"Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at mountains and the stars up above. ... They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education."
– David Polis
Volume 75 | Issue 2
March 2007

What’s New? In College Unions and Student Activities

Indiana University-Purdue University–Indianapolis

Democracy Plaza

In 2004, students at IUPUI wanted a public space to discuss and debate issues revolving around the presidential election. The university responded with the creation of the Democracy Plaza that has become increasingly popular and expanded over the past few years.

“The academic world is all about stimulating and challenging the mind,” said Jamie Nieto Jimenez, service learning scholar for Democracy Plaza. “By having spaces both virtual and physical, we can challenge students and the campus community to view different viewpoints while allowing for them to express their own in a safe environment.”

When the project first started, Democracy Plaza took its physical form in a central location on campus with eight chalkboards. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to post topics, questions, and responses.

Once it became more popular, the university increased the number of boards to 16, and also opened an indoor Democracy Plaza for the winter months that contains two boards. Now, events are held at the plaza, including Pass the Mic and Brother’s Keeper.

“The [Pass the Mic series] allows students to express their views on weekly forums hosted at the plaza on different topics, and Brother’s Keeper seeks to host three educational lecture-type events in which awareness for community and neighborly services are encouraged,” Jimenez said.

Democracy Plaza has also found a home on the Internet. An online forum allows students, faculty, and staff to post and debate much like the physical version.

Some of the larger issues that have been debated either in the Democracy Plaza or online are racial issues at the university, the marriage amendment to the Constitution, high textbook prices, and the war in Iraq.

University of Rochester

Wake-Up Wilson

This past September, the University of Rochester initiated its Wake-Up Wilson program, a collaboration of student affairs, dining services, and the bookstore.

“We continue to work on community building programs and this one is the newest addition to our list,” said Laura Ballou, assistant director of academic programs. “We knew we had created a successful lunchtime program with Wilson Commons Wednesday, and wanted to build off the success of that community program. We thought the breakfast time might be more convenient for staff and faculty.”

On the last Wednesday of each month, students, faculty, and staff are invited to Wilson Commons between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. for “a specially priced breakfast beverage and treat,” which according to Ballou, ranges from yogurt to pumpkin bread and often includes fresh fruit as well.

Each student attends a Wake-Up Wilson event, receives a reusable mug with “all the dates on it for the semester. If they bring their mug back to a future event, they get entered into a raffle drawing for prizes, including T-shirts, flash drives, and tickets to upcoming events,” Ballou said.

While eating breakfast, students can socialize and browse through books for purchase at a discounted price. Each month, the bookstore provides a certain theme of books and the dining services tries to match the theme, if possible. And, the student affairs department tries to incorporate campus groups as well.

“The first month featured books by local authors and dining services built the menu around locally grown foods,” Ballou said. “[In January] the theme for the books was Yoga and Health, and we are partnered with a sorority that hosted a tasting of five different kinds of teas and passed out information on the health benefits of tea.”

Since the program started, Wake-Up Wilson has drawn more than 200 attendees each month. “While we do see new students every month, there is a core group that has faithfully returned every month,” Ballou said. “Some have just never found time to come or they just happen to coming into the union and stop by to see what is going on.”

The Ohio State University

Ohio Union Smudging ceremony

On Jan. 30, the Ohio Union at The Ohio State University closed its doors for the last time, but not before faculty, staff, and students gathered in the main lounge for a smudging ceremony, facilitated by the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio.

“Native American elders have taught that before something can be healed, it must be cleansed of negative energy and then purified with offerings of thanks,” said Heather McGinnis, assistant director of the union. “The smudging ceremony was used as a way to purify the Ohio Union of negative energy as preparation is made for deconstruction of the current space and the future construction of the new building.”

During the ceremony, sage was burned to replace bad feelings with good ones and send up prayers with the smoke. A bowl containing sage was taken to each person and they fanned themselves with the smoke.

“Native American songs were sung during the entire ceremony. The audience was instructed to turn towards the different directions—north, south, east, west, sky, and ground,” McGinnis said. “A prayer of reflection was said and each person was given the opportunity to reflect on their own personal experiences in the building.”

Around 200 people gathered to pay tribute to the union.

“Thanks to the Smudging Ceremony, the Ohio Union, empty as it may look, is now filled with positive energy and even more positive memories,” McGinnis said.

Indiana University–Bloomington

The Human Race Machine

At Indiana University–Bloomington, student, staff, and faculty had a rather unique opportunity—to see themselves as a member of other races.

The IU Office for Diversity Education brought the Human Race Machine to campus as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration 2007. The machine allows a person to see themselves as six races by taking the outline of the face, then morphing it with the facial characteristics of other races.

“I saw it on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and I thought it was a magnificent idea,” said Eric Love, director of diversity education (in Hames, 2007, ¶ 8). “The concept of race was developed by sociologists, but really, there is very little difference between people.”

Wolfman Producations’, the manufacturer of the Human Race Machine, says on its Web site, “There is only one race. The human one. The Human Race Machine allows us to move past our difference and arrive at sameness.”

This message was the same goal of the Office for Diversity Education—that race is a social not biological difference.

Wolfman Productions also manufactures an Age Machine and a Couples Machine, which allows individuals to see what their offspring might look like or see layers of “maleness” and “femaleness.” For more information about the Human Race Machine, visit the Wolfman Productions’ Web site at: www.wolfmanproductions.com/racemachine.html


Hames, M. (2007, January 12). IMU to display Human Race Machine this week. Indiana Daily Student. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from http://www.idsnews.com/news/print.php?id=40067.