It’s 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. The Texas sun illuminates the east side of campus as students trek towards the stadium for their commute home. For those heading southbound on E 23rd Street, life at UT is strikingly different from their peers headed home to West Campus.
The 680 bus becomes crowded until every nearly every handrail is in use. Trying to maintain their personal space on a bus with what is likely 40+ students, most are headed for their apartments in southeast Austin; a hub for affordable student housing and large population of Austin’s working class. Holding the railing is Mary Trumble, a 3rd year geology major who takes the bus to and from school each day. “I actually like riding the bus,” Trumble said. “I sit down, put in my headphones, and I can listen to my music and get ready for the day.”
The metro routes accommodate most student-living hubs. However, there are still consequences of the commute that can hinder academic success.
Trumble tells me about her involvement on campus, or lack thereof, and the correlation between this and her commute. “I want to do clubs and organizations, but I don’t think I can because meetings are usually in the later part of the day” said Trumble. Not everyone is comfortable with public transportation past a certain hour; part of the reason she can’t interact with her campus is because a typical organization meeting will “end [at] around 7pm,” in which case, she would “have to take the bus back in the dark.”
In a way, a sense of collegiate community and connection is likely to be nonexistent for students who support themselves. Rent around UT is unsustainable for someone who pays for their own housing and expenses, so they are pushed out towards neighborhoods that are affordable, but farther from campus.
Josh Bremmer, for example, chooses to live in Buda and attend UT. As a part-time student, he decided to raise his 11-year old daughter in a home he feels is more realistic than the small apartment he could get near the university. Although his expenses are manageable he says that he is “sacrificing [his] time by commuting 2-3 hours a day.”
For students like Josh, the luxury of being able to wake up and walk to class in under 30 minutes is replaced by an alarm clock going off hours before their first class. Forgetting something at their apartment is usually obstructed by I-35: the only path to the university, which is also incessantly clogged with traffic. Ease of affordability comes at the price of proximity, and many students revolve their schedule around just getting home.
Likewise, rent for most high-end condominiums in Austin seems to rise faster than our mid-April temperatures. Newly renovated buildings cause expenses and taxes to increase, and students are pushed farther and farther from campus. The nearest neighborhoods, West Campus and North Campus/Hyde Park, have a median rental range of $800+ a month per room. Not accounting for other costs like food or gas, a Texas student working at minimum wage ($7.25) would need to work more than 25 hours alongside a full-time schedule to make rent. Likewise, increasing tuition amplifies the debate of deciding precedence between an education and basic living necessities.
Alexis Harris, another student who lives off East Riverside feels that, “a lot of students have no concept of money and how much things actually cost.” Certain obligations have forced Harris to ask herself: “Am I going to buy this textbook, or am I going to pay my electricity bill?”
Harris, like many other self-supporting students, feels a lack of connection with the general environment at UT. “I work two jobs.,” Harris told me. “How am I supposed to pay rent, make good grades, and commit time to an organization?” Some groups and student platforms have proposed building a Southeast satellite campus or student center to foster more connection to the university. Aside from making financial aid more inclusive starting Fall 2018, the University hasn’t proposed plans that would unify riverside students and improve their access to school resources.
Although much of this segregation is due to the popularity of Austin, the lack of connection between self-sustaining students and the university environment is both apparent and intensifying. Accessibility to opportunities at The University of Texas is contingent on the luxury of being able to afford to live near it.