For the past few years, I’ve belonged to a rare species here at Illinois Wesleyan: commuters or the more rare species known as townies who are more local.
There have been several times other students at IWU have asked me to meet them at one of the dining areas on campus only to have me awkwardly explain why I don’t have a meal plan.
While professors typically expect me to volunteer to drive the class to an off-campus event.
According to an article by Barabara Jacoby, commuters comprise over 80 percent of the students in American colleges and universities today while 54 percent of all college students live off campus.
Yet little is being done to accommodate our needs on IWU’s campus but also nationwide.
Other students may think we’re lucky because we know our way around town, have the advantage of seeing our loved ones almost everyday, the privacy of our own rooms and for most saving money. The list goes on.
But, there is often a feeling of disconnection from the campus and the student community.
Every student is different, especially in terms of their educational goals and what institution they attend, but being a commuter has a profound impact on their overall college experience which is ignored.
Instead of having college as a place to call home, it’s simply a daily obligation.
The most obvious problem commuters face is transportation.
These students often have to wake up an hour earlier than everyone else who lives on or near campus and have to factor in an extra 20 minutes or so for traffic, parking and walking to class.
As well as having to worry about the weather, gas mileage/money, car maintenance and sometimes finding alternative means of transportation.
Commuters run the risk of being kicked out of class for being late due to variations in transportation times.
A stress is placed on our time and energy, so much so that we are burnt out by the time we even get to class.
As a commuter student myself, I go straight from class to work without having free time to spend on campus.
This also becomes problematic when it comes to selecting classes, extracurricular offerings, programs and more.
Commuters tend to have multiple life roles off campus as well.
They’re students just like everyone else and many work off campus, but they may have responsibilities at home such as taking care of a family or other household duties.
This time constraint is why we have to be careful in choosing what campus activities to decide to take on. “My office job prevents me from attending campus activities because they’re always in the afternoon and by that time I’m already home from work so there’s really no point in wasting gas,” said junior Tori Olomon.
The value we place on our other roles tends to dictate the value we place on campus involvement.
We do have the advantage of being close to home, there isn’t an easily accessible peer support system for us on campus.
It’s difficult to make close connections with other students on campus when you don’t actually live there 24/7.
For example, Turning Titan week is a crucial part of this.
While the majority of first years are meeting their roommates and creating community on their floors, commuters don’t have this luxury.
Instead I spent my Turning Titan week waiting with another commuter for the next activity to start rather than learning about campus opportunities from an RA.
It’s crucial that universities actually take the time to incorporate different opportunities for these students to learn about and get them to actively participate around the campus community.
The thing I’ve found to be the hardest part about commuting to school is feeling a sense of belonging.
I often feel like I don’t belong or that I’m not really a part of the university.
It seems like a lot of colleges have failed to provide the proper facilities for commuter students to thrive and opportunities for them to establish relationships with faculty, staff and fellow students.
For IWU’s campus there could be a commuter student lot, or more realistically having a separate sticker that could allow them into different lots.
Having the ability to purchase a smaller number of meals from Sodexo to offer the opportunity of dining on campus with peers without having to spend $1000 on a commuter plan that won’t be used.
It’s definitely hard for any individual to feel connected to a place when there are few significant relationships being made purely in classes.
This aspect often makes me feel like I’m missing out on the full “college experience.”
Although IWU’s campus does provide a lot of different program opportunities they are often scheduled at similar times which leaves commuter students left out.
One suggestion I have would be to record more speakers and to offer commuter students the chance to view those recordings.
It seems as though the commuter students on IWU’s campus are being left out of the big picture of the student experience.
If we’re concerned with the diversity of backgrounds that students come from, there should be changes to how we approach our students who are still living at home.