Human Interest

MIT professor goes viral after he puts crib in his lab for student’s baby

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A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has gone viral for an act of kindness he bestowed on one of his students and her daughter.

Student Karen Cunningham knew it would be a balancing act to be a parenting biology graduate student, but then the COVID-19 pandemic ruined the plans she had in place. She and her husband Steve needed to figure out how to manage their jobs and studies while also caring for their baby girl Katie who was born in July 2020.

According to The Washington Post, the couple lived in student housing and there was an on-campus daycare center, however, it was shut down because of the pandemic. While her husband could teach his middle-school class online and care for Katie when Karen went to the biology lab, there were times he needed to attend meetings while Karen was supposed to be at school.

“It really was a little stressful to have the world shut down in the middle of our pregnancy, then give birth knowing we were going on this big adventure without all of the infrastructure we needed,” said Karen.

That’s when her biology lab professor Troy Littleton stepped in.

“When we have new fathers or mothers in the lab, we usually have a baby shower and everyone pitches in on a gift,” he explained. “We couldn’t have a shower for Karen due to the pandemic, but we all agreed that a portable crib would be the perfect gift.”

The portable crib would be placed in the lab so that Katie could spend time there when there was no one available to stay with her at home. With all the biology students in the lab vaccinated, Katie was able to come to her crib to sleep or play while Karen worked.

“Child care in any profession is a challenge, but in science, it can even be more challenging,” said Littleton. “Experiments don’t always fit a 9-to-5 schedule. It just made sense for Karen to bring Katie in.”

But when Littleton shared a picture of the crib on Twitter, the unexpected happened. His act of kindness went viral.

“My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab — a travel crib to go in my office so my graduate student can bring her 9-month old little girl to work when necessary and I get to play with her while her mom gets some work done,” he wrote. “Win-win!!”

Within three days, the tweet had millions of views.

“I’ve posted probably 70 tweets in my entire life,” said Littleton. “I put this one out on Friday, and when I came back on Monday, it had 9 million views. I was really glad that it sparked a discussion about how to create more family-friendly working environments.”

Twitter users loved what Littleton had done, calling him a “feminist” and saying, “This is how equality happens.” Others simply thanked him.

Karen and Steve are extremely grateful for Littleton’s support. “What Troy has done is like a little warm spot in a mess of unaffordable child care and inadequate parental leave in our country,” she said. “I can set Katie down for a bit and talk to her while I do a few things, and that means a lot.”

Our abortion-accepting society continues to tell women that they need abortion in order to be equal to men and free from oppression. In fact, that sentiment is contained in Senator Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) new pro-abortion Women’s Health Protection Act.

Not having access to abortion, states the Act, harms “the basic autonomy, dignity, equality, and ability of women to participate in the social and economic life of the Nation.” But women don’t need to kill their babies in order to earn a degree or establish their careers. Balance is possible when the right supports are in place. For Karen, that knowledge was imparted to her as a child.

“My parents are both university chemists, so my sister and I always had an example of how it was possible to balance a career with having children,” she explained.

However, she noted that today it seems to be different. “I didn’t know anyone who’d had a baby in grad school. Having to make that choice is driving a lot of women out of science. I honestly felt like I was bushwhacking, but I really wanted a child,” she said. She and her husband believe more needs to be done to help pregnant and parenting students.

“The barriers against having babies early in a career in academia contributes to the underrepresentation of women in positions of leadership in science, and we really need to fix that as a community,” he said. “If we lose the women from science, we’re losing half of our best scientists.”

Littleton noted that Katie is a pleasure to have at school. He said none of the other students are “disturbed if she cries a bit” and they all like to spend time with her. “Having a baby around is a good thing,” he said.

Now the rest of society — and the current administration — need to catch up to Littleton’s way of thinking. Babies don’t stop women from accomplishing their goals when they are given the proper support systems. No mother should ever feel forced to choose between her baby and her ambitions.

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