The Alfonso Elder Student Union, named after the second president of this illustrious institution, has been one of N.C. Central University’s cornerstone campus facilities since its construction in 1968. Home to the Eagle’s Nest food court, Underground game lounge, Student Services and Engagement and Leadership, this building holds decades of student and administrative Eagle Excellence in 40,000 square feet.
Yet it’s not good enough for NCCU anymore.
I understand the concept behind building a new student union and repurposing the old one into office and/or retail space. The incoming Generation X Eagle is used to a world of technology, not concrete and linoleum like we’d be giving them now.
Students, faculty and alumni have been demanding more out of the union for years now.
In a 2010 Herald-Sun article about calls for a second renovation, the building is described as “dowdy” and “low-slung.” A subsequent 2011 article detailing changes that included the refurbishment of the now-defunct barbershop, cosmetic touch-ups to paint and fixtures and the addition of a “leadership library” that I’ve never seen or heard about during my time here at NCCU has a more hopeful tone.
Despite these “improvements,” then-director Maria Lumpkin did have an interesting remark about student engagement: “If [the union] lacks the voice of students, it’s just a building.”
Maybe that’s the issue with the current union: the building could obviously use both expansions and renovations, but students aren’t showing enough interest in spending time in or around the building outside of events.
It’s important to note that if that is the case, we, the school, UNC system Board of Governors and the N.C. General Assembly who allocated the money in the first place are all taking a $31.6 million gamble that the creation of an entirely new building, right behind the old one, will fix the problem.
Do I think we need a new student union at some point? Absolutely. It’s one of the oldest of its kind in the entire UNC system and like our late chancellor Dr. Debra Saunders-White told the UNC Board of Governors, a lack of new facilities limits new student engagement and overall recruitment for the university. Growth is expected and mandatory as our student body grows by the year.
However, I can’t wrap my head around why an entirely new building is needed when we’ve got students staying in hotel rooms and an old residence hall whose beds are unusable that could and should be renovated first. We have students fighting to even be able to come to school in the fall semester and have somewhere halfway decent to stay if you remember our fall 2017 editorial. Housing shouldn’t be a “RACE” — it should be a right.
What would be right right now is to put that $350 per year per student that was collected to something that needs to be addressed for students immediately. Once we are able to give students somewhere to sleep, then we can focus on expanding the union for extracurricular activities.
And don’t even get me started on what we’re going to do about parking until 2021.