Norris or not
    Photo courtesy of Northwestern Archives

    Imagine a prettier, more modern version of Norris located right along Sheridan Road. A&O screens movies in a real movie theater; the food options go above Sbarro and the Crêpe Bistro; student groups have more office space. It’s no longer difficult to find seating near Norbucks. 

    Those of you who forgot (or never knew) about the push for a new student center probably assume it will never see the light of day. However, ASG and a few administrators are still exploring options to improve the Norris University Center.

    Last year, the New Student Center Initiative’s ground team formed a proposal for the center. They garnished the support of approximately 1,200 students through door-to-door campaigning and surveys. But the strategic plan didn’t explicitly mention a new student center — it consisted of vague statements about target goals — and as a result, the issue quickly fell from students’ line of sight. Instead, the push for a new student center continues at a higher level.

    “Student support is only ever going to be a component,” says SESP sophomore David Harris, who worked on the ground team last year and is currently ASG’s vice president of services. He added that it’s now in the administration’s hands. “We can continue to press and state this is a priority, but at the end of the day, it’s not our call.”

    The strategic plan did include the need for new student spaces and a greater sense of community — the main goals of the New Student Center Initiative. The plan also states Norris’ problems and proposed solutions. The hiring of Patricia Telles-Irvin as the new vice president for student affairs last summer is also promising for proponents of the Initiative.

    Photo courtesy of Northwestern Archives

    “She gave her overwhelming support,” says ASG vice president and Weinberg senior Ash Jaidev, who has worked on the initiative for two years. “Her hiring was a step in the right direction because she’s obviously a big supporter of building community.”

    Although Telles-Irvin cannot commit to any plans just yet, she is eager to explore possibilities: expanding Norris, repurposing another building or constructing something new. This quarter, she hired an assistant vice president for student auxiliary services, Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, whose job description includes making recommendations about the future model for a student center, along with many other student affairs-related tasks.

    In 2005, outside consultants conducted a comprehensive needs assessment of Norris, Jaidev says. Telles-Irvin intends to bring these consultants back to update their report and re-evaluate students’ needs and desires. Jaidev is eager to work with the consultants and Payne-Kirchmeier and hopes to include an architect in the process.

    “I hope to […] get her input and feedback as to what’s the best way to move this forward to show the administration that this is something students want [...] this is something our campus needs,” Jaidev says. “President Schapiro is really going to listen to quantitative data that really shows that there’s a need for this on campus.”

     Communication junior Jazzy Johnson, who led the ground campaign, says student opinion will be crucial to any decision about student space on campus.

    “I think it would take another big push from students,” Johnson says.  “Right now, we’ve kind of died down.” Jaidev expressed similar concerns. 

    “What’s dangerous would be if we didn’t continue to do the research and people forget about it,” he says.

    Telles-Irvin shared the same concerns but has noticed interest from students and some administrators. She emphasized the role of discussion with Schapiro and the board of trustees about the various options.

    “My first impression was that the size of [Norris] does not accommodate the needs of our students at this time,” she says. “There’s a lot we can do, it just depends on what students are looking for.”

    Jaidev says Schapiro’s hesitancy about the student center has never been an issue of purely cost but rather gauging where it should fall on the university’s list of priorities. He hopes that working with Telles-Irvin, Payne-Kirchmeier and the outside consultants can bring the issue back to the administration and make it part of the capital campaign so the appropriate funds can be raised.

    “That list of priorities is based on what students are actually talking about,” Jaidev says. “We’re taking steps forward to meet with administration to be constantly on the gas pedal and make sure what we’re doing is in the best interest of the campus.”


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