Support Needed for Club Spaces

On any given Friday, swing dancing, one of the most consistent and well-known club activities on campus, gathers a crowd of a few hundred students to the SOB Barn. Recently, however, the club was forced to relocate the activity to the Strand Union Building (SUB). This came as a result of an examination and reevaluation of federal fire codes. Because the building lacks sprinklers on its second floor, fire codes prohibit an occupancy load of more than 100 people. Swing dance draws in many more people than that each week, of course. Also affected was the ASMSU Campus Entertainment concert hosting Greensky Bluegrass, also relocated to the SUB.

Until upgrades can be made to bring the building up to code, the building has been officially closed to all further club activities and events. The time required to update the facilities is unclear due to the scope of renovations needed.

No criticism can be made on the university’s administration for enforcing the fire codes. The legal penalties would be harsh if the university were to be caught violating codes, and, more importantly, if an emergency did occur, the potential consequences of exceeding occupancy could be devastating. What this does represent, however, is the growing issue of clubs lacking facilities to conduct activities.

One of the goals highlighted in MSU’s Strategic Plan, unveiled in 2012, is to increase student engagement on campus. Because student clubs are a necessary component of any such movement, it is appropriate this initiative has manifested itself particularly in increasing the percent of students actively involved in student organization.

Student organizations provide both avenues for involvement with the campus community and also assist in retention efforts by providing students with activities that would possibly keep them at our school when they otherwise may consider leaving. Many graduates of MSU credit student clubs or organizations as one of their most rewarding, enjoyable experiences at MSU. This extends to every organization, from the oft-commended Engineers Without Borders to the MSU Super Smash Bros. Society.

The school has done a commendable job of attempting to support student clubs through the Office of Activities and Engagement and supplemental funding available through the ASMSU senate. The problem, however, is not a lack of funding but a lack of available and convenient spaces for clubs to host large-scale events. Classrooms or SUB meeting rooms often prove insufficient for large events and SUB ballroom  are often completely reserved semesters in advance. With the closure of the SOB Barn, another venue for hosting events has been lost.

If engagement and increased participation in student organizations continues to be valued by the university as a whole and the concept is institutionalized by the strategic plan, steps need to be taken to ensure a facilitative environment is provided for club activities on campus. As future expenditures are planned, renovations such as the SOB Barn should be taken into consideration. Clubs are the forefront of campus engagement for many students attending this university, not speakers or seminars. Whether it be humanitarian organizations or even just special interest clubs, all student groups deserve a commitment from the university and a place to host their activities and events.