Sometimes, it’s difficult to know what to write about. I love Bethel and have been grateful to spend six years of my academic journey here, beginning with REACH classes in high school and continuing through for four full years of undergraduate education. So many amazing people have poured into me, and I’ve been excited to seek out opportunities to pour back into the community. It's been awesome to assist with developing the esports team, the Writing Center and the Beacon, and I’ve loved participating in extracurricular activities like Students for Life, the Psychology Club, Econ Book Club, campus events and a couple of theatre department events.
There is so much to do for students who are willing to look for ways to be involved, but it is true some students have to seek out that involvement more than others. Currently, I’m thinking of the commuter community, which I am thankful to be a part of. As a general rule, commuters have a more difficult time finding ways to integrate because they are often absent from campus in the evenings when events take place, they typically work one or more off-campus jobs and they usually have other local social circles (such as church or high school friends) already established. While it is wonderful to maintain a healthy life outside of the “Bethel bubble,” this can also create a sense of disconnectedness that commuters don’t always know how to overcome, and this difficulty has been, unfortunately, increased this semester by removing the Commuter Bible Study as an option for students.
I have no doubt the decision to remove Commuter Bible Study was motivated by good intentions. In fact, I spoke with Associate Director for Community Life Tom Carpenter about the decision, and he indicated the reasoning by Student Life staff centered around a desire to increase commuter interaction with groups of students and staff they may not encounter otherwise and to create more variety in the midweek experiences commuters participate in.
I could potentially understand this reasoning if it had been applied to all Bethel students instead of only the commuters, but the residential hall studies have been allowed to remain as a midweek option. While I think it is great to encourage the camaraderie and connectedness that might be cultivated by bringing members of individual dorms together, I do not understand why this same camaraderie and connectedness has been removed for commuter students. The Bethel demographic with the smallest amount of convenient opportunities to connect has had one of those options stripped away from them.
The study was well-attended and was one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse midweek groups on campus. It allowed a space for students to discuss questions they may not have considered in any other setting. And it has caused those students who faithfully attended the study to experience frustration, not only because they had to find a new group to attend, but primarily because it eliminated a space where the unique needs of commuters could be met. For example, there have been students in the past who faced unexpected transportation difficulties, and it was because of asking for prayer in Commuter Bible Study that fellow commuters were able to step forward and meet those needs.
Commuters make up about one-third of the student body, so it is important for Bethel to recognize the difficulties commuters face and for the university to help overcome the obstacles to connectedness as much as possible. Instead, this decision has created an additional obstacle.
I want to underline this letter by saying, again, I firmly believe this decision was made with the best of intentions. However, now that the issues the decision creates have been brought to light, I hope the value of Commuter Bible Study will be realized and that it will be reinstated. Perhaps this reinstatement cannot happen until next semester, but I hope identifying the importance of the study will prevent it from being unnecessarily taken away again in the future.
Brianna Rae Densmore