A sense of community for all
The experiential learning associated with campus life coincides with a human need–a sense of belonging.
Three groups of students show distinct attitudes toward their relationship with living situations and a sense of belonging–residential students, commuters from home, and those who rent.
Senior Anay’s Cruz said she has had an extraordinary social experience living on campus.
“It’s pretty cool because I have made all of my best friends here,” Cruz said. “I’ve made a lot of connections on campus and I’ve gone to a lot of conferences. That’s how I got all of my leadership positions, doing orientation and being president of my sorority because living on campus has opened all those doors for me.”
The Office of Residence Life has continued to provide students with a holistic experience said Mark Parrott, assistant director.
The office has been working on new ways to improve the experiences for students by providing community rooms in the residence halls and weekend activities that will keep students around campus and socialize with one another.
“One of the challenges with living on-campus is that some students do go home on weekends which then takes away from that experience–that communal experience,” he said.
On-campus activities, whether they are events, clubs, or sports, have brought students together. Tracy Tyree, vice president of Student Affairs, said that type of engagement is critical to a student’s persistence in graduating because they are more likely to turn to their peers and university resources for help.
“It’s easier for a disengaged student to stop and drop out or transfer somewhere else because they haven’t invested themselves or feel that no one has invested in them if they’re not engaged with the university,” Tyree said.
Denise Bentley-Drobish, director of the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, said one of the biggest changes the department has faced is absorbing the issue of how to assimilate commuter students to Southern’s on-campus community.
“I think sometimes [commuters] feel like everyone lives on campus. And if we look at the freshman class we see that 80 percent live on campus. So it can feel, when they start, like everyone lives on campus and that can add to the feeling of being disconnected,” Bentley- Drobish said.
For the 38 percent of undergraduate students who live on campus, Southern offers many activities and events specialized for them through organizations like the Residents Hall Association.
However, commuter students do not have this same accessibility and knowledge of events.
“We’re really in the dark about activities on campus. I hear about things that go on from my friends who live on campus after it’s already happened. It’s easy when you live in a dorm and go out with your whole floor,” said Julia Santoro, freshman nursing major from Woodbridge.
Alyssa Duffy, graduate intern at the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, works closely with the Commuter Commission run by the Student Government Association to help create the connection between commuter student and the campus community.
“One of the things [the commission] is trying to do is programming,” Duffy said. “Finding ways they can reach out to commuter students during the day and encourage them to stick around and be here at night.”
This may be difficult for some commuters that deal with strict time constraints and other responsibilities.
Junior Maria Zurita commutes from Hamden and works 30-35 hours a week at Tropical Cafe in New Haven. She said she believes most of the commuters have other schedules to consider when planning their day out, with the biggest conflict being a job.
“We don’t have the luxury of staying around and waiting,” she said.
This may also be true for students who rent an apartment near campus. The lifestyle for renters is different than the typical on-campus student experience and those students who live at home.
Senior Aldon Duncanson, who rents in New Haven, said he prefers the freedom of living in his own apartment.
“I don’t have anybody telling me what I can do (or) what I can’t do,” he said. “How many people I can have in my room at what time. I don’t have to sign anybody in. The freedom is not the same. I’ll take my own space.”
Bentley-Drobish understands that students are going to look to move out on their own in search of more freedom. It is the idea of a different experience which leads to this, especially after a student has lived on-campus or commuted from home before.
Junior Kimberly O’Brien, who rents in the Westville area of New Haven, said it was the previous tenure of living on campus that prepared her for the next step of getting an apartment.
“The fact that I was already kind of an established student leader and that I already had so many connections to campus kind of really helped to ease my transition,” O’Brien said.
The idea of students going forward in their lives while being a part of the Southern community is not only beneficial socially, but is also key academically. Bentley-Drobish said creating a close-knit community is paramount for a student’s academic success.
“We know that commuter students feel less connected to the university as a whole and because of that they engage less and are less likely to persist to graduation,” she said. “Our hope is that you come here with an expectation to get a degree and that’s what we want to see happen.”
Journalism students in the News Writing Course, under the instruction of Prof. Cindy Simoneau, examined where students live during the school year and why they make their choices for a course project.
Editors: Carl Castro, Aaron Johnson and Krystina Morgan
Reporting By: Olivia Cintron, Krystal Goethe, Laura Gustafson, Anisa Jibrell, Diane Lazarus, Taylor Richards and Ratasha Smith
Photo Credit: Aaron Johnson/SouthernOwls