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The 1%—My Experience as a Commuter at a Majority Residential University

Growing up with a professor as a mother, my future was always pretty much set: if I was accepted to BU, Tuition Remission dictated that’s where I would be going.  As an elementary schooler, I took pride in this. My favorite folders were those with BU’s logo on them (I even hooked some of my fellow classmates up with the Terrier swag).  I visited campus on my days off, the Starbucks hot chocolate in my hand a stand-in for the coffee toted by those “grown-up” students I so admired. As sophisticated as I may have imagined myself to be in these moments, I watched Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater on VHS and drew pictures on printer paper while my mother taught.  The reality of my college experience would not begin for a decade.

Photo Credit: Angelina Kemmett

I knew before starting classes at BU that commuters were not as common as on-campus residents, and I was often reminded of this fact.  After notifying the school that I would be living at home, I continued to receive emails informing me that I had not yet filled out my housing survey.  What bothered me far more was the insistence of one of my high school teachers, an alumna, that I had to live on campus.  It was clear to me that she was predominantly concerned with the idealized “college experience,” but being as I live approximately three miles from campus, taking out more loans to live at school did not make sense for me.  Though I was aware of this discrepancy between commuters and residents, I did not know the extent of it until beginning my enrollment, when I quickly learned a couple of main things.

Realization 1: it is 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 went 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.

Photo Credit: Angelina Kemmett

Realization 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 sweet video made me look forward to finding a new friend in the same way. I was lucky enough to meet someone at orientation with whom I stayed in touch during the summer, and the day before classes started, after the CAS freshman barbecue, we went to get ice cream at that very same dining hall. I had not yet loaded my ID with Convenience Points and did not have a meal plan, so my friend offered to bring me 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 proved to be untrue. I went to meet this same friend in the Warren dining hall not 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. 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 anyone. I was not asking for a dorm to live in.

Photo Credit: The College Investor

It became clear to me that I would not be making any magical friendship in that dining hall. I called up my friend to tell her the situation, and she came out. We headed to the GSU instead, and I felt terrible because now she would have to pay for lunch instead of it being counted within her meal plan.

This place advertised as a wonderful way to make friends, where thousands of freshmen eat, hang out, and bond, was not available to me, as it is not to any commuter.  I had a friend who would be able to sign me in once in a while if I really wanted, but what about someone who knew no one at all? Sure, there are a couple of other dining halls a commuter can get into, but the one conveniently located amongst buildings everyone will take a class in at some point or another, in a dormitory comprised primarily of freshman, is the most necessary to a new student—and most off-limits.

When articles come out about 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 studying on campus just as residents do.  The difference there is that residents have a room to go to either way. Lounges are perhaps more necessary to a commuter, but fewer are available. 

Statistics in this BU Today article show that at the time of the 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 of fully taking part in their own school community. 

Photo Credit: Angelina Kemmett

I have visited friends and family at Emmanuel College and Wentworth Institute of Technology, both nearby in the Fenway neighborhood. These colleges have designated lounges and/or scheduled meetings for the sole purpose of commuters being able to meet each other. Although plenty of these schools’ 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 therefore 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. No matter 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 am very happily employed, thank you very much!), I enjoy the little perks of home—baking in the oven, sharing a bathroom with only a few other people. And I also love the big perks—a familiar setting to ground me in a sea of change, being with my little sister as she grows older—that not everyone is lucky enough to have. I know my real friends at BU do not care that I do not live on campus, and are often excited when I can show them something they have not experienced in Boston. 

I am happy with my decision to commute, because it is what is right for me. I am getting more involved in extracurriculars and really trying to put myself out there. Although there may be a bit of extra effort involved, I am 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 to be done to include commuters at BU, and something as small as changing a dining hall policy could make an impact.

My wish for Boston University as a whole is a better environment of encouragement for commuters, instead of brushing us away in statistics as if we do not exist.


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Angelina is a senior at BU, studying English in the College of Arts and Sciences, with a focus on Shakespeare. She is from Somerville, MA. In addition to writing for HCBU, Angelina is the Director of BU On Broadway Off Broadway and has been involved with theater through BU Shakespeare Society, Wandering Minds, and Stage Troupe. Outside of school, she enjoys dancing, music, baking, and movie marathons. Her pop culture heart lives in the 1980's.
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