s priority list.
Redmond herself surveyed the building and identified a space that she thought could serve the purpose. The space was quite large, and because Redmond knew that Mothers @ Wharton was also looking for a lactation space, she reached out to propose that they work together. “We just chatted and it seemed to make sense that if we were asking the administration to do one facility upgrade it would be more efficient to do two at once,” she says.
Timing of Students’ Request Was “Providential”
“The students came along at the absolute perfect time,” says Henderson. “The deans were thrilled because this is something they wanted to do.” Though the school did initially explore having the lactation area and gender-neutral restrooms located next to one another in the large space that had been identified, there were construction issues that prevented that, she says. Ultimately they are separate needs and deserve separate resources anyway, she adds.
The lactation suite will be located on the first floor of Huntsman Hall, at the end of the main corridor just past the undergraduate suite and to the right of the Wharton timeline. It will feature four private rooms with locking doors, running water, comfortable chairs and hospital-grade breast pumps for lactating women to use, Henderson says. Renovations are scheduled to take place over the summer, with the lactation suite expected to be ready for use at the start of the fall semester, she adds. “I know the deans will put in whatever they need to put in to make this a good space for the women,” she says, though she does not know the project’s allocated budget.
“Literally, they could have just taken a room, thrown a chair in there and put a lock on the door, but they went above and beyond, which is great,” Matovu says. The administration does not have statistics on the number of MBA students who are also nursing parents, but Matovu—who also manages the popular blog MBA Mama—estimates that there could be around 10. In fact, one member of the Class of 2016 gave birth last week, the day before graduation, she notes. “It just goes to show that women are having babies in b-school, and it’s not going to stop happening,” she adds.
Henderson notes that the administration was pleased to be able to establish a suite rather than just a single room, since it will serve not only students but also faculty and staff, as well as visitors who come to campus for conferences and other events. The deputy dean, who handles the recruitment of faculty, expects the number of female faculty to only grow over time, Henderson says, which makes a larger space make even more sense. “The students coming along just when they did seeking a lactation room, that was just providential,” she says.