Having unparalleled access to research opportunities is not the only unique part of attending Hopkins. We also have several campus traditions like watching fireworks at Lighting of the Quads each December and celebrating the arrival of warm weather at Spring Fair, the largest student-run festival in the country. These things set Hopkins apart from other schools and make our time here memorable. Yet, since as long as we have known, another unique thing comes to mind about Hopkins: our lack of an official student center. We may have dedicated “student union” spaces in Levering Hall or the LaB, but unlike many other colleges and universities, we don’t have a singular building packed with social spaces and resources.
At a surprise event on Tuesday evening, University President Ronald J. Daniels announced that following years of requests from students, Hopkins will construct a student center. It will be built where Mattin Center currently stands, with construction set to be completed in 2024.
Though many of us won’t be here to see the finished building, we hope that its creation will help future students develop a stronger sense of community and school spirit. We hope that in the planning process, University administrators provide opportunities for students to share ideas about what will make this a space that the Hopkins community will love. Many students who have campaigned for a student center believe that creating a designated social space will enhance and improve the overall Hopkins experience. We hope that the student center can serve this function and will not simply become Brody 2.0: a building full of people pulling all-nighters to study.
Instead, we hope that the student center is a space to practice self-care, meet new people and simply take a much-needed break from being a full-time student. Maybe there will be nap pods so that students can rest their eyes between classes or a bowling alley where people can blow off steam after a long day. Perhaps future Blue Jays can enjoy the latest movies in a dark theater instead of a lecture hall. With Mattin Center gone, we hope there are dance and art studios, music practice rooms, and a theater for shows and open mic nights. The student center could also have more convenient access to campus resources like the Office of Multicultural Affairs or Student Disability Services. Other colleges and universities have these amenities in their student centers, so why can’t we, too?
We are cognizant, however, that the arrival of a new building will not immediately change campus culture. If we want to break the cycle of competition and workaholism, we cannot point to administrators to do that for us. We, as a student body, must shoulder that responsibility and work to make our time here at Hopkins more meaningful.
Searching for a place to start? What about our school traditions? Traditions play an indispensable role in fostering school spirit at some of our peer institutions. The Harvard-Yale football game, the Dartmouth Winter Carnival and Cornell Dragon Day are well-known traditions where a sense of school community is palpable. Hopkins has its own traditions, including Hoptoberfest, Lighting of the Quads and Spring Fair. But we do not feel that these traditions resonate with students as the aforementioned traditions do. The gratification we get is short-term. When the free food and shirts are gone, how many students more closely identify with the community here?
Perhaps it’s not just the traditions themselves, but our indifference. This is perhaps most evident in our lack of enthusiasm for athletics. The University’s highly accomplished student-athletes should receive greater support at their games throughout the school year from the entire student body, not just from their family, friends and other student-athletes. Our lacrosse program is arguably the most renowned in the country. As for the school’s Division III teams, a majority of them absolutely dominate in the Centennial Conference and on the national level. While some games draw major crowds, attendance is typically sparse.
Having adequate and inviting spaces to create these traditions is vital. We’re glad that Shriver Hall has reopened and that a student center will serve as a gathering place for the community. But enhancing school spirit isn’t just about building and enjoying new physical spaces on campus. If we’re to enhance and maintain school spirit at Hopkins, we have to ensure that students are also connecting with each other, and with the Baltimore community. So that a student center does not insulate students from Baltimore, we propose that the center be open to Baltimore residents. We already have popular student spaces on campus like Brody and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library that are open to the public, and we think that doing the same for our student center will be straightforward.
Furthermore, we propose that the student center become a space that is friendly to local entrepreneurs and artists. Instead of chain restaurants, bring in local vendors. Maybe the student center could host pop ups with local businesses like the Greater Goods Market at Remington’s R. House. In addition to making a space for Hopkins artists and musicians, make room for performances from local bands or exhibits from local creators. Giving Hopkins students a taste of what Baltimore has to offer could encourage them to explore the city more and enhance school spirit in the long run.
We’re grateful and happy that Hopkins will have a student center. But it can only serve as a positive and inclusive space if students use it as one. A new building may help us create a healthier campus culture, but the foundation for that culture must come from within us.