University President Ronald J. Daniels announced on Tuesday evening that the school will be building a student center where the Mattin Center is currently located. At the end of the Shriver Hall reopening ceremony Daniels invited attendees to a celebration at the Beach that included food trucks, live music and seesaws. At the celebration, Daniels announced the student center project.
In a schoolwide email, Daniels explained the vision for the new building.
“This will be a new kind of space for us — one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design,” he wrote. “It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.”
Junior Emily Velandia, who attended the celebration at the Beach, agreed that a student center would positively impact the culture at Hopkins. She believes it would encourage students to prioritize non-academic aspects of their lives.
“At other schools... the student center is the center of campus. For us, that’s Brody. The center of campus is the library, and that sometimes contributes to this vibe of putting academics over personal well-being,” she said.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the student center will likely be completed in around four to five years. He explained that University officials will spend between one and two years planning and designing the space before beginning construction.
Shollenberger added that during the design and planning process, University officials will seek spaces to relocate groups and programs currently housed in Mattin Center.
He emphasized the importance of student involvement in the planning process, which Director of Athletics and Recreation Alanna Shanahan will lead.
“Later this spring, we will share more details about how everyone — and especially students — can stay informed, offer feedback, and get involved, including the opportunity to participate in a standing advisory committee that will play a key role in this important undertaking,” he wrote.
Student Government Association (SGA) Executive President AJ Tsang shared in the enthusiasm for the project. He explained that SGA members have advocated for the construction of a student center over the past decade, citing the recent SGA referendum that showed that 81.8 percent of voting students favored it.
“The moment last night was the culmination of 100 years of student and SGA advocacy to create a centralized student space where we can come together to have access to critical resources ranging from mental health services, academic advising and communal spaces,” he said.
Tsang added that SGA would also be creating opportunities for students to provide feedback.
“We’re going to be forming an SGA task force within the next week to make sure SGA serves in its role as the convener for student voices,” he said. “A student center is going to revolutionize student life. When it comes to making sure the University listens to students, it will allow us to come together and be a stronger voice as a student body in changing the University and its culture, practices and policies.”
While many students look forward to the prospect of a new space where students can gather, others have concerns about how the services and offices in Mattin will be affected by this decision. These include the Homewood Arts Programs (HAP) spaces, Visual Art classrooms, the Swirnow Theater and Bamboo Cafe, among others.
Junior Maya Singh Sharkey, vice president of studio production for the Barnstormers and member of the Witness Theater group, was concerned about theater groups losing one of their major performance spaces — the Swirnow Theater. Though she hopes that University officials will find a way to incorporate a theater into the new student center, she is worried about where theater groups will rehearse and perform during the construction period.
She explained that because Swirnow was one of only two theaters on campus, losing it even temporarily could be detrimental to the theater community at Hopkins.
“My biggest concern is in the interim, because especially for rehearsal space, our groups are kind of screwed over. We couldn’t perform six shows of a musical in Shriver,” she said. “We would have to do smaller shows — we couldn’t build arches and two-story sets.”
Singh Sharkey added that she was frustrated by the announcement being accompanied by a celebration, particularly because administrators failed to answer questions about how they would accommodate for performing arts groups and other groups that would be affected by the loss of Mattin Center.
“It felt like they were saying, ‘We’re getting rid of the only arts space on campus, now play on these seesaws!’” she said. “We need a lot more answers than we have been given.”
Sophomore Visual Arts minor Ian Waggoner agreed, adding that the Mattin Center is the only area on campus that contains visual arts spaces. Waggoner felt that there were other locations on campus, like Garland Hall, that could have become a new student center instead.
“Mattin is the only building on campus that has studio rooms and a darkroom for photography. No other rooms on campus have that ability to support painting and store art,” he said. “There’s a possibility that the new student center could contain studios that would still allow for the Visual Arts programs to have classes, but in the two years that it will take to build it, students will not be able to take these classes.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Shollenberger justified the University’s decision to use Mattin Center as the site for the new student center.
“While [Mattin] is slightly less than 20 years old, our space requirements have evolved over time and the building, as designed, is not adequate to fulfill many of these specific needs such as the larger gathering venues our students seek today,” he wrote. “JHU envisions constructing a new, more flexible building capable of addressing the needs of today and future generations. At this location, a new Student Center will be a highly energizing and welcoming connector between the Homewood Campus and student residences across Charles Street.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Homewood Arts Program Director Eric Beatty assured the Hopkins community that students in performing arts groups and in the Visual Arts minor would have the opportunity to provide their ideas and feedback through the planning process.
“Part of the planning process will be looking at how we can accommodate the needs of our arts programs in the interim as well as in the new center,” he wrote. “We will be very thoughtful regarding how we ensure the arts continue to have a prominent place in the Hopkins landscape.”
Advocates for Disability Awareness (ADA) President Madelynn Wellons and Vice President Sabrina Epstein were also concerned about how the decision to create a new student center in the location of Mattin Center would affect the Student Disability Services (SDS) offices.
Last spring, ADA members advocated for improved accessibility on campus through a list of demands they sent to administrators, one of which included moving the SDS office to a larger and more accessible space. In a schoolwide email the following fall semester, Shollenberger and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity Kimberly Hewitt announced that the office would be moved to the first floor of the Mattin Center’s Offit building.
With the decision to construct a student center in place of Mattin, this move has been halted, according to Wellons.
“They had all of the permits ready, they were ready to go — they had furniture, they had the layout, everything was prepared,” she said. “Knowing all the work that ADA has done in the past year and seeing how the campus responded, how much administrators promised us they would change — seeing the complete lack of care and preparation for where SDS was even going to go was one of the most disappointing things I’d seen.”
Epstein agreed with Wellons, adding that students needed to continue advocating for their interests during the planning process.
“It’s very clear that the administration was not communicating internally,” she said. “The key going forward and the message that we as students should send is to ask the administration to not put this in place of Mattin unless they show they have a plan to relocate all of the resources in Mattin fully.”
Shollenberger emphasized that leading up to the student center’s construction, University officials aim to prioritize the needs of both undergraduate and graduate students in order to allow the center to serve as a universal gathering space.
In an email to The News-Letter, he explained that University officials announced the plans for the student center as soon as they had secured $150 million to fund it.
“We are grateful to have significant philanthropic funds committed from multiple generous donors. This philanthropy, combined with institutional resources and additional fundraising support from our community of alumni and donors, will make this long-awaited dream a reality,” he wrote.
In his schoolwide email, Daniels expressed similar sentiments, reflecting on the history of the search for a student center at Homewood.
“Generations of Hopkins students and administrations have pursued the holy grail of an ideal gathering space for our students,” he wrote. “The pleas for a more perfect student union have resounded across the decades, from the pages of the 1925 Half-Century Committee’s report to the SGA’s appeals last year in The News-Letter.”