Commuter Lounge Reconstruction Addresses Long Term Concerns


DURHAM- Commuter lounge currently under construction.

Jade Kwitkiwski, Contributing Writer

Where do you go when class is over? For most students, it’s second nature to go back to the dorms. But for commuter students, the only designated space to go was the bleak commuter lounge and kitchenette on the first floor of the Memorial Union Building (MUB). 

Reconstruction in both the lounge and kitchenette began Friday, March 10. The work has included ripping out old floors, repainting walls and ordering new furniture. MUB Director, Melissa Beecher explained that construction will ideally be done mid-March and new furniture will arrive for students returning in the fall.  

The old rooms, furnished with straight chairs, a couch and a few tables, were often quiet and described by many students as unwelcoming. 

Recognizing change was needed. MUB and student support staff collaborated on plans for the revamp starting in the summer. Funds were allocated from around campus, notably from the MUB and departments within Student Life. 

In support of the plans, student senate passed a resolution on Feb. 26 also calling for an update of the student lounge. Based on student feedback, Beecher emphasized a desire to develop an accessible space where students could study, hang out or work privately while being comfortable.

“It’s a really cool combination of some individual more study-space things and then some booths. So it might feel almost like you’re hanging out at a Panera with some comfy seating,” Beecher said. 

Courtesy of Melissa Beecher

Second year, Asa Fiske, a commuter student who lives in Newmarket, explained it can take 30 to 40 minutes from the time he gets in his car to class. Fiske described that the previous commuter spaces felt more like a courtesy and many students preferred to go home during break periods.

“I hope they make it more accessible and make it feel more welcoming; make it seem like it’s not an afterthought and it doesn’t seem put there just to be there,” Fiske said.

Similarly, second year, Molly Mahoney, who commutes from Dover, said it takes 15 minutes to drive to campus and an additional 15 minutes to walk to class. Mahoney said she never went into the old commuter spaces because whenever she passed by, it was usually empty.

“To me, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of community there,” Mahoney said, “So it didn’t really seem like a place that fostered an environment where people want to be in there when they could just go somewhere else.”

Mahoney also noted that she wasn’t aware it was a lounge designated for commuters until her sophomore year, but instead thought it was an extension of the sorority and fraternity life offices.

In that particular office next to the lounge, Jamie Silverstein had worked for five years as the Fraternity and Sorority Life coordinator. But within the past year, Silverstein’s position was promoted to director of Off-Campus Engagement and Fraternity and Sorority Life to include commuter support.  

The position change comes alongside Michael Blackman, hired as the dean of students two years ago, who now supervises the Student Life department at UNH. 

Blackman, speaking on “Emily and Dina’s Presidential Podcast,” noted that the change intends to create a person on campus that will actively work to create community for off-campus students.

“Jamie’s job is to really change that narrative and the commuter lounge is a good example of that. That is a space that has been neglected over the years,” Blackman said. We want the space to be a place where folks can go hang and actually feel like is theirs.” 

Silverstein also plans to revamp the commuter program alongside the lounge. In tackling the off-campus housing process, the office offers a program not affiliated with UNH with listings and contact information. The office is also hoping to launch a Commuter Liaison program next year. 

Additionally, there are plans for more informal events that would provide resources, free food and activities, while creating a more inclusive culture. The next event will be an Off-Campus and Commuter End of Year Celebration on May 8 in A-lot. 

“Students will be able to stop by first come, first serve for a free iced coffee from Coffee Craving, grab some free food from businesses off-campus, engage with businesses, property managers in Durham, resources and offices from on-campus and meet with some student organizations,” Silverstein said. 

Fiske and Mahoney both mentioned that it can be difficult to know what’s happening on campus because there isn’t a direct line of communication, like how on-campus students have Resident Assistants (RA’s). Fiske said an updated website, mailing list or newsletter would be helpful.

“I haven’t even really heard about any commuter events and I don’t really know any of the staff. That’s why I was saying it would be nice to have a newsletter because you see something like that getting mailed more often,” Fiske said. “If you see a regular name pop up in your email feed, you’re going to associate like I know at least there’s one person who can look out for you.” 

Amid changing programs and positions, Beecher emphasized that feedback is always welcome and valued. 

“If it’s like, ‘hey this is really frustrating and I want to see it change,’ let’s talk about it and let’s figure it out,” Beecher said. “Think of me as the Grand Central Station. I’m either where you need to go or I can get you where you need to go.”