Students and faculty focusing on the many changes to campus this year may miss a significant change in the student population: Commuter students now make up 36% of the John Brown University traditional undergraduate population, up from 29% in 2015, according to the Fall 2020 Preliminary Enrollment Report.
As a residential campus, JBU requires that full-time students live in on-campus housing for six semesters, with exceptions for married couples, students ages 22 and older and those living with family. This policy is based off the “belief that the residence life experience is a vital part of the students’ development as a whole person,” according to the university website.
Rob Rostoni, coordinator of student success, seeks ways to support commuter students through relationships. “One of the philosophies is that we want to create a community for our commuters, but we also want to make sure that our commuters are grafting into the wider community,” Rostoni said.
Yamilet Lopez, junior biology major, is entering her third year as a commuter student. Initially, her experience was miserable. “As soon as I finished my classes, I’d go home as soon as possible,” Lopez said. “But, because of that, I wasn’t able to build relationships with people, so I was alone most of the time. I’m very, very, very extraverted, so I really need people to gain energy from.”
As Lopez discovered campus organizations and activities that she enjoyed, however, she felt more connected to JBU. She recommends connecting with Commuter Services and Student Support Services.
“Now, I am involved in a lot of different programs on campus, and I try to stay on campus a little longer,” Lopez said. “My friend is a commuter, too, so it’s easy for us to exclude ourselves and do our own commuter thing, but we try to get involved with our major, too. I like it a lot more now.”
Lopez serves as the coordinator of commuter student outreach, using her experience to create better experiences for students who live off campus.
One way she builds connections is through Commuter Services monthly events. For September, Lopez is planning “Come Chill with Us” with Tropical Sno Cones. Other activities for the semester include “Central Perk” in October and a commuter breakfast in November. Each event will follow JBU’s coronavirus guidelines.
Due to JBU’s coronavirus guidelines, the commuter lounge will look different this year. The lounge area will be limiting the number of students to provide for social distancing. “Despite these changes, we still have opportunity to serve over 100 students a day in that space,” Rostoni said. “The commuter lounge will be a good place for people to grab their lunch or to study, relax, charge their devices or store their things in the lockers.”
Commuter Services also seeks to help students navigate the uncertainty of college. “If a student is at JBU for four years, that’s a long time to expect that there won’t be a major life event that happens in that scope of time,” Rostoni said. “Our office is a great place and so is the counseling office if there is a life event that happens and needs to be processed.”
To commuting students struggling to adjust, Lopez said, “Don’t let the title ‘commuter’ define you. We are all students at JBU. We all belong. It’s just a little bit harder for us.”