First Nations mom threatened with expulsion after social work program says babies and books don’t mix - APTN NewsAPTN News

First Nations mom threatened with expulsion after social work program says babies and books don’t mix

Angel Moore
A mother from Kingsclear First Nation in New Brunswick has filed a human rights complaint against St. Thomas University for discrimination after the school told her not to bring her infant to class.

Keyaira Gruben was pregnant when she started the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work Program (MMBSW) – a program designed for Indigenous students.

Her daughter was born in October 2017.

She did not think bringing her newborn to class would be a problem but administrators of the social work program started receiving complaints from the students.

“My daughter is not a distraction and I have every right to bring my baby to class,” said Gruben.

Gruben first heard about the complaints last January.

She was asked to put her child in day care, but her daughter would not be old enough until October and she said she had no choice but to bring her to class.

“The university website says, ‘a culturally-relevant curriculum that reflects First Nation holistic experiences,’ so I thought babies would be welcomed.

“I mean there were two pregnant women and a new mom in the class in the first year, they knew we would be breastfeeding,” said Gruben.

Jeffrey Carleton, the associate vice-president of communications told APTN News in a telephone interview that the complaints were investigated by the program’s Steering Committee.

“It was determined that is was not a proper working environment and the other students were concerned about the learning environment, it was proving to be a distraction due to noise and activity,” said Carleton.

Gruben said she received an email from the department’s steering committee last January.

It said the program needed to develop a policy to determine how much time infants can be in the classroom, child care outside the classroom, and accommodation for nursing mothers in and outside the classroom.

Gruben is not the only one who has had this problem.

Tracey Morrison’s son was six weeks old when she started the same class in September 2017.

Morrisson lives in Listuguj First Nation and had to leave her family at home to attend the program.

“I had to bring my baby, I was breastfeeding, and he was too young to be away from me,” she told APTN News.

The university said tried to make accommodations, but the issue has not been resolved

Early this month, Gruben received an email from Marilyn Dupre, the director of social work:

“… you will not be able to bring your child into classes next week during periods of instruction or small group exercises. If you choose not to comply with this direction, the MMBSW Steering Committee may recommend that you be withdrawn from the MMBSW Program.”

The program’s website says among other things “…an opportunity to receive social work education within a flexible and culturally relevant framework.”

The department started receiving complaints from students and instructors that the three infants in the classroom were a distraction within the first fall term of classes.

“At the beginning it was no problem at all to bring the baby. We were all so excited to be in the program. It took a lot of preparation to get accepted into the program. It is a good program,” said Morrison.

Sandra Germain has been the program coordinator for the last 14 years.

“The majority of the people on the steering committee are First Nations. We do everything we can to accommodate all the students, they come to listen and learn.

There was a lot of distraction for an intense week. We have gone above and beyond accommodating others in the class.”

St. Thomas University had no policy in place. Complaints in the past were resolved within the classroom between the instructors and the students.

Until now.

Student Christina Taylor of Esgenoopetipj First Nation was also pregnant when she started the program. Her daughter was born in the middle of September 2017.

“I got permission from my instructor to bring my baby to the classroom, but then I was asked about childcare. I was breastfeeding, it caught me off guard. I felt like I was a bother,” said Taylor.

The mothers were given until April 13, 2018 to find child care.

The committee also asked that moms take their babies outside the classroom as soon as the babies start to fuss, need changing or any other care.

“We created an additional space where it would allow a place for the mothers to breastfeed, care for their children and comfort them outside the classroom. And we encouraged the mothers to bring child care providers to stay in the room while the mothers were able to attend the class,” said Carleton.

The three moms felt segregated.

“It was unsettling. I felt coerced into this room, out of sight, out of mind, not inclusive, I felt bullied,” said Gruben.

Taylor said the whole situation was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting and trying to obtain good grades and prepare for our profession.

“In the room, we were not able to properly engage. We didn’t think it was fair and it didn’t match with teachings of decolonization and we couldn’t implement decolonization within our own classroom. It could have been handled better,” said Taylor.

Fellow student, Chris Wysote of Listuguj First Nation wrote a letter supporting the mothers. He said as an Indigenous man and father he could not stand by while the mothers were intimidated.

“My wife went through this program with our daughter always there. At the beginning of our class, the babies were welcomed, so we didn’t understand why this all changed,” said Wysote.

He believed that Indigenous values would be part of and respected in the program. He realized that was not the case.

“The situation should have been solved by culturally based conflict resolution. We asked for a talking circle, with Elders. We were refused. We felt hopeless and lost,” said Wysote.

Germain said previous talking circles were not helpful and the decision was made by the steering committee.

Gruben said the program was teaching Indigenous values but not putting them into practice.

“They were not listening to Indigenous voices, they dehumanized my identity and shut out my voice. We are learning Indigenous ways, but it is colonialized.”

Gruben reached out to her community for support.

Chief Gabriel Atwin of Kingsclear First Nation wrote in a letter to the president of St. Thomas University, dated May 7, 2018.

“By excluding Keyaira and her daughter, not only does this contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but this makes the program complacent and accepting of colonial mandates and patriarchal ideologies.”

The Indigenous Women’s Association of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq Territories also wrote, on November 8, 2018,

“The resurgence of our culture and ceremonial way of life is paramount in educational institutions, given all the truth and reconciliation efforts made to date. This issue speaks to the lack of reconciliation efforts made by STU.”

Elder in residence at the University of New Brunswick, Imelda Perley said traditions supports mothers and children are medicine.

“We should be concerned about the well-being of mothers, respect culture, values and encouraging traditional customs. Academia should not have a public mask and a private mask.”

Gruben said the baby policy is to oppress.

“Emotionally crushed my spirit many times. I want the baby policy changed so babies are accepted, and I am meeting with other Indigenous groups to raise awareness,” she said.



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32 Responses to “First Nations mom threatened with expulsion after social work program says babies and books don’t mix”

    Patti Doyle-Bedwell November 22, 2018 at 4:42 pm #

    When I was in law school, a classmate (non Native) had a baby in third year. The school bent over backwards to accommodate her, she brought the baby to class every day. Yet STU will not accommodate a young, Indigenous mom? Really? I am sure there are ways to accommodate her. Has anyone tried to get daycare for a baby under 18 months old?? IMPOSSIBLE and EXPENSIVE.

    Heather Johnston November 21, 2018 at 11:06 pm #

    Stop with the Colonial barriers. We are told to do better, make something of ourselves, be proud, participate in your cultural ways and yet we are stopped. Screw that, take your baby to work, be proud, do what you need to do to make a better life for yourself and your child. When I went to school, there were children who were in classes. Not one complaint. We were for the most part a fully indigenous class. It was awesome and an amazing experience. We walked the talk!

    Roger November 21, 2018 at 5:15 pm #

    For one, don’t be inconsiderate. There people in this class that have paid a lot of money in tuition to be there. They want to listen to the teacher. Not be distracted by a child. Quit pushing these politically correct issues on everyone. I have had enough of this BS.

    Amy Many Guns November 19, 2018 at 8:53 am #

    I agree! Bring it on! You want us to get an education and work? Then work with us so we can do that!!!

    Carla Conrod November 18, 2018 at 9:53 pm #

    people do bring their babies to work…I have known of a few over the past thirty years and some in big jobs

    Deanna November 18, 2018 at 5:11 pm #

    News flash!!!
    The most concerning is not the universities policy of child minding being available but the actions and curriculum not being accommodating within SOCIAL WORK dealing with such advocacy for child and their rights to care. This as an example should be given to all students as an assignment. What would the solutions be?.. create a better tomorrow by practicing a better today!.

    Robert November 18, 2018 at 1:09 am #

    I attend a First Nations University in Saskatchewan and we have children in our classes and I can tell u first hand that it is of no distraction whatsoever!! The mothers or students of the children are very respectful of the situation also. I am taking a social work degree also and as it should be we are taught about culture along with smudging and prayers.

    Shawn November 17, 2018 at 11:09 pm #

    This is a complex issue, it really comes down to what values are more important. The university should have child care on campus, this would alleviate the problem to a degree. The mothers should consider the objective reality of a crying baby in a classroom and how this may hinder other students ability to concentrate on the topics at hand.

    When I went to college and university I had to find a daycare for my daughter, this usually added 1-2 hours of commuting everyday. While I understand the concern of these mothers, they must realize that expecting a traditionally colonial institution to bend over backwards for them is unlikely. I also think this sense of entitlement from the mothers is a result of left-wing ideologies, it’s time to face the facts and utilize child care options.

      Sandra November 18, 2018 at 6:42 pm #

      This is so true, I put my son in daycare, even while I was breast feeding. I lucked out because I could go next door and breast feed. They cannot expect a baby to be quite and sit still while they learn or others who are taking time away from their own children to attend this school. It’s about what’s right for everyone who is taking the program to be comfortable. Everyone had rights to be able to concentrate on their programming, without distractions. If the school posted “ you may have distractions in this course like crying babies or mothers changing babies”. Then that would have been an opportunity for people to opt out of taking the course at this setting. I’m not saying they are wrong, but babies do get older and are more demanding as they get older. I would have loved to have breast fed in class but not at the expense of others people education.

      Rando November 21, 2018 at 6:40 pm #

      Well said.

    Jessica November 17, 2018 at 8:41 pm #

    Pregnancy and motherhood should not but a barrier to education. I support mothers in the classroom and believe Keyaira was treated arbitrarily. How embarrassing for St. Thomas University.

    Noeline Villebrun November 17, 2018 at 8:27 pm #

    1980 I went to university of London Ontario and took my baby to classes. Not all. I made sure she was feed bathed and by time I walked to class she was sound asleep. Other days I stayed home as long as I had assignments handed in. I was given a typewriter to use for assignments. Why can this not continue. After all we are too support our woman!

    Juliet Henderson November 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

    How terrible for these moms and such a loss for the other students to learn what inclusive support looks like up close. Imagine the work it takes to prepare for entrance to this programme, attend classes, do all the homework assignments as well as exams and practicums—all the while raising a baby and perhaps older children too. All mothers know what that means (i.e. up in the night, feeding, changing, comforting, teaching, and living for everyone else 24/7). These graduates will never know how to apply any academic knowledge to reality rendering the program useless… if not harmful. Yes, it might be hard to figure out how to balance everything in the classroom, but if it’s a good thing that those moms are there (and it is!) then when something goes wrong you know the problem is with the classroom or the programme— and not the moms or their babies. Why didn’t they let the Elders hear what was going on and offer the wisdom of a better way? There is something very wrong with this programme at the core, and it needs to be fixed at the core before any students will truly benefit from it. Elders must be invited to lead the core change.

    Michelle November 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm #

    Just curious what their plans are when they finish school and start working. Are they planning to take the kids to work with them? That would not be acceptable. So why is it acceptable to bring them into class? The school actually went above and beyond to give them a dedicated room to provide care to fussing babies and even let the babies in the room as long as they are quiet. What more can you ask for? Its absurd to expect other students , some of whom have their own academic learning difficulties to try to concentrate on school with a crying baby right in the class. Get a nanny or a friend or family to look after the baby while in class and bring them in to feed the baby. Because reality is… once you start working bringing baby to work is not an option either. Or you can raise your baby then go to school… there are many options if you consider everyone, not just yourself.

      Juliet November 17, 2018 at 7:28 pm #

      I don’t think your response reflects progress or even the emerging reality today. Women are starting to go into parliament and boardrooms with nursing babies now. We need to change the environment. We are telling women “you must nurse and comfort your babies,” but then exclude them from participating in life during this time. This triggers a depression due to isolation. New moms are often isolated as it is, we don’t need to do it more. Yes, there are students with more complex learning
      needs, but to use that as a reason to exclude others—that won’t fly with them as they know the ugliness of exclusion all too well. And of all professions — social workers will very likely spend part of their careers working on rooms with crying babies. In these situations they’ll be far better prepared coming from inclusive classrooms.

      Eden November 17, 2018 at 9:53 pm #

      The program is supposedly being taught within a Native framework, so its hypocritical not to walk the talk. Also, not being able to bring a young child to school is yet another barrier for Indigenous women when trying to get an education. It’s also another example of forced assimilation.

      Cathie November 18, 2018 at 8:24 pm #

      When they are out working they will have a 12 to 18 month maternity leave by which time their babies would be old enough for day care . Also by then presumably they will have an income to pay for day care. Going to school is not the same thing.

      Cornelia November 19, 2018 at 4:12 am #

      I’m pretty sure when they are done shool that they would have a full time job and would be qualify maternity leave. The mother would be able to live better with income coming in. Being a mother with a young child is hard. Having big dreams then taking care of a baby. I was a single mother going to school and cape breton university were the best professors who understood.

      Keith November 19, 2018 at 8:55 pm #

      Wow, you didn’t just take a step back, you’re literally walking back the way we came from.

      Since when are “babies” just things you can pass off and around to whomever, wherever, whenever? Do you even care about the fact that THEY, the babies, are the next professors and social workers? You’re teaching them how to exclude and hate at the earliest of stages. Mothers and their children are life itself and you want them out of sight? Not bothering the poor, helpless students who have “trouble concentrating”. No adults are far more important than some stinky little squishy thing. It’s not like the adults can just find a way to deal with the “distraction”.

      My sarcasm is justified. You’re acting heartless. Because what’s absurd is that you’re putting more value into whiny adults complaining about a helpless newborn needing its mother.

      Or do you assume formula is actually good for babies? Just pump the new generation full of more synthetic garbage rather than the natural real milk from their mothers which provides so many more benefits and creates more attentive, healthier people. Presumably, maybe even less whiny about “distractions” in classes.

      Ever think these “students” could just grow up and get over themselves? Or is that too much to ask? Since STU apparently went “above and beyond”…yeah, above and beyond to discriminate and exclude.

      We will end this injustice that’s been going on for 600 years.

      “I have trouble learning so the class needs to be quiet and to MY liking so “I” can learn. If you can’t be quiet for me, then i don’t want your baby here.”

      Congratulations Saint Thomas University, you’ve managed to dig your own hole even deeper once again. And Michelle is helping you.

    Betty November 17, 2018 at 5:49 pm #

    I feel like the university needs to provide options and assistance with their childcare on campus.
    I also feel as though the complaintants are kind of in the right and that’s it’s pretty inconsiderate to other students to bring a baby to class. I’m currently attending post-secondary and have a two-year old, and it’s hard enough in lectures and labs without a crying baby.

      Keith November 19, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

      This isn’t highschool, it’s adult school. Adults have more important things to deal with than “oh no this babies crying makes it hard for me to learn”. This is absolutely childish of everyone. If you’re in University and you waste your time focusing on stuff like that, it’s because you’re looking for something to blame your short-comings on. “Oh well it’s not my fault, i couldn’t concentrate in class cuz of that baby. That’s why i couldnt get my homework done. It just bothered me too much”.

      This program is an absolute abomination if it can so easily abandon its own concepts and teachings. Saint Thomas University is a disgrace to our province and country. And everyone complaining is so un-Canadian. You obviously didn’t learn a thing in school if a baby is all it takes to distract you from a course you’re paying money for. A baby’s the last thing id be worried about in class. Because I actually care about learning. I WANT to learn. So I don’t let “noises” bother me or Highschool would have been impossible

      How many people sat in a perfectly quiet class in highschool without anyone ever causing disruptions way worse than a fussy baby?

    Paul Knox November 17, 2018 at 5:31 pm #

    Interested to know whether the “complainers were also Indigenous social work students.

      Treena Metallic November 17, 2018 at 9:21 pm #

      I understand the program is for Indigenous (primarily Mi’gmaq and Malisset) people, so I’m assuming the people expressing concern are Indigenous.

        Keith November 19, 2018 at 9:07 pm #

        Assumptions are almost always wrong because they’re based off ridiculous logic like: “it’s designed for the indigenous so everyone in the class must be indigenous”

    Maggie November 17, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

    Teaching culturally relevant indigenous paradigms means teaching holistic inclusive health forms in a social interactive environment that encompasses and embraces familial relationships including the most fundamental of mother/ child relationship. Shame on the social work program for failing to recognize and honour this relationship!

    Judoth Aro November 17, 2018 at 5:02 pm #

    This program was designed for Indigenous Students… so I take it that the other students attending these classes were Indigenous Students and that those Indigenous Students were the ones complaining about being distracted by the presents of young child.. while they were trying to focus and concentrate on their studies.. RESPECT is a two way street.. I hope this problem was resolved to address and accommodate ALL the Students involved.

    Genine Paul-Dimitracopoulos November 17, 2018 at 4:23 pm #

    I think they really need to re-evaluate their decision especially within the MMBSW program needs to be more open and accepting of our cultural norms and practices.
    This is a form of lateral violence and needs to stop

    Ken paul November 17, 2018 at 4:18 pm #

    I Agree with the Mothers!
    I feel the Institution should make arrangements to support the Moms and Children.
    As First Nation Communities we need Aboriginals Trained in our Ways.
    To be inclusive!
    Other than that we are still taking the Indian out of the Indian!
    Shame on STU!
    So sad to read that these issues are still going on, Strong!
    Let the Elders Speak!
    Use their Knowledge to diffuse this.

    Ken Paul

      Treena November 17, 2018 at 9:23 pm #

      They did though..e.g…they provided a nearby space for parents to bring their children to when they needed their mom’s attention or care.

    Jacquie November 17, 2018 at 4:17 pm #

    I think that those “complainers” need to find a school that doesn’t attest to “cultural relevan[ce]” or isn’t designed for Indigenous students.

    Go to a western school

    Go to a colonial school

    Cheryl Blood November 17, 2018 at 3:31 pm #

    Good for you for standing up for yourself and your baby I experienced this whole colonial mindset in raising my four children and going to school for my undergrad and have a social work background. What are they going to do apprehend your child till you are done your education? This was a threat I also endured in University in Alberta someone made a complaint against me and I had to deal with that issue as well while attending University. You go girl break through those cement walls of Colonization they need to be powdered down. And this is so Ironic to they are training to become Social Workers and they cannot control a baby now; what are they going to do in the profession lock them out of sight out of mind? You are damn right Babies are Powerful. So you little Baby Social Workers and Acadameia better grow up if you want to work with Babies in the real world.

      Amy November 19, 2018 at 8:49 am #

      I agree! Bring it on! You want us to get an education and work? Then work with us so we can go that!!!