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A case for student space

February 3, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

As temperatures drop below zero this weekend, studying with groups of friends sprawled out on the quad will be but a distant memory keeping all of us warm. Student spaces where we can gather, study, sip hot chocolate and dry off our snowy boots feel more and more important as they become more and more central to our campus experience.

Many of us have experienced the finals week mad dash for a study table on the first floor of H-L, or the Sunday afternoon walk of shame around the spiral in Smith, only to find that every last seat, couch and stool is occupied by a peer catching up on a weekend’s worth of readings. As we all retreat to our go-to, indoor campus hideouts, we want to know: will there be space for us?

The new Barry Mills Hall and John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies and the upcoming Pickard Field renovations are testaments to the capability of the College to update its spaces. When the Board of Trustees approves the Pickard plan in their February 9 meeting, we encourage them to also make a commitment to set aside funding for more generally-utilized campus spaces such as Smith Union and Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (H-L).

While the renovation of Pickard aims to serve the entirety of the Bowdoin community, not every student will be taking advantage of these renovations beyond the occasional intramural practice or game. It is time to focus on other student spaces used by the entirety of the community on a daily basis.

Smith Union as a hub for students to gather and study is becoming more and more cramped with the addition of the mail center, tech hub and, in 2025, the WBOR station. While these are creative temporary accommodations, student spaces are sometimes sacrificed. More resources allocated towards commonly used student centers would prevent students’ scramble for a place to study and hang out with friends.

H-L also suffers from a similar fate to Smith Union. In December 2019, an investigative report initiated by President Clayton Rose considered the future status of Bowdoin’s libraries. The report found the primary demand of Bowdoin students has been for a significant increase of study spaces in H-L. The first finding in its executive summary states: “Hawthorne-Longfellow Library should be completely reconceived … with a goal to create a twenty-first century Library that maximizes the College’s resources and provides flexibility for the future.” We hope the college considers these suggestions in addition to current campus construction projects.

In 2024, Bowdoin will return to the drawing board to plan new development objectives for the next decade. We urge the Trustees to reconsider who these new projects aim to serve. For most, life at the College does not solely exist inside picturesque museums and fancy turf fields. It’s spent in our dorms, dining halls, classrooms and libraries. Although the College prides itself on extensive renovations in an attempt to be environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible, genuine space issues cannot be resolved with a simple band-aid fix.

The centralizing forces of campus’s student spaces are lost when they are taken over by places where friends can’t grow closer and peers can’t collaborate. Shiny new buildings can draw people in, but they can’t replace our primary pull of the College—the relationships that start and thrive within its buildings.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Catalina Escobedo, Clara Jergins, Shihab Moral, Juliana Vandermark, Austin Zheng and Halina Bennet.


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