Once upon a commuter book club dream

Emma Polen | editor-in-chief | Veronica Walker (left) and Rebecca Hrutkay (right) pose with some of their favorite books in front of the commuter center’s first ever commuter book club meeting.

Emma Polen | Editor-in-Chief

Aside from PB&Js, the Office of Commuter Affairs is now serving up a commuter book club on Wednesdays in the commuter center.

The club originally was proposed before the semester as a way to allow commuter students to explore their hobbies outside of academics, said Tim Lewis, senior director of the Office of Commuter Affairs.

“Several of them [commuter assistants] mentioned how much they liked reading,” Lewis said.

Veronica Walker, a fifth-year pharmacy student, said she loves to read, but with her job, commuting and course load, there is not a lot of time for reading just for fun.

She described the commuter life as “kind of lonely.”

“We can get so focused on academics,” Walker said, and the book club offers an additional way to “meet other people.”

Rebecca Hrutkay, the co-leader and a sophomore commuter, said the club is looking for inspiration from TikTok book recommendations – or BookTok – as well as members’ interests. At the club’s first meeting, members could scan a QR code to fill out a survey about their favorite types of novels and what they would want to read.

With the survey, Hrutkay is hoping to gauge interest with book club meetings to be as engaging to new members as possible.

Both book club leaders recognized how different the commuter lifestyle typically is from on-campus student living. Many commuters go from school straight to work then straight back to school again, Hrutkay said. Book club, she said, is a way of “setting aside time just for you.”

However, as a commuter assistant, Hrutkay said her job is to encourage her freshman commuters and “help them find their people,” regardless of outside responsibilities.

While there are already spaces for commuter students to bond over shared frustrations such as traffic, the book club provides another space for students to bond,” Hrutkay said.

Despite her own fair share of frustrations as an off-campus commuter, Walker said her commuting experience has helped prepare her for real life. Finding a group outside of academics, a crucial part of making friends after graduation, was certainly a reason Walker teamed up with Hrutkay to start up the book club this semester.

Lewis said he was “incredibly proud and happy that they’re doing this.”

The commuter assistants and Lewis agreed on Wednesday that they hope the club continues to grow from this semester. Walker even said she hopes the club “outlives” their time at Duquesne.

Book club will continue to meet regularly in order to provide a constant space for commuters. They plan to meet biweekly depending on members’ availability.

Anna Rutkowski, coordinator of commuter affairs, came back to Duquesne to offer another constant support to commuter students.

Rutkowski recently graduated from Duquesne where she commuted all six years of her undergraduate and graduate programs.

“The passion that runs through here tethered onto me and kept me here,” she said.

While many of the commuter assistants, similar to resident assistants for on-campus residences, only stick around for a few years while they complete their academic courses at Duquesne, Rutkowski defines herself as more of a permanent companion for commuters.

The book club serves as an “opportunity to bring people together,” she said. The club “create[s] a little space to get to know each other…and read for fun.”

Members immediately started connecting at the meeting over their favorite book genres.

Hannah Repasky, a sophomore commuter, said her current genre of choice is mystery/thriller, especially works by Freida McFadden. Gabriella Garcia, a freshman commuter, prefers romance novels, but she is open to any book recommendations.

“That’s why I’m here,” Garcia said. “If you get out of your comfort zone…[it] enriches your ideas.”

Both Repasky and Garcia said their decision to check out the book club meeting on Wednesday came from a love for talking with others, especially about shared book reads.

Out of all the clubs she could have chosen to join, Repasky said she was interested in the book club because of her love for reading and discussion-based activities. Plus, she said she’s a big fan of book clubs in general.

Rutkowski said there are many programs that she and the commuter council put on to keep students (even non-commuters) active.

While the book club meeting went on, faculty from the university Center for Student Involvement served PB&Js outside in the commuter center lobby.

In the same way that the PB&Js offer a chance for commuter students to see their professors outside the classroom, the book club is open to faculty and staff who, Rutkowski said, her office considers commuters.

Rutkowski and the commuter assistant staff continue to encourage new students to join their activities by communicating with students regularly over email and in-person.

“It’s an open [an] door policy,” Rutkowski said.