The ASSU and the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA) are forming a working group to review use of the Old Union complex following a preliminary report that stated Old Union is not serving the Stanford community to its full potential.
The working group, which is still forming, will include VPSA administrators, ASSU leadership and interested students who will join through an application process, according to ASSU Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13. The group will spend fall quarter researching and hopes to implement changes starting winter quarter, he said.
“We’re not trying to make [the working group] too big because we want to be effective and get things done,” student space researcher Aaron Konigsberg ’14 said.
Wellness Room repurposed
One space that has already been repurposed is the Wellness Room. The first floor room in Old Union, which used to boast relaxation and art resources, now matches any other student study room in the complex, with standard Old Union couches.
Konigsberg said Jeanette Smith-Laws, director of operations and students unions, decided it would be best to incorporate wellness into all aspects of Old Union as opposed to dedicating a room to the theme.
The Wellness Room was initially created by ASSU Executives Johnny Dorsey ’09 and Fagan Harris ’09 in February 2009, with strong support by former ASSU President Angelina Cardona ’11. Cardona was ASSU Mental Health Chair at the time the space was created.
The Wellness Room faced criticism throughout its existence about its level of use and ability to cater to the entire student body.
Student space report recommends website, programming
The student space report, which was commissioned by the ASSU and released to the student body over the summer, was a condensed version of a several hundred-page report that Konigsberg wrote over three weeks. Konigsberg said he was financially compensated for his work.
The ASSU initially advertised the student space position as including a $1,250 stipend and consisting of 80 hours of work. Konigsberg said the position ended up requiring more work than expected – around 100 to 120 hours in total – and he was additionally compensated for this time.
The report made four recommendations for the Old Union complex – which consists of Old Union, the Nitery and the Clubhouse – to establish the Union as a hub of campus life. The four recommendations are to create a website unifying online resources related to student life, better utilize the existing space, host original programming to give Old Union a “personality” and market the Union to the student body.
The report included results of a survey administered to Stanford students last year. According to the report, Old Union received a score of 5/5 in “Variety,” 3/5 in “Usefulness,” 4/5 in “Availability,” 3/5 in “Utilization,” 2/5 in “Desirability,” 1/5 in “Online Presence” and 3/5 in “Community Feel.”
Konigsberg said the lowest score, Online Presence, could be attributed to the multitude of student-aimed web pages, such as the activity calendar and the room reservation system. Web pages are also separate among the ASSU, the CoHo and the Axe and Palm, which operate separately.
“If the Old Union is to be the center of campus life and activity, the Old Union website has to support this claim,” Konigsberg wrote in the report. “In its current state, there is simply no way that the Old Union can promote the type of events that the Old Union will have to host if it wants to be successful. There has to be a redesign.”
Konigsberg said he researched student unions at other universities while compiling the report, considering at three main factors: personality of each university, school location and the average distance of dorms from the student union. He said he interviewed the directors of student life or student unions at all of the schools he researched.
“Each [of the universities’ student unions] had a really unique feature about it that made it great,” Konigsberg said. “At Princeton, the union is really specifically tailored to the community and serves the community well. The [University of] Maryland student union was exemplary at marketing to students.”
The report also asked students what first came to mind when they thought of Old Union, Konigsberg said. According to the report, 51 percent of responding students selected “The Axe and Palm,” 42 percent selected “A place to do group work,” 3 percent selected “A quiet place to study” and 4 percent selected “None of the above.”
When asked which changes would make Old Union more appealing, 55 percent of respondents requested more dining options, 46.9 percent wanted more spaces to work individually, 45.6 percent requested longer hours, 35.7 percent of respondents asked for more spaces to work with a group, 35.4 percent desired a more relaxed and lounge focused atmosphere and 24.5 percent requested a more upbeat and lively atmosphere.
“I’d like us to come up with a plan for how we’d like each room in the facilities to be used and make changes that reflect that and come up with programming that allows us to make those changes,” Macgregor-Dennis said.
According to Konigsberg, one option that would help Old Union better serve Stanford students as a campus hub would be renovating the first floor into a place where students could interact with each other and watch away football games, compared to one current use of the area as a space to study.
While the second floor of Old Union will likely remain as is, the question of how to allocate the remaining space to students – and whether or not to allow certain groups to inhabit some rooms permanently – is up for discussion, Konigsberg said.
“We have to strike that delicate balance between giving resources to everyone and honoring groups who have shown that they do use the space well,” Konigsberg said.
Even with the prospect of a revamped space, Old Union faces the challenge of drawing students to the building, Konigsberg said. The student space report cited programming as a key component of reforming Old Union’s image. There is currently no formal system of events programming at Old Union.
“[The programming] shouldn’t be events planned by old people for young people,” Konigsberg said. “It should be events that I personally would be excited to go to. [Old Union] shouldn’t be a building; it should be a destination.”