Student feedback crucial for new center

By Editorial Board

After years of hope and speculation by students, the college’s board of trustees recently approved plans to build a student center, as reported Nov. 9 by The Chronicle. Slated to open in the Fall 2018 Semester, the student center will be located at 8th Street and Wabash Avenue, the current site of the Papermaker’s Garden. 

A nine-week planning phase will begin Nov. 17 to determine what the campus community would like the space to incorporate to “create a state-of-the-art student center that will best facilitate student collaboration, interaction and learning,” according to a Nov. 10 announcement emailed to students. The college’s willingness to gather student opinions and ideas is a positive first step toward building a well-designed student center that will serve the campus community for decades to come. Student involvement should occur at every stage from planning to designing. 

Creating the opportunity for students to collaborate with peers from all majors is an excellent way to foster community. If a student commutes or is not taking general education courses, it is challenging to meet others from outside their major. Columbia’s lack of NCAA-sanctioned sports teams and Greek life has contributed to a widespread lack of community among students, particularly for those who are commuters. Increasing collaborative spaces on campus can contribute greatly to fostering community, college pride and unity. 

Columbia’s dormitories boast collaborative facilities that add to the character of the college, like music practice rooms, colorful lounges and The Dwight’s graffiti room. Including spaces like these in the student center would ensure they are accessible to all students, rather than a luxury exclusive to dorm residents. 

The student center should strike a balance between embodying Columbia and providing services and amenities found at other colleges. Many other local colleges and universities, such as DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, have multilevel student centers that include food vendors, conference rooms, lounges and cafes that provide study and hangout spaces. Attracting popular food vendors to the student center could create more on-campus jobs for students and make for a more lively campus environment at all hours of the day. The student center should also incorporate modern elements, such as charging stations and plenty of outlets in lounges and study rooms. 

The student center is a facility Columbia has long needed. The college should consider ways to incorporate other facilities the college does not currently have, like a large-scale auditorium. It should also use the formation of the student center as an opportunity to cater to currently underserved populations such as commuters and athletes. In addition to more lounges and study rooms, providing a space for lockers  to keep textbooks or materials on campus would benefit both on-campus and commuter students. Student groups frequently struggle because there is no designated space for them to convene. If Columbia had these facilities, the college would surely attract prospective students who may be concerned Columbia does not accommodate their interests.

The college’s mission of encouraging collaboration and interaction among the campus community through the student center is exactly what students need. While the student center is expected to reflect Columbia’s unique student body, the college should not shy away from looking at other Chicago colleges and universities to see what aspects of a student center the college should incorporate. By announcing a nine-week feedback period, the college has demonstrated its interest in hearing from the student body. However, the college must follow through and truly utilize student feedback in the student center’s design and construction phases.