A woman has been told she cannot breastfeed her baby on campus at one of the world’s most prestigious arts schools.
Jasmijn Toffano, a student at Central Saint Martins, was initially led to believe there would be no problem bringing her newborn daughter to classes, but said the college reversed that days before she was due to start her course, leaving her struggling to find childcare and to fulfil her course obligations.
Now she is campaigning to convince every university in the UK to provide spaces where parents can care for their children on or near campus.
“What I would like to see in the future is that students who have children do not have to drop out of university because of the lack of support … I believe we can make a change, and it’s not impossible,” she said.
Toffano, 29, and her husband, Riccardo Mangiapelo, are in discussions with the college, whose alumni include Stella McCartney, Louise Wilson, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen and which is part of University of the Arts London (UAL). All parties have indicated a willingness to work together to find a reasonable solution.
The couple have suggested that, over the longer term, higher educational institutions are supported to either provide on-campus nursery space or work with established local nurseries to provide affordable childcare for students and staff: “This should be a standard for all universities and should be supported by the government to help universities and students and staff cover the costs.”
The problem arose shortly before Toffano was due to return to her graphic communication design classes this academic year. According to the Times, she told staff in January that she was pregnant, revisited the matter with them in the summer and was under the impression there would be no problem with her plan to breastfeed her now two-month-old daughter Chloe on campus.
But that message changed two days before she was due to return. As a short-term solution while Toffano’s husband was on paternity leave, he travelled with her and spent the day in a cafe with the baby, with Toffano breastfeeding between lectures.
Now, however, the couple would need to find a nanny to care for Chloe until she is old enough to take up her nursery place; an arrangement Toffano has said would force her to abandon her plan to breastfeed.
UAL decided that to routinely have a child on campus would contravene its policy. The university said: “Our campuses are filled with specialist equipment and machinery which create a potentially dangerous environment for children and babies. Currently, our health and safety policy and insurances do not allow infants or children on campus except for short exceptional visits. This means that the university isn’t able to facilitate access for children and babies on a regular basis as we cannot guarantee their safety.
“We have apologised to Ms Toffano for the conflicting information she received in the first instance and the time it took for her to gain clarity on the matter. This shouldn’t have happened and we are sorry for the distress this has caused. We recognise there is more that we can do to provide better facilities for caregivers and this is something that we are actively engaged in improving. UAL will be reviewing its current policies in light of this case.
“We have offered Ms Toffano access to a private room and fridge to allow her to express milk and we will work with her to ensure it is suitable for her needs. Our priority is to ensure Ms Toffano can complete her course and we are in touch with her to discuss what adjustments can be made to support her.”