As we start the new college year, a theme is already emerging for 2012-2013. With students coming from all parts of the world to make UCD their home for the next few years, everyone is talking, advising and preaching on the importance of the student community. Former UCD students Darragh Doyle, in his Op-ed, and Paul Fennessy, in his column, have stressed the importance of getting involved in the various student activities during one’s time at UCD, but this sentiment is particularly vivid on campus with the opening of the new Student Centre.
While UCD has always placed huge importance on non-academic pursuits with their heavy promotion of sports clubs and societies, the reality of the overall organisation was less than ideal. Societies were dotted around campus and most events took place in different classrooms and meeting rooms every time and it limited how involved some people felt they could be with a society. You couldn’t pop in randomly for a chat because you had a gap between lectures, you had to wait for an event to be organised by the auditor. For both big and small societies, this was a huge draw back. Often the larger societies’ events are so well attended that it can be intimidating for quieter students and it makes it difficult to talk to new people, while the smaller society events are less frequent and more quietly announced.
The old Student Centre had little to offer but the Student’s Union, a few meeting rooms and very greasy chips considering it was intended as a centre for student activity. As a result, the building understandably failed to thrive. It could never be a home to those who depended on being first in line to book the necessary room to have fun with friends. Apart from a quick stop at one of the cafés or managing to take over the quiet corner with couches near ‘the blob’, group student hangouts were little known in UCD.
This is what the new Student Centre could potentially solve. A large percentage of societies, and certainly the more active ones, now have their own offices. Members can come and go as they please, and have a permanent base for their activities and plans. Even for those not in societies, the fact that so many have reason to visit the student centre will make it a hive of activity. For the first time in UCD’s history, students have a real home.
The opportunities brought by the new student centre opening are particularly important in light of the lack of bars or venues on campus this year. The Student Club, the only real venue on campus for gigs and other events, closed at the start of summer due to its huge financial losses every year. It was closed indefinitely in August with the entire bar staff taking redundancy, and there are no signs of any real plan to reopen it. The Clubhouse Bar, formerly the Forum Bar, was originally scheduled to open for the start of semester. This has also been shelved due to the building firm in charge of the project being deemed insolvent. And so, we are left in the slightly bizarre situation that in the biggest university in Ireland, with a student population of 25,000, based five kilometers away from the city, there is nowhere for students to meet for a drink.
While some may say the attitude that students need a bar in order to be able to socialise is a reflection of Ireland’s warped drinking culture, it’s much less about the alcohol than the idea of a shared public area where everyone can meet. A place you can drop into on the off chance that there’s people you know there, or fun to be had. The bar belonged to no one clique, it was for everyone. It’s a severe blow to the college that this has been lost.
This is why with the new Student Centre, UCD’s clubs and societies and groups must fill this social gap. Students need to socialise as well as study, and without huge effort of the behalf of the all the Captains and Auditors, that sense of camaraderie could be lost. Without the bar, student socialising will be more difficult and less organic. While the confident and outgoing will always find their way, many students need to be reached out to and encouraged. We need to branch out beyond our office doors, join up with other clubs, societies and media groups and work to provide a casual friendly atmosphere that encompasses the entire student centre. We need to make all students feel comfortable dropping in and hanging out and make this a building purely for unwinding from academia.
While UCD and its students still face massive expense and service cutbacks, whether from the ever increasing fees to the end of seven days a week library access, there is an atmosphere of hope and optimism in students that hasn’t been felt here since the beginning of the recession. Our futures after UCD are uncertain, but we can be certain to do great things and make great alliances while we are here.