A new lounge for commuter students will be opening in Atherton Union. Photo by Lauren Hough.
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As Andrew Stutz, assistant dean of students and student affairs liaison for commuter students, put it, the new commuter student center in Atherton Union will feel like “home.” The new space has yet to open, but Stutz said the former Butler Esports room will be transformed and ready to welcome commuters within the next couple weeks.
Stutz began his inaugural position as the point of contact for commuter students last November and has since been working to give commuters a sense of community on campus. Stutz, who commuted to law school, knows the challenges of not living on campus and began working with the Gardner Institute last year to learn how to better the experience of commuter students.
“I understand how it feels to go somewhere and not really feel like you’re home,” Stutz said. “We’ve looked at how we need to better serve primarily our first-year students, and something that came out of that was that our commuter students didn’t feel like they were being supported. … The biggest thing I’ve learned is that they need to feel like they belong here, and a big part of that is having a space on campus that’s dedicated to them.”
The current, “non-functioning” commuter lounge sits next to the Efroymson Diversity Center in Atherton Union. Stutz explained that while nothing is broken or inherently wrong in the lounge, it does not currently function as the designated commuter-only space it was intended to be. More than a cozy lounge for commuters, Stutz said the room has turned into more of a general study space where people tend to take meetings and Zoom calls.
According to Stutz, the point in calling the new space the “commuter student center” is to give commuters a room that can be used for a variety of things. While students will likely use the space for academic purposes, it can also be a place to store and prepare meals, hang out between classes and make friends.
Stutz held meetings for commuter students during orientation week and said he is happy to hear that commuters are already getting excited about the new space.
“The coolest thing has been just the response from the commuter students that I’ve talked to so far,” Stutz said. “They’re just happy that we care and that we’re interested, which shows that we weren’t serving them well enough in the past.”
Yossra Daiya, a junior political science and psychology combined major, has been commuting to Butler from Fishers for the last three years and said she rarely uses the current lounge. Daiya described the current lounge as being dark and uncomfortable, but said that if it were updated with couches and more amenities then she would “use it all the time.”
No one told Daiya about the lounge when she was a first-year, but rather, she discovered it on her own. During her first year, Daiya bounced around from different libraries and study rooms throughout the day, but now finds herself most comfortable in the Diversity Center.
“It was really hard to find a place to go [my first year],” Daiya said. “It was hard finding a place to eat with a microwave and everything and obviously there’s Plum, but when you spend like 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on campus, you want a little bit of a quiet place every once in a while. So the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of my time in the Diversity Center just because the commuter lounge isn’t as comfortable and welcoming. It’s just a dark room and … There’s not really any resources that a commuter would want in there.”
Unlike Daiya, sophomore biochemistry major Andrea Rios was made aware of the current lounge as a first-year, but still finds no use for the “dark” and “awkward” space.
Rios frequently finds herself in the Diversity Center, like Daiya, because of how comfortable and welcoming it feels – especially in comparison to the next-door lounge.
“I’ve only been [to the commuter lounge] once, and I didn’t like it,” Rios said. “Even with my commuter friends, I still just come to the [Diversity Center] and ignore that place. I don’t even go in there for Zoom meetings or anything… It feels like a dungeon, and I try to avoid going in there.”
Rios often finds herself staying on campus long past when classes end for late-night study and review sessions. Even though she could go home, she tries not to waste gas going back and forth between home and campus. Rios hopes the new commuter lounge will be her place to crash during long breaks, and that it will be accessible well after midnight.
Stutz recently met with Butler’s marketing team to finalize the branding and overall look of the space. Butler Club Esports left behind some furniture and desks, but Stutz said there will also be a full-size refrigerator, a microwave, a white board for studying, as well as lockers and plenty of comfy seating.
Unlike the current lounge, which is open to everyone, the new commuter student center will only be accessible to commuters – around 400 to 500 students. Stutz is working to compile a complete list of commuter students, and once that is finished, only their Butler IDs will be able to unlock the door.
Stutz said commuter students are welcome to bring non-commuter friends into the space, but he thinks that having a designated space will help students who live off-campus to grow closer.
“You’re not going to stay on campus if you don’t feel like you have a space and don’t know anybody,” Stutz said. “I remember when I was in college, my best friends were the people that lived in my dorm that I saw all the time, and when you’re commuting, it’s different, so I want [the new commuter student center] to be the place where they feel the most belonging on campus.”