By Najib Aminy
Coming off a game of pool in the lower level of the commuter lounge, Senior Paul Lyons said his Stony Brook experience is not a great one. Like 6,000 other undergraduate students, Lyons is a commuter student and said he is treated differently because of it. Lyons was quick to answer what he thought of his experience at Stony Brook. “I would say it’s kind of awful. At times I feel like I am second class citizen just because I am a commuter.”
Lyons said commuters are treated this way because they are unable to participate in school functions or become as active as students who dorm. “You don’t realize it but it’s hard for commuters to go to a professor’s office hours or wait around for exams at night.” This alongside long waiting lines at the SINC sites and expensive food prices are just a few reasons Lyons said cause his unexciting time at Stony Brook. “I treat school more like a job then what others might treat it like.”
The commuter lounge resembles much of how students perceive Stony Brook University: An enigmatic search for a bit of joy. This quest, combined with the many problems of Stony Brook, leaves students dissatisfied and administrators oblivious. Though administrators say they believe factors such as school pride and involvement are on the rise, some students still express extreme discontent.
Entering her second semester, Shannon Cochran left her home in Pemberton, NJ to enroll in Stony Brook. She too treats it like a job but said she enjoys meeting new people.
That is, at least during the weekdays. While commuters face the problems of traveling to class or staying on campus all day to take an exam, resident students face what they call the problem of living here on the weekends. “I hate it,” Cochran said. “There is no one here and everything has limited hours,” Cochran said.
From limited hours to a dead weekend life, students say there really isn’t too much to do on the weekend. Students are left to make the best of it. “I am fortunate enough to know many people in my building so I just go room hopping,” Cochran said. “I have fun.”
Stony Brook, known to proudly display its accolades, is ranked third with “The Least Happy Students.” It is a ranking that may not go in any University newsletter, but a ranking that Stony Brook’s Director of Student Life, Dr. Susan DiMonda, takes very seriously.
As a result, more programs are created to try and get and students involved and active. Through a grant of $50,000 from the President Shirley Strum Kenny, DiMonda has set up weekend events where students can go on trips from basketball games to skiing. “We are committed to one or more off campus trips a month to make sure we are reaching out,” DiMonda said.
The same goes for on campus events, DiMonda said there is always something going on. “Just a calendar from the end of January to March 15 covered two and a half pages and I’m not sure if I got everything,” DiMonda proudly said. From athletic events to program sponsored events, DiMonda said part of the problem is student apathy. “Apathetic students want it right in their back door,” said DiMonda, who has been working at the University 21 years. “They don’t want to reach out and find it. My philosophy is the way to make Stony Brook better for you and your career is to find your niche.”
Junior Josh Levy found his niche when he joined the Wrestling Club two and half years ago but said he was still displeased with his Stony Brook experience. “It seems like people here don’t want to really do anything,” said Levy, who was bundled up due to lack of heating in Roosevelt. “There’s nothing to do so students don’t want to do anything.” Levy said that there is very little student life because of the layout of the university. “My friends come from other colleges and can’t believe that this is it,” Levy said. “They have a street full of bars, a row of frat houses, what do we have? If we are bored we go hang out in a dorm room and even that gets old after a while.” This means that another factor of student dissatisfaction is its location.
The lack of an identifiable main street is something the university is looking into. “People who work with the university are aware of how that changes us culturally as an institution,” Jeffery Barnett, Assistant Dean of Students, said. “There are no firm plans but there has been discussion.”
Like DiMonda, Barnett said he is aware of the rankings and student attitudes similar to Levy’s. “Those students that are unhappy are vehemently unhappy, Barnet, an alum of Stony Brook, said. “I don’t know if you could say that attitude is consistent through the campus.” But, Barnett said that it is important to look at these attitudes as well as past accomplishments to know what works and what doesn’t.
“Our job is how to inspire students and how to motivate them in the right ways and we need to be smart too.” Granted, Barnett said it is important to focus on large-scale events such as Brookfest, Stony Brook Idol, Roth Pond Regatta and Strawberryfest, as it leads to building tradition. “What is very important for a thriving student life are those large student programs on a macro level that lots of people can connect with and create that buzz.”
Barnett said he expects to see an increase in school pride and appreciation starting with the whole campus learning the “Go, Fight, Win” song, the marching band increasing membership to 200 and performing in the Macy’s Day Parade, an increase in televised athletics, and a stronger rivalry between Hofstra University and Stony Brook. “These kind of things can only happen if students think it is important and if they join in on it,” Barnett said.
Whether those goals are reached, Levy said that Barnett is not the only one that feels like he does. “Half of the conversations I have with people I meet are about how bad Stony Brook is and they can’t all be wrong.”
Pointing to a collapsing closet that both he and his roommate share, a window screen that was broken when he checked in, and an orange sign that informed him he wouldn’t have heat or hot water for the duration of the weekend, Levy sighed in resignation. “This place flat out it drains you. I hate this place but I have fun because I make my own fun,” Levy said. “That’s the point. You can have fun anywhere.”