By Maegan White
Elm Staff Writer
Students, facilities, and administration alike often forget about the complexities of being a commuter student.
For students who have to drive an hour to campus, situations like late-night club activities, mandatory meetings from administration, and last-minute class time changes pose impossible challenges.
According to Assistant Dean of Student Engagement and Success Tricia Biles, 2% of Washington College students are commuters. Students can opt to be a commuter for a variety of reasons, including raising a family, living within 30 miles of the college, saving money, working full time jobs, or being a nontraditional student.
Commuter students said they felt forgotten about; although never done intentionally, almost every facet of campus life is harder for commuter students.
Sophomores Kami Lentzsh and Alex Farrow and junior Kennedy Thompson are three commuter students that face issues the rest of the campus community don’t think about.
These commuter students identified four major challenges: struggles to connect with fellow students outside of the classroom, inability to connect to school Wi-Fi, limited parking spots, and lack of commuter resources and communication.
Students often take for granted all the opportunities they have to interact with friends when they live on campus.
“The key link between the majority of students on campus is housing, sports, and clubs. When you eliminate these variables, it can be challenging to maintain friendships,” Farrow said.
Clubs are advertised as a great way to branch out and meet new people, but it is a different story for commuter students.
“It is really hard to be a part of organizations and clubs on campus because I had to make plans in advance if I wanted to stay late for an event,” Lentzch said. “For organizations with commitments to weekly meetings, I couldn’t participate because it didn’t feel worth it to drive home so late.”
Lentzsh and Farrow both said that they enjoy being a part of clubs and organizations on campus, but the late-night commitments make it challenging to participate.
“As a student who enjoys these organizations and wants to be more involved, more accommodations for meeting times would be appreciated by a commuting student,” Farrow said.
Clubs should strive to accommodate commuter students so they can also get involved and have more representation on campus.
Commuter students were also unable to connect to the new Apogee ResNet Wi-Fi that was installed in residential halls last semester, because they did not have a room number.
According to Lentzsch, she reached out to the help desk, who told her that unless she had a room number, she would not be able to connect. This issue prevented her from doing homework in any residential halls with her friends.
In 2021, the college took away commuter parking spots, so commuter students have incredibly limited parking options. The most available spaces for commuter students are near the baseball field with signs that say “park at your own risk” or near the Western Shore dorms, which is the furthest lot from academic buildings. Providing more parking spots for commuter students closer to academic buildings would be a step in the right direction.
Additionally, the school has created spaces and resources for commuter students. Located in the Student Government Association office, there is a Commuter Lounge containing desks, couches, lockers, and a TV. However, very few commuter students know of these resources. When they are aware of the resources, other issues, like card access to the lounge, arise.
Farrow argued that there should be more effort by the administration to create spaces to discuss these issues. If commuter students are not represented in decision-making areas, their experience will not improve.
“There should be more opportunities and spaces for commuter students to feel less alienated,” Farrow said. “It may be interesting to have groups specifically for commuting students and also opportunities to meet with administration to discuss improvements where commuters are given a voice.”
Assistant Dean of Student Engagement and Success Tricia Biles said that since commuter students make up such a small percent of students, they are underrepresented. With WC being a small institution, there are more opportunities for individualized problem solving with supporting staff.
Biles encourages commuters to reach out to her and the Student Affairs office to come up with an individualized approach to address concerns.
“I would love to hear ideas from these students themselves about what we can do. When someone is having a difficult time connecting socially, I can help them find personal avenues. Come talk to me, I am happy to come up with individualized approaches,” Biles said.
Biles also mentioned bolstering Peer Mentor knowledge about commuter students so they can show more support during the students’ first year. The SGA, as the official voice of the student body, is another great resource to leverage action and increase commuter representation on campus.
Professors, administrations, and student leaders all need to take a more active approach in creating spaces for commuters.
Some staff members have already taken a hands-on approach to support commuter students. Thompson’s academic advisor, Assistant Dean of Advising and Academic Advocacy Hilary Bateman, has made extra efforts to ensure her schedule works best for her commute. The WC community should take after Bateman and more actively support and accommodate commuter students.
No student deserves to feel like they are forgotten on campus, and it is all of our responsibility to address this issue.