I Spent 8 Hours in Arcadia University’s Commons

Arcadia University’s Commons and green at sunset | Julie Snider

How much effort does it take to drive a college senior to yellow-wallpaper-levels of insanity? The answer is as simple as little to none.

Plenty of college campuses have student unions that house food, meeting rooms, and lounges. They’re meant to give students somewhere to go between classes that isn’t just their dorm room (which, depending on the size of the campus, could be a half an hour walk away). As a student who no longer lives on campus by definition, it’s occurred to me that I’m going to spend more time in The Commons than I have in previous years. As a student at Arcadia University, I’ve spent a lot of time in The Commons over the past four years. However, for all of the time I’ve spent at The Commons, my room was no farther than ten minutes away — I’ve never been a commuter before! With Arcadia’s commuter lounge overtaken by a covid testing site, people who don’t live on campus have been displaced. If commuters are looking for a place to go, their best bet is The Commons. But the question is: Is The Commons bearable to stay in for an entire day? To test that, I decided to stay in The Commons for a full 8-hour work day.

In 2020, both Temple and Saint Joseph’s University published pieces about how commuters feel alienated in the wake of covid protocols. In the piece published by St. Joseph’s The Hawk newspaper, commuter students reveal that shortened library hours have given them nowhere to go when they’re not in class. Temple news reported a similar issue — hybrid classes create demanding schedules, and for students who don’t live on campus, it gives them nowhere to go if they need to join a Zoom class while they’re still on campus from a previous in-person class.

While Arcadia University is no longer doing hybrid scheduling — You’re either a remote student or you’re in the classroom, no in-between— it still puts commuters at the mercy of when the classes they need to take are running. If it’s a required class, it doesn’t matter if it’s four hours after your previous class, you still need to take it. So, during the lull, the best bet is for commuters to go to The Commons.

The commutes of three different commuters

I arrive at The Commons at 11:30am on Thursday exhausted and, full transparency, a little hungover. I decide that I want to just rip the bandaid off and start with lunch. After staring at the kiosk for longer than is probably necessary, I order a panini with a side of chili at the kiosk.

The Chat at noon on a weekday | Julie Snider

The food isn’t in the best shape — despite coming straight off the press, the panini feels like it’s come straight out of a refrigerator. The lunchmeat is ice-cold in the middle. Somehow, the turkey chili is more trustworthy than the sandwich. I pick out all of the beans and only eat them.

It takes nearly five minutes to find an empty table that isn’t also covered in someone’s garbage. Just as I sit down, a couple walks by. He tells a joke and she laughs, and then all of a sudden the top bun of her burger is on the floor. Surprisingly, it only makes her laugh harder. He shoves his six-foot-frame into one of the chairs only two feet off the ground, and they both lean in over the table to talk to each other.

My laptop is nearly dead and the table I managed to scrounge up isn’t near an outlet. I locate the nearest one and covet it silently until the girl sitting there packs up and walks away.

I spend the next two hours in a homework-induced haze. I oscillate between subjects with the bored frenzy of a caged zoo animal. I’m desperate for enrichment. Memorizing a sonnet for my Shakespeare class, useless keyboard tapping that I claim is thesis work, more sonnet memorization. Rinse and repeat. I am stuck in a hellish cycle punctuated only by the impressively loud squeal of the southmost upstairs entrance.

In The Commons, there is always someone screaming, and every time I locate the person, I am willing to bet money that they’re on a sports team.

Catelyn Ballard manning the front desk | Julie Snider

I finish my homework and realize I’ve forgotten to bring the book I was planning to read to stave off boredom. I could go to the gym, but I’m wearing jeans and also there’s no showers. I’d be sweaty for another 6 hours, which feels just as mean to the people around me as it does uncomfortable for myself.

I remember that Oregon Trail exists and find an emulator online. For what may be the first time ever, I win. I think that the secret is investing in a lot of food at the beginning, then the annoying pixel family can’t complain about being hungry all the time.

I consider going to the game room, but I’m alone and most of the games are suited for two or more players. I don’t feel like playing pool alone, and I’m not smart enough to play Chess against myself.

No, seriously. Why is someone always yelling? It’s not that loud in here; you can use your inside voice.

The Chat as seen from the top floor of The Commons | Julie Snider

Arcadia has the disadvantage of such a small campus. There’s one place to get food in the whole of The Commons, two total on campus not including the small and ever-crowded Starbucks. There’s an array of tables right outside The Chat, then another smattering of tables downstairs in the Great Room, but it’s dark and empty down there. Plus, the fact that there are windows in The Chat looking down into it is a little unnerving.

At four, a friend texts to tell me that they’re in The Chat with a couple of my other friends. For about an hour, I have company. We discuss my boredom idly while it starts to set in that I’m going to return to it as soon as they leave.

Julia Sigalos (left) and Sydney Zeegler (right) eating lunch at The Chat | Julie Snider

At four-thirty I’m hungry and decide to brave the spaghetti for dinner because I don’t like their burgers and I can’t stomach another cold panini. The chat worker calls my number — not because the food is done, but because he wants to plead, “Will you let me put seasoning on this? Just a little. Just some oregano, like a real Italian.”

Obviously, I oblige.

The spaghetti is very oregano-y, but that’s not a complaint.

The social distancing markers in The Chat | Julie Snider

When my friends leave, the dinner rush is just beginning, so I decide to take my things and head back upstairs. The individual tables are all taken up again, so I park myself at the end of one that seats eight people. I go back to aimlessly switching browsers from one social media to the other. Tumblr is boring, and people on Twitter are too loud, and Instagram makes me feel bad about myself so I go back to Tumblr. Social media is just a vicious cycle.

I spend the last hour listening to a podcast (this process has been so under-stimulating it’s re-ignited my podcast phase, which I exited sometime during the pandemic because I had no reason to drive anywhere anymore), checking the clock every two minutes, and playing Tetris in-browser. My new high score is 111,202.

The very obvious learning curve of my Tetris playing

Commuters tend to get overlooked, and it’s only gotten worse since 2020. Because of covid protocols, common areas have lost half their seating. We don’t have meal plans, so our options are to bring our own food or to pay $8 for inedible sandwiches. The Arcadia library is open, but study rooms require reservations — which is the same problem that both Temple and St. Joseph’s reported. Commuters also can’t swipe into most dorm buildings to make use of the lounges and other public seating areas available to residential students. This isn’t an Arcadia-specific issue. Every college has commuters, and every school with commuters seems to make residents the priority.

Schedules can’t always be tailored into perfect little bite-sized pieces. Commuters need somewhere to go when the day lulls — if only to keep them from seeing people in the wallpaper.

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Julie Snider

Julie Snider

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