Commuter students overlooked on campus

By Srdzan Lazarevski

As the old saying reminds us, “Far from the eyes, far from the heart.” This applies to the way the University and the campus-resident majority perceive commuter students. Commuters face a variety of issues and problems that have not been properly acknowledged and addressed by the administration or the students who reside on campus. While it is true that commuter students make up an extremely small population at our University, they are nonetheless a group whose voice should be heard and integrated into campus life.

Commuters are people who cannot afford to live on campus because of financial issues or family obligations. Some commute to school for an hour or more each way, from as far as Northwest Indiana. These people juggle family responsibilities, jobs, and classes along with the trip. Commuting gets extremely difficult during winter. They came here with the desire to learn and obtain a world-class education, but with such pressures and busy schedules, it is tough for this small group of students to join campus life.

Unfortunately, commuting has a heavy price. On average, commuters’ GPAs tend to be lower than those of their campus-residing peers. This is not surprising. Commuters lose hours out of their day on the road, with family obligations, work, early and late classes, labs, discussions, as well as not having the luxury of libraries and other campus resources close to them. Socially, the University has done very little for commuters to feel welcome.

Commuters have a lounge in the basement of Cobb Hall. It has an antiquated computer, replaced only after the elimination of Telnet last year, a TV, and a pool table. The couches and chairs are also in bad condition. The University offered to update them if commuters gave up some of their study spaces for T.A. offices. This was an unscrupulous offer because they were due for some improvement without such deals. Commuters have luncheons and outings every so often that they organize themselves, drawing a meager crowd from the small commuter population. Often, people barge into the commuter lounge to use the phone, eat, or play pool thinking it’s public space for anyone to use as they please. No Student Government slate made any mention of commuters. This makes one wonder if commuters are really the equivalent of a house or just another RSO.

Making friends and developing a social life is extremely difficult for commuters at the U of C. The U of C lags behind other universities in social life anyway, and this hits commuters especially hard. They cannot make friends in classes to study with over the weekends, or go to parties because they need to drive home or take public transportation at less than safe hours. Commuters have trouble going to the esteemed Fall Formal, cultural shows, and other events the University prides itself on. They try to participate, but are rarely acknowledged–except when dorm people want to use their limited resources. At an O-Aide meeting, a question was asked about commuter O-Aides, and an ignorant person responded with another question: “What’s a commuter?”

Most campus-residing students have a very condescending attitude towards commuters. They tend to feel sorry for these poor, pathetic, proletarian people who cannot afford to stay in a super-fun-happy-dorm, where they can drink or drug themselves stupid, and partake in sexual activities and dating, and instead whither away on the highways or public transportation. Yet not many of them–save a few noteworthy individuals–have reached out to commuters.

What’s to be done? Here are a few suggestions to integrate commuters more, making the U of C friendlier for them. The administration needs to make a Commuter Office made up of administrators who will specifically help commuters with programming and academic issues. Commuters must be issued a U-Pass or monthly CTA passes. O-Week must become more commuter friendly and suit their needs better. There should be mixers each quarter where commuters can make friends interacting with others, as well as panels where the commuters can explain who they are. Now’s the time to sta