After five on a Thursday

By:  Brian Konchalski

After 5:00 pm on any Thursday at Kean University, students flock to  their cars like geese flying south for the winter.  Even the dorm students who are lucky enough to have a car or have a ride to pick them up and leave for the weekend.

By Friday afternoon, the university is nearly a ghost town.

This is the way things go at commuter colleges.  Kean is not alone in this problem. Montclair University has similar issues.

There are at least two reasons for this weekly mass migration from the university to somewhere else: Kean’s community involvement and the lack of it in surrounding communities.

For as long as Kean University has existed, it has been a traditional commuter college.

One way you can tell it is a commuter college is by how much the students complain about the parking here, or should I say the lack thereof.

Another way you can measure a community is by its voter turnout. In involved communities, people vote. At Kean, the Student Government Organization election for the 2013-2014 President had a turnout of 378 students out of approximately 12,000 who were eligible to vote.  That is  less than three percent of the population who voted last year.

This voter turnout underscores the lack of community involvement at Kean.

Kean is so concerned with creating a welcoming and involved community that it has multiple offices for community affairs, like the Office of Residential Student Services and the Center for Leadership and Service.  All of these offices fall under the Vice President of Student Affairs, Janice Murray-Laury.

Both of these offices and Vice President share the common goal of building a community for all Kean students, and they offer plenty of activities for the community.

Despite the efforts, apparently it isn’t enough.

Another problem is the location – great for a commute to New York, bad for a college town atmosphere.

Kean is relatively far away from the things that attract college students; it  does not have a supporting ‘college town’ atmosphere like Rutgers has with New Brunswick. Bars are scattered along Morris Ave., there is a non-existent nightlife, and Union Center is at least a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute drive or 10 minutes with traffic.

New Brunswick is a great example of a college town.  The center of the town is within walking distance to Rutgers University.  There are also plenty of shops, bars and clubs, which are always packed with Rutgers students.  It’s a town where the students of Rutgers want to hang out.

Union is just not a college friendly place.  Elizabeth is better suited to be a college town than Union, but unlike New Brunswick the bars and clubs are not close enough to the university in order to attract a lot of business from students.  Some parts of Elizabeth aren’t the best places to hang out either.

According to Kean’s Vision 2020, the university plans to build at least 11 new dorms – effectively turning the commuter school into a resident college. Additionally, there are plans to create a major “University Boulevard” along Morris Avenue. Both might help to create the community some of us so desperately yearn for – but that’s a long way off.

I do not have a solution to this problem, except to say maybe we should all get a little more involved in the campus life. Vote.  Go to an event here.  Join one of the 171 groups, and if none of the groups that exist catch your interest, make a new group.

Every student at Kean has the ability to be involved in the community.  If each of our 12,000 students did just that, this could be a very different place.


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