Commuting to college is an attractive option for many students who, with the help of OU-JLIC, can still feel like members of a young student community.
Would you rather live on campus or get your own car? That’s the dilemma that many students face each year when deciding whether to commute to college or not. With an average price tag of $11,505 for one year of room and board at four-year colleges in 2017-2018, it’s no wonder that many students are thinking twice before deciding to live on campus. (https://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064) But, the car vs. dorm conundrum is not the only question students face: Is a student willing to take out additional student loans just to live in a dorm? Are parents going to dig further into their college savings so that their child can be a part of residence life? Is the dorm life, often coed, a comfortable environment for an Orthodox student who has just spent a year studying in yeshivah or midrashah?
Some students are concerned that it will be harder for them to create a social group for themselves if they don’t live on campus. Abraham Maslow, in his classic theory of the hierarchy of needs, lists a “sense of belonging” as one of five essential categories of needs of every person. Eric S. Bloomquist, who published a Mixed-Methods Study on Commuter Students in 2014, emphasized that a sense of “mattering and belonging,” is essential to academic persistence and success on campus.1 Commuter students, especially at campuses that have a residential option, are more likely to feel marginalized and lonely; they may not feel as if they ‘belong’ or are members of any community. To complicate matters, commuter students are often juggling part-time work and responsibilities at home alongside the academic rigors of college.
Is a student willing to take out additional student loans just to live in a dorm? Are parents going to dig further into their college savings so that their child can be a part of residence life?
For some students, finding a “sense of belonging” off campus, within their local communities or yeshivot is a viable option. These students immerse themselves in their academic studies, but are uninterested in engaging in the programming or social environment on campus. Male students might live in the dorms of a local yeshivah where they learn Torah for part of the day. Female students, if attending college a distance from home, might rent an apartment or board by a local family from the community and their social circle will be comprised of other young women in the community who attend commuter campuses. But for many students who want to feel like members of a young student community on campus, OU-JLIC makes commuting to college an attractive option.
CULTIVATING A SENSE OF BELONGING
OU-JLIC tailors their programming to ensure that commuter students are included in the campus community: OU-JLIC educators reach out to Orthodox commuter students during their freshman year on campus and plan programming around the commuter students schedules. Gabi Sipen (UCLA ‘18), who resides in Tarzana, CA and was a commuter student at UCLA, recalls the first time Sharona Kaplan—OU-JLIC Torah Educator at UCLA—introduced herself as a pivotal moment in her college experience. Shortly after they met, Gabi began learning Torah with Sharona Kaplan in a weekly chavrutah; she trekked 20 minutes across campus during breaks to hang out with other OU-JLIC students and attended OU-JLIC classes during her lunch hour. Gabi also stayed on campus four times a year: “When I stay at UCLA for Shabbat, it feels like a Shabbaton. While I also enjoy being at home for Shabbat, I can never get that Shabbaton feeling at home.” Gabi is one of the many Orthodox students at UCLA who commute for financial or cultural reasons. The Sephardic Persian students, for example, rarely live in the dorms because there is a strong cultural focus on children living at home until they are married. Sharona Kaplan, OU-JLIC Educator at UCLA, explained that the OU-JLIC programming “is anchored around capturing the widest cross-section of the student body.” That’s why many of their weekly programs take place during lunch hour when the largest number of Orthodox students are guaranteed to be on campus.
“When I stay at UCLA for Shabbat, it feels like a Shabbaton. While I also enjoy being at home for Shabbat, I can never get that Shabbaton feeling at home.” – Gabi Sipen
Queens College has a vibrant Orthodox residential community (around 250 students live in the Queens college dorms or apartments) and a much larger population of students who commute to college. Commuter students, such as Hadassa Greenblatt from Far Rockaway, are members of the OU-JLIC student board which ensures that their voices are heard. “My weekly schedule is packed tight with school and work, but the OU-JLIC at Queens College does an excellent job providing me with opportunities to connect with educators and other Jewish students on campus,” says Hadassa. There are always OU-JLIC programs during the Monday and Wednesday club hours—the two time slots each week where there are no classes. When Shmuel Halbfinger arrived on campus in Fall 2017 after a year at Yeshivat Har Etzion, he was joined on campus only by a small handful of friends. He noted that as a commuter student, it “takes a bit longer” to create a community on campus. Shmuel found his chevrah (and a chavrutah) by hanging out at the Queens College Hillel. Next year, he will be taking a more active role in the OU-JLIC community, where he will be on the board of the OU-JLIC men’s student leadership team. Commuter students often choose to stay at Queens College for the monthly Shabbatonim or even ‘regular’ Shabbatot on campus. Many students stay in friends’ apartments, and if students do not have friends to stay with, then the OU-JLIC student board makes it a priority to find the student housing. Rabbi Charnoff, former OU-JLIC Educator at Queens College, explained that during his many years on campus there has never been a commuter student that was unable to find accommodations at Queens College for Shabbat.
“I always made sure to have classes on Tuesdays so that I could attend Noosheh Joon—an on-campus program with pizza and inspiring divrei Torah.” Shaily Yashar
The majority of Orthodox students dorm at Rutgers University; however, there are approximately one hundred Orthodox commuter students who commute to Rutgers for financial or religious reasons (and sometimes both).“Get involved early on,” Joey Baruh, a recent alumnus of Rutgers University who commuted each day from Highland Park, NJ, advises commuter students. “The circle of friends that you develop on campus will become a great social resource and can truly enrich your college experience (from an academic perspective). Engaging the local community can also take the edge off of what might be a lonely experience.” Joey, who is currently a student at NYU law school, took advantage of the programming and learning opportunities of both OU-JLIC and Chabad. He attended shiurim given by the OU-JLIC educators and made chavrutot with students who lived on campus. Atara Saloman, a rising senior in Rutgers-School of Nursing, commutes to college each day from East Brunswick, NJ. In past semesters, Atara has attended OU-JLIC social programs and even had a chavrutah with an OU-JLIC fellow on campus, but this year, her clinical rotations in the nursing school make it almost impossible for her to be involved in the community on campus. Most of her time, Atara said, is spent with the other 70 students who are also rising seniors in the Rutgers-School of Nursing. “The timing of these [OU-JLIC] events, for the most part, are usually convenient for a commuter,” says Atara. The commuter students at Rutgers University are generally less involved in OU-JLIC and Rutgers Mesorah (the Orthodox student group on campus) programming on campus than the students that live in the dorms. Rabbi Tzvi Wohlgelernter, OU-JLIC Educator at Rutgers, said that they are trying to change this dynamic by engaging commuter students, and especially those students that live near campuses in communities such as Highland Park and East Brunswick.
A BLENDED APPROACH
SMC and CSUN, two Los Angeles area campuses with large commuter student populations, OU-JLIC of Greater Toronto and Brooklyn College utilize a blended approach to engaging the largest number of students. Torah Educators schedules are parallel to students schedules: During the day, the OU-JLIC Torah Educators travel to campus, teach Torah, and run social programming there and in the evenings or on Shabbat they coordinate OU-JLIC programming in the communities where both the students and educators reside. Rabbi Nick and Orit Faguet (OU-JLIC Torah Educators at SMC) invite students to their home in the Pico Robertson neighborhood of LA, and students can often be found hanging out at their house on Shabbat afternoon. “I loved that I could speak to Rabbi Nick and Orit with whatever questions I had and ask them for advice,” says Shaily Yashar, an alumna of SMC. Shaily even planned her schedule around OU-JLIC events. “I always made sure to have classes on Tuesdays so that I could attend Noosheh Joon—an on-campus program with pizza and inspiring divrei Torah,” she added. Rabbi Bryan and Sondra Borenstein (OU-JLIC Torah Educators at CSUN) run Shabbat programming in the Encino/Tarzana area, where they reside, and even travel to other communities where students live to coordinate Shabbatonim.
“OU-JLIC enables me, and other Orthodox college students who live in the Toronto area, to feel as though we are part of a community.” – Hilla Sheinberg
Rabbi Aaron and Miriam Greenberg (OU-JLIC Torah Educators of Greater Toronto), both grew up in Toronto, and are religious mentors to countless college students and young professionals who have settled in the Toronto area. On Shabbat, Rabbi Greenberg runs a College and Young Professionals minyan at the BAYT, the largest Modern-Orthodox synagogue in the Toronto area. “OU-JLIC enables me, and other Orthodox college students who live in the Toronto area, to feel as though we are part of a community,” says Hilla Sheinberg, a Psychology major at York University. “The opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and chagim with your peers at the OU-JLIC Minyan, take part in a chaburah with your OU-JLIC educator, and the many other OU-JLIC programs on campus and in our community enhance our entire experience as undergraduate students who live at home.” Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack (OU-JLIC Torah Educators at Brooklyn College), in addition to being an integral part of the staff at the Brooklyn College Hillel, host students at their house for Shabbat meals every week and organize a College Minyan at the Kingsway Jewish Center on Shabbat.
Being a commuter student is not always the most seamless experience: driving through traffic each day to get to class, cultivating friendships with college students when you don’t live on campus and juggling other life responsibilities. But for many, it’s a wonderful option for financial, cultural and religious reasons. Commuter students who attend an OU-JLIC campus can look forward to being an integral part of a young and vibrant student community.
1. Bloomquist, Eric. “Developing A Sense of Belonging for Commuter Students: A Mixed Methods Study.” Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 5-2014. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1181&context=cehsedaddiss
By: Hani Lowenstein, Associate Director of Community Projects