By Rebekah Schroeder
Each week, commuter students would spend hours pre-pandemic getting to the College — long car rides, no parking spaces and gaps between classes becoming their personal soundtrack.
Then, the eternal question of “Will I ever find parking?” changed to “Will I ever go back?”
From the comforts of home, former commuters still find solace in the Commuter Collegiate Union (CCU), a group on campus for those who may not live minutes away from campus and their academic courses.
Now, with learning styles primarily remote, few students are making the daily trip(s) to the College. But that does not stop CCU from meeting over Zoom — fostering a community and continuing the mission they have represented since forming in 2019.
“The reason I was so passionate about CCU to join and to lead is because my freshman year had a big group of commuters,” said Akshay Badade, the president of the organization. “We were able to form a big group.”
Along with a roster of other executive board members, Badade has helped make the online transition easy, despite the challenges which eliminated a major facet of their College identities.
“I had the best freshman year of my life,” the junior finance major said. “I didn’t even regret commuting at that point. Before, I was having second thoughts, ‘I should’ve dormed or something instead of commuting,’ but after that year, I was like ‘Yup, bring it on. I’m down for commuting as long as I have this group of friends.’”
CCU is not only a social group, but one that fights to showcase commuter issues on campus, advocating for priority scheduling and parking as a main part of their drive. They meet biweekly on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m., sometimes playing games like Kahoot or having open conversations as members, friends and colleagues.
Lauren Wright is the Vice President of the club, a sophomore who originally started as the freshman representative. With double majors in criminology and International studies, she curated bonds at the College’s Welcome Week that remained resilient, regardless of if the main descriptor between them became somewhat null as a result of the pandemic.
Wright knows that commuters have nowhere to go when morning and night classes coexist on one schedule, and that navigating the many parking lots in a timely manner proves immensely frustrating for every person facing those challenges.
“We found that kids not being able to find parking was making them late for classes, or it just made the experience of commuting so much harder for a lot of kids,” said Wright. “Just the simple not being able to find a parking spot really ruins your whole day.”
The idea of avenging commuters who might be prioritized less for their status came from the creator of the group, Emanuel Martinez. The former president of the club and junior International studies major is still an active member of the group, who pushes for equality among the student body.
“I noticed that commuters really didn’t have a voice or a place, they were kind of just pushed to the side,” he said. “People always focus on living on campus and all that stuff like that’s the best experience, but the commuter experience is very good, the transfer experience is great; whatever experience you get at TCNJ is going to be very good.”
This discrimination, Martinez said, is what pivoted him to address the cause.
“A lot of people commute for various different reasons. Some people commute for financial reasons, some people commute to take care of their families or they have work, or other reasons as well,” he said.
Before the shift to remote learning, CCU held events like the Commuter Monologues and the Socialympics, the latter which resembled a field day with over 100 attendees. The ideas were part of Commuter Week at the College, which rewarded the students for their hard work and connected them to other parts of campus.
Their plans for the next month are to have a socially-distanced Commuter Picnic BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) on the Sundial Lawn, as well as another virtual Commuter Monologues on April 13.
“The more commuter students are in other clubs and the more residential students are in our clubs, the more issues with commuting or concerns will become more relevant to other groups, and I think that would help us create the administrative change that we’re hoping to get started next semester,” Wright said.
CCU hopes to get an office in the Brower Student Center, as well as other initiatives that can take place when the Fall 2021 semester brings more of an in-person experience. There, the club can have a home base for members to unwind and engage with each other.
It would be the “safe space” that Martinez first envisioned.
“There just wasn’t a voice or an advocate for commuters out there, and I thought creating a whole organization would really make the school aware that we should be important and considered as well,” he said.