Temporary union sees decline in attendance

by Nathan Whalen

After moving from Coffman Union last year, student groups on campus have had an “out of sight, out of mind” experience.
Since relocating to the basement of 720 Washington Ave., underneath McDonald’s and Bruegger’s Bagels, groups like La Raza Student Cultural Center and the Minnesota International Student Association have received fewer and fewer daily visitors.
To thank the student groups for weathering the move and to help draw students to the groups’ new, out-of-the-way digs, the Twin Cities Student Unions organized an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, replete with free food from the shops overhead.
Despite the support from the University, large numbers of students have not been visiting the new location.
“It’s hard to move from the center of campus to the outskirts and maintain service,” said Jason Vorbeck, co-chair of the Queer Student Cultural Center.
The traffic into the student center dropped because people didn’t know the new location or felt that it was too far off campus, Vorbeck said.
To counter the location change, some student groups have increased outreach opportunities in hopes of attracting students back to the basement-dwelling groups.
During the Coffman Union days, students used to enjoy to free space in the building’s lounges and meeting rooms. Students would hang out and then eventually migrate to the student center.
Despite being located under several Stadium Village restaurants, some members of these student groups said the new location doesn’t have the luxury of free space.
“Why would you come down to the dungeon unless for a specific reason?” said Javier Valenzuela, president of the Minnesota International Student Association.
The association recently held its own open house Monday to acquaint its members with the windowless home.
The distance from campus is one of the issues the groups located under McDonald’s will have to address in the coming weeks.
Although all of the offices in the basement are smaller, the tight, close quarters have caused one pleasant side effect.
“It’s more of a community,” Vorbeck said. Students who work there are forced to talk to each other as all of the centers are grouped on one floor instead of on several floors in Coffman Union.
Some students said they would like to see this newfound relationship continue when they return to Coffman in the fall of 2001.
The new sense of camaraderie began when the groups moved in November. However, the move was hardly seamless.
Many students already miss the natural lighting and the views that many of the rooms in Coffman provided.
“It would be nice if we had windows,” said Felicia Perry, a member of the Africana Student Cultural Center.
Some of the student groups dealt with water leaks during the past couple of weeks.
Cynthia Martinez, the program assistant for La Raza Student Cultural Center, said the leaks were quickly fixed.
Despite the pains that are associated with moving, the people who run the student groups are accepting their position and working to improve the numbers of people they serve; however, some remain cautious.
“If we were to stay here for more than two years, it would be a real disservice to the University,” said Erica Goetzman, the secretary of MISA.

Nathan Whalen covers construction and facilities. He welcomes comments at [email protected] and can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3236.