Higher education hierarchy … and parking

I am sure that I speak for a number of people when I say that parking at Virginia Tech can be a nightmare. With over 30000 students here, it is no surprise that the prized parking space closest to your office is challenging to get. And, it’s not just undergraduate and graduate students who complain. I have heard numerous faculty and staff complain that they cannot find parking either. So … what is the solution?

Fortunately, Blacksburg is a very walking and bike-friendly place (at least compared to other places I have lived, like Richmond and Norfolk). A lot of my friends and co-workers bike to campus each day. Another large percentage take the bus. But … I have heard through the grapevine that even the bus is overcrowded, particularly at peak times (i.e., 8-9am; 4-6pm). It also can be a long ride. A friend told me that he has to take the 9am bus to even hope to get to the office by 10am (and he lives within a few miles of campus).

Parking services has some nice carpooling options as well. However, despite all of the people who utilize bikes, their own feet, public transportation, and carpooling, I still have to “shark” around almost every day to find a parking spot. And by “sharking” I mean, driving slowly up and down each parking lot aisle, waiting to see a person walking with keys in hand. Then … you gun it to figure out where this person is going. Half the time some other person sharking wins the spot. It’s ridiculous. If I don’t get here by 8:30 (which I often don’t on days when I have night classes), this is my reality. Or, I park very far away from where I work (which isn’t really an issue, except when the weather is bad or I have a lot to carry).

Image result for parking cartoon

This may seem a little off topic, but I do have a point. Higher education has a hierarchy – which we have discussed in class. In the most basic of terms:


Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

Parking, sort of, follows this hierarchy. Faculty and staff parking permits allow F/S to part in the “best” spots – spots closest to buildings where people work. And, that makes sense. F/S should have better parking spots than students. Resident (R) parking passes are on the bottom of the food chain – that’s fine – most of the people who R parking passes are 18 year old freshman. They are young and can get where they need to go faster than an “old” graduate student like me can. They also live on campus, so likely don’t use their cars everyday.

But … this is where the hierarchy of parking stops. We also have teaching assistant (TA) and graduate/commuter (G/C) spots. TA spots are typically pretty prime too. In some lots, the TA spots I would argue are “better” than the F/S spots. Teaching assistants are obviously really important and deserve to find parking – however, what about the rest of us? The GRAs, fellows, etc? Is our work not important too? Not so much, based on parking rules.

“Standard” graduate students (i.e., not TAs) get lumped in with the 22000+ undergraduate commuters. Why? Graduate students are working for the university – we do research, we try to make the university look good, we mentor undergraduates …. Why can’t we get our own parking spots? Why do we have to compete with the commuters every day? I don’t understand.

And … unfortunately … I don’t think our advisors would appreciate it if this is the attitude we took about parking (see below). I know nothing about this situation likely will change (or at least not while I am here). But, I do think graduate students should be allowed to purchase separate passes from undergraduate commuters and have specified spots. The spots don’t even have to be “better” than the commuter spots – just separate from commuter spots so we can actually find parking and get back to doing our graduate student work faster.

Image result for parking meme

4 Replies to “Higher education hierarchy … and parking”

  1. I have so many thoughts about parking – very similar to yours. In my frustration, I try to talk myself down and remind myself that I’m lucky I can walk around campus as easily as I can (especially since this campus has lots of hills and stairs that make it challenging for many to navigate). Therefore, should I be as upset as I am when I have to spend 30 minutes “sharking” or walking from a farther distance? But I think for the most part, our frustration is justified. Not because of the inconvenience necessarily, but because of the hierarchy, as you suggest. Maybe we’re nitpicking here, but it really does feel as though graduate students are less important because of the parking situation. We aren’t just coming to campus to go to class – we’re coming to work, to attend students’ events, to sit in on workshops, do research, so so so much! Last year, I took the bus everyday. This ate up so much time walking to the stop (about 7 minutes), being dependent on the bus schedule (which is often late due to traffic) and then walking again through campus because the bus doesn’t drop me close enough to a certain building. Again, I enjoyed the walks for the most part, but as I began to do the same this year, I realized I could be saving so much time with a parking pass. Wrong! I’ve wasted just as much time, if not more, searching for spots. Time is a precious commodity as a graduate student. Searching for spots or waiting for the bus may seem like small, insignificant chunks of time. But adding them up makes you realize how important those moments are. I don’t have a solution, but I think the first step is communicating to administrators that the parking issue is so much more than a inconvenient walk through campus. It’s eating up our time, and this translates into the work we do, as we feel irritable and under-appreciated. Phew, thanks for allowing to get these thoughts out!

  2. It’s like this post is a transcription of my morning dialogue. I do agree that graduate students get lumped with undergrads yet THIS IS OUR JOB – And let’s not even talk about the $300+ fee to pay for the permit which on a GA is quite a bit.

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