Where is our student union?

It wasn’t until I was here for a few semesters that I realized something was missing from our campus that other colleges have – a student union center. There were plenty of reasons that I wanted to come to Eastern, and I am still happy to be here; but other colleges and universities have a designated place on campus for students to have fun.

Each of the factors that brought me here, like the quaint buildings and pathways or the small class sizes, are still great as long as we’re talking to classmates, walking to class by the streams, or looking out the library windows. But when 3 p.m. on Friday rolls around, the classes end, the Jammin’ Java closes, and often the campus clears out. Sure, for those of us who have cars, we can drive to King of Prussia or to Philly, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place on campus where people actually wanted to hang out?

Interestingly, Eastern requires the majority of students to live on campus and hopes that they develop a strong community, but the campus offers no encouragement for students to stick around.

Before classes began this semester, a few first-years were standing around the steps by Eagle Hall, and they asked us, “What do people do around here?”

Wow, they stumped us. We described our plans for the evening, which included watching a movie and getting a snack at Wawa, but we didn’t have any suggestions to really interest them. I think they eventually headed to the Breezeway.

When the Breezeway renovation is finally complete, it might be an improvement to our campus, but realistically it will just be additional couches and tables in the limited area we already have.

Eastern needs a central location for student activities and leisure. In one building, there could be areas to relax, do activities, eat a snack, drink coffee, hold group meetings, watch movies, display student artwork and photography and locate the offices for Student Government, Student Activities Board, the yearbook, the student newspaper and other organizations. Additionally, the center would be open late nights and throughout the weekend.

A section of DeSales University’s student union is “a student lounge with a big screen television, pool table, video games, air hockey table and tons of couches.” The student union at Kutztown University has four different lounges, two cafés, a multipurpose room for events and concerts and two computer rooms. It also includes an art gallery where students’ artwork is displayed. The mission statement of Muhlenberg’s student union is “to support the Muhlenberg College mission by offering the entire campus community a venue that encourages communication and interaction on a social level […]”

Messiah College has dining and recreational space, a student-run radio station and offices for yearbook and the student newspaper in the Larsen Student Union. In a separate building, the college also has Parmer Cinema, a theater with 125 seats.

Funding for a student union center would most likely have to come from the students themselves. Rowan University, for example, surveyed its students in 1968, realizing that they did want a student union and were willing to contribute financially to it. Currently, its Web site says, “The Student Center is a non-profit auxiliary service supported in part by student fees.” Personally, I would not be opposed to an extra $30, for example, being added to my tuition bill.

Space is a big deal on our campus – administration is trying to fit as much as they can at this location, including the recent additions of Eagle Hall, Eagle Learning Center and the parking lots accompanying them. A performing arts center is in the plans, and the Breezeway is currently being expanded. But last semester, Eastern purchased the Mayer property, adding an additional few acres with a two-story house to the campus. Imagine a two-story house with TV’s, pool tables, a café and lounges where students could go whenever they like – even on the weekends. Or, especially on the weekends.

The last update we heard on the use of the Mayer property laid out the plans as follows: Alumni relations and university marketing offices on the first floor, administrative computing offices on the second floor and academic computing offices and the university data center in the garage and the small adjacent building.

While originally there was a small hope that this building could be used for the benefit of students, it now looks like they will go through with the addition of more offices unless the administrators can be convinced otherwise.

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