At the tail end of fall semester, a petition was posted outside of the second floor area of Hesburgh Library where renovations are scheduled to soon take place. The petition, which read “Keep Ugly Room Ugly” amassed signatures by passersby in the last week of school, as students crammed into Ugly Room to study for finals. The petition may well have accrued quite a few more signers, had it not been removed recently. Instead, the poster board showing how the room will be transformed stands on its trifold unmarred by the petition’s blatant rejection of the remodeling.
Surely, the administration believes the student body to be kidding. Ugly Room is a sore spot in an otherwise state of the art library. Its wooden tables and chairs, its dim lighting, and its dearth of modern-art-turned-furniture prevent the library from becoming nationally unrivaled.
Yet, once again, the administration poorly estimates students’ preferences. There are some on this campus who prefer the sterile look of metal everything, who thrive under blinding white light, and who love wide open study spaces. For them, there are plenty of spots on campus. For those who prefer an aged, homier look, Ugly Room is one of the last enclaves in an empire of computer lounges and innovation centers. Some people actually like darker rooms and worn in chairs. It is because of the room’s comfortable and unpretentious atmosphere, not in spite of it, that Ugly Room is often teeming with students. And for students whose siblings and parents have attended Notre Dame, places like Ugly Room evoke a proud sentimentality of cramming for your orgo midterm just like they had, exactly where they had.
Last I checked, new ideas are not better fostered in new spaces. Dingy lighting and wooden everything was good enough for Shakespeare and Einstein, why is it not good enough for the students of Our Lady’s University? If you ask current students, it is.
If the petition outside Ugly Room and conversations with others serve as any barometer of student satisfaction, Ugly Room is well loved as is. But the scheduled renovation is not for current students. It is to attract prospective students, to catch the attention of bright young minds touring college campuses with unparalleled renovation schedules and an unimaginable number of construction sites. The Ugly Room remodeling is Notre Dame’s way of keeping up with colleges around the country that promise an ever-newer campus and ever-improving experiences. Rather than rest on reputation to bring in new students, Notre Dame, to the regret of its student body, has given in to the incessant demands of adding bells and whistles to compete with the hedonism of other colleges. Not once has the administration stopped to ask why it wants the type of students who need to be attracted by the number of television screens in each room of the library.
Never mind that Ugly Room is one of the most popular spaces in Hes. Ignore the money and time lost, disregard the environmental damage inflicted by constant renovations. Forget that no one asked to tear up tile that has been loved by generations of students. In classic 21st century fashion of devaluing anything old enough to be loved and revered, the administration has taken an old adage to the extreme. It is no longer “If you build it, they will come.” It has become “If you never stop building it, they will never stop coming.” By the time the University is done, there will not be one spot in Hesburgh library where Fr. Hesburgh stepped himself. For a school built on ancient traditions, the administration has certainly lost sight of the value of old. One can only hope the University heeds the clear desire of students to keep Ugly Room ugly.
Yet, given the administration’s refusal to acknowledge student body dissatisfaction with other recent policies, such as off-campus differentiation and “enhanced security” swiping in dorms, one can see the writing on the soon-to-be painfully white walls. It may soon be time to mourn the loss of study breaks spent reading the etchings of Domers past on the wooden tables. Let us join the University in resigning to see that newer is always better, that the next construction site and next cohort of students is always more important than the current one.
For those who will dearly miss Ugly Room, I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves. We should have chosen to go to a college whose identity embraces contentedness over incessant ambition. Instead, we chose one that only pretends.
BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Mondays at 5pm in the McNeill Room of LaFortune Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @bridge_ND.
Sophia Sheehy is a junior and proud Cavanaugh resident. She is President of BridgeND, a nonpartisan political discussion club that aims to foster virtuous civic engagement on campus. BridgeND meets at 5pm on Mondays in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. On Feb. 10, BridgeND will host a deep-dive discussion on abortion in the LaFortune Ballroom at 5:30. All are encouraged to join the conversation and start bridging the political divide.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.