The Dirt

The Dirt

Davis Parent University Creates a ‘Village’

They say it takes a village to raise a child, something that the volunteers at Davis Parent University (DPU)—a free lecture series devoted to pooling resources for and educating parents, teachers, and other caretakers—are trying to create. In fact, many are parents themselves who found the organization when they sought out a ‘village’ to help them raise their own children.

And it’s precisely that philosophy of shared responsibility which encourages parents like Co-Chairs Abby Koenig and Jenny Canfield to volunteer. Koenig first started attending lectures herself in order to find out how she could raise her children to be kinder and more empathetic. “I first got involved as an audience member,” she says, “because, let me tell you, parenting is not an easy gig!”

She found the lectures so eye- and heart-opening that when a representative position opened up at her child’s school, she joined the committee and has been co-chair since 2016.

Canfield tells a similar story: “I first became excited about DPU when I moved to Davis in 2012,” she explains. “My daughter was a Davis Parent Nursery School student. Part of our role as parents at the school was to attend parent education courses.”

And attend she did. In fact, she found the first lecture she visited—Dr. Madeline Levine’s 2013 lecture on balanced parenting—so enthralling that she “tried not to miss a lecture from that moment on.” Now, she holds the representative position for Willett Elementary School.

Rachel Pepper

This month, DPU will be hosting Rachel Pepper, a marriage and family therapist and award-winning author of The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Nonbinary Children. And if you browse the DPU roster, you’ll find lectures on everything from raising anti-racist kids to parenting in the digital age. 

So who else does the organization host and how do they determine which topics to cover?

Primarily, Koenig explains, speaker-authors who have extensive scholarship and other experience in various stages of child development in order to accommodate all parents—whether their children are in pre-kindergarten or college—which is why there’s such a breadth of topics.

“We try for the process to be as collaborative and democratic as possible,” she says. “In recent years, we’ve really democratized the process by asking reps to reach out to schools, counseling teams, and admin teams to ask folks on the ground, ‘What do people need support with?’”

DPU decided to host a lecture about gender identity based on recent feedback from parents and other caretakers. “The message we got loud and clear from ALL schools in 2021–2022,” says Koenig, “was that mental health was at the top of the list for everyone.” 

And gender identity plays a substantial role in many youths’ mental well-being. “One of the compelling parts of education around gender diversity,” she adds, “is the acknowledgement that trans and gender-nonconforming youth have much higher rates of self harm, anxiety, suicidality, and other mental health challenges. 

Realizing that so many parents feel like they’re out of their depth on such issues, DPU hopes that hosting Dr. Pepper will give parents tools and tips for supporting trans and gender-nonconforming kids. 

“The data is unequivocal that trans and gender-nonconforming youth who feel accepted and supported have far better mental health outcomes,” affirms Koenig. “Her scholarship, her writing, her work focuses on acceptance and love for all children, regardless of gender identity. So she’s really gifting us with the tools to help people who are so often marginalized.”

The organization gets support from various places, including the school district. “It’s so wonderful to be supported,” Canfield says of the DPU’s partnership with Davis schools. “And I’m so excited that the district sees so much value in what our grassroots organization is doing for the community.”

Canfield and Koenig also want to recognize several other supporters of the DPU—the parent volunteer who updates the website and graphics, Davis Media Access for recording lectures, moderator Pamela Wu (whom Koenig says “elevates everything that we do”), Avid Reader for donating their time, and several businesses for their support.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Koenig says. “The sum is so much greater than the parts.” 

You can find links to an archive of more than a decade’s worth of past lectures on the Davis Parent University website. “We feel very strongly about having our events be free of charge and videos be available for accessibility reasons,” Koenig says of the resource. She adds that they’re working on language accessibility as well.

“I cannot tell you how many times I’m in that moment with my kids and I think, ‘I’m not sure how to handle this.’” In those moments, she says, “These voices come back to me from these books I’ve read, these lectures they’ve given.”

Update: Rachel Pepper’s lecture will no longer be happening in person on January 11. A recording of her lecture will instead be available for viewing on DPU’s website ( by 7 pm on Wednesday, January 11.

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