Redesigning the second floor

We were disheartened to read the article in the Feb. 16 issue of the Minnesota Daily regarding a potential redesign of Coffman Union’s second floor. As a committee, we have worked diligently since last October to understand the complexity and history of office space allocation in Coffman Union. The goal of our committee is to create a lasting design that will strengthen community and will be inclusive of all students’ needs.

What the article failed to point out was that there were eight people at the town hall meeting. According to the article, “during the meeting many students were unimpressed.” One person, who is not a student but a staff member, was unimpressed but was also uninformed of the work that has been done since October. The other quotes were from people who weren’t at the town hall meeting or were comments from the Second Floor Advisory Committee members that were taken out of context. That only eight people attended the meeting compared to the hundreds of students that attended last year’s public forums illustrates that more students are informed of what has occurred these past several months than what was portrayed in the article. In addition, the article states, “unpopular redesign plans were first unveiled last spring.” No plans were shared until the town hall meeting this February.

Last year, hundreds of students attended public forums hosted by the Board of Governors after they were challenged about the office space allocation process. The main theme from those forums was to maintain space for the cultural centers and provide short-term office space for other student groups to reserve. In addition, a request was made to give the cultural centers permanent space so they no longer have to “fight” for space every year. Also, members of the cultural centers made it clear they were willing to share their space with others. The Student Unions and Activities Board of Governors listened to the feedback and voted to retain space on a semi-permanent basis for the nine existing cultural centers on the second floor. The BOG also voted to create a new space that would be open for use by all registered student groups, including the cultural centers.

Our committee, SFAC, has been meeting every week since Oct. 21, plus one Saturday a month to discuss how the second floor can be transformed into a stronger and inclusive community space for all students. Meetings have been open to the public and are recorded. Notes are available on the SUA website. We held four “conversational meetings” the first two weeks of February to answer any questions and give the historical background on why we are recommending a redesign. We have worked extremely hard to communicate to students what the benefits will be in a redesigned space. It’s not about losing space but creating flexible, accessible and adaptable space for today and for the future. It’s about no longer having to “fight” for space, which was the case with the former ineffective space allocation process in place since the 1940s.

Our next steps are to continue to seek input from student groups on the proposed plans and to seek guidance from University of Minnesota administration related to finding additional student group office space on campus. However, the reality is that someone needs to pay for the space in addition to ongoing operating costs. Registered student groups are not officially part of the University, so we are doubtful that legislative dollars would be put toward a new building. In addition, Coffman Union has amenities and services that all students and student groups can access for free or at a low cost, due to the student services fees received from all fee-paying students. It is a financial model unlike other buildings on campus.

We ask that students get involved, think about the needs of future students and embrace the Board of Governors’ recommendation to maintain cultural center space due to their important role in supporting the University’s core value of diversity. Be open to change, and be a part of creating a stronger student group community that will be inclusive of all students’ needs.