By Alyssa Sanford
After the announcement that the Rat would be closing forever after 40 years, and once telltale fences and green mesh began to pop up around the perimeter of the Brower Student Center, it became clear that renovations to the Stud would be starting soon — but not without affecting the student organizations housed there.
Although renovations to the 1970s-era Student Center are long overdue, and the campus community seems to be generally enthusiastic about it, leaders of on-campus clubs and organizations are frustrated that they’re being displaced by future construction efforts.
TCNJ Hillel, a club associated with the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is a prime example of the negative effects that the Stud renovation is having on clubs who work out of the Stud. Hillel has already been relocated from its office space in the Stud basement to a closet in the Spiritual Center — much to the dismay of its members who had to throw out a lot of supplies and holiday decorations.
“Probably the most upsetting thing is that we had to leave behind a lot of meaningful things,” said Danielle Kassick, co-president of Hillel and a junior psychology and elementary education double major. “We had to throw away scrapbooks that members of Hillel from 10 plus years ago put together. We also had to leave behind important religious items, like prayer books and shabbat cups.”
According to Kassick, co-president of Hillel, it was “just a really stressful process” to consolidate their office into a significantly smaller storage space.
“The office was supposed to act as a place where we could store our things, but also a place where we could hang out with other members in a place that we always knew would be available,” Kassick said. “Now that this is gone, it’s been difficult to have spontaneous gatherings for our organization.”
Katie Yorke, a co-chair of programming for Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) and a member of the Women’s Center, echoed Kassick’s sentiments of frustration. The Women’s Center’s office space in the basement of the Stud has already been cleared out — making it impossible to hold private meetings with women in need.
“The Women’s Center is supposed to be a safe space for anyone to come to and know that there’s people there for them, but now, if we are moving into a public space, people might feel hesitant to come and open up,” said Yorke, a junior Spanish and international studies double major.
Yorke also mentioned that the basement office in the Stud wasn’t necessarily conducive to attracting foot traffic.
“We’re an important organization but we were always a second-thought in the fact that we were just allotted the basement,” Yorke said. “How can we advertise when people don’t even know our room exists?”
Yorke has not yet been told where the new office space will be, however, according to Stud Manager Seth Zolin, they will be relocated to an open space in the Stud. If this occurs, however, the lack of privacy “could create conflicts” for women who want to talk openly without fear of judgment, Yorke said.
Other club leaders have already experienced conflicts with Student Center managers.
Kerri McLaughlin, president of Circle K, said that “a few months ago they basically told us, tough luck, we don’t have space for you anymore.”
For a club like Circle K, which emphasizes service and leadership, it was shocking that the Stud managers were “turning a cold shoulder” to the executive board, as well as many other well-established organizations, she said.
“We’re not the only club that’s not being given space back that really needs it,” McLaughlin said.
TCNJ Musical Theatre, for example, doesn’t have “any designated meeting or storage space that we can easily access on a daily basis” allotted for next semester, said Ken Abes, a junior biology major and secretary of TMT.
TMT shared their cube in the Stud with All College Theatre, the Mixed Signals and Alpha Psi Omega, as both storage space for props, costumes, merchandise and memorabilia, as well as a meeting space. So far, while Stud management “has been accommodating” in assisting in the move-out process, they haven’t designated a new space for TMT that would be easily accessible to both the club and the public, according to Abes.
“While the staff of the student activities center have been very accommodating when it comes to other aspects of our organizations’ business, no communication had been made to alert us that we would be losing this space or why we were not given a guaranteed space in the renovated student center,” Abes said. “This loss came as a surprise to us.”
Abes hopes that the College administration will implement better forms of communication so that all students’ concerns can be expressed in the future.
Zolin is aware of the space issues that come with renovation.
“It was very quickly realized that we could not provide a space for all of the 200 student organizations on campus,” Zolin said. “Every dedicated space created reduces square footage available for the general population.”
While the new Stud design will allot space for “storage cages” in the basement for many student organizations to use, the current space issue will be more difficult to resolve.
Management first reached out to organizations “from underrepresented populations” so that their “vital service” to the campus community would remain intact for years to come, Zolin said.
The George Jackson Center, Simon Bolivar Room, Pan-Asian Room, PRISM and Women’s Center offices will all have a prominent position in the new Student Center so that they’ll be “easier” to find and more accessible to the public, Zolin said.
Fortunately, other organizations were able to find a new home for the next few semesters. Zolin listed a few of the organizations that he was able to find space for, including CUB, SFB, PRISM, Student Government, Inter Greek Council, Black Student Union and several others.
The Student Government office, like many other organizations’ offices, will be relocated to Roscoe West Hall, even though the cabinet isn’t sure exactly what the space will look like yet. Matthew Wells, president of Student Government, is optimistic about the Stud renovations, simply because it will improve life on campus for everyone.
“I think any sort of construction or anything sometimes bars some students, but … in the long run I think it’s going to be extremely beneficial to the college,” said Wells, a senior health and exercise science major. “Some people will see it as a great thing, like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have a brand new, renovated student center my junior year.’ But then others will be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go here because it doesn’t have it here and now.’ It depends on the person.”
But Wells recognizes the prevailing sense of frustration that comes with moving office space.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Wells said, though he acknowledged that “it stinks having the student center down” for logistical reasons.
Besides the obvious closures of the Rat and the Lions’ Den, students will also have to adjust to the college bookstore’s closure and relocation.
“Provided everything stays on schedule” with Campus Town construction, the College Barnes & Noble location in the Stud will close in July for a two-week period, store manager Josie Tavarez said. It will tentatively reopen on Monday, Aug. 3, in its brand-new Campus Town location. The allotted space for the Campus Town bookstore will be 1,400 square feet and will also have a Barnes & Noble Cafe.
It will be a “new and improved bookstore,” Tavarez said.
Zolin also mentioned the addition of “more meeting and programming spaces located throughout the building,” as well as “innovative” new spaces like the Global Corner near the new main entrance. It will feature televisions tuned to world news, and the Multimedia Corner that will allow students to project media from their laptops onto a large screen to share with others.
“These types of innovative spaces will help us meet the goal of providing a modern, attractive and welcoming student center that will benefit our community for years to come,” Zolin said.
Although there are positive changes happening to the Stud, like the construction of new on-campus restaurants that will fill the vacancies left behind by the Rat and the Lions’ Den, it will take some time for students to adjust to the reconstruction of the campus’ longtime epicenter.
“Organizations are just going to have to be flexible throughout the next two to three years,” Wells said. “Flexibility and resilience will keep us through.”
Signal staffers Julie Kayzerman, Sydney Shaw, Ellie Schuckman, Kimberly Ilkowski, Mackenzie Cutruzzula and Jonathan Edmondson contributed to this report.