Union Spotlight: Campus Center at Rhode Island College

Union Spotlight: Campus Center at Rhode Island College2004-03-0159Union Spotlightsfalse


At Rhode Island College in the 1950s, the highlight of student activities took place on stage as each class would parody some timely issue on Stunt Night. By the 1960s live music and pubs and coffee houses became popular as did fraternities, sororities, honor societies, and student clubs. Demonstrators were on campus protesting the U.S. government's action in Vietnam, and class identity abated as more students enrolled part time and veterans returned to college.

The 1970s and 1980s often found students at the campus Rathskellar, as the legal drinking age had been lowered to 18. However, in the early 1980s the cost of liquor-serving establishment liability insurance was beginning to rise, and the legal drinking age returned to 21. Ninety percent of students in the residence halls were below the legal drinking age by 1983. As a result of the age change and skyrocketing insurance cost, the Rathskellar closed in 1985. With a change on the horizon, Student Activities began operating a student-run coffee shop during the day and the Rathskellar at night. Eventually the coffee shop became an 8 a.m. to midnight operation and turned into a retro '60s coffee house in the evening. The student-run CoffeeGround became popular during the next 10 years and people forgot there had ever been a watering hole on campus.

Slowly students found they also could enjoy comedy nights, open mike nights, poetry slams, and ice cream socials. The television lounge was often filled at 1 p.m. with students watching soap operas. The big TV events, such as the last episode of "M*A*S*H," Luke and Laura's wedding, and the O.J. Simpson trial, were watched by capacity crowds.

By the mid-'90s student activities had grown into a new model. The introduction of off-campus trips, such as canoeing, whale watches, and excursions to New York City were added to other programming events. Additionally, community involvement opportunities for students were introduced.

In 2003, the Campus Center completed a $6 million renovation and reopened its doors after being closed 16 months during the project. While the former facility was created to serve 2,300 students, the renovated building is designed for more than 8,000 students. Although no additional space was added to the union building itself, the Campus Center acquired a former dining center snack bar that was adjacent to the building. This space was transformed into the new student Media Center, housing the student newspaper (the Anchor), radio station (WXIN), and television organization (RIC TV). The renovations provided the campus with an upgraded, more attractive, and modernized union with increased student organization space and better accessibility for physically challenged individuals.

Unique features

The ground level of the Campus Center has quickly become the central "happening" place on campus for several reasons. The café serves popular, gourmet food items and features extended hours so resident students can use their points after the main dining room closes in the evening. Additionally, the student mailbox system was relocated from each residence hall to this area to accommodate a more centralized and efficient system and to generate traffic within the union building. Computers also have been added in this area for the "computer café," and there is a stage for entertainment and programming.

Students' role

Students are employed in the student activities department as office aids, special project assistants for student activities, operations attendants, and staff members for the information desk and campus card areas. Students also participate in the Campus Center and the student activities department by serving on the Campus Center Advisory Board (of which the chairperson is a student). This board consists of 13 members (seven students and six faculty/staff members) and is responsible for counseling the Campus Center director on fiscal policies and establishing policies for use of the Campus Center facilities. The diversity of students on the board includes a representative of the programming staff, a parliament member of the student government, two commuter representatives, a representative from the Resident Student Association, a representative of student organizations, and a representative of the Campus Center staff.

Urban, commuter, public, four-year

(includes Student Union building and Media Center)
DIRECTOR: Brian Allen
SIZE: 50,000 square feet
BUILT: 1967
BUDGET: $1,426,000
   Part-time: 50
   Full-time: 5

Updated Nov. 9, 2012