Student groups vie for 2nd floor

The Board of Governors will create a Second Floor Advisory Committee

by Jenna Wilcox

Every day students of different ethnic backgrounds come together on the second floor of Coffman Union in what many describe as their âÄúsafe space.âÄù

âÄúStudents come here in between classes and for many of them itâÄôs their home away from home,âÄù Asian-American Student Union representative Kimberly Tam said. âÄú[The second floor] is kind of its own community.âÄù

For years the second floor has housed cultural student groups, student government and commuter students. Offices for organizations such as the Minnesota Student Association,  Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, as well as the Black Student Union and Queer Student Cultural Center are all housed there.

However, last year the space allocation process was under scrutiny by the Student Services Fees Committee. The committee raised questions of whether the current process was fair and what criteria each group has to meet in order to obtain the coveted location.

One claim from the SSFC was âÄúthe fact that no group has lost space once obtained shows that the Student Unions and Activities Board of Governors allocation process is little more than a veneer to disguise favoritism to certain groups.âÄù

Between 40 and 50 student groups apply for office space in Coffman every year, according to Joel Livingood, president of the Student Unions and Activities Board of Governors.

âÄúWe donâÄôt have enough space to house all the groups and thatâÄôs where issues arise,âÄù he said.

Due to the concerns raised, the BOG launched an extensive review over the past year to sort out the issues as well as answer questions raised by Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart.

After much deliberation, the BOG passed its final recommendations last spring.

The board recommended 68 percent of the second floor be designated to cultural groups, 8 percent to student government and 4 percent to commuter students. The remaining 20 percent of the space will be designed as mixed-use, shared short-term office space, lounge and storage space to be available for all registered student groups.

Wednesday marks the next step in the review process when the first meeting is held to form a Second Floor Advisory Committee and student groups will have the opportunity to share their ideas on the redesign.

The committee will consist of students that continue to have office space and students who currently donâÄôt, or will not have space in Coffman Union. Representatives from the BOG will also be on the committee and will be advised by staff from Student Unions and Activities as well as from the Office for Equity and Diversity.

âÄúWe want [students] to be a part of the process and work with us,âÄù Livingood said. âÄúWe want to continue to have a vibrant cultural community.âÄù

Gaining access

Many students say the second-floor space in Coffman is an invaluable resource.

âÄúThis is where we bond and connect,âÄù Tam said.

She also pointed to the many commuter students who use the space between classes.

âÄúIf they lose [the space] a lot of them donâÄôt have places they can go during the day,âÄù she said.

Having office space in such a popular building can be a plus for some student groups.

âÄúThere are certainly large groups in Coffman and any time a student group has access to the building they have a nice advantage,âÄù Livingood said.

But many groups donâÄôt have that access. A total of 59 student groups were turned down for space in the past seven years. Groups without space in Coffman have to find alternate locations and pay a hefty price.

The SSFC pointed out that groups without free office space in Coffman rent space off-campus and therefore need larger budgets. As a result, these groups are subject to more scrutiny by the SSFC.

Not all groups are as lucky as Hillel: The Jewish Student Center, where the building has been on University Avenue since the 1950s.

âÄúHaving a building allows us to plan events because we have our own space and we donâÄôt have to worry about coordinating with other groups,âÄù Hillel front desk intern Shira Olson said.

Driving down University Avenue, the building is hard to miss.

âÄúHaving our own space makes us more noticeable on campus.âÄù