Goucher’s undergraduate students are required to reside on-campus as residential living is pivotal to the close-knit community that the college aims to cultivate. The few exceptions made to this rule leaves a small, but significant group of undergraduates out of the on-campus camaraderie: commuters.
The majority of undergraduate students live in on-campus residence halls, but 14% of them commute from their permanent address or approved off-campus housing (approximately 150 students of Goucher’s 1100 total undergraduate population).
Jeff Castro ‘24, Student Government Association (SGA) President, is originally from New Jersey, but opted to live off-campus in Baltimore throughout his in-person experience at Goucher. Living off-campus can be isolating for some, and Castro said that he doesn’t “think there are enough resources for commuters on this campus.”
“When you’re a commuter here, if you’re not involved in any extracurriculars, it’s just Van Meter, Julia Rogers, then going back to the parking lot and leaving,” said Castro.
Commuters have access to the same resources and services as students who reside on campus, such as the Student Counseling Center, the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE), and the Career Education Office (CEO). Additional resources available to commuter students include commuter lockers and a lounge on the first floor of the Athenaeum. A Commuter Appreciation Week was held last month with events including a game night, ice cream social, and meals.
Castro noted that the commuter lounge is desolate, only equipped with a couple couches, some games and a kitchen that isn’t stocked. Toval echoed those sentiments, and said that the space is usually empty, so there isn’t much opportunity for socializing.
With no meal plans designed for commuter students, Castro said that it is “really easy” to mess up one’s eating habits as a commuter, and in turn, disrupt productivity or eagerness to engage in extracurriculars.
Dario Toval ‘23 attended community college before enrolling at Goucher in 2021, and he now commutes from his family’s home in Reisterstown to avoid on-campus housing costs, approximately 20 miles from campus. Toval said that during his first year, he often had to turn down lunch invitations from his friends because he “didn’t have a meal plan” and as a result, he spends less time on campus today.
This is where the Commuter Council comes in. The new organization is led by Denzel Stewart, Assistant Director for Student Engagement, who Castro said has “spearheaded” recent efforts to provide commuters with a better experience.
“The Commuter Council is the voice of commuter students, and they provide a platform for students to create engaging programming to enhance the commuter student life here at Goucher,” said Stewart. “We meet every other Thursday of each month – our next meeting is scheduled on Thursday, April 27th, 2023 from 5:00pm-6:00pm in the Commuter Lounge on the first floor of the Athenaeum.”
The Council currently consists of three students, a figure Stewart hopes to “tremendously” increase in the upcoming academic year to help engage commuters on campus and make them aware of the resources available to them.
Stewart noted that there haven’t been “many concerning issues” reported to him from commuters, but there has been feedback regarding a lack of food options on campus since most of them do not have meal plans. As a result, the Office of Student Engagement established a Commuter Monthly Lunch, where any commuting student can eat lunch for free in Mary Fisher Dining on specific days.
Castro’s first year was virtual, but when athletes were given the option to return for training during the Spring of 2021, he wanted to be there to meet and bond with the men’s soccer team.
“I just couldn’t afford the housing,” Castro said, “I really wanted to be there to meet my team and get assimilated into the team culture, but I didn’t have the option of living on campus.”
Both Toval and Castro said that if they didn’t own a car, commuting to Goucher would be challenging. One of Castro’s former roommates didn’t have a car, and said the experience of trying to figure out public transportation from Baltimore to Towson was “very difficult.”
“He would have to take a bus that was about five blocks from our apartment, and he’d have to take that bus and a connecting bus to Goucher, and I’m pretty sure he’d end up here around 9 am, but would leave the apartment at 7 am,” Castro explained.
Toval mentioned that Stevenson University, a nearby small school in a suburban setting, has its own shuttle service to transport students who live off-campus. While Goucher does not have its own shuttle service, the college partnered with The Loop, a public bus service that stops at Goucher and several other areas in Towson in 2021. This move came after the Baltimore Collegetown Shuttle fell into obsolescence.
Even though commuter students have access to many of the same resources as their on-campus peers, Toval said it can be difficult to access them at times, and recalled negative interaction he had with a professor when trying to access a study space in Julia Rodgers over the weekend.
Castro acknowledged that if he wasn’t a varsity athlete, his engagement on campus would’ve looked very different – he wouldn’t have access to a locker room to store his belongings and shower after long days, teammates to swipe him into the dining hall, or an incentive to hang around after classes ended. But despite the obstacles, Castro said that he’s grateful for his experience as a commuter because it helped him mature and learn life skills pertaining to renting and cooking for himself.
The next and final Commuter Monthly Lunch of the year will be held on Monday, May 8, but Stewart said that students are welcome to stop by his office in OSE at any time to talk to him about the Commuter Council or any issues they are facing at Goucher.
Feature image of the commuter lockers by Amita Chatterjee