Victoria Yan had a typical freshman year. She lived in a dorm. She rushed a sorority.
“I felt like an outsider the whole time,” Yan says.
So she decided to make a change.
When Yan (WCAS ’10) transferred to Northwestern from the University of Illinois Springfield, she decided to forgo dorm life and its $10,000-plus price tag. When she graduated last spring, Yan’s closest friends were not her sorority sisters or her roommates, but the people she met through a little-known commuter student group called Men Off Campus and Women Off Campus, or simply MOC & WOC (say mock ‘n’ walk) by its members.
“MOC & WOC really solidified a foundation for friends, networking and involvement on campus,” says Yan, the group’s former president.
While other freshmen settled in to dorm life during Wildcat Welcome Week, MOC & WOC teamed up with the university to run a commuter orientation. Students who declined the “typical” college experience waited for advice and information about off-campus life at Northwestern.
Like Yan, Weinberg sophomore Karlyn Murphy lived on campus her freshman year at Rice University. But to Murphy, dorm life felt suffocating.
“I wanted to get away from that bubble,” she says.
As Murphy waits among other new Northwestern commuters, she already feels prepared for Northwestern life.
“It’s kind of like being the camper when you’ve already been the counselor,” she says.
While she already knows how to handle college coursework, Heather Klok, a graduate intern working for Northwestern’s office of Orientation and Parent Programs, says the goal of commuter orientation is simply to make sure all the University-wide information gets to students. Speakers from University police spoke on campus safety, and judicial affairs explained University regulations and policies.
Jennifer Darling, MOC & WOC treasurer and SESP senior, says the orientation aims to tame new students’ first-day jitters by giving students tips on where to find food or parking around campus.
“It should help them feel like Northwestern and Evanston are their community as well as wherever they’re living,” she says.
While some new commuters transferred from other four-year universities, many are entering Northwestern as freshmen and decided to save tens of thousands of dollars on room and board by adjusting their residential experience.
Andrew Solano, an incoming freshman from Long Grove, Ill., never wanted to live in dorms, instead choosing to stay with his uncle who lives nearby.
“My uncle has a big house,” Solano says. “This just seemed better.”
MOC & WOC vice president and McCormick senior Sarang Thaker also lives nearby and decided to commute to save money. He considers the organization to be helpful to freshmen, particularly in regards to social life. Thaker says it’s helpful to be able to talk to upperclassmen through MOC & WOC about coursework.
“It’s kind of like having a second peer advisor,” he says.
Weinberg sophomore Travis Steele decided to commute after transferring in fall 2010 from a community college. While he’s sure he will have a more difficult time meeting people as a commuter, Steele plans to be an active member of campus life.
“I’m going to try to participate as much as I can, as if I were living here,” Steele says.
But according to Medill junior Jennifer Haderspeck, a MOC & WOC board member, having a typical college social life can be difficult as a commuter. Haderspeck looks at college as a primarily educational experience.
“If you’re going to be that student who sits in their room and studies all the time, then it’s easier to live at home and just sit in your room and study,” she says.
While Haderspeck is not very involved on campus outside of MOC & WOC, she credits the organization with introducing her to her best friend, who is a fellow board member. She says it is possible to be more active living off campus.
“It all depends on what amount of time you want to put into it,” she says.
Weinberg senior Michelle Chou is a prime example. In her four years as a commuter, she has held multiple active positions in multicultural groups on campus, including president of the Chinese Student Association. Now a co-president of MOC & WOC, Chou attributes her campus involvement to the group.
Yan still speaks enthusiastically about the group’s strong sense of community.
“It’s a way for similar students to make friends,” Yan says. “Some have even met their spouses.”
This was the case for Eric Fors (Comm ’52), who met his wife through MOC & WOC. He served as vice president in Men Off Campus, while his future wife was the social chairperson for Women Off Campus.
“She was the first person I met when I transferred from the University of Illinois,” Fors says. “It was a fun time, other than the fact that we were in the Korean War.”
He is close to other members of MOC & WOC, who have formed an active alumni presence on campus. He and other commuter alumni were instrumental in donating money for a commuter lounge in Norris. When Fors was a student, Scott Hall housed MOC & WOC, but the group was inactive during the 1980s. Only in the past five years has the organization bustled, with the addition of the new lounge in 2006.
Founded after World War II, MOC & WOC began after an influx of students limited Northwestern’s housing opportunites. Its members now span six decades.
“If students knew about the history and how many alumni resources we have, they would be taken aback,” Chou says.
Officially, all students living in apartments or houses off Northwestern property are classified as commuters. Yan encourages all Northwestern students to come hang out in the commuter lounge.
“It’s great for a student in Evanston to be able to experience life in the Chicago area,” she says. “If you know a commuter student, you have that resource.”
Even with a vast network of students and alumni — plus a comfortable hangout — Thaker occasionally wishes he had the typical on-campus life.
“But that’s only when I have to stay here into the wee hours of the morning,” he says.
Perhaps it’s the tens of thousands of dollars he saved that helps him through the night.
Spelling of freshman has been corrected. Thanks to commenter jesus christ for pointing out the mistake.