“I’m currently unemployed and my work study documents are delaying me from working on campus. I commute everyday and only have enough money for gas and food at school since I don’t have a meal swipe. It’s been hard to get a job, and it’s not getting easier with my school schedule being busy and the pandemic. Also, all of my classes, except for one, required a book of some sort, and I have yet to buy all of them. It’s already difficult to manage so having to add the parking pass to that would be extremely stressful. It needs to be reduced,” said an anonymous commuter student.
COVID-19 has negatively impacted so many people financially, and this is just one example of how it has impacted a Fairfield University commuter student.
The Fairfield University Student Association sent out an email on Sept. 22 about a petition that has been formed by FUSA, the Commuter Students Association and the Beach Residents Advocacy Group to request that the Department of Public Safety and the Parking Office reduce the parking fee for commuter and beach students. The current fee for a parking pass on campus is $150, and the petition requests that it “be reduced by at least half for commuter and beach students for the 2020-2021 academic year.”
In less than 24 hours of releasing the petition, it had already received over 800 signatures.
Due to the effects of COVID-19, many people’s source of income has been seriously and negatively impacted, and as the petition says, “the price of the parking pass fee is intensifying their serious financial circumstances.”
Many expected the price of parking to go down due to COVID-19, but it has remained at the same price.
“This fight about reducing the parking fees has been ongoing since before I got here,” said Katherine Samonek ‘23, a commuter peer assistant who was involved in the creation of the petition. “It is gravely disappointing that this ongoing issue has continued to affect commuter students, financially and mentally, with no attempt to resolve.”
Samonek and others involved in this petition have been in communication with DPS and the Parking Office to attempt to reduce the price, but they found out that DPS and the Parking Office do not actually have control over what the price of the parking pass is, nor do they have the authority to change it. However, they did mention two arguments as to why the price cannot be reduced.
The first reason that DPS and the Parking Office gave was that parking is not mandatory for students, and therefore students can choose to not have their cars on campus, which will save them from spending the money on a parking pass. Samonek and other commuters were not pleased with this reasoning.
“Parking has never been optional for commuters,” Samonek said. “This is a necessity for us, not a luxury. To attend the classes we have already paid for, we need to pay an additional fee to get to them.”
As the petition also states, “commuter and beach students, who have no other choice but to pay this fee in order to attend classes on campus, are being unfairly burdened by this price.”
The other argument that DPS and the Parking Office gave was that Fairfield charges much less for parking compared to other institutions. For example, Sacred Heart University charges their resident students $250 for a parking pass for the whole year.
Although Fairfield’s parking pass fee is $100 less, SHU only charges commuter students $30 for a parking pass each year, whereas Fairfield commuters have to pay the same $150 fee that residential students pay. There is no separate fee for commuters and beach residents. Even after paying the fee for a parking pass, it does not guarantee students a parking spot on campus.
This reasoning was also not well-received by commuter students because they are paying the same amount of money for a parking pass that resident students pay, yet they are only coming on campus a limited amount of time throughout the week.
“Due to the virus, I barely have to commute to campus. I take night classes from 6:30-9:00 p.m. two days a week. During these times, the parking lots are widely available. I shouldn’t have to pay an outrageous fee for parking on campus for a combined total of five hours per week – in an empty parking lot,” one commuter student explained.
A major complaint from commuters about how this parking fee issue has been handled is that they feel forced to pay the parking fee because the University seems to be run “like a business, it’s not personal.”
While speaking with Samonek about this issue, it became clear that there is a bigger issue at the heart of this fight to reduce the parking fee, and it revolves around how the commuter community feels overlooked and ostracized on Fairfield’s campus.
“Commuters are being ignored…pushed to the side. We want to be addressed regularly,” Samonek said.
Feeling a sense of community on campus is highly important for a college student, but of the about 260 commuter students at Fairfield, not including beach resident commuters, many express that they do not feel very integrated into the Fairfield community.
“We pay for the same quality of education, so we shouldn’t be treated differently,” one commuter student shared.
Many experiences in college revolve around the idea that most students live on campus. For example, when introducing yourself on the first day of class, many professors will ask you to share where you live on campus. A commuter student shared that this type of interaction immediately makes them feel separate from everyone else just because they live at home or at another off-campus location. Commuters are often left out of the equation in many respects.
On campus tours of Fairfield University, Samonek explained that the commuter lounge is not included as a stopping location during the tour, which causes many students, even commuter students, to not know where it is located or that it even exists in the first place. To commuters, the absence of showing the commuter lounge on tours enforces the idea that they are not as recognized on campus.
Commuters are looking to be more seen and integrated on campus, especially amidst COVID-19, and this could start with reducing the price of parking passes. As described in the petition, “significantly reducing the parking pass fee for commuter and beach students will give these students a much-needed sense of relief, while conveying to them that the University is here to support them and their academic endeavors during this challenging time.”
Registration of vehicles on campus had to be completed by Sept. 25 through a new online platform. This new no-contact registration system requires students to scan their student IDs, as well as vehicle registrations, into an application and the application must be approved by the Parking Office. Once it is approved, students pay for their pass online and then the parking sticker is put into their student mailbox located in the John A. Barone Campus Center. Since the deadline for vehicle registration has already passed, it is unknown how this petition will be received by DPS and the Parking Office, and what changes may come from it for this academic year. If this petition is supported enough for actual action to occur, Samonek hopes that the parking fee can stay reduced even after COVID-19, to assist those who are still struggling financially during this time.