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August 8, 2013

A Groundless Decision

ORSCA’s plans to move into Hallowed Grounds is not only baseless, but indicative of a troubling administrative trend.

By now, you’ve probably heard about ORCSA’s unexpected and unwelcome plans to expand its RSO advising offices at the expense of one of our campus’s most unique and cherished spaces, Hallowed Grounds.

Known before 2006 as The Uncle and even earlier as Uncle Joe’s (as in Joseph Stalin), Hallowed Grounds has been the site of countless coffee dates and pool games, and has provided the perfect uniquely calming environment for many of my own RSO meetings, paper writing marathons, and post-finals naps.

Earlier this week Senior Director for Student Life and Assistant Dean of Students Sarah Cunningham told the Maroon “We have heard from students for many years that more space is needed for RSO advising, and we believe the center provides a flexible solution to this problem while ensuring the comfort of Hallowed Grounds remains.” To call this a “flexible solution” is, I think, both hollow and groundless.

From its distinct, at times overpowering, aroma of Metropolis coffee, to its mellow soundtrack, stockpile of syrups, and board games galore, everything about this cafe is as unforgettable as it is one-of-a-kind. To downsize Hallowed Grounds would be to downsize its irreplaceable experience, and to destroy what has for many students been a significant part of their UChicago life.

Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Reynolds Club can immediately identify at least two far more reasonable alternatives for installing some new, open-air cubicles in the building: the First Floor Theater, a space that was vacated nearly a year ago and moved to a new home in Logan, and South Lounge, a generic and significantly less popular space that, like Hallowed Grounds, also happens to be on the second floor of Reynolds Club. If we expand our options to the entire campus, a plethora of equally viable options emerge, such as some parts of Henry Crown or even a couple of classrooms in a building like Rosenwald.

Indeed, save for our other student-run cafes and perhaps Hutchinson Commons, I honestly cannot think of a more absurd, more ignorant location ORSCA could have chosen in which to stake its territory. I can’t even begin to imagine the "thinking" that went into the choice of Hallowed Grounds.

That is all, of course, if said office expansions are even necessary—a point I have yet to see the ORCSA personnel sufficiently establish, and that I can’t personally vouch for despite having now led three separate RSOs.

Moreover, the proposal blatantly ignores the fact that many students, myself included, have and will continue to use the cafe as a space for invaluable RSO–related gatherings and activities. Personally, Hallowed Grounds has been the site of some of my fondest RSO–related memories, providing the irreplaceable backdrop for the inaugural Undergraduate Law Review info session that I cohosted with fourth-year Alida Miranda-Wolff; for the meeting in which Ricky Zacharias (A.B. ’12), fourth-year Catherine Tarsney, and I outlined our plans for a Students for Barack Obama campus chapter; and for the informational session that first inspired me to get involved with the Chicago Maroon.

Thanks to an amazing change.org petition started by second-year Timi Koyejo (which I strongly encourage you to sign, if you haven’t already), I know I’m not the only one who has had these kinds of experiences, and who feels so strongly opposed to this proposal. In fact, far from it: As of the publication of this article, the petition has earned 1,145 signatures so far.

Though it seems that ORCSA did attempt to incorporate student sentiment into its decision making by way of a “student advisory committee,” I find it highly problematic that the intended purpose of said committee is to “consult on aspects of design, furniture, and the project’s timeline,” and not on, say, whether or not the project should be happening in the first place. Indeed, rising fourth-year and student advisory committee member Matt Wolf said  administrators—the same people charged with “advising” our student organizations—were “genuinely shocked” that students were not completely gung-ho about the remodeling.

The proposed downsizing of Hallowed Grounds could also be seen as exemplifying the broader, growing disconnect between students and the administrator, fitting right in with such issues as inadequate and unacceptable student health services, the UCPD’s unwelcome undercover presence at the trauma center protest, and administrators’ failure to provide students with sanitary and safe dining halls.

Not every student concern deserves to be addressed, or for that matter, even carefully considered. But in light of the baseless reasoning behind this proposed remodeling and the resulting restless, emphatic outpouring of dissent, the administration owes us both an explanation and a reversal—not only of its proposal to mutilate our irreplaceable student-run cafe, but also of its troubling trend of ignoring student values and concerns as a whole.

Anastasia Golovashkina is a third-year in the College majoring in economics.

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