September 26, 2013
As a junior at Santa Clara, I should know how to play the college game pretty well by now.
And I do, to some extent. The quick morning coffee runs, the snack binges between classes and the nightly outings with friends tally up to a pretty successful day.
But as a local commuter student, I’m playing the game on a higher difficulty level. When local residents first enter Santa Clara with the commuter status, they are given the same advice: Stay on campus.
Don’t rush off right after your classes — study with friends at the library, hang out at your set Resident Learning Community and attend as many campus and RLC events as possible.
In short: Become a fixed part of the college social life as much as you can.
It’s great advice, but at the end of the day you still won’t get the full college experience.
When you’re commuting, you miss out on residential community experiences. You aren’t there for the real-time news and events from the RLC societies.
There are plenty of social events the university hosts for campus students, and it’s often difficult to attend these events when you have duties and obligations to family and friends off campus.
I met only a handful of commuters my freshman year (we’re a difficult bunch to find, I’ve noticed). They confessed it was more difficult to befriend people on campus when they didn’t share the daily adventures of dorm life.
The cost of coming to campus adds up, and many students didn’t find it productive or worthwhile to make another trip to campus to visit school. The incentive wasn’t there, especially since most students tended to focus on their own interests and friends they knew through the dorms.
For the longest time I thought it was just me- — that my feeling of being the awkward outsider was due to my introverted nature — but with every commuter I met, I started to realize we all had that feeling of isolation.
It wasn’t until a fellow off-campus student pointed out a reason why. What commuters needed, he stated, was a common area—a place where local commuters and off-campus students could get to know each other, and share familiar experiences and issues.
If it’s hard to become friends with people on campus, then we could at least connect amongst ourselves.
Having that network of support makes commuters feel safe. A common area would give them a sense of belonging, even if they didn’t live in the dorms.
Finding other students who drive to campus was perhaps the hardest part (going up to strangers and asking where they live is a little creepy). By communicating with the school faculty, several commuters decided to host an event that would allow them to get to know each other.
The Annual Commuter Love Feast that began last year was an event organized by undergraduate students Dan Tran and Julie Dang — this year by Mariam Khan — to reach out to the off-campus students.
An initial desire for such a community had been discussed, but several students realized that having a community solely for commuters would merely isolate them even further from their on-campus peers.
What Tran and a few of his friends had finally done was talk with the school regarding finding an area for commuters to socialize. The current Multicultural Center is an acting hangout for many commuters, but is too informal to create a real sense of community.
In my opinion, even more can be done. A center dedicated to commuters would be great for carpools and being able to understand the difficulties of not living on campus. It would also be great if the school could set up more bonding activities to make commuters feel more welcomed.
While some commuters share the concern that this would isolate students, I feel it would bring a sense of belonging and identity for everyone that lives farther than walking distance from campus.
But in order to feel a sense of connection, each commuter needs to actively become a part of the Santa Clara society.
I have to be honest. There are many advantages to being a commuter student. We have opportunities other students often don’t: You learn a lot more about how to fend for yourself. Time management becomes mandatory, with paying the rent and fitting in time for grocery shopping and looking for a laundromat.
If you’re fortunate enough to have family close by, the fridge is always stocked, the laundry will eventually find its way into your room and the car is pretty much yours by the end of freshman year.
However, we’re Santa Clara students as much as anyone else, and there’s no reason we can’t have the same college experience.
When it comes down to it, every student will face different obstacles to socializing and having the full college experience.
For commuters, the difficulty lies with actively participating on campus. If the school does create an organized commuter community, hopefully off-campus students will no longer be the third wheel.
Nabilah Deen is a junior civil engineering major.