Commuter students deserve better from Tulane

Naomi Smith | Associate Artist

Maiya Tate, Senior Staff Writer

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Maiya Tate is a sophomore commuter student and a New Orleans native. 

Those students that don’t pay $14,000 for housing and don’t live on campus, that you barely ever see around at parties and social events? Those are commuter students. Why don’t you ever see them around? Probably because Tulane doesn’t do a great job of supporting them.

Tulane should do a better job of incorporating commuter students into its community. Tulane often professes to practice inclusion of all of its students and claims to support them in whatever they need. But not recognizing a significant part of the student body just because they don’t live on campus is not being supportive of that group.

“When a person has to travel up to 90 minutes just to get to campus, they tend to feel like they’re constantly moving and never grounded,” write Merav Fine Braun and Jenna Citron, detailing the mental well-being of commuter students on their campuses. “They also sometimes feel torn between their parents’ rules and the independence they’re trying to establish as young adults.”

Tulane’s orientation, one of the first experiences students at Tulane have as first-years, precludes commuter students from full participation. Orientation is meant to help new students acclimate to different resources on campus and help them meet people they will be living around in their dorms. 

But what about the students who don’t live on campus for family reasons, monetary limitations or other external factors? Other than having a similar commuter group like student dorm groups during orientation, that week is unfriendly to commuter students.

Many of the activities and programs are late at night or early in the morning, designed to make sure on-campus students attend instead of partying all night. But these times make it much harder for students who have to drive home at one in the morning or have to drive in rush hour traffic at 6 a.m. to get to early morning required activities. 

In college, it is very important for students to be aware of their mental health, as students are often experiencing a whole different world than they are accustomed to. Even more so for commuter students, who often do not have the same freedom to explore their changing worldviews. 

As Braun and Citron point out, “Part of the college experience is about socialization and figuring out who you are as an independent person. But how can a student explore a different worldview — whether it’s religion, politics or sexual orientation — when they can’t discuss it at home?” 

Commuter students also do not have a designated free space on campus. Unlike on-campus students, commuters can’t go take a quick nap in their dorm or grab a quick bite in the Commons because the commuter meal plan doesn’t include meal swipes. 

Tulane should have a space on campus for commuter students to spend time between their classes to study or just to relax, without them having to join a club or organization they might not have time for.

A lot of commuter students don’t have time to join large-scale clubs or organizations because they have to commute home after class, which, depending on where you live in the city, may take 30 minutes or more. 

Tulane already has a toxic culture of overinvolvement on campus. Though joining a club on campus may be an easy fix for becoming more involved in Tulane’s community for commuter students, they may simply not have the time. Commuter students should have other opportunities to be a part of the community then being pressured into activities they don’t have time for. 

Say a student has an 8 a.m. and they live in Metairie, a 30 minute drive, possibly worse with morning traffic. With a full day of classes, they don’t finish up on campus until about 4:30 p.m. But to keep their scholarship, they have work-study on campus for two hours. They don’t get a chance to drive home until at least 7:30 p.m., still with hours of homework to do. 

When does this student have any time to join a club or activity, much less be told they “aren’t being an active student in Tulane culture.”

As Barbara Jacoby, an affiliate associate professor of higher education, student affairs and international education policy wrote in the journal “New Directions for Higher Education,” “Unless basic building blocks are in place that facilitate commuter students’ participation as full members of the campus community, they will be less able to deepen their involvement in learning.” 

Tulane understanding that commuter students are here would allow for those students to feel like they are a real part of the Tulane family, instead of feeling like some kind of outcast or a weird cousin. All students should feel welcome at Tulane, whether they pay $14,000 for housing or not.