These days, Lesley University has become a predominantly commuter school. 57% of the total 4,826 graduate and undergraduate students are living off campus, (based on a 2016 data analysis); this means there is a growing need for the administration to provide resources to the particular needs of commuter students. These issues range from parking availability, public transportation cost, accessibility to food in and around campus, to a lack of a sense of community among commuter students. In previous editions of the Lesley Public Post, commuting students have expressed some frustration and what they saw was a lack of services available to them. But there seems to be a renewed focus on making improvements for students who commute.
Since September 25, 2017, Linda Elliott has been the Director of Commuter Student Services. Her job is to provide information and resources to commuter students, and listen to and assess their needs. Since I transferred to Lesley in the spring of 2017, I have seen many changes to campus life that have improved my experience as a commuter student. For example, a Commuter Food Panty has been created for students who do not live on campus. Open Monday through Friday, many days from around 9am to 5pm, (occasionally 8pm), this center collects donations of food that commuter students can have for free! All I have to do is walk into the pantry in Stebbins Hall, give my name, grab a snack, and write down what I took. With alternative options being costly in the campus area, I can depend on the food pantry to offer me some sort of snack.
However, because the pantry runs on donations, occasionally there is a lack of options, and I leave empty handed. Even though that may be frustrating at times, I appreciate the effort the school has taken to improve food options for commuter students. Perhaps other students and faculty are not aware that the Commuter Food Pantry relies on donations; so if you would like to donate food to the pantry, you can drop your donations off at 11 Mellen Street, or at the food pantry itself. You can find more information at www.Lesley.edu/students/campus-services/commuter-student-resources.
Any commuter student knows that getting to campus can be stressful. I commute by car every day because public transportation is not near my residence. With traffic, it can take me over an hour to get into the city. Once I’m near campus, there are limited parking options. My first semester at Lesley I parked on Massachusetts Avenue every day and I had to put quarters in the meter every two hours. All too often a professor would let class out late, causing my meter to expire, or I would park on an inevitable snow bank and block a portion of the bike lane and receive a ticket costing upwards of $25. There is very limited free parking in Cambridge, and there is always the potential of being towed. A friend of mine was towed last year and had to pay $100 to collect her vehicle. In a previous article in the Lesley Public Post by Kristie Shablin, she explains that, “The only way that you can park at Lesley is if you apply for a commuter parking permit. But even that is a problem. On the Lesley website, it says, “The University has 20 full semester spaces for student parking during the day and permits will be awarded based upon the distance of the student’s commute, availability of public transportation and class schedule.”
One thing that has not improved is the process of getting a parking pass– it is almost impossible. Last semester I was lucky enough to get a night and weekend pass that allowed me to park on campus from 3pm-12am on weekdays, and all day on weekends. Because I was taking some classes on this schedule, it was very beneficial having this pass. However, with extremely limited space in many of the campus lots, there is never a guarantee a student or staff with passes will find a spot to park.
That being said, I was reading my commuter update email this week when I found a hopeful change to a parking lot policy. The Porter Square parking lot is open to the public; however, it costs quite a bit of money to park there. Parkers receive discounts if they buy items in the University Hall building. There have never been discounts for students—until now. Students are now charged a much lower rate to park if you bring your ID to the counter when paying. For example, to park for 4-8 hours in the lot it usually costs $18. For students, it will now cost $9. To park for 3-4 hours will now cost $5 less than the usual $10. These deals to students are important. Instead of parking on the street for the same price, risking getting a ticket, I can park in this lot without any fear of being towed or ticketed. Although something needs to change about overall accessibility and affordability of parking for students long term, these steps give me at least one new option I can use.
Students who commute by car are not the only ones who have struggles. Students who commute on public transportation are at the whim of traffic and breakdowns that affect getting to class on time – or not. Not only that, but commuting on public transportation can be just as expensive as driving. However, Lesley now reimburses students in full if they pay for parking at Alewife and Quincy Adams stations. Also, there are student deals that students can apply for at the beginning of the semester to receive discount pricing for the MBTA.
Another issue students who commute face are a lack of a sense of community and a feeling of social connection with other students. It’s hard to meet people when you don’t live on campus. However, Commuter Appreciation Week will be held from February 12-16. During that week there will be events, gifts, and free food for commuter students!
All in all, since I began my time at Lesley, I have seen positive improvements from our administration. There have been commuter meetings that offer students a chance to share their frustrations and needs, and there have been reforms made as a result of those student suggestions. In no way is this work done; however, as a commuter, I feel more respected and acknowledged than ever before.
(If you are a commuter student who would like more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the scoop)