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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student groups, eager to grow, look to Village space

Published: March 31, 2006
Section: News

Its big enough for anything, said Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer Peter B. French of the 800 square foot open space in the Village, located across from the Village exercise room.

Because of its size, location, and accessibility, this prime piece of Brandeis real estate has become the object of many students efforts to enhance the campus.

Three possibilities, among others, have arisen most prominently, including an Activist Resource Center, a studio for Brandeis Television (BTV) , or some form of an eatery.
Our main consideration is the needs of the residential precinct, French said. A new Ridgewood in 2008-2009 will house over 300 more students in that area of campus, and Brandeis is working to close a deal for the land across the street from the Village, making the space around an area of future activity and expansion.

Of the groups fighting for the space, French asked the following question: Why [do the groups want to be] there? Because the space is available or because there is a need? There is still work to be done, as the space lacks heat and air conditioning, and needs to be finished. This is not an inconsequential cost, French stated.

The Union and Administration
Originally, both spaces was left purposefully unoccupied, so that it would provide for future use, French stated. Student leaders advocated for an exercise room in one of the open rooms, and a consensus was formed behind that idea, with the support of French, VP Jean Eddy, and President Reinharz.

Ultimately, French stated, President Reinharz makes these decisions, though the recent Student Union poll certainly has weight.

The Union, in the last round of elections, used a poll to determine if there is significant campus sentiment behind an option. The nature of this poll was not to affirmatively decide what to do with the space, but rather to solicit student ideas, Aaron Gaynor stated. The poll was left open-ended so students could express whatever they felt would be the best use of the space.

The Union also plans another poll, which will be multiple choice, between options that have received the most write-in votes. That poll will not be definitive, either. It is just considered as guidance to the next step, according to Gaynor. The Union may then lobby the administration on behalf of what option the students choose.

Social justice activists are pining for an Activist Resource Center. ARC would bring people together who might not meet otherwise, said Michelle Feldman.

Undoubtedly, great new friendships and working relationships will stem from that. Feldman, Stacey Chan, Josh Russell, and Sarah Karpman have been working collectively as ARC coordinators.

Chan spoke about a future ARC: By providing a welcoming and casual space, it will bring people together but most importantly, it will bring people together around a common idea: activism.

ARC would host meetings for both established and ad-hoc student groups and committees, as well as maintain two types of libraries. One would hold books relevant to many clubs and students, reflecting the intercultural vision of the resource center. The other would be a resource library with information about activism and local organizations. It would also provide storage space for groups and individuals, as well as hold physical resources such as art and office supplies. In summary, it would be the ultimate hub of resources, connections, and information regarding social justice projects, for both groups and individuals.

A physical space is essential to achieve ARCs goals of fostering Brandeis activist identity and strengthening its cohesiveness as a diverse community, Russell said.
In short, having a central physical space means that people can share resources more easily, Karpman said. In addition, securing a space for [ARC] would show tremendous support for student initiatives.

There are a lot of people on campus working for social justice, but theyre not always working together, Karpman stated. Whether or not people are working on the same issues or toward the same goals, theres a lot of experience that could be shared, so that student activists dont have to re-invent the wheel.

Additionally, proponents of an ARC insist that the popular idea of an eatery and the ARC are not mutually exclusive. The idea of ARC has been expanded to the ARC eatery, including a fair-trade caf as an integral part of the space, said Karpman.
Russell echoed her sentiment. I believe that (students) would support a student-run food place over a for-profit commercial venture like Subway or Dunkin Donuts, said Russell. Another (eatery) cannot possibly make such a strong impact on peoples lives and experiences.

According to Feldman, placing a food venue in the ARC would make it a space where people would want to come just to hang out or do their homework.

ARC would be an institution geared toward being a resource for anyone on campus concerned with social justice. There is no other group on campus that can appeal to such a wide cross section of students, stated Russell. A BTV studio would only serve a very small portion of campus.

But members of BTV and their supporters believe that the village space would provide a much-needed permanent studio. BTV needs this space, a full and permanent studio, in order to grow, said BTV President Ari Schnitzer.

The space would be able to house a control room, a full stage with risers, and a space for post-production and editing, a striking change from their current interim studio. The Ziv Commons study room is tight and narrow, with no stage or set, he stated.

Schnitzer stated that the Administration and BTV have been working on fitting the village space with a studio since last semester. According to Schnitzer, the administration contracted Cambridge Community Television to visit the space late last semester. John Cummings, from the Capital Projects department, a Cambridge Community Television representative, and Schnitzer held a walk-through of the space in early January. The CCTV representative, analyzed the blueprints and recommended a package to the Administration.

It is not unusual to show potential users the space;

it doesnt mean that its a done deal, Cummings said, of the walk-through. Its up to senior management to evaluate the request. Cummings has received no construction estimate at this point.
Throughout this process, BTV had worked with the administration, but not the Union. So it was a surprise to Schnitzer when he found out about the Union poll only a day before it was released. We had a plan to move forward, Schnitzer stated.

French stated that, indeed, BTV had been advanced as an option, depending on student interest in that possibility. French confirmed that there had been a walk-through with BTV, but he stated that he had seen no such recommendations package, and there had been nothing further. Its on the table, as are these other possiblities French said, of a BTV studio. Its something we might or might not do.
Dan Feldman, in the Office of the Executive Vice President, was BTVs main contact with the administration, but Feldman is currently on vacation and was unable to be reached for comment.

The space could easily be converted to a studio;

any other option would require significant construction to the area, Schnitzer said. Schnitzer believes that floor, windows, a ceiling, and sprinklers would all need to be constructed if the room were to be converted into an office or eatery, while the room naturally fits the shape of a studio.

It wouldnt make the best office;

it makes better shell space, he said. He suggested that, perhaps, the ARC could take the Ziv Commons study room, or the new Ridgewood could hold an eatery.

Other Options
Many students support a late-night eatery for filling the open space. The Student Union posted a forum on myBrandeis where students were able to voice ideas for what to do with the open space, and many pined for an Aramark alternative at that end of campus. Some thought more healthy foods would attract those regular Village gym visitors;

others preferred junk food or going corporate (Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, pizza place, or bagel shop).

French voiced some concerns with bringing in outside companies, though he does not have an official position on these possibilities. It is the closed community phenomenon. If we add a Starbucks in that space, students might buy there, but it might replace business at Usdan or Shapiro, he said. It wouldnt be selling more cups, and it wouldnt be generating more revenue.

Some students support a student-run bakery as the answer, with a laid-back atmosphere and late hours. Yet, questions remain, regarding any student-run proposal. Who would work the late hours? Who would run the shop? And will people buy food if the shop does not accept points? French mentioned that the possibility of late-night dining in a new Ridgewood exists, as well.

The forum produced a variety of other ideas about the village space, as well. One suggestion was a commuter lounge, with an espresso machine for commuter and Charles River Apartments students. Some believe that the space makes the most sense as additional housing, while another option is a weight room across to compliment the gym. Other ideas included a storage area for club sports, a commuter lounge, a general club meeting room, music practice rooms, a dancing studio, or a Gap.

Yet, no option seems perfect. If we put in a Gap or some type of store, the community may not be big enough to support them, French stated. Will people outside of Brandeis park on South Street and walk over?

Editor's Note: In the Union poll, 'food service' received the most votes (218/486). Next was 'activist resource center' at 173.