I pass the old Cafe Hoop weekly on my way to WZLY in the basement of Billings. The old painted Hoop sign adorns the doorway, and the walls are covered in the rambling scrawls of old Hoopies. The hallways are narrow, and the doorways are low; I can’t quite decide if it makes me feel nostalgic, claustrophobic or both. What I do know is that with a few couches, some string lights and funky rugs, the place might be able to reclaim its glory days as a fsocial space. Right now, it is used as a storage space and nothing else.
There are three distinct issues on campus causing social strain at Wellesley that call for attention. The first is that several minority groups on campus have yet to receive spaces of their own, which leads to decreased social organizing and satisfaction within these groups alongside a greater dissatisfaction with Wellesley’s ability to accommodate them socially. The second and third issues are on a broader scale, involving the lack of spaces for informal student organizing and a culture of high academic stress which ultimately impedes the creation of a more unified social atmosphere on campus. As conversations about how to renew old, neglected spaces on campus like the old Hoop space in Billings continue, it is imperative that we keep these three issues in mind, or these renewed spaces will fail to solve any aspect of the social strain at Wellesley.
College Government has recently announced the creation of a task force in charge of assessing spaces like Billings for the potential to convert them into additional social spaces on campus. Conversations about Wellesley’s lackluster social scene have been increasing in intensity around campus, and this announcement indicates that conversations like these are beginning to inspire action. The task force was formed partially in response to a town hall meeting held on the state of social interaction at Wellesley, where community members voiced opinions and concerns.
I sent out an informal poll with the intention of gauging opinion on the satisfaction of social spaces at Wellesley. I wanted to see if I could organize the social strain into concrete issues that might be addressed by the spaces being considered (like the old Hoop space in Billings.) The poll included a rating (0-10) of social satisfaction and several follow-up questions concerning current social space. Participants were also asked to say if they thought adding social spaces would help. The answer was a resounding yes, with several caveats.
The first broad issue affecting social satisfaction with Wellesley is the lack of dedicated spaces for certain groups on campus. While several spaces on campus are dedicated to various minority communities—Harambee House for students of African descent, Slater for International Students, etc.—there was one house that was mentioned in several responses: Acorns. Acorns is currently split between students who identify as Asian (Pan-Asian) or Latinx, but also houses advisors for Fusion and LGBTQ+ communities. It’s a small house for these student groups to share, a fact that discourages many students within these groups. Respondents expressed interest in the reclaimed spaces being designed specifically by and for cultural/minority groups like these. Other minority groups on campus like First-Gen also advocated for the spaces to be dedicated to this purpose.
The second issue is that students expressed dissatisfaction with the general social structure of Wellesley. Parties thrown on campus, they complained, are held either in private spaces where noise complaints are common (e.g. dorms) or in larger, public places where administrative presence is heavy (e.g. Tishman.) Both of these factors, they argue, are impediments to building the social connections so many students want to have on campus.
In more informal social spaces like El Table and Hoop, a different problem arises: homework follows students like a second shadow, contributing to the “stress culture” so often referred to at Wellesley.
In the poll, these were the three issues cited most often for the average social satisfaction score of 4.93 out of 10. This number was calculated based on the ratings between zero and 10 that students gave of their own social satisfaction at Wellesley, but the three issues above were found in the sections that asked students to elaborate on their answers. Although this poll is by no means perfect nor representative of the entire Wellesley population—in fact, a small fraction of respondents were perfectly content—it is essential that we pay attention to the three issues stated above. At Wellesley, we should strive to foster physical, social and emotional safe spaces for all students; simply because there are people already satisfied does not mean we should stop trying to improve the social atmosphere for those who are not.
What, then, should be the purpose of these reclaimed spaces? The kinds of reclaimed spaces I envision for Wellesley are a constellation of individual spaces each unique to its own purpose. A space each for LGBTQ+, Latinx, First-Gen, Fusion, Pan-Asian, students among others. And ultimately, I envision another space furnished in funky rugs, rambling scrawls, and soft lights; a space where members of all groups can convene, where homework can never follow, and where individual rooms are up for reservation on a regular basis.
This means there are lot of conversations that need to happen, and it is ultimately up to the new task force to research and begin these sorts of conversations. With the proper amount of research, community input and, more pragmatically, funding, CG just might have a great idea on their hands—but only if they continue to send out polls, to hold town meetings, and to engage the members of the Wellesley community to decide what they want to see in such reclaimed social spaces. This collaboration is the only way that reclaiming spaces like Billings will have any effect on the social culture at Wellesley, and it is the approach CG must take for the spaces to be a success.