Students find Southern commuter policy lacking

Abby Richards – Contributor

In the pouring rain, communications major Sebastian Gonzalez, a senior, was on his way to his job at the digital production facility on campus. The rain was so powerful that the rubber on his windshield wipers came off and he had to stop and remove them.

The metal of the wipers was left scratching against his windshield as he drove, late, for his shift. This is just one of the concerns for students commuting to Southern; with snow threatening, it could get worse.

Roughly 6,600 students at Southern commute to school and the commuting experience is different for everyone. It can be difficult to get to school with traffic and inclement weather and as winter continues this experience is about to get even harder, especially since there are no policies in place to protect commuters.

Communications major Emmanuel Soares, a junior, drives about 25 minutes from Stratford to get to school.

“It’s really different from last semester where I lived on campus up in [the] North [residence hall]. It’s way less convenient,” he said. “I feel like I’m way more tired than I was last semester.”

Southern has a page on its website dedicated to commuter students. Here, commuters can find information about the Commuter Commission, a group that meets once a week to support commuters and discuss ways they can get involved, commuter parking, how to get a U-Pass, tips for commuters and frequently asked questions.

Even so, the tips for commuters on this page are just that: tips. There are currently no concrete policies regarding inclement weather, parking, or policies overall, that apply solely to commuter students at Southern.

“I feel like there’s not really anything that’s set in stone policy-wise for commuters, at least not at the moment,” Charlotte MacDonald, a graduate intern who oversees commuter programming said.

Other universities in the area have policies for their commuter students, many of which address student safety in the winter months.

At the University of Connecticut there are 11,000 commuter students and a policy for inclement weather that applies to them. If students do not feel safe driving to campus they do not have to.

“The policy that’s in place right now is really one that helps students feel safe, and if they do miss a class because of inclement weather there’s no implications,” John Armstrong, the director of off-campus and commuter student services at UConn, said.

The administration at Sacred Heart University has a similar policy for their commuter students and students and faculty.

“[Professors] are required to host class online through our Blackboard system [if there is no school due to inclement weather],” said Amy Novak, the director of student activities at Sacred Heart. “That is a policy that was actually just communicated recently.” Southern does not have a policy regarding hosting class online or any commuter policies.

Denise Bentley-Drobish, a Director in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, said while the university may move to this in the future, “I think we need to be aware of that [not everybody has access online].”

If commuter students do in fact have access online and want tips, they could go to Southern’s commuter page. Even so, what they will find may not offer much help as one tip says, “Leave home with plenty of time to get to class!” For some students his is easier said than done.

“I get up around 6 a.m. so that way I can get to my car around like 7:30 [a.m] so I can get to school at 8 [a.m.],” said communications major Trinity Collins. “It takes me a while because I have a lot of traffic. It takes me a while to get to school and get to class and get to work and then do other things.”

If there is inclement weather, this can cause an already high volume of traffic to increase. Bentley-Drobish said that from a weather standpoint, the faculty is understanding.

“My experience having conversations with students is that most faculty are pretty good about taking into account where a student’s coming from if the student were to communicate ahead of time,” Bentley-Drobish said.

Communication between a professor and a commuter student is simply encouraged. It is not policy.

“We encourage commuter students to be the line of contact because a professor won’t know if you’re a commuter or not,” MacDonald said. “They just see you as a student.” This does not mean a formal policy for commuter students will never be enacted.

“I would say that I’m going to do some more research. And we’ll have a conversation with student government about it,” said Bentley-Drobish. “I would be in favor of seeing a policy that’s more directive as far as dealing with commuter students.”


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