Rider commuters dodge obstacles for the promise of an affordable education

By Tatyanna Carman

Out of the undergraduate students at Rider, 56% live on campus, which means that the other 44% commute, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg. 

Despite this fact, Rider implemented a two-year residency requirement on campus. This is reflected in the 83% of freshman students living on campus this year, according to Fenneberg. 

There are various obstacles that commuting students face such as time management, involvement, parking and threat of safety during inclement weather. 

Leslie Domenech, junior film major, drives to school each day and leaves her house usually an hour or an hour and 15 minutes before class time to account for traffic since her commute is at least 45 minutes. 

“It sucks, it is so bad. We get two to three lots and I’m not going to lie, I end up parking where I’m not supposed to park because it’s not that I’m not late to class, but it’s just that sometimes when you are going through a lot of traffic, you just want to park and just get to class,” she said. “You just want to get there, even if it’s like you have three minutes to get there. I personally like to park in Poyda because it’s right near Fine Arts [Center] (FAC) and I can make a run for it, but me parking in front of the BLC [Bart Luedeke Center], going through all of the parking rows, it is the worst.” 

Public Safety Capt. Jim Flatley said that the total amount of parking permits issued on campus between September of 2018 to the present was around 2,000, which included graduate students. He also said that within the past summer, the number of type of violations decreased from 35 to ten. 

Flatley also spoke on the improvements that were made on campus to accommodate commuting students. 

“We’ve received input from students regarding parking on campus and if you remember this started in March of 2019, where students would be permitted to park in the commuter lot in front of the BLC and also out of Poyda and that has continued this year, where students can park there after seven o’clock but they have to be out of there by six, as well as the back of Poyda[Hall],” he said. 

Flatley explained Public Safety’s role in deciding whether or not to close the university based on aspects identified by local law enforcement, state police, local transportation and Public Safety officers as well. However, commuters who take public transportation to Rider expressed the difficulties of coming and staying on campus no matter rain nor shine. 

Domenech said, “When it snows, in the past, I’ve had to stay home. I’ve even had to go back home because I’ve just not been able to drive in the weather and especially in times where classes aren’t cancelled. Sometimes they’ll just not cancel classes while it’s snowing out and I can’t make it because, where I’m from, the snow might be a bit more and I feel like teachers might not be as forgiving with that.” 

She also recommended that Rider should implement preferred parking for commuting students to better accommodate that population of the Rider community. 

Junior public relations major Yasmine Hailstalk-Harris discussed her two hour and 47 minute commute via two methods of public transportation — a train and a bus — from her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She said that she commutes because she can not afford to live on campus. During days with inclement weather she said she has to leave an hour earlier, which she described as tiring. 

“Commuting and the college experience, it sucks. It sucks,” she said. “But if you make friends that live on campus, they can let you know about what’s going on and they give you places to stay so that you can go to late events because a lot of the events happen at night time and everything. If you don’t have a car, it’s even harder, but being a commuter is very different from living on campus because you don’t get to experience the same things that your friends get to experience, but money-wise, commuting is very helpful.” 

She also discussed how she juggles extra-curricular activities, including her involvement on the step team and as a peer mentor for freshman seminar while working at the bookstore during the week and at Wawa in Cherry Hill on the weekends.  

“Being on the step team, because we have practices so late, we don’t end practice until 10:30 p.m., I can’t get home on the bus that way because the last train that I take comes at 9 p.m. So if I’m not on that train then I have to stay up here with a friend or something, which normally my friends would let me stay with them,” Hailstalk-Harris said. 

Hailstalk-Harris said she believed that the university accommodates commuters to a certain extent with the location of the bus stop near campus and the commuter lounge, but not to a satisfactory level. Her main point of criticism is the pricing of the food on campus. She hesitated to answer how the university could improve its efforts to accommodate commuting students. 

“Most of the things I would say would be to lower the price here, but they probably won’t do that ever, so there’s not really much I can say on that note, because the things that I want to change aren’t going to change, which is basically more affordable food, and more affordable meal plans and things like that.” 

Junior marketing and human resource management major and senate liaison for the Association for Commuting Students (ACS) Victoria Andersen, spoke on her decision to commute from her home in Union, New Jersey, via train her sophomore year, due to financial reasons. Her commute took an hour by train. Like Hailstalk-Harris, Andersen also stayed with a friend on campus occasionally and had a job on the weekends to pay for the train fare. The main reason why she stayed with friends was to be a part of extracurriculars and events, she said. 

“I think that was the biggest challenge. I tried to stay for an event or something late and had to take the train early in the morning,” said Andersen. “I’d be late for work or there have been times I’ve been late to class because I’ve missed the train, but my professors were all very understanding because I gave them not a great deal of notice, but I was able to send them an email while I was on the train [saying] that I was on my way.”

When Andersen commuted, she played club volleyball and was a part of the Black Student Union as well as the Leadership Development Program, however, she still felt as though she missed out on events due to her long commute. While she also commended the renovation of the commuter lounge and the dining options she said Rider could improve on are for organizations to start having events earlier in the day to encourage commuters to show up.

When asked if events on campus were accommodating to commuters on campus, Fenneberg said that events on campus attract and accommodate a wide array of students — with a variety of events spanning various times of day and days of the week as well as types of events. 

ACS Faculty Advisor Alison Koury touched on the issue of time management for commuters and how it impacts their involvement. 

“I think that the main issue that a lot of our commuters face is not having enough time in the day to do everything that they want to do. I know how tough it is when students are trying to work, go to school, do extracurricular activities, and have family responsibilities in addition to commuting. It is possible to be involved as a commuter but it takes planning and commitment to all areas of your life,” Koury said. 

Andersen also said that parking was an issue before Public Safety opened up the specific lots for students to park closer to FAC, Poyda Hall and the BLC at night. 

She said, “ACS is open to all the different ideas that commuters have in ways that we can make this a better community and more welcoming for commuters that want to be more involved on campus.” 

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