A commuter’s candid story of a different college experience

I graduated high school with this golden image of college life. Living in a cozy dorm straight out of Pinterest. Feasting on Ralph’s doughnuts at midnight. Neglecting your laundry pile until the weekend, by which time the hamper smells like a dead animal. I had the same starry-eyed fantasies as every other high school senior as they tour their first college campus. But as life would have it, I find myself two years post-grad and disillusioned about the joys of college life. In short, I decided to commute.

I take full responsibility for my choice. Living on campus costs money, and when you have free housing, home-cooked meals and clean clothes to greet you when you come home, the decision to commute seems like a no-brainer. I can even accept my long drive home after a night class. But I think it is time for the commuters on campus to have a voice.

Compared to Knoxville or Chattanooga, Cookeville is a fairly small town. It is also a fairly rural town with a long history of agricultural involvement. Add to this backstory a renowned engineering program, not to mention a prestigious nursing school and business program, and you have a diverse, unique student body. We house students from every corner of the earth and every walk of life. Yet, Tech maintains its hometown heritage by attracting Tennessee natives with Southern hospitality. A sizable fraction of these locals are invested in Tennessee Tech, with family trees that show roots lodged deeply in the university. This is part of the legacy that TTU alumni are so proud to claim. Yet, our campus seems to prioritize its on-campus residents, and we the commuters are falling through the cracks.

Yes, I am talking about the Great Parking Struggle. Why must this topic always be the wedge driven between commuters and campus residents? Why do we commuters always feel that we get the short straw, as if we were the redheaded stepchildren of the student body? In the summer, we work up a good sweat trekking across campus. In the winter, we experiment with ice-skating and get creative thawing frozen cars (NEVER run hot water over a cold windshield).

I understand the need to renovate the outdated residential halls. I have lived in those dorms, used those showers, and breathed that mold, and I do not begrudge the university for the renovations. But I cannot understand why some funding could not have gone into creating new parking spaces. In fact, the commuter parking lots seem to have shrunk over the summer. Whose bright idea was it to forfeit parallel parking spaces in an effort to expand driving space? This may not seem to be a comparable argument to a campus resident, but to the commuter, a good parking space is worth its weight in gold.

Every commuter knows the struggle of driving to campus a half-hour before class, driving over every inch of parking lot, and finally slipping into a parking spot so remote and obscure as to be a possible parking violation (and we all know that no matter how far you drive, the campus police will find you). By this point, she has 60 seconds to get to class and a ten-minute walk. We commuters get our exercise.

I realize that a parking garage is nearly impossible because of the Upper Cumberland’s vast underground cavern system. I also understand that the university is juggling several expansion projects at the moment. What I cannot fathom is why some of these projects take precedence over our parking situation. Why are we even considering a new fitness center when we could utilize the proposed building site as an additional parking lot? Besides, the current fitness center is barely 10 years old, while our underfunded chemistry hall dates back to the ‘60s. I can almost guarantee that most future doctors and chemical engineers are more concerned with the condition of our esteemed chemistry department than the capacity level of our indoor swimming pool.

But that is a different battle. I know that we can’t change our campus overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Maybe that is part of what frustrates me. Why have these problems been allowed to accumulate over the years? I am not asking for a massive parking garage. We could start small – something as simple as a bus to transport commuters from far-away places. I’m simply asking for change, just an acknowledgment of a problem.