The Hillside House a hidden gem for commuters

The Hillside House, at 32 Dearborn Road, provides a space for commuter students to socialize and stay on campus overnight. Alex Cherry / The Tufts Daily

To many on-campus residents, commuter students seem to have the best of both worlds: They get to experience a Tufts education and are still able to go back home every night.

First-year student Susan Hassan, for example, enjoys commuting, which allows her to stay close with her family.

“It’s really convenient, and I really like it,” she said. “You get to have your family and your support system still so close, and you have your own private space. It’s true that there is a lot that goes on on campus, and it’s so much easier if you do live here, but I’m so close that I don’t really mind — I can just come back whenever I want.”

Tufts’ Hillside House, the commuter house established decades ago at 32 Dearborn Road, gives commuters the opportunity to come back to campus any time they want. It also provides a place for commuters to get more information or to meet other commuters.

According to Mickey Toogood, Administrator of Judicial Affairs, the commuter house was originally founded in order to help the commuter population integrate with the residential campus, and it continues to serve a similar purpose now.

“There was a concern that was raised that [commuter students] felt disconnected from what was becoming a more residential campus, as dorms got built and more people lived on campus, and as the university developed a sense of identity,” he said. “The commuter house was a way to make sure that the commuters could be a part of that.”

Toogood also explained that Hillside House exists largely to build a community for the commuter students.

“It’s a space that we offer to commuter students so they can feel more like they’re a part of the campus community,” he said. “We want everyone to feel like they’re part of the community, and it is harder — especially because Tufts is a very residential university for undergraduates — so it’s a way for those students to feel like they can connect to the community.”

Apart from building a community, the commuter house also provides overnight housing for a nominal fee.

“If you have a late class and you have an exam at 9 a.m. the next day, [the commuter house is] a space where you can settle in on campus, focus, get your work done and build a kind of sense of community,” Toogood said.

John Kenny, a senior and one of the commuter house managers, said that the commuter lifestyle is often not conducive to integrating fully with the rest of the Tufts community.

“It’s a very different lifestyle because you’re not on campus every night,” Kenny said. “The toughest thing was hearing about events. In the dorms you’re always hearing about events … when you’re a commuter you have to work for it … you’re like checking all the websites [to find out about these events].”

Kenny transferred to Tufts his sophomore year. He noted that the commuter house is a resource that is not offered at many schools, and is one that many students at Tufts do not know about. It continues to be instrumental to Kenny’s career at Tufts.

“The commuter house was such a big resource, especially because we have the managers to mentor you, let you know what’s going on on campus — the kind of resources on campus that many students take for granted,” Kenny said. “The commuter house has played a huge role in my success  at Tufts, and it just allowed me to do so many things.”

Kenny also noted the importance of the physical house itself.

“[I’m] able to have somewhere on campus where [I] can tell people, ‘Let’s meet at this house to do work,'” Kenny said. “[I] can be basically available on campus, without having to worry about where [I] stay.”

Kenny is the male house manager for the commuter house, and serves a similar purpose to a Resident Assistant in a residential hall: He works proactively to integrate the commuter community within the university.

“We do a monthly house dinner with the dues that students pay to stay each night, and the house dinners are really good because not only do they get all the commuters together, but sometimes we’ll partner with say, the French House or the Spanish House, and we’ll start to integrate the commuters with the community, [helping them find] out about other things on campus that they probably would’ve never found about until maybe junior or senior year,” Kenny said.

Kenny also spoke about bringing more awareness about the commuter house to the commuters and to the Tufts community as a whole.

“We’ve really pushed to be more a daily resource, because I think that’s what it seems the commuters need,” he said. “We moved one of the areas into more of a relaxing area, so that it’s almost like the campus center — a space where you just hang out … a place where you’ll find commuters gathering and you’re more likely to interact with other commuters and become more connected. We also encourage students to bring groups, bring their friends over, so it feels more like a home away from home.”

In order to establish relationships with the greater Tufts community, the commuter house has been hosting events along with other clubs or cultural houses. At the beginning of the year, Hillside House had an awareness barbecue, which was followed this Saturday by Fall Fest, organized by Tufts’ Off-Hill Council.

“The reason we decided to host Fall Fest was that we realized that a lot of the culture houses on campus, they’ll bring their culture to the community … but we find that a lot of students don’t graduate knowing — especially students from other states and other countries — the local traditions,” Kenny said. “So we thought, since we’re all local, we’re the best fit to represent that New England culture. We’ll have a Thanksgiving spirited event where we’ll invite all the culture houses, as well as ourselves — everyone shares their culture.”

The event hosted many different activities, including hay rides, and proceeds went to food pantries in Medford and Somerville such as Project Soup: Share our United Pantry and Salvation Army/Mystic Valley Pantry. The goal was to reach $5,000 for the food pantries, according to Kenny.

“We thought this would be a great event to fundraise for the community,” Kenny said. “I know one of Tufts’ big movements is to give back to Somerville and Medford because we’re really occupying their towns, so we’ve decided to donate all the proceeds, in Thanksgiving spirit, to the Somerville and Medford food pantries.”

Ultimately, the event was another way to raise awareness for the existence of the various cultural houses on campus. The hay ride, for example, acted as a tour of campus, where the members pointed out each house during the ride, according to Kenny.

“The reason for the hay ride is to not only raise awareness of the commuter house, but all the houses on campus, because maybe late sophomore year I found out about the culture houses, and I think that’s something really cool about Tufts that many other schools don’t have,” he said.


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