Thursday, March 08, 2007

Young Moms Look for Support in Sorority Experience

Young Mothers Find Sorority Sisterhood

Magic Markers, bubble wands and jungle-animal stickers aren't often found in the average college student's backpack.

For the women of Mu Tau Rho, a new sorority for student-mothers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, those toys are every bit as vital as laptop computers and e-mail accounts.

"I wanted to be in a sorority so bad," said Danielle Cooney, a 22-year-old sophomore math major. "Then I had my son. I didn't have a baby sitter to do all that."

Cooney, whose son Jordan is 3, soon realized that other women on the Missouri-St. Louis campus - a commuter school where the average student age is 27 - sought those bonds of sisterhood while also struggling to raise and provide for their children.

Mu Tau Rho stands for "Mothers Together in Parenting," members said. The uppercase Greek letter "rho" is identical to the English capital "P.

"Traditional sororities held little appeal for women such as Jessica Overstreet, 26, a recent graduate and mother of a 5-year-old boy."I did all my partying before," she said. "Now I've got birthday parties."

In its first year on campus, Mu Tau Rho has attracted a dozen women, including three who don't have children but joined for the camaraderie or to gain child-rearing tips. All but one of the members with children are single parents. Between school, work and child care, sorority members usually meet on Saturday, the only available day.

As the number of nontraditional college students grows at campuses nationwide, universities are paying more attention to this growing demographic.

Many large state universities, including the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offer child-care to student-parents, though the waiting lists are often long. The University of Maryland-College Park has diaper-changing stations in campus bathrooms, and the University of California-Berkeley has an office and staffer dedicated to the needs of student-parents.
But among student groups, social groups specifically for parents remain rare.

One of the few sororities aside from Mu Tau Rho catering to student mothers is Mu Omicron Mu (whose initials spell "MOM") at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

That chapter, formed in 2005, was developed as much out of financial necessity as an alternative for students with adult responsibilities, said sorority president Tiffanie Stuckey, a 25-year-old senior and single mother of a 6-year-old daughter.
Stuckey hoped to pledge another sorority but quickly realized she couldn't afford the membership dues."They wanted $300 up front," she said. "I didn't have that kind of money. I had to buy diapers."

In St. Louis, Mu Tau Rho members and their backers on campus say the mutual support is pivotal."Being a single parent is a tremendous amount of stress," said Lori Tagger, a university psychologist and the group's adviser. "They've got so many irons in the fire - kids and school and jobs - and trying to have a personal life. This is a great opportunity for support."

Overstreet, an accountant for a local car dealer, said the sorority helps her balance the competing demands of learner and parent - roles that don't always easily mesh."I'm the only one of all my friends who went to school and got a degree," she said. "I feel more comfortable (in the sorority) because they're in my shoes."
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