The story I am about to recount is stipulated in irony. The paradox is that in 2020, in a progressive, industrialized and civilized society like ours, we still manage to find individuals stuck in the 1950s mentality of societal norms. My name is Noemi Dal Bianco. I am a 30 year old mother of two amazing human beings, Amelia and Derek. My 6 year old has aspirations of becoming a scientist-hairdresser-artist-astronaut, while her younger brother is too small to string together a sentence, but old enough to run around playing with pots and chasing our pet bunny, Mr. Jefferson. Sharing in this wonderful hustle and bustle is my husband, Jacopo, the man who encourages all my crazy ideas such as that of enrolling in university two months after the birth of our youngest son.
My typical day involves getting up in the morning, breastfeeding, preparing Amelia for school, breastfeeding again, swaddling my baby, working, breastfeeding... again, returning home, preparing lunch, breastfeeding once again, returning to work, breastfeeding (Derek loves to eat), coming back home, playing with the children, preparing dinner, breastfeeding, putting the children to bed, studying, and you guessed it - breastfeeding once more, studying right before bed to get some reprieve, knowing that Derek will wake up multiple times during the night to breastfeed. This routine certainly takes a toll, but my hyperactive disposition keeps me alert and energetic, and has propelled me through the first year of my degree program.
Applying to university was a difficult decision, but the potential rewards outweighed the risks. I took the leap into what I imagined to be the perfect place to free myself from the chains of prejudices and old stereotypes that had marked my childhood right from the start. Despite my motivation to be physically present, there was no way to be an attending student. So at the beginning of the academic year 2019/2020, I found myself juggling motherhood, business ownership of a bookshop, maintaining the home, and beginning a 3 year bachelor’s degree. My passion for supporting children led me to enroll in the course of education and training sciences , specifically focusing on early childhood. Considering where I live, the drive to the Rovigo campus was a roundtrip of one and a half hours - time that I struggled to find.
As the first semester concluded, I tirelessly prepared for exam season, spending most of January performing organizational acrobatics. All the exam sessions were manageable, however there was one particular incident that stuck out vividly. I had to be in presence to write an exam for a 12 CFU course, supervised by two professors whom I shall call Professor Mario and Professor Angela to protect their identities. I had prepared all the study materials and found a friend to attend to the library while I was away. I woke up early on the day of the exam, strapped Derek into the car seat and anxiously drove to the campus parking lot where I planned to meet another friend that had volunteered to stay with my 6 month old son while I wrote the exam. I arrived just before Professors Mario and Angela began calling names to enter the classroom. I kissed Derek on the forehead, in search of luck, and handed him over to my friend. I read all the questions before starting, assessed that I knew all but one, and formulated a game plan.
Studying as a nonattending student made me realize that often for those who take this path, the workload is double if not sometimes triple compared to our peers.
Right in the middle of the exam, the university secretary interrupted the session, asking me to step outside because my young son was desperate and would not stop crying despite all efforts to soothe him. Professor Angela permitted me to go tend to Derek, and followed me outside to ensure that exam regulations were respected. While I was breastfeeding a now calm Derek, Professor Mario joined us and unsuccessfully whispered into Angela’s ear, “La prova per me è da annullare,” meaning “For me, the exam has to be cancelled.” In his opinion, he continued, a student cannot leave the station while the exam is in progress, and therefore my exam was to be cancelled. Professor Angela, who also happens to be a mother, defended the right of my six month old son to receive care from his mother. She dismissed Mario’s claims as nonsense and insisted that she had not witnessed academic misconduct while she was standing outside with me. Mario appeared angered and uncomfortable with this response, but reluctantly accepted Angela’s decision.
This incident has made me wonder how, in 2020, it is possible for a professor, a father of a young child, and an intellectual shaping the minds of future generations, to be so unsympathetic about my situation. I ended up failing the exam that day, and had to redo it two weeks later with a more cooperative Derek sleeping through the entirety of the two hour exam, thus producing a decent score of 26. I will never know what occurred behind the scenes of the first exam, but I cling onto the excuse that I failed not because of an inconsiderate, rigid Professor Mario, but because of the one question that I was not able to answer; for it would be really disappointing if in a place of innovation, trust, inspiration, respect, fairness, tolerance and possibility, a mother who strives to have a better future were hindered by the narrow views of one professor. It is unfortunate that being a non-attending student and a mother remains difficult despite the advancements we have made as a society. It appears that the success of your course of study does not depend so much on the policies of the university, but rather on the humanity of the professor in front of you. Sometimes you find allies, otherwise you must battle your way up the steep hill - and it is inevitable, at some point, to wonder if the gain is really worth the struggle.
Written by Noemi Dal Bianco
Edited by Christine Nanteza
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