Save the Union (for students)

By By Matt Homer

By Matt Homer

It’s not your parents’ student union. According to the Union’s Web site, this building serves the needs of “students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests.” This means, as students, that we only comprise one-fifth of the Union’s total constituency. And it shows.

As more and more organizations choose the Union for meetings and conferences, students are asked to make more room for these events.

For many students, the hallway adjacent to the grand ballroom is an important place. Its tall windows and ceilings, light-filled interior and impressive views of campus draw many to study, relax and even sleep here. There are rocking chairs, couches, individual sofa chairs and a few tables. Take a stroll down this hall and you’ll find students reading books, laughing with friends, listening to iPods or catching up on some rest. Unfortunately, this much-needed place of respite can be sold to the highest bidder.

Take the experience I had about a month ago while I was reading a book in a rocking chair facing the window. It was mid-afternoon and I noticed some workers placing yellow caution tape around the entire seating area. Not wanting to move, I stayed in my chair and avoided eye contact with those workers. I also started listening to my iPod so I couldn’t hear them when they asked me to move. Then, about five minutes later, came the dreaded expulsion. A worker walked up to me and said I needed to leave because they were holding an event. The man was very kind and I could tell he didn’t enjoy telling students to “get the hell out of dodge.” It was just his job. So, I gathered my stuff and went to another area of the Union.

This has happened several other times, as well. And judging from the facial expressions of other students who were also evicted, I could tell I was not alone in feeling a bit perturbed. After all, we’ve been continually told the Union is the central gathering place for students.

Yet, looking at the Union’s Web site gives another impression. Only seldom is the building called a “student union.” For example, the fund-raising section of the Web site asks potential donors to recall nostalgic memories of their “student union.” This seems particularly appropriate because a union building dedicated exclusively to students can only be found by looking into the past. Today, it’s a place that can be bought by the highest bidder. Students are only the faade.

Now, I don’t really have a problem with non-student organizations reserving areas in the Union. But when students are asked to leave a public seating area, a line has been crossed. It makes no sense that someone renting the ballroom should also be able to evict students at will from seats across the hall. Normally when these events take place, students are able to continue their daily routines and the seating area is untouched. But occasionally, money outweighs student interests. The caution tape comes out and students are told to exit the area immediately.

We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Union. A lot has changed in 50 years. And not all of it is good.

Matt Homer