In a 2019 American College Health Association survey sampling 54,500 undergraduate students from almost 100 different schools, 67.4% reported that they felt “very lonely” within the last year, and 32.8% found non-intimate social relationships “very difficult to handle.”
Statistics probably aren’t necessary to prove that undergraduates can feel socially isolated when they join a new community and become disconnected from their old one. For many, the feeling is similar to that of starting kindergarten for the first time.
In a press release published on Aug. 23rd on the University of Dallas website, Director of Student Affairs Seth Oldham, emphasized the importance of having students plant roots upon coming to UD by “establish[ing] relationships in the residence halls.”
UD does its best to have underclassmen live on campus for this very reason, but what if that’s not in the cards for all UD students?
A little more than half of the students from the survey lived off-campus, and at UD 40% of students do.
Now, being a commuter doesn’t necessarily mean that a student will find his or her self more lonely than a student living on-campus, but it does make maintaining social relationships and integrating one’s self into social circles more challenging.
“I know some commuters who do feel a little secluded,” says Natalie Williams, a sophomore commuter. “I made an effort to be more social…because I wanted to make those connections and I really wanted to be social and active on campus. Not everyone is like that.”
“It is a little more difficult because you have to be careful how you spend your time, where you spend your time, when you spend your time because you have to account for going back and forth to home,” said Williams, who lives roughly 40 minutes from campus and must coordinate sharing a car with two siblings.
She also points out that many events on campus are scheduled later at night, meaning that those commuters who want to participate have to be careful about what they do at the events and then drive back home with more caution. Plus, those bonding late-night talks with friends are often missed out on.
But, being a part of community life is not the only challenge: the lack of storage options is an obstacle most commuter students have to work around every day.
In a 2012 study by the Archives of Diseases in Childhood journal investigating the correlation between backpack weight and back pain in children, the authors found that of 1,400 school children, more than 60% had backpacks exceeding 10% of their body weight.
Imagine that same situation, but at a university that is known for its great books program and has only 24 small lockers in total for all of its commuting students.
While finding study spots is not too problematic — every student has at least a couple go-to places on campus where they like to study — storage spots for students who don’t want to risk their possessions being stolen or, with good intentions, put in a lost-and-found that seems to move a lot, are a must.
Most UD students can take only what they need for classes, but commuters have to carry everything they need for the entire day. If on-campus students stain a shirt, want a sweater for the chilly classrooms or forget their laptop plugged in on their desks, they can just walk back to their room.
For commuters, things like this are not worth losing your parking space over, so they put up with these daily inconveniences.
All that being said, there is a reason why so many students choose to commute every day. “It frees you a little bit from the financial burden,” Williams said.
For many commuters, living off-campus is what makes UD affordable, and that little bit of relief makes the other great aspects of UD affordable as well, such as participating in the Rome program.
While commuting makes being a part of the community more work in many ways, it is also often what makes it possible for 40% of our student population to be a part of the UD community at all.
“In my first years, there wasn’t as much recognition for commuters as I kind of hoped there would be. And, even now, it’s still a little difficult because commuters are in the minority,” Williams says.
“For some commuters, it’s a little more difficult, and I do wish the school would acknowledge those students with those difficulties and try to help them as best they can.”