News For U — Episode 4: The 66-Year History of the Union


By Theadora Soter and Emma Ratkovic

Emma Ratkovic  13:16:49

Thanks for joining us on this week’s episode of News For U. I’m Emma, and on today’s episode of the podcast, we’re going to talk about the 66-year history of the A. Ray Olpin Student Union. Gardner Hall served as the first home of the Student Union. With growing numbers of students, the university felt it was time to expand their headquarters and build the A. Ray Olpin Student Union. The new Student Union opened in 1957, incorporating student desires and student needs. News Writer Caelan Roberts has recently written, and published, an online article on the long history of the Student Union. Cael has joined us today to discuss more in depth the history of the Student Union. Nice to meet you, Cael, we’re happy to have you on the podcast today.

Cael Roberts  13:17:32

I’m happy to be here, thank you.

Emma  13:17:34

Cael, can you introduce yourself and explain what you do here at the Chronicle?

Cael  13:17:38

Yeah, so I’m Cael Roberts, and I’m a News Writer with the Chronicle. So, I write.

Emma  13:17:45

Can you tell us a little bit about your story and why you chose to write it?

Cael  13:17:49

Yeah. So, the story is about just the history of the Union building, and I chose to write it because, on MLK Day, the Union Instagram page made a post about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he spoke at the Union one time, and I thought that was super interesting. And I was like, I want to write a story about the history of the Union and kind of different people that have come here, and also just kind of like how it came to be. So, yeah.

Emma  13:18:16

And it seems like you put a lot of research into your article. What did you find interesting while doing that research and about the history of the Union?

Cael  13:18:23

I was able to like look at the archives of the library. So I looked at a lot of old, like, yearbook stuff, and a lot of old Chrony stuff, which was cool, because I write for the Chrony, so, I like the Chrony. So, it was cool, just to be able to like see that and see, like, student perspectives, like from the 1950s. So, those people are like old or and dead now, but they were like our age back then. So it’s cool. It’s interesting.

Emma  13:18:47

And can you tell us about the previous Student Union and why it was rebuilt?

Cael  13:18:51

Yeah. So, it was in Gardner Hall, which is not Gardner Commons. It’s a different building. It’s in Presidents’ Circle I think. I’m not 100% sure. I’ve never been there. But I think it was just too small. I think that was the thing. In one of the articles that I referenced in my article, I talked about how they really needed a new union building because the one in Gardener Hall only provided seven square feet per student.

Emma  13:19:16

Oh, wow.

Cael  13:19:17

Which I guess is small. I guess at the time, like the average union provided 12 to 20 square feet per student. So, it was tiny. And so, they just needed more space.

Emma  13:19:27

Yeah. When did the new Student Union open and what features were incorporated?

Cael  13:19:33

Yeah. So, it opened in 1957. And I think just a lot of the features incorporated were just stuff that they thought students would want. So like bowling and billiards tables, and I think there were TVs, but I’m not actually 100% sure. Anyway, I think it was just a lot of like, having things that they thought students would want to have, because it was kind of where they wanted students to hang out, because it was the students’ building. So, yeah.

Emma  13:20:02

Can you talk a little bit about how students contributed in helping create the current Student Union?

Cael  13:20:07

Yeah, so um, actually, the the building was funded entirely from student funds. So, they actually upped their building fee from like, $16 to $20, back in the ’50s. To help pay for it, they kind of contributed in that way with their money, as they do with university things. And, as spaces have been added or updated over the years, they’ve also been involved in that process. So, like, for example, the Chronicle, used to have a different office in — this union building — and then we outgrew it, it was time for a new one. And so, when they were building the new one, and making the plans for the new one, they actually got together, like, all the Chronicle people, and were like, ‘Hey, what do you guys want out of the space? Like, how do you use the current space? How will you use the new space?’ So, I think that’s cool that they take student input into how to make the spaces just because it is a student building. So yeah.

Emma  13:21:03

I agree. In your article, you mentioned that there were several notable speakers and performance that the Student Union hosted. Who were some of the people that spoke or performed at the Student Union?

Cael  13:21:14

Yeah, the two that I thought were really cool were MLK, which I already mentioned. I think a lot of people know that one just because that’s a huge deal. But another one that’s kind of cool and interesting was the Grateful Dead played, which is cool. I had no idea. I knew who the Grateful Dead were, but I didn’t know that they played at the University of Utah, so that’s cool. It’s an interesting little tidbit.

Emma  13:21:36

How does the Union ensure that it stays looking modern and up to date?

Cael  13:21:40

Yeah, I think it’s mostly furniture stuff. Like I said they update the spaces as they need updating. But I think in like the common areas, it’s a lot of just changing out furniture just as it gets broken or gets dirty and gross or ripped or if it’s just old and ugly. Then they’ll switch it out with furniture that’s new.

Emma  13:22:02

Nice. What was the main goal in creating the updated Student Union?

Cael  13:22:06

I think I think it was mostly just more space. There’s a yearbook page from like, 1956 or ’57, about the old Union. And it was really sentimental. They really loved their old Union, I think. I don’t think it was like, ‘We hate this space and we want a new one,’ I think it was just too small. And so yeah, they built a big one.

Emma  13:22:31

Okay. Can you explain what resources students have access to here in the Union?

Cael  13:22:37

Yeah, there’s a ton of resource centers. There’s the LGBT Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center. ASUU is here. There are student offices here. Student media — the Chrony’s here — shout out! And yeah, I think it’s good for students to know like, there’s a ton of stuff here to do, and also to just help them. And yeah, I think they should do research and figure out all what’s here.

Emma  13:23:04

According to your article, the campus has outgrown the Student Union again. Will the Student Union be expanded in the near future?

Cael  13:23:10

I don’t know. I would, I would think they’ll probably just keep updating and expanding the current building for the time being. I think eventually, they’re going to need a new building. That’s kind of what it sounded like in my interview with the director of the union. But he did not fill me in on their plans for that. But yeah, I think for the time being, they’re just gonna keep updating the current building.

Emma  13:23:38

Okay. Do you have any kind of comments?

Cael  13:23:40

Thank you for having me, again.

Emma  13:23:43

Thank you for joining us today.

Cael  13:23:45

Yeah, thank you.

Emma  13:23:49

Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of News For U. Make sure to listen to a new episode next Monday.


Executive Producer: [email protected] // @sotertheadora

Host: Emma Ratkovic: [email protected] //  @eratkovic_news

Guest: Caelan Roberts: [email protected] // @caelrobertsnews