I'm a Commuter at a Residential University, & I Think We Can Do More to Include Students Who Don't Live on Campus

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

This piece has been syndicated from Boston University. You can ​join a chapter at your school​ (or ​start your own​!).

Growing up with a professor as a mother, my future has always been set: if I were to be accepted to Boston University, Tuition Remission dictated that’s where I would be going.  As a kid in elementary school, I took pride in this. My favorite folders were decked out with BU’s logo on them, and I even hooked some of my fellow classmates up with the Terrier swag.  I visited campus on my days off, Starbucks hot chocolate in my hand as a stand-in for the coffee toted by those “grown-up” students I admired so much. As sophisticated as I may have imagined myself to be in these moments, I drew pictures on printer paper while my mother taught. The reality of my college experience would not begin for another decade. I knew before starting classes at BU that commuters were not as common as students living on campus, and I was often reminded of this fact. For starters, after notifying the school that I would be living at home, I still continued to receive emails informing me that I had not yet filled out my housing survey. What bothered me far more than anything was the constant insistence of one of my high school teachers, that I just had to live on campus.  It was clear to me that she was solely focused on the idealized “college experience,” but seeing as though I live approximately three miles from campus, taking out more loans to live at school just didn’t make sense for me.  Though I was aware of this differences between commuters and residents, I didn’t know the full extent of it until the beginning of my enrollment, when I quickly arrived at a few realizations.

1. It’s difficult for a first-year student to find another commuter on campus. 

Amid hundreds of roommate requests in the Class of 2022 Facebook Group, I sent out a message to try to locate at least one other commuter—one was exactly the number I found.  She and I ended up going to lunch in the summer before the school year started. Until the beginning of classes this year (over a year later), she was the only commuter I had met.

2. Commuters are excluded from “rite-of-passage” moments at BU. 

I remember a video I watched after receiving my acceptance about two people becoming friends in the Warren Towers dining hall. This heartfelt video made me look forward to finding a new friend in the exact same way. I was lucky enough to meet someone at orientation with whom I stayed in touch with throughout the summer, and the day before classes started, we went to get ice cream at that very same dining hall. I hadn’t loaded my student ID with convenience points and also didn’t have a meal plan, so my friend offered to bring me in as a guest. I accepted excitedly. We simply showed our Terrier Cards to get into the main part of the building, then she swiped me in at the dining hall. I assumed that once I purchased my points, I would be able to come back and get food on my own on a regular basis.

This soon proved to be untrue as well. I went to meet this same friend in the Warren dining hall not too long after. I showed my ID, then swiped it to be granted access to the main part of the building. After many tries, I had to speak with the security officer. He asked if I lived in the building and I told him I did not. He wanted to know where on campus I lived. When I told him I commuted, he responded that only students who lived on campus could get in — if I wanted to eat there, I would have to be signed in as a guest.

I knew my cheeks were blazing red with embarrassment. I was considered a guest at my own school. If only students who lived in the building were allowed to eat there, I would completely understand. However, that was not the case. What really separated me from the other students that did not live in Warren Towers? I would pay for my food the same as everyone else. I wasn’t requesting a dorm to live in.

It became clear to me that I would not be making any magical friendships in that dining hall.

3. Study spaces aren’t full access for commuter students.

When articles come out about communal study spaces during finals, most of the spaces are for those who live on campus only.  Again, not limited to those who live in the dorms that house the spaces. Commuters join clubs and have late hours of studying on campus just as dorm residents do. The difference is that residents have a room to go to either way. Lounges are perhaps even more necessary to a commuter, but unfortunately, fewer are available. Statistics in this BU Today article show that at start of the 2018-19 school year, there were 3,620 students enrolled in the class of 2022. That would make at least 35 other commuter students in my class alone. It may seem like a small number, but that does not make those students any less worthy to take full part in their school’s community. 

4. Other universities make provisions for commuting students.

I have visited friends and family at Emmanuel College and Wentworth Institute of Technology, both nearby in the Fenway neighborhood. At these schools, there are designated lounges and scheduled gatherings for the sole purpose of commuters being able to meet each other. Although plenty of these students live on campus, they still make an effort to include commuters and their concerns. If my frequent interactions with fellow Massachusetts natives are any indication, a large portion of BU students are from the Boston area. Perhaps if BU, originally a commuter school, had something similar, it would be easier for commuters to find each other and a support system — not unlike what a resident might find in their roommate. 

In some ways, not much has changed since my time as a kid in my mother’s office. Despite my childhood dreams, I never grew to like coffee, and at the end of a long day, I still get to go home. Despite the people who have become disinterested in talking to me when they find out I commute, the stress of Green Line delays, or the insinuation that I lack independence because I live with my family, I enjoy the little perks of home like baking in the oven and sharing a bathroom with only a few other people.

And I also love the big perks, like a familiar setting to ground me in a constant sea of change, being with my little sister as she grows older, which not everyone is lucky enough to have. I know my real friends at BU do not care that I don’t live on campus, and are often excited when I can show them the unexplored parts of Boston.

I am happy with my decision to commute, because it’s what is right for me. These days, I am getting more involved in extracurriculars and really am trying to put myself out there. Although there may be a bit of extra effort involved, I’m not embarrassed anymore. I beat people to the punch with what I know they’re going to say: “It’s a good way to save money.” And you can’t argue with that! However, I still believe there is a lot of work to be done to include commuters at BU. Something as small as changing a dining hall policy could make a huge impact.

Want to keep up with HCBU? Make sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, check out our Pinterest board, and read our latest Tweets!