At dusk on a Sunday early in the fall, the Smith Campus Center was a busy place. Light spilled from each of the glass doors opening off the walkway on the east side. In the capacious Gilbert Fireplace Lounge, a lone student read from pages fanned out on a low table, while a few steps away, in the smaller Room 140, a dozen students crowded noisily around a table. In Room 136, a young man lay on his back, eyes closed, at the feet of a female student writing in a notebook. Six customers waited at the Coop Fountain cash register. The tables inside were nearly filled, and most of the tables outside in the courtyard were in use as well. A student sitting by himself rummaged through The New York Times. A maintenance worker in the Winslow Recreation Room dealt with the remains of a big party the night before.
When it opened in September 1999, there were great expectations that the Smith Center would immediately become the social focus of the campus. That didn't happen right away. "It was controversial when it opened because it's so big, so different from what we've had before, and the building wasn't decorated, so it wasn't very inviting," says Ann Quinley, vice president and dean of students. "We worked with students to say, 'This is an incredible resource. What could we do with this building to make it more welcoming for you?' They gave us suggestions, and a number of things have been done to make it more homey."
The Smith Center is the biggest piece of the Campaign goal of building community and enriching campus life. It is intended to house a range of student, faculty, staff and alumni activities, bringing people together in ways that nurture the bonds between them. Neil Gerard, associate dean of students and director of the center, says the building has started to fulfill that role. "It's not an overnight thing," he says. "The Smith Center is a transformative building. It will change the way Pomona interacts, the way people meet, the way things happen. But that transformation will be built up over time."
The building opened later than expected, Gerard says, and even then was not quite ready. "A year later, we have changed things, painted, refurnished, carpeted, worked on acoustical treatment; we've corrected lots and lots of the building's problems. Have we gotten them all? No. But we're well on our way," he says. "So, by contrast with last year, when we had construction projects and 'Danger' tape all over the building, this year we've come back and we have students all over the building. In every nook and cranny, they are at home in this building."
When the building was in the discussion stage, Gerard says, the planners hoped it would "change people's lives because they would meet each other in different ways: 'I came to pick up my mail, and I met a friend for life.' 'I sat in a meeting room, and I saw a piece of art that changed my life.'" For those things to happen, the Campus Center must draw people in. Increasingly, it is succeeding.
In the Rose Hills Theatre, movies are shown four nights a week, classes are taught, and members of the faculty meet. Edmunds Ballroom is used for dance classes, parties and other functions. Students frequent the games room at all hours. The Café Sagehen now is run by the proprietor of Harvard Square Café, a popular Claremont restaurant. The menu recently included Culotte Steak Jardiniere, Capellini Caprice and Mac & Cheese.
"The restaurant's really improved," says a student, Paul Dahlgren '01. "I take my friends there sometimes. The restaurant accepts flex dollars, so it's a really good way to treat people without having to spend money you don't have." Dahlgren said the Campus Center changes appear to be having an effect. "Last year, we were kind of hoping for a place where people could really hang out and have fun. I didn't feel this was that kind of place then. But there are a lot more people here right now than I noticed most of last year. They're getting a better idea of how to use the building."
Entertainment is important. On weekends, the movies shown at the Rose Hills Theatre are usually much more recent than those available in video stores. Thanks to the donation of a professional-quality 35mm projection system, movies can be screened right after they leave the commercial theaters, without a months-long wait for video versions. The theatre also has a video projector, allowing older, classic films to be presented as well. The recreation room has Ping-Pong and billiards, a big-screen TV and video games. In September, a hypnotist drew an audience of several hundred to a show in the Edmunds Ballroom. "Now," Quinley says, "you can go over to the Campus Center at just about any hour of the day or night and it's a hub of activity."
Gerard says the building's uses are still evolving. A satellite dish installed last year offers extensive programming potential, such as teleconferencing, that is still to be realized. Gerard wants to put up more art throughout the center, including varied forms of sculpture and, perhaps, colorful banners.
The center itself is proving to be a changeable work of art. "It's a work in progress," Gerard says.
Of the $22 million fund-raising goal set for Building a Community and Enriching Campus Life, nearly $18 million had been raised by late summer. Although the Campus Center is the main component, many other parts of the campus have benefited as well.
The Greek Theatre was renovated and named for Professor of Philosophy Frederick Sontag. "It was a crumbling, falling-down, not-very-attractive space that was not lit," says Quinley. "We put a lovely lawn around it and added sound equipment and lighting to help with theatre performances, but that's just a small part of it. It has become a very popular place for student gatherings."
Funding also has gone toward the renovation of Bridges Hall of Music, scheduled for completion in spring 2001. The Art in Public Places program has received significant support from the Campaign, and the maintenance of Pomona's aesthetically esteemed walkways and grounds is another important aspect of the Campaign goal.
Dormitory renovations have contributed directly to the enhancement of student life on campus, says Matthew Taylor, dean of campus life. The residential nature of Pomona College is one element being examined with outside help during the process for reaccreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For Pomona, reaccreditation is not so much the issue; being a standard-setter is.
"The dorms have improved a lot since I've been here," says Quinley. That may be one reason why space has become very short. In previous decades, about one-fourth of the senior class, or about 100 students, chose to live off campus. Far fewer do so now, despite financial incentives offered by the College. Only about 35 seniors are living off campus this year. "It means the residence halls are crowded," Quinley says. "It has become a very attractive community, and students really want to be here."
Pomona's philosophy is that the social, cultural and ethical dimensions of student life are to be taken as seriously as academics. "We've talked about campus life here as being a culture of leadership," says Quinley. "So when one program, such as the Sponsor Program, gets to be too competitive, and we've got 150 sophomores competing for 56 positions, we try to develop another area in which students can take significant leadership." In the Sponsor Program, sophomores live with groups of 12 to 20 freshmen and serve as mentors, advisers and friends. "It's a key to having freshmen make a quick adjustment to college life," says Taylor. Because the program is so popular, applicants to be sponsors far outnumber the available positions. Now, residence hall councils are becoming another leadership path, Quinley says. "People are very involved in this campus. There is a really active, vibrant campus life, and that's wonderful."
Taylor says bringing people together at Pomona is not easy, but is essential.
"As a residential college in the liberal arts tradition, it's extremely important that we build a sense of shared experience and community, both academically and residentially," he says. "We've worked hard at it, and I think we've made a lot of progress in the last few years." --Michael Balchunas