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Commuter Students Struggle to Find Community at Loyola

Blanca Vega | The PHOENIX Arnaldo Enriquez’s route begins at 6 a.m. in Midlothian and ends at 8:30 a.m. at Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. The two hour commute requires a Metra train, one of three train lines — Orange, Purple, or Brown — then the Howard Red Line to Loyola.

 

 

 

Loyola student Arnaldo Enriquez spends a lot of time on trains. The 22-year-old transfer student, majoring in political science and economics, commutes from Midlothian, a village in Cook County. His day begins at 6 a.m. when he heads to the Metra train. After getting off the Metra train, Enriquez transfers to one of three CTA train lines — Orange, Purple or Brown — and then transfers to the Red Line. Two hours later, he begins his classes at the Lake Shore Campus (LSC).

Enriquez commutes to avoid housing expenses, but still works to pay for a portion of his tuition and the monthly $171 Metra ticket. He works night shifts Thursday-Sunday, 6 p.m.-6:30 a.m. He doesn’t sleep at all on Fridays because he has to catch the 7 a.m. Metra to get back to campus.

This routine makes time extremely valuable to Enriquez, but it’s also physically and academically costly. Sometimes his only time to study is in-between classes, because he has to be home by 5 p.m. to begin the cycle all over again.

“By the time I get home, I don’t study anymore because it’s been a long day … I’ve read all day, [I’ve] sat in a place where [I] really don’t want to be in for about an hour and a half … you just want to pass out,” Enriquez said. “You wish you could have done more, but you just can’t because you’re always busy trying to make up for things you didn’t do or were unable to do or because you ran out of time.”

Enriquez is one of the many students whose commute has taken a toll on their campus life and engagement, making the college experience nearly unattainable.

This is a concern Kristina Garcia, coordinator of the Office for Off-Campus Student Life, hears every day from the commuter students she assists.

Commuter students are typically undergraduate students who live at home with family or guardians and commute to campus each day. Loyola’s number of commuters ranges between 3,500 and 4,000 students annually, according to Garcia.

Commuters differ from “resimuters,” students who are junior status or above and live in apartments off campus within the university’s vicinity — which includes zip code areas 60626, 60660 and 60611— instead of the campus residence halls. Living outside that “university district” means commuters travel a farther distance with a longer travel time.

Enriquez said professors and students are unaware of his schedule, and he doesn’t have time to mingle with other students or organizations. Though Enriquez has classes at both the LSC and the Water Tower Campus (WTC), Thursday is the only day he can try joining an organization after his class at the WTC.

“Commuting takes a lot of time out of the day … I don’t know if there’s any clubs or events held at Water Tower Campus, in which case I would have to take the shuttle to Lakeshore, and that takes time too,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez hopes his time commuting at Loyola will get better.
“This is my first semester, it’s all a shock … I feel tired,” Enriquez said. “I wish I could afford to live closer.”

Some students commute because they have family obligations. This is the case for Andres Martinez, a 28-year-old social work major.

Martinez commutes from Humboldt Park, a drive that can range from 35 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. He’s a single dad who works and cares for his two children, ages 10 and 4.

“The challenges of being a non-traditional student is to kind of get a routine going. It always changes when I have my kids or if I don’t,” Martinez said. “This week I have my kids. I have to go pick them up after school, come to school early, leave early … it’s always unstable.”

Time is everything for Martinez.

“Understanding how to manage everything keeps you on your toes with priorities. I can’t really miss any minute, because that one minute that I waste overlaps or it undergoes into my whole day and the things I have to do,” Martinez said.

Because of his family obligations, Martinez doesn’t have time to join organizations. He has an issue with students and professors understanding his time commitments.

“When I have a group project … [students] want to meet on campus on weekends … and it’s like you [all] live here and … it just doesn’t work like that … I’ve got things to do, I’ve got kids … [the students] wait for [the] last minute … I can’t do it, man,” Martinez said.

Martinez said commuting means a lot of working around other students’ schedules.

Though Martinez isn’t vocal about his responsibilities, he hopes professors can make it their priority to get to know their students individually.

“I’d ask faculty and staff to be aware that there is always an issue coming to school. We might be late, we may not be late, and we’ve all got a personal life,” Martinez said. “Understand and know your student one-to-one so that if a situation does arise, you understand where that student is [and] kind of like get a feel of who they are.”

Commuters travel from all over Chicagoland and parts of Wisconsin and Indiana. There is no limitation as to how far a student may live to qualify to commute, but students are required to request and complete a housing exemption form with Residence Life, according to Garcia.

Commuters may often hold a number of responsibilities outside of classes, including work, home and family obligations, according to Garcia. But for many — with rates to live on-campus ranging from $8,000 to $13,000 per year — commuting to and from home is financially easier.

With commuting comes the price of missing out on campus resources and student involvement. The Office for Off-Campus Student Life tries to fill the space of making it easier for commuter students.

“It is challenging to find community and that is something that our commuters share with us every semester, every day,” Garcia said. “I think it just comes up with ‘I’m trying to figure out, where do I go between classes? Who can I spend time with? What can I be involved in?’”

It’s these concerns that relaunched the Office for Off-Campus Student Life in 2014 — creating a space with more programs and services commuters can benefit from.

“From what folks convey, having a space is crucial because it shows that [they’re] being seen, shows that somebody is looking at what [they] are bringing to campus each day and knowing [that] campus is providing [them] important resources to make sure [they’re] successful,” Garcia said.

Even “logistical stuff,” which Garcia describes as needing a fridge or microwave to store food and lockers to leave items, go a long way for commuters.

Commuters can use the Commuter Resource Room (CRR), located on the second floor of the Damen Student Center, during posted office hours. Students can also sign up with the access list, which provides a key to access the room outside of office hours.

Off-Campus Student Life also appoints commuter ambassadors: commuter students who assist new commuters in transitioning and becoming involved.

Commuter ambassadors began working directly with student government and student organizations after commuter students expressed difficulty in finding organizations that programmed during feasible hours, according to Garcia.

“In the past, we’ve presented and worked directly with campus activities [with] a handout of ideal times [for commuters] based on surveys that we’ve done,” Garcia said.

Surveys show that commuters are less likely to go to events scheduled past 6 p.m., according to Garcia.

Despite the efforts, however, there still seems to be some students, such as Enriquez and Martinez, who’ve had difficult times adjusting to the university because they are unaware of the off-campus resources available to them.

Some students, such as 18-year-old Lissette Amon, a first-year psychology major, have found community through the commuter programs and use the CRR frequently. Amon said she knew the sacrifice she was taking by opting out of housing for financial reasons, and she worried her one hour and 30 minute commute would affect her involvement on campus.

“I thought it would be really hard to get involved with different organizations or getting a community of my own here,” Amon said. “One day I just walked in [the CRR] and I’ve been coming ever since.”

Amon first heard about the commuter programs during orientation, which, Garcia said, her office makes a strong presence at. The office also presents itself at the Resource Fair for incoming transfer students.

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Sajedah Al-khzaleh is a transfer junior from the southside of Chicago, and one of the assistant news editors for the PHOENIX. She previously attended Harold Washington College where she was news editor. Her dream is to bring diversity in the the media. Besides reporting, she loves writing and performing slam poetry.