The University of Chicago has traditionally been known as the place “where fun goes to die.” This funny yet self-deprecating slogan has proven extraordinarily resilient over the years. Yet Jim Nondorf, Vice President and Dean of Admissions, says that perception is changing. In a 2013 Maroon Q&A, when asked about the humorous slogan, he responded, “Oh, gosh. Well, you know, I don’t hear, ‘Is this where fun goes to die?’ that often, I have to say. The fun dying has died, which is great.” That being said, fun isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of UChicago; rather, it is the inquiry and discussion, characteristics that Dean Nondorf noticed right off the bat, that are endemic to this university and that most people pick up after spending just a few hours on campus.
It is curious, then, why a school so enthralled with inquiry and discussion has no centralized space that is open to all students to partake in exactly this kind of activity. Sure, we might spend far too long in Bartlett carrying out debates about which fruit or vegetable is objectively the best. We tend to linger in our house lounges for untold hours debating the merits of quadratic voting. Both of these spaces, however, are demarcated by our house affiliations. To be clear, I think the house system is wonderful for many reasons, and is often an attractive feature of the college for prospective students. That being said, we shouldn’t prioritize house culture at the expense of broader, campus-wide student culture.
An example we might look to is the Paresky Center at Williams College. This building, described as the “campus living room,” contains “spaces in which to study, eat, go to class, perform, relax, watch movies, hang out with friends and professors, and hold meetings and events.” A space such as this, open to all students and not designated for specific uses, such as exclusively eating, studying, or sleeping, would facilitate a more robust social life and encourage a more relaxed atmosphere. No longer would people have to go to the Reg to hang out with their friends or feel obligated to congregate at frat or apartment parties for socialization. A student center with ample recreation room would widen the claustrophobic space in which current day-to-day social interactions occur on this campus.
With the construction of the new Campus North Residential Hall and Dining Commons, Studio Gang Architects identified “creating vibrant student communities within the residence halls” as one of its main goals, and Dean Boyer concurred, emphasizing the importance of “developing active and stimulating learning communities among our students.” However, it seems once again the University is prioritizing the advancement of in-house communities while forgetting the cohesion, school spirit, and general sense of belonging which an all-inclusive student center would promote.
—Henry Connolly, first-year in the College