Senior Luna Luna kneeled down next to a pile of papers strewn on the floor in the upper level of the Human Rights Center.
“Who’s stuff is this in this messy pile? It’s kind of reproductive related, so it might be AFC, it might be SASS, or who knows?” Luna said. “Or it could be a club that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Along with 15 other students, Luna, the president of Common Ground, participated in a spring clean-up of the Human Rights Center, which is more commonly called the HRC, at the end of April. She was grateful that someone had taken the initiative to do something about the disorganized, poorly-maintained space.
“[Common Ground] got involved because we use this building and we want this building to be functional. And I have been trying to clean this building for the past four years.”
Other clubs in attendance were M.E.Ch.A., Advocates for Choice (AFC), Students for Sustainability, members of the Diversity Committee of the Student Senate and SASS (Students Against Sexism in Society).
SASS has held small club spring cleanings in the past, but freshman and Co-President of SASS Eden Sarkisian wanted to expand the cleaning to all clubs who used the house.
“I was really passionate about it,” Sarkisian said, who has been discussing issues in the HRC with SASS, the other groups who meet in the building and the Director of the Center for Intercultural Life (CIL) Tianna Cervantez throughout the year.
Students have been using the HRC since 1999. Professor of Political Science Duane Oldfield, advisor to Amnesty International at the time, helped them obtain a house so social activist clubs could have their own space on campus. Prior to being the HRC, the building was occupied by the current Dean of Students.
At its creation, a task force served to connect the different groups, like SASS and Common Ground, together. One member from each group was delegated to participate in monthly meetings to coordinate the clubs.
This task force still existed when Cervantez joined the CIL in 2008, but communication between clubs deteriorated over time. Cervantez serves as the supervisor for all the cultural centers of campus, including the HRC. However, Cervantez thinks many students do not know this.
The rapid turnover in club leadership and lack of consistent communication between the CIL and HRC clubs led to this confusion about whom students could report to. This also created problems for the maintenance of the space. For instance, recent students did not know until this year that they had funds available to them to use on the HRC.
“It’s been a perfect, kind of crappy, storm of communication. Who is the holder of this information? How does it get to the students? How do students who are advised by not the Center of Intercultural Life understand that they can come here?” Cervantez said.
Communication issues and neglect have plagued the HRC at least as long as Luna has been on campus.
One such issue was problems with the pipes in the HRC. At the beginning of Fall Term, new club members were warned by their clubs not to drink the water in the HRC. The pipes were connected to a service pipe with lead contamination and, while still passing city regulations, members of college recommended they do not drink the water.
In actuality, the pipes in the HRC had been replaced over the summer, but no one knew about it until Winter Term. Even then, they knew because a student had inquired about the problem.
While the students hope to improve upkeep of the house, the possibility of turning the house residential is not financially feasible.
“There was a push a couple of a years ago about students wanting to live in the house,” Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust said.
But when Maust ran the numbers at the time, the cost came out over $200,000 to repair the second exit from the upstairs, put in a fire alarm and sprinkler system and bring other parts of the house up to residential living standards. As is, the building is safe for continued use as a common meeting place.
“Is there room for improvement? Yes,” Maust said. “We have a lot of buildings that have room for improvement. If money was no issue on campus, we’d do a lot. … It’s one thing on campus – there is always a struggle to find a good meeting space.”
Cervantez, Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich, Assistant Director of International Student Services Rebecca Eckart and housing staff will be speaking over the summer over what to do to create more collaboration between cultural houses and clubs.
“A lot of the organizations that call the HRC home have their missions based in a form of justice, so what does that mean?” Cervantez said. “How do we strengthen them, how do we provide support for them?”
For students, the goals are much less abstract: Luna and Sarkisian said they want shelves, drawers, paint and new blinds. Already they have replaced the old couches with new ones from the college.
The future for the HRC is important to students, but they also want to preserve the history of the building and the clubs who have used it. Some posters hung up in the library were from the 1980s and are from clubs that no longer exist.
“I know a lot of this stuff is old and questionable,” Luna said. “[But I wanted to make] sure people respected other people’s stuff and the history.”