Claiming our campus: Supporting the need for student spaces beyond dorms and libraries

Facilities’ Planning, Design & Construction Group’s mission states that it exists “to support the administration, faculty, staff and students in the successful planning and development of quality facilities projects that support the mission of [the] College.” While we see that this mission statement is being carried out in the form of the College’s current building boom, we urge the the administration to not forget about students in their plans.

With Goodrich Hall out of commission this year, we understand that the school is hard-pressed for student and administrative spaces. Nevertheless, we feel that the recent usurpation of College Council (CC) and the Minority Coalition’s Paresky Center office spaces, and the subsequent relegation of these groups to smaller spaces, is indicative of a bigger, disconcerting trend at the College.

Despite upwards of $278 million being spent on capital projects in recent years, the College’s non-academic student spaces have seen minimal growth, if any at all. The planned student café in the library has become a sad repository for vending machines; the new bookstore uses its space poorly with too few tables and the Log feels much more like a profitable enterprise than a community center. We see casual exchanges between students in this small community as an immutable benefit to a rural liberal arts education, and the lack of public student spaces hinders that exchange of ideas and passions. Thus, we urge the administration and the Planning, Design & Construction Group to think about the ways in which students can and will use the spaces being constructed in the new science center and Goodrich. The school, in its buildings, must foster student learning outside of the classrooms as much as it does within.

This lack of student spaces, while potentially alleviated through the construction of new buildings, can and should also be fixed within existing physical and bureaucratic structures. Firstly, the Office of Student Life should relinquish control over the room scheduler to students. Currently, CC allocates funding for student groups, and students successfully run an independent coffee bar – it seems logical for the College to also give students the responsibility to manage access to physical spaces on campus. Another way to increase student spaces would be to extend the hours that specific spaces are available to students. For example, the College does students a disservice by closing Hollander Hall and Schapiro Hall at 12:30 a.m. Many College students are awake late at night and have no public places to which to go, apart from the library. These academic buildings should be open as late as the libraries – 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday – in order to provide additional spaces for socializing, group projects and school work outside of dorms and libraries.

This problem is not solely the fault of the administration. There are environmental factors preventing students from using every space offered to them. Many open student spaces right now operate in specific cultural spheres of the College that often are not bridged. For example, there are potential spaces for student socializing and work in the basement of Thompson Chapel and the Jewish Religious Center that are open to all but that may feel reserved for faith communities on-campus. There are public lounges in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance that are used most frequently by the College’s theater and dance participants. The wider use of more multifunctional student spaces, both existing and new, both contributes to and benefits from the bridging of divides within the student body.

Ultimately, we ask the administration to think about student experiences and input both when constructing new spaces and in allocating the use of existing ones. After all, this college belongs to all of us; we must all work to make it a stronger, shared community.

Comments (2)

  1. There needs to be a special space where conservative speakers can enter and exit the campus without being subject to the threat of mob violence.

    Also, conservative students need to have their own meeting places where security arrangements are adequate to protect everyone who disagrees with the leftist agenda of most faculty and administrator on campus. Potentially, this space could be off campus for greater security.

    It is sad that such extra steps are needed to preserve ideological diversity on the Williams College campus. Nevertheless, the sooner they are taken the better off the school will be in terms of its educational mission.

    1. “I can’t remember where I heard this but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express it”

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