February 18, 2014

South of the border, an historical rant

For a while, there was a hole in the wall of a men’s room stall on the third floor of South Campus East. You can still see the outline of scratches and misshapen plaster where it used to be. It mocks all those who pass through, endlessly begging the question, “Why does this institution still bother?”

The dorm was conceived as an attempt at both expanding the University’s presence south of the Midway and also providing new housing for students in the defunct Shoreland dorm. Designed by architect group Goody Clancy and Associates, South Campus arrived on this campus well past both its original time frame and budget. Despite that, the administration maintained a veneer of positivity where its pet project was concerned.

Katie Callow-Wright, then director of undergraduate housing, said, “The transparency and openness is not just so that you can see from the outside that there’s a vibrancy—that it’s a social hub—but also so that if you’re on the second floor or the fifth floor, you can look into the courtyard and see that there’s a social life all around you.” If that means spying on people in common rooms from your dorm window in the dead of night, then this particular goal has been a resounding success.

South Campus Residence Hall has always seemed like the unwanted stepchild of the University, never even granted the dignity of a name. No; upon its opening in 2009, the building maintained its placeholder title. Now, almost five years later, with the original generation of South Campus residents recently graduated, that placeholder name has stuck.

Five years. Five years of breakdown and decay. Five years of duct tape building up on the stairwell handrails. Five years of courtyard doors blowing open on windy days, threatening the welfare of the students huddling within their lounges. Five years that saw at least one student banished for letting his peers in through a window. Five years of a dining hall whose transgressions were not discovered for four. Five years bookended by fire.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall before the dorm was even completed, when a generator fire occurred during construction in 2009, drawing 37 fire trucks to the building in order to douse the flames. And then this past fall quarter, as finals week plodded on and the snow fell, residents were sent outside on two consecutive nights by fire alarms, both as a result of fires in the dining hall and in the dorm itself.

It all could have ended one of those nights. Or a few weeks earlier, when tornado sirens blared in the distance and water poured onto the windows. Students sat in their lounges, barring the courtyard doors against the unrelenting wind. They used makeshift contraptions made of chairs and scarves, the products of the best and brightest young minds from around the world. They failed. South Campus was waiting, its delicate, glassy exterior vulnerable to the wrath of mother nature.

Eventually the skies cleared and the sirens grew silent. That day was not to be the last day of South Campus. But that day is coming. As a new campus rises in the north, the administration needs to take a step outside into the sub-sub-zero air and take a look at what they have before them. In the 21st century, this university needs to stand for innovation. That’s what led it to build South Campus those five long, long years ago. It is time to take those steps again, and finally put this giant glass tomb out to pasture. We’ll always have the memories, but we have to know when to say goodbye.

This article runs as a satirical entry to Volume III, Issue I of the Maroon's Historical Issue, which marks our 122nd year.