I’m from Inwood, which is a 20 minute commute from campus on the 1 train. When I decided to come to Barnard, commuting seemed to make the most sense. If I’m from New York City and live relatively close, why would I dorm? However, I didn’t realize how foreign commuting would seem to my peers and what it would mean to a commute to a mainly residential school.
Throughout my first year at Barnard, I was constantly asked, “Oh, you’re a commuter? What’s that like?” This statement alone shows that my experience as a commuter is different from that of the on-campus resident, and in this question, people were trying to understand how this experience is different. In my experience, being a commuter has its ups and downs. My commute itself isn’t difficult or particularly long, and I get to step away from the oftentimes stressful environment that is Barnumbia, but on the downside, being a commuter also means missing out on social events and experiences that really make the “college experience.”
Commuting is all about timing, which is something that, although it seems obvious, can be very complicated. Commuting to campus makes you plan every moment down to a T. I plan my class schedule, sleep schedule, work schedule, clubs, social outings, and workouts around my commute to and from campus. Therefore, when I’m on campus I have to be conscious about how I spend my time, which means considering whether or not it’s really even worth going to social events.
Having a social life on campus as a commuter can be hard sometimes. You have to make an effort to show up to social events, like clubs or McAC’s Midnight Breakfast, on campus. There were clubs, like BOSS, that I wanted to be a part of last year, but they met at 9 p.m., which at the time wasn’t something I found doable. Having to get up early for morning classes, then stick around campus for a club that maybe starts at 9 and ends at 10 or 11 p.m. to then make the trip back home makes for a long and exhausting day. When you don’t have the luxury of making a five-minute walk back to your room, it makes you think twice before you decide to stay on campus for these extra-curriculars.
This year, I’m making an effort to be more involved with groups on campus, but that means getting home anywhere between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. This isn’t to say commuters don’t and can’t make friends with residential students and can’t have budding social lives. In general, I’ve found mustering up the courage to go to a club meeting alone is difficult, which makes being more social difficult. So, when all of your commuter friends have gone home or cannot afford to stay on campus so late because of the long trip home and you have no one to accompany you, it can keep you from forming connections within other social circles.
Although it can be hard in this way, the commuter community is wonderful and supportive, and Skip Stop, Barnard’s commuter organization, makes a point to host events at commuter-friendly hours. Skip Stop provides support for commuters, working to address any needs and concerns. Events are held in the commuter lounge, something I realize a lot of residential students don’t know exists, unless they know a commuter themselves. There are even commuters I’ve met who didn’t even know that the lounge existed. Situated at the back of the first floor in Diana, the location of the commuter lounge itself makes you feel like the school is trying to tuck you away, pretending you don’t exist because you chose not to give them that $10,000-17,000 a year.
Barnard could do a better job of making the space known to all, being that the little sign that says “Commuter Lounge” doesn’t do much. Many people neglect the sign, as there have been several times when lost students knock on the door thinking it’s a locked classroom. The commuter lounge is a necessary space on campus, one that I’ve found to be integral to my experience.
Commuting has been a learning experience, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but it’s one that I wouldn’t change for the world. I like being able to go back to my neighborhood everyday, being able to ride the 1 train (when it’s working), seeing my cat everyday, and being able to get away from this school that can be such a stressful environment.
As a commuter, I think that Barnard—and its students—needs to make more of a commitment to actively supporting the commuter community and fostering connections between commuter and residential students. Barnard can’t just use the commuter lounge as a point along tour stops at Diana. It needs to do a better job at bolstering and uplifting the commuter community on campus, which means being more attentive to the requests of commuter students. As for clubs, I ask that you all, maybe as members of an e-board or in leadership positions, keep in mind the needs of all student populations.
The author is a Barnard College sophomore majoring in political science and American studies. She is currently the interim vice president of Skip Stop, Barnard’s commuter organization.
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