The Failures of the ‘New’ Old Union

Like many other students, I was excited to hear that Old Union would be renovated and transformed from a boring set of offices into a real student union. While Tresidder certainly has its uses, it’s not much of a place for students to gather for anything but official club meetings or a meal at Subway. The new Old Union thus had a chance to fill an empty niche. The outcome, however, has been disappointing. While The Axe and Palm has become a convenient place to get food, the rest of Old Union is hardly a place for students to just “hang out.” In fact, having a conversation with a friend will likely earn you scowls from the throngs of people studying all around.

Old Union’s new role as a popular place to study, coupled with its sterile appearance, essentially make it an extension of Meyer Library—itself hardly a student hangout—with the only differences being more comfortable couches and better access to coffee late at night. But the library-like atmosphere is not the only disappointment. Rather, a number of promises to make Old Union more student-friendly have gone unfulfilled. For instance, on January 22, ASSU President Hershey Avula reported on the status of the Old Union Programming Board and said he hoped Old Union would have TV’s and free Xbox 360’s by the end of the month. A week later, he mentioned that he was also working to bring in a foosball table and a karaoke machine. Avula also claimed that all of those items should have been there in September. Even now—in March—none of them can be found.

There doesn’t seem to be any good explanation for this, either. Jonathan Kass, an ASSU Senator, told The Stanford Review that there must have been “some kind of miscommunication between the administration and the ASSU.” It is still unclear, however, why this has not been resolved during the last six months.

Ironically, on October 2, Jeanette Smith-Laws, the Director of Student Unions, pledged to work with the ASSU and stressed that student input and suggestions were vital. In addition to claiming, “We’re trying to make the union feel like it’s your union,” Smith-Laws asserted, “We have an opportunity here to create something really exciting and to get students involved in it.” Take a look around the Old Union lobby on a given night—excitement is nowhere to be found. And as far as openness with students goes, it should be noted that Smith-Laws did not respond to questions for this story.

While some see flaws, however, others counter that “Old Union is such a great place to study!” But this is not its purpose. A student union should be a place for the student body to get together and socialize in a place other than the dorms. The student union at the University of Michigan, for example, has an array of shops, a food court, and a pool hall. Fresno State, meanwhile, has a full-sized bowling alley. While a smaller school like Stanford might not require as mall-like or as large a center, it need not discourage fun, either. Indeed, Sen. Kass told The Stanford Review, “Old Union certainly has not reached its potential as a student hub.” But until that potential is realized, Stanford will lack a true student center.

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