Four years ago, the Queens campus of St. John’s University was a dreary, depressing place that conjured thoughts of George Orwell’s 1984.
For instance, the area between the baseball field and Belson Stadium was a triangular wasteland resembling an abandoned desert outpost.
Complete with tumbleweed, jagged rocks and random mounds of dirt, only a cameo made by Mel “Mad Max” Gibson dressed in post-apocalyptic garb could have made the place more frightening.
During my freshman year I would often stand at the chain link fence surrounding the mysterious plot and stare in amazement, wondering whether bodies of recalcitrant students were buried along with Jimmy Hoffa.
Coincidentally, some weeks after I began wondering about the use of this land work began on the press box attachment to Belson Stadium.
It seems that University administration did not want me to find Hoffa’s foot protruding from the ground after the next heavy rain.
Soon construction was taking place all over. The Vincentian steps, St. Thomas More Church (Please do not spell it “Moore”), off-campus housing, the new Fitness Center, the helipad landing area outside of Newman Hall (better known to students as the perplexing X possibly marking buried Vincentian treasure) and Taffner Field House most importantly.
Also, St. John Hall, St. Augustine Hall and Newman Hall were steam cleaned and brick pointed. Newman even had its window cases and hallways painted along with the gloomy innards of the insane asylum that is Marillac Hall.
In addition to a strong faculty, the environment in which students spend their collegiate life is perhaps one of the most important aspects of their learning experience.
The environment imposed upon the University community was formerly a disservice to the land that was once occupied by a sylvan golf course.
It is also through this environment that an unforeseen dilemma has arisen.
With the innovative addition of the Residence Village, community tensions have predictably waxed and waned, campus security has been necessarily, and sometimes unfairly, scrutinized, and increased demand has created many disgruntled upperclassmen who became unsuspecting victims of housing lotteries the past two years.
Beyond all that, two “cultures” (a word that University president, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington can no longer use without raised eyebrows on the part of students) have been created, the residents and the commuters.
We are not exactly discussing the Sharks and the Jets in this instance. Instead of the knife fights and the choreographed dance routines of “West Side Story,” hostility between the groups manifests itself in grumblings, predetermined socializing spots and constant complaints about how “there is nothing to do at St. John’s.”
The University deserves credit for recognizing the possibility of a deepening divide as something immediately and necessarily reparable and for taking action in correcting it. The reshuffling of the Department of Student Affairs, though still in its early stages, is a step in the right direction evident with the increased programming for student, residents, and commuters alike.
For the past four years, I have sat in amazement as the University has remedied criticism after criticism.
I commend the university officials who have executed these improvements and considering that my previous criticisms seem to have been heard, I would like to lodge a few more in the hopes that they are not dismissed as ridiculous comments made for no reason.
As stated previously in this column and in previous Torch articles, there is absolutely no climate control in any of the academic buildings on campus, and Marillac still resembles a dirty 18th century prison.
We cannot change the plain, utilitarian look of Marillac Hall, but the classrooms at St. John’s can and need to have some type of semi-reliable climate control.
If we are going to start school in August, at least give us the benefit of AC, you cannot learn while constantly wiping sweat from your brow.
Also, though I understand the reasons behind the recent investments in the basketball team, (alumni, revenue, school spirit, etc.) it is necessary to make a visible investment in the academics of the University.
There is an overwhelming sentiment among many students that St. John’s lacks an academic feel or setting and regardless of the constant dismissal of these claims the thought persists.
This is something that also needs to be examined by the University and not brushed aside as the senseless whining of an ungrateful child, because in this instance the child is what feeds it. The sentiments are obviously coming from somewhere and need to be looked at seriously.
Students paying $21,000-plus are forced to take classes in trailers, a fact which begs for an examination of priorities.
There might be initiatives and programs in the works that we do not know about but what is visible to students goes very far when creating the perception of the University as a whole, which is precisely why campus construction and beautification have been received so warmly.
As the University moves into the future and evolves into whatever its “master plan,” is, it should be mindful of the changing needs of its students.
Administration must not allow the newfound beauty of the Queens campus to be only skin deep.