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Commuter students find community in each other

<p>The Commuter Center provides a space for students to study and hang out.</p>

The Commuter Center provides a space for students to study and hang out.

Tucked behind a study room on the second floor of the Armstrong Student Center is a small room equipped with multiple sets of tables and chairs, a kitchenette and a shelf filled with board games, among other things. Several students are seated throughout the room, either quietly studying or chatting with one another.

This is the Commuter Center, located in Armstrong 2045. Despite its name, it’s open to all Miami University students between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Outside of this time frame, commuter students can tap their ID cards to gain access to the room. 

Although it’s a comfortably-sized space, it's far too small to serve as the home base for the 667 commuter students at Miami. It isn’t even labeled on the directory in Armstrong. 

However, the Commuter Center is the one place on campus that commuter students can call their own and form connections with others who share their experiences — and sometimes struggles.

At Miami, commuters come from towns all over southwestern Ohio, not just Oxford. In addition to their different hometowns, they have several different motivations for commuting instead of living on campus.

Ben Clift, a junior economics major who commutes to Miami from Eaton, Ohio, chose to commute because traditional residential life simply didn’t appeal to him.

“I was not very enamored with dorm life; it did not seem like something that I was interested in experiencing,” Clift said. “My parents were happy to let me live in the house, so I took that [opportunity].”

For other commuters, such as mathematics majors Emma Jewell and Holden Isaacs, the decision to remain at home is primarily financial.

“Graduating debt-free sounded much better than graduating in debt, so that’s why I chose to commute,” Jewell said.

Isaacs gave a similar reason for choosing to commute.

“I didn’t want to spend the money. I was able to go here for fairly cheap with scholarships, so I was just like ‘meh, let’s do that,’” he said.

Clift, Jewell and Isaacs are all members of the executive board of the Commuters of Miami (COM) organization, which meets in the Commuter Center and provides a designated time for commuters to voice their complaints and build community.

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For many commuters, COM — which meets in the middle of the day to accommodate everyone’s schedules — is the only organization they’re involved with at Miami because driving back to campus for a nighttime meeting is too much of a hassle.

Jewell, who commuted for her first two years but now lives on-campus, said that the difficulty of getting involved contributed to her lack of attachment to Miami when she lived at home.

“For my first two years, when I wasn’t involved in much, [Miami] was just a place that I would come to, go to classes and go home,” Jewell said. “Now that I live on-campus, and I’ve had more on-campus involvement, it’s different.”

Since many residential students tend to make friends through organizations, this lack of involvement makes it difficult for many commuter students to form connections with their peers aside from those who spend time in the Commuter Center.

“I only have two or three good friends that are outside of the commuters, like from classes and stuff,” Isaacs said. “It’s just a lot more difficult.”

Despite having to drive to campus every day, commuter students must park in the same lots as residential students.

They also do not get special privileges for class registration, even though taking an 8:30 a.m. class may mean having to wake up at 6 a.m. to beat traffic.

First-year orientation is heavily geared toward residential students, but it provides no information on resources for commuter students.

To remedy this issue, this year COM attempted to hold its own orientation session for commuter students, but only 30 of the approximately 250 commuter students in the class of 2023 attended.

Adam Leftin, assistant director of the Armstrong Student Center, became the adviser of both COM and the Commuter Center in May 2019. Determined to address the students’ common complaints and enhance their experience at Miami, he led a focus group with the Division of Student Life to decide what changes need to be made to increase the commuters’ sense of belonging on campus.

“I’m really looking to take this year to focus on the mission of the Commuter Center: what services do we want it to be able to provide for commuter students and what are ways that we can advocate for commuter students,” Leftin said.

The students have expressed appreciation for Leftin’s efforts so far. He’s secured new study tables and a mini fridge for the Commuter Center. But no matter what the future holds for Miami’s commuter students, they say they’re grateful for the resources they already have.

“I feel like what’s been going on lately has been a lot better for us,” Isaacs said. “People have actively been trying to help us.”

But most of all, they’re grateful for each other.

“I don’t have a good connection with a lot of the people I see walking around [Miami]. I don’t feel like a Miami student in the same way they do,” Clift said. “But I feel like a Miami student when I’m with the commuters.”