Following a report commissioned earlier this year, the ASSU assembled a working group to review use of student union spaces. The group has since launched several initiatives to repurpose spaces in Old Union and surrounding buildings and has encouraged further use of union spaces.
Programs such as Union Underground and the Volunteer Student Organization (VSO) Office Space Pilot Program have resulted from the working group.
To evaluate Stanford’s union spaces, the research group both looked at the history of unions at Stanford and examined peer institutions with strong student unions, particularly the University of Maryland-College Park and its Stamp Student Union.
According to former ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12, the group focused on spaces in the “White Plaza complex,” the name assigned to the area that includes Old Union, Tresidder Union, the Nitery and other buildings adjacent to White Plaza.
“While [the White Plaza complex] does include most of the aspects found in other student unions, it lacks certain aspects, such as a strong arts space as well as some more kind of recreational activities found in most student unions,” Cruz said, noting that the union has particularly strong centers for ethnic, religious and gender groups.
The unions were also found to be particularly strong in having general-use areas for students.
“We were as strong, if not stronger, than most other student unions in terms of having really good study spaces or group meeting spaces,” Cruz said.
In the student union study, 42 percent of students said the first thing they thought of when thinking about Old Union was “a place to do group work,” second only to “The Axe and Palm” at 51 percent.
To address the shortcomings of the union spaces, the working group created or expedited several programs. Union Underground, an initiative to create an area for student art and a “free store” in the basement of Old Union, was piloted last spring and received confirmation to continue operations this year.
“It was actually a really big struggle to get space at all,” said Liz Matus ‘14, one of the students who helped start the Union Underground project.
Matus said that the art aspect, addressing the need for student art space, was what ultimately got the project approved.
The VSO Space Initiative was created this quarter as a pilot program to allocate three rooms in Old Union and four in the Nitery as office, work and storage space for students groups. The ASSU issued an application for any student group to apply for its own space.
Former ASSU Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ‘13 said that if the pilot program is successful, the working group plans to try to continue the initiative and expand it. One drawback, he said, was that since more groups applied for space than the initiative could accommodate, groups might have to move in and out of spaces periodically.
According to Cruz, the goal of the Student Space Initiative was “increasing student engagement with Old Union and having students feel like they really have a sense of ownership with the student unions.” He said the idea resulted from observations that students who feel at home in Stanford’s student unions are generally those active in organizations housed there.
“Student groups that didn’t have that kind of connection haven’t felt as much of a connection to Old Union as an institution,” Cruz said. “While a majority of students are involved in some group during their time at Stanford, we felt that [Old Union engagement] was a major lacking issue.”
The ASSU manages union spaces in conjunction with the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA). VPSA Director of Student Unions Jeanette Smith-Laws, who worked on the VSO Office Space Pilot Program, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Cruz also said that the ASSU has finished funding its executive action grants for the year. The grants are given to groups of students looking to enhance Stanford student life in some way, and encourage student recipients to integrate Old Union into their activities.