The Daily Gamecock

'I didn’t have enough leave to start a family': USC faculty and staff rally for paid parental leave

Representative Beth Bernstein (sponsor of H.3560) and Ashley Lidow (WREN) speak to UofSC employees gathered on the State House grounds in support of parental leave legislation.
Representative Beth Bernstein (sponsor of H.3560) and Ashley Lidow (WREN) speak to UofSC employees gathered on the State House grounds in support of parental leave legislation.

USC faculty and staff have come together in an effort to advocate for a bill that would provide paid parental leave at the university.

Bill S.11, also known as the family leave bill, proposes that state employees receive six weeks of paid leave after “the birth of a newborn biological child to an eligible state employee or after a co-parent’s birth of a newborn child or fostering a child in state custody."

This would mark a change from current USC policies which offer full-time employees who have worked at USC for at least a year 12 work weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a child.

The Provost's Advisory Committee on Women's Initiatives decided to take action in the form of a walk to the State House on March 15in support of bill H.3560. This bill proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for state employees, but it has been reduced and changed into bill S.11 which offers the aforementioned six weeks of paid leave.

Participating faculty and staff gathered at the State House as well as the Horseshoe to advocate for the bill.

“We gathered some of the story contributors to speak to their story verbally in front of the Gamecock community. And Catherine (Flowers) and I shared our stories, and then walked over to the State House grounds,” Sarah Barnett, an academic advisor at the USC Honors College, said.

Some USC employees have been directly affected by this policy, saying returning to work too soon after giving birth took a toll on their mental health.

“I still felt pressured to come back at around 10 weeks and because of that ended up, I think, really setting myself back with a lot of mental health challenges that I may not have faced if I’d had the time that I needed to really recover, not just physically, but mentally, from giving birth,” protest organizer and Assistant Director for Campus Partnerships in University 101 programs Catherine Flowers said.

This policy also applies to those adopting a child. Barnett recently adopted a 16 year old, but had been putting off the adoption until she accumulated enough leave to properly welcome her child.

“I was non-parenting because I didn’t have enough leave to start a family,” Barnett said, "I'm not going to start a family and have to come back in two weeks,".

Despite support for S.11, some faculty believe the six weeks being offered is not enough.

"I think that there should be some built-in flexibility for people that need additional time and creative ways to let them work in a way that would fulfill some of the duties and still be able to take extra time at home as well," women and gender studies professor Kathryn Luchok said.

The bill passed unanimously in the State Senate and has been read in the House. Meanwhile, faculty and staff look forward to the future of parental leave in South Carolina.

“One thing that I truly hope that we start seeing, not just as a university but as a country as a whole, is that we can really start looking at this paid parental leave as a public good," Flowers said.