For someone used to seeing a campus take years to evolve, it’s kind of shocking to return from a six-week break and see a significantly different College Center. As I perused around the new computer store, late night eatery and to-be-named student space (do your part and vote for “The Old Bookstore,” by the way), it’s impressive to see what a few weeks of good elbow grease and money can do to a space more or less untouched since the 1970s. The need for more student meeting and workspaces in the College Center has been known for years, and bringing UpC and its facilities to a more central location is beneficial for students, unless you spend your evenings in Noyes or Cushing. All of this is good and on the right track to renovating the College Center, but it does fail to do some common sense improvements that I’m surprised Vassar has yet to address.
I am aware that this is just the beginning for a multi-year project to reimagine the entire College Center, including potential structural changes to the central and rear areas of the building. Last spring Interboro Partners was brought in to collect input and present a new vision for the College Center, which included improving space and access to the Retreat, moving the mailroom, reimagining the Palmer Gallery, and potentially even adding a new rear access point to the building where the loading dock is currently placed. All of these improvements are interesting, but years away from implementation. I don’t know the exact timeline, but it’s safe to say most students currently here will not be around to see the reimagined College Center. What’s been done so far in the College Center is the very beginning of these improvements, but for the sake of this column, I’m going to consider them independently from what else is being planned for the College Center.
Regarding what has changed so far, it’s disappointing to think about what could have been done, despite such a quick, winter break renovation. I want to frame this around the fact that I’m a member of the VSA Council, and very little input was asked from us during the weeks leading up to this renovation. I’m sure the VSA Executive Board was aware of this, but the last I heard about this renovation was in September, when Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources Marianne Begemann visited VSA Council to talk about the plan. We were aware of a new student space, and that UpC was moving to where the Kiosk is now located, but beyond that little other feedback was given on the changes made. Let me note now that you can see a clear lack of specificity in what was going to be done to these spaces before the improvements began.
My dissatisfaction begins with the new computer store. This is not necessarily about what has changed, but about what hasn’t. The computer store has an even larger space as it was integrated into the old SARC office and help desk area. However, it continues to sell a rather poorly priced and exclusionary collection of products. This is great if you own a Mac, or exclusively buy Apple accessories for your computers. But if you want an inexpensive keyboard, USB flash drive, or other general accessory, you’re better off heading online. Just about every college or university I’ve attended has done a better job stocking affordable computer parts for students. And after such a larger space was made, you’d think some effort would have been made to consider accessibility to low-income students who need such parts without waiting for a cheaper version in the mail.
Second, I’m aware the unnamed student space hasn’t yet acquired all of its new furniture, but have there been any conversations about what we want that space to occupy? I’m not saying it has to be a foosball table, a kitchenette, TV lounge or the many other ideas that passed through the Student Space committee three years ago, but I am not sure if any of that information is in the hands of those currently in charge of furnishing this space, nor has there been any clarification to the VSA Council at large about how the space will be furnished with student input. The lack of any communication is what I’m pointing out here. Beyond the new name, it feels like very little general student input has gone into the new space.
Last, but certainly not least, my concerns continue to be focused on dining. Of course, anyone that knows me knows that I can’t go long in a conversation without bitterly remarking my disdain for Aramark, or probably whoever Vassar ends up having as a dining provider. The Kiosk’s hours remain disappointingly short, but the real surprise is the lack of any real late night food options that offer meal equivalency. Sure, if you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or cold chicken nuggets, the Late Night at the Kiosk has you covered. The experimental late night, hot food project seems more or less dead now. That’s a shame, given the cost equivalency to a meal swipe relative to the value you get from a milkshake and Nilda’s. At this point i think everyone is so used to having such a low quality dining experience that we just take it for granted. Late Night at the Kiosk was the one chance to see a real late night meal option emerge, and both Vassar and Aramark completely missed that opportunity–and that’s speaking as a senior willing to buy a senior meal plan if there was a viable late night option. I continue to believe we can do better than cold sandwiches, but if there’s a reason it’s logistically impossible to serve hot food, someone please enlighten me.
All of this probably seems like I’m being very picky about how these renovations were done– renovations that happened over a very short amount of time, on a limited budget, and within a limited area of the campus. But let me assure you that if there’s one thing I’ll be picky about, it’s the future of our dedicated student spaces and dining services. For a campus that once had entire buildings dedicated to student use exclusively, it’s disappointing that I’ve heard so little from Dean Begemann, Dean Roellke or any administrators about a campus-wide opportunity for conversations and feedback this semester about finalizing changes to these spaces as renovations went underway. Above all, I’m really disappointed. It doesn’t take much to get a lot out of a campus renovation. It just has to start with actually talking to more students than the handful in a few joint committees. Maybe I’ve yet to see everything planned for these spaces this semester. I really hope that’s the case, but I’m not holding my breath.