Some Fairfield University students who have no other choice but to commute are feeling the long-term affects of isolation, even though they have “many opportunities that the University provides,” according to the Fairfield University commuters Web page.
These opportunities consist of a commuter lounge located in the corner of the lower level BCC, a single locker to keep books and personal items, an off-campus shuttle service that is also available for on-campus students and parking available in three parking lots.
While students living on campus are able to hang out with friends, relax in their dorm rooms and walk to classes in a matter of minutes, commuters are figuring out transportation situations, how to fit studying time in between classes and jobs and trying to find ways to meet new people outside the commuter lounge.
Among the many students who had to deal with commuting to campus was Brian Gilligan ’14, who commuted his freshman year and now lives on campus as a sophomore.
“Last year I hated the school because I was miserable between classes, studying and home,” said Gilligan. “Meeting new people was a big issue too, since it was hard to meet Fairfield students outside of class.”
Gilligan said the reason for commuting freshmen year was that his dad decided being a commuter would be the best temporary choice since both his older brother and sister received poor grades their first year at college. Also, his dad did not want Gilligan to pay for room and board since he lives 15 minutes away in Trumbull, CT.
The grades Gilligan received his first year convinced his father to let him live on campus this year. “I am happy with my decision because I met a lot of people, but my grades have been suffering because I’m constantly surrounded by people. Despite the bad grades though, it was definitely worth it,” said Gilligan.
The best advice for commuters is to get involved on campus any way you could, said Gilligan. Dawn Debias, assistant dean of the college of Arts and Sciences and the main academic advisor for some commuter students, sees that commuters are struggling with having time to even be on campus.
“Usually commuters have jobs, family and caretaking responsibilities for younger siblings or incoming responsibilities,” said Debiase. “In my experience, commuters just have a more complicated life in some ways than students who have the privilege of living on campus.”
Commuters also have transportation issues quite frequently and have trouble getting to class on time or even getting to campus at all, according to Debaise.
“I know that we do have a student commuter lounge in the BCC, and I know that we have activities geared toward commuters, but I think it would be harder to be in the community at Fairfield regardless,” said Debais. “To have the privilege of living here, I think you automatically have advantages that commuters don’t have.
The new commuter lounge is considered a place to “hang out, get some work done, and interact with other commuter students attending Fairfield University,” according to the Fairfield University website. The commuter lounge is advertised as a substitute living arrangement, but commuters do not feel that way.
The introduction of the commuter club, made by commuters themselves, is a step towards integrating commuters into the Fairfield community. Welcoming all members, the commuter club focuses on making students feel more at home by meeting together in the campus center. This group also serves as a support group.
Attending on-campus events can be a way for commuters to meet students who live at Fairfield. However, according to FUSA Programmer Laura Ballanco ‘14, getting commuters involved on campus is difficult. Commuters are frequently left out of Fairfield University events and activities, preventing them from becoming a part of the community.
“We have events usually on Friday and Saturday nights, and we advertise them primarily in the dorms,” said Ballanco. “It doesn’t reach the commuters, and I agree that we should start being more ‘commuter-friendly.’”
Natalie Sciortino lived on campus first semester. Due to personal issues, she is now commuting. “I definitely like having my car back, but the thing I like least about being a commuter is limited interaction with friends,” said Sciortino.
“It’s a plus having a car on campus and getting parking spots easily,” said Brian Good ’14. “But going back home at night is sometimes hard if I don’t feel like driving. And once students hear ‘commuter,’ they look down on us. It’s a mentality.”
Although faced with issues that prevent them from staying on campus and socializing, commuters are highly encouraged to participate in school activities. According to Debias, becoming involved may not be the issue.
“One of the university’s missions is to integrate living and learning, so … we want as many students living on campus as possible,” said Debiase. “But certainly with the students who don’t have the choice to live on campus, we want to have them involved as much as possible, too, despite their personal complications.”
Although Gilligan is no longer a commuter, he is concerned about the future of commuters on campus. “It’s all about miscommunication,” said Gilligan, but then thought about his response and reworded his phrase. “Actually, the word isn’t miscommunication. It’s just that there is no communication.”