It’s well known that McMaster’s enrolment is high and the campus is short on space, but this month, off-campus and commuter students at McMaster will be given a new place to hang out.
A new lounge is opening on campus, dedicated to off-campus and commuter students. The lounge, named “The Lodge,” will occupy the space in Wentworth House that was formerly taken by The Phoenix.
The aim of the space is to help commuter students of all years connect to Mac by giving them a place to relax and study.
Jennifer Kleven, Director of the Off-Campus Resource Centre, thinks the lounge will make a noticeable difference to off-campus and commuter students, who may not feel the sense of community that residence students do.
“Sometimes they feel this disconnect,” she explained. “And it’s been shown that the more connected they feel to the school, the higher their grades will often be. And we think that’s really important.”
The project of establishing the lounge was started early in 2012, and it has been a joint effort between the Off-Campus Resource Centre and McMaster’s Office of Student Affairs, with input from the Society of Off-Campus Students (SOCS).
Gina Robinson, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and a major advocate for the lounge, had a hard time hiding her excitement about the project.
As a Mac grad and a former commuter student, Robinson appreciates the needs of students today.
“I’m really passionate about the commuters,” she said. “I can remember being a commuter student—it was difficult at that time.
She described how students once used Hamilton Hall as a communal space, before the student centre was built. With straightforward amenities—tables and chairs, a couple TV’s, and a microwave—it felt to her like a home away from home. She hopes current commuter students can have that same feeling.
Robinson and Kleven looked at research on commuter students from American schools such as the University of Ohio and University of Miami, as such research hasn’t been produced by Canadian universities, despite the trend of “refocusing on off-campus and commuter students.”
Although the idea has been widely praised, questions have been raised about the choice of location for the lounge. The old Phoenix, while it can accommodate a large number of students, is in Wentworth House, which is set to be torn down this spring to make way for the university’s new Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences.
Kleven explained that they saw the space as a good opportunity to launch the initiative as a pilot project.
“We all know space is tight on the campus,” she said. ”So why not take advantage of it while we can? It was going to sit vacant, nobody was going to be using it, so why not use it?”
“We wanted to create a space now,” explained Robinson, emphasizing that there is a pressing need for a lounge.
With a temporary space, however, they needed to be careful with money.
“When we were spending money we were trying to do it very carefully,” said Robinson.
The project received $25,000 from the Student Life Enhancement Fund for the project, which will be spent on furniture for the space. The remaining $20,000-$25,000 that have been budgeted will come from the Office of Student Affairs.
Although some of the costs are one-time—for example, the wireless will cost about $5000—Robinson and Kleven believe it’s worth it.
“It’ll be good money spent if this is a successful initiative, and then we can find more permanent space,” said Robinson.
Finding permanent space for The Lodge is something the team can only hope for at this point. Although Kleven and Robinson have appealed to the university administration for a permanent space, it’s not easy to find on such a packed campus.
Explained Kleven, “we’re hoping that we’re going to get hordes of students…[so] this will be an obvious example to the administration that we need this type of space on a permanent basis.”