Campus News

Commuter life at Bethel College

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If you’re a residential student at Bethel, you’ve probably noticed those few random new faces that pop up in class. After class you look for them in your dorm but they’re never to be found; they, my friend, are commuter students! The life of a commuter at Bethel is significantly different from that of a residential student, so in order to gain a better grasp on the unique perspective of a Bethel commuter, I interviewed Donna Azcuna, a Commuter Lfe assistant and commuter student herself. Azcuna has been commuting to Bethel for the majority of her college career. When asked about exactly how many students commute to campus, Azcuna answered, “There are close to 700, I think around 690 or so; and that ranges obviously from freshman to seniors. It does include some adults, but I think last time we checked that number under 700 is the under 25 year old college students,” she added. That’s quite a large number. I asked whether or not the number of commuters had increased within the past semester. “Honestly I think there’s always been a large commuter population at Bethel,” said Azcuna, “and I think in recent years people are just starting to notice that we have a lot of commuters; we have a lot of people who are choosing to live locally and now it’s starting to be a point of intentional ministry. We’re starting to say ‘hey, we have a lot of commuter students, and they need to be connected and make sure people are in their lives.’ So I think mostly more attention has been put on it, it’s not necessarily that we haven’t always had a big commuter community, we’ve had one for a while, and now we’re working to get them connected at Bethel.” As there are continual efforts to include commuters into Bethel campus life, the recent changes on Bethel’s campus have also had an impact on the life of commuters. “Aside from the loss of the student lounge in the AC and the loss of the café, the commuter assistant position has been sort of more accepted into the student development office so assistants are getting a little bit more training,” said Azcuna. But Azcuna did mention that those losses have been partially addressed at least. “We have a new commuter lounge which is in the science building,” she said. It’s bigger, a little bit more comfortable, more couches, we have a fridge and a working microwave,” she said. We did focus for a bit on the fact that many commuters have been affected by the loss of the café. “That has been a conversation that we’ve had about the meal plan and how to make that work for commuters; giving commuters more options to eat,” she said. Azcuna spoke a bit more about how this conversation has happened. “I know it is something that both commuters and administration have talked about though,” she said. “We do have conversations about those and it’s really just about getting enough interest and showing that we need more hours from the café. But, for now I think the hours are going to stay the same.” So, although there have been a few changes for commuter students throughout the semester, there also are several possible positive changes that could be affecting Bethel’s commuters. “We as Commuter Life are trying to implement a concept where commuters could have three excused absences, no questions asked, during the winter season for people who drive a long way; and Commuter Life is trying to make the commuter meal plan a little bit more accessible to buy online so commuters know that they can get on a meal plan and eat on campus,” she said. Azcuna also mentioned some other changes Commuter Life is trying to add. “A cubby system or a locker, basically just a place for commuters to put their stuff during the day because it’s sometimes frustrating to have you stuff in your car,” she said. Azcuna went on: “The administration has also talked about expanding and making the parking lot in the back a little bit bigger and just kind of rearranging it differently so commuters can park back there, however this wouldn’t happen until future years.” Since there are several changes that have happened for commuters and those changes could potentially continue, it is highly important to Commuter Life to not only better the environment for commuters but also increase commuters’ level of community at Bethel. “We, as Commuter Life, are going to be looking at doing more intentional events,” said Azcuna. “More events that commuters would be interested in whether that’s on campus or off campus. We’re trying to find commuters, sometimes they’re hard to find, and intentionally make relationships, bringing them into the community by putting more of an emphasis on the fact that they have a really unique place at Bethel,” she said. The fact that commuters have a unique place at Bethel was a concept that stuck out to me as we were talking. Azcuna elaborated: “There’s so many great things that Bethel College is doing, and our Commuter Life is a part of that,” she said. “We’re actually out in the community and doing things that are more community driven because we don’t live on campus, and that is a story that I want to be brought into Bethel. I want to hear about what commuters are doing, where they’re living and how they’re engaging in the community while encouraging resident students to pay attention because this is a lot of times what the next step is going to look like,” she said. Commuters are, oftentimes, already entering the next phase of life that follows college, so for a student living on campus, hearing the stories and experiences of a commuter could be highly beneficial. Finally, Azcuna and I talked about ways in which commuters can get involved on campus and keep up to date on events. “Come to campus activities or go to the Dining Commons during the week for lunch and dinner; it just makes you feel like a part of the community and you get to know people,” she suggested. “For freshmen I know that block is a huge thing so go to your block events. Have some intentional time that you’re on campus because when you’re on campus for a long time you get to meet and know people. You could also join choir as a great way to get connected, there’s a lot of different clubs to get involved in.” As there are several opportunities for commuters to get involved on campus, it is highly important that they’re able to actually know what’s going on and when. “We put up flyers, and another way to find out is to like our Facebook and/or Instagram page. We’re going to also try and do a text message or email chain as well,” said Azcuna. So, regardless of whether you’re a commuter or a resident student, there will always be a way in which you can stay connected and get involved at Bethel.
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