Columns / Discourse / October 28, 2010

Progress: Glimpse into past compares, contrasts

“Ferris ‘Lounge’ down the hallway served as additional space for socialization, adorned with cosmic abstract art that possessed a self-satisfied sort of charm.”

-“Progress,” October 7, 2010

To continue the exploration of how our Lyman K. Seymour Union has evolved, we will first examine another slightly disjointed space, investigate what happened to it and finally draw conclusions of what the broader implications are of the Union in transition. Added in the massive and expensive 1960 remodel of the Student Union, Ferris Lounge these days is a somewhat nebulous bastion to most students. Oh, sure, the administration holds small banquets there when the Lincoln Room would overwhelm, and you may have gone to a speaker once or twice in the space. The “lounge” is in that odd nether-region of Seymour, tucked behind the Post Office. It is largely an empty place constantly in flux and devoid of definition; the odd potpourri of furniture meanders about to conform to whatever needs the college demands of the space. For those that care to look, the odd flock of migrating lounges and low slung sofas stand in contrast to how the rest of the campus is furnished. Upon closer investigation, they just don’t meld with the flavorless dorm furniture, and the difference is stark in comparison with the academic grandiosity to be found in the Seymour Library and Old Main.

Their colors are drab earth tones, their lines clean, veering dangerously towards modernism, sporting the slightest smidgeon of Scandinavian flair. This dilapidated fleet of davenports has existed in Ferris Lounge since it was new. They are, to my knowledge, the only survivors of an era when Ferris actually deserved its currently questionable designation as a lounge. In the last “Progress,” we peeked into the various incarnations of Founder’s Laboratory, all of which until the 1990’s were warm, if not sumptuous, student lounges. Around the same era, Ferris served as the faculty lounge and it emphatically lived up to the task. The essential space today is unchanged, save for sealing off the once open and welcoming doorways, although the art has been stored (if we’re lucky), the character bleached, and most tragically, the community lost. While the majority of the college population certainly still uses Seymour Union as a central hub, its role has substantially changed throughout the years from a collection of social spaces to more of a repository for functions, work and dining.

The student body can, if they wish, find particular irony in the fact that Founder’s, once a lounge, is now a computer lab. With the incredibly convenient electronic communication medium having fully integrated itself into our lives, it is cause enough to ponder how often faculty and students, holed up in their various nooks and crannies, have to do something as unreasonable as walk across the campus and talk to whom they need in person. Perhaps the loss in cohesion being lamented here is overblown, but this author has yet to see a modern equivalent of a casual gathering of faculty like this one. It begs the question: can this sort of space exist anymore?

Hypothetically, we could resuscitate many parts of our Union to facilitate cross campus socialization, but would those efforts result in underutilized spaces? The litmus test will be the recently authorized renovation of the Seymour Union Student Lounge, formerly Wallace Lounge. Interestingly enough, the ‘new’ space lies beneath the one extant cross-campus, student and faculty inclusive social asset—the Gizmo, which, in comparison with the rest of our Union, remains relatively unchanged since the day it opened.

James Abram Zumwalt

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