Bethel’s off-campus students frequently feel left out and like a lesser part of the community.
By Ally Brodin
Sofia Solorzano pulls into the East Lot at Bethel University each Monday morning at 7:40 a.m. for her first class, Orientation to College Studies. She parks her 2013 white Hyundai Elantra and walks into CLC109, her car keys attached to the side pocket of her backpack. The rest of her day consists of more classes, studying in The Loft and then driving fifteen minutes back to her home in Blaine at 2 p.m.
There are over 200 undergraduate commuter students attending Bethel University. For the most part, they arrive in the morning, attend classes and are gone by nighttime.
Some commuter students are freshmen, like Solorzano, who live close enough to campus that they would rather save money than live in the dorms. Others are upperclassmen who once lived on campus but have since moved out.
Jerry Lara is a fifth-year senior and has been a commuter since his sophomore year. After spending his freshman year living on campus, he decided to commute instead.
“I live in Blaine, so it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience to drive,” Lara said. “I don’t really want to spend ten thousand dollars for room and board while I can just live at home with my mom.”
“I don’t really want to spend $10,000 for room and board while I can just live at home with my mom.”– Jerry Lara
Commuting students have a reputation for being uninvolved, primarily because there are few events geared towards them.
“[For] some events I would have to stay at Bethel for a good four or five hours just to go,” Lara said. “I couldn’t go into anyone’s dorm or anywhere. I would have to take a nap on the comfy chairs upstairs to pass the time.”
Most commuters are unwilling to join student organizations meeting outside of typical class hours because they’ve already returned home for the night. This limits commuter involvement even further.
“The only on-campus thing I’m able to be involved in is Commuter Shift,” Solorzano said. “They meet during the day when I’m free and on campus.”
Bethel puts a high value on the student community, but commuters have a harder time being a part of it.
“Everyone at Bethel is nice, but it’s hard to feel totally like a part of the community when I’m only on campus during the day,” said Solorzano. “Everyone has down time and nights to grow closer, make memories and have fun. When you’re a commuter it’s hard to get that same type of community.”
“Everyone has downtime and nights to grow closer, make memories, and have fun. When you’re a commuter it’s hard to get that same type of community.”– Sofia Solorzano
Lara can attest from his year living in Bethel housing to how most on-campus activities, organized or not, happen after dark. For him, the late-night activities are one of the things that he misses the most from living on campus.
“[After my classes] I just want to go home and just lay down and not have to drive back. I’d see my friends on social media, just like hanging out together or having fun,” Lara said. “It kind of just made me feel disconnected.”
Solorzano feels that she has missed out on many iconic moments for Bethel students. She distinctly remembers missing homecoming events due to doing her Christianity in Western Culture homework at her desk at home or being too tired to drive back to Bethel after lifting weights with her sister. Every morning after homecoming events she would see people’s Snapchat stories and feel like she missed out, wishing she had been there.
“Honestly, I’ve thought about transferring next year,” Solorzano said. “Everyone at Bethel is nice and I love the atmosphere, but everyone has their own friend groups that I’m not a part of. I feel like I’ve only made two friends that regularly talk to me, and I don’t feel like an actual part of the Bethel community. But it’s slowly getting better as I put myself out there more.”
Solorzano finds that a willingness to reach out first is often what it takes to feel involved.
“[Being a commuter] makes it harder to find community, but not impossible. You just have to step out of your comfort zone. You have to put your foot out and ask, ‘Oh, are you guys gonna do anything? Can I come?’” Lara said.
After a full Monday morning of classes, Solorzano is ready to head home. She walks out to the East Lot at 12:30 p.m. and unhooks the dingey metal carabiner with her keys on it from her backpack. She unlocks her car, throws her bag into the passenger seat and starts her fifteen-minute journey home.