Pete McPherson, Contributing Writer
If a prospective student of SUNY Oneonta were to ask you where you meet people and hang out with friends on campus, what would your answer be? I’d venture that it would most likely be a shrug. There are a lot of intriguing and unusual programs offered by the SAAC, ranging from laser tag and casino nights to comedians and poetry slams. However, there really isn’t a place where people can go for a social experience on campus.
Thirty years ago, there was a bowling alley in the basement of Chase gym, a pub in the Waterfront room of Hunt Union dubbed the “Rathskeller” and hourly busses to College Camp (which had a small ski slope). The Hunt Union pond was also open in the winter as an ice rink. The Rathskeller was a safe environment where students who were of legal age could have drinks with a few friends without being more than a walking distance from their residence halls. Today, it is difficult to say that there is any social meeting place on campus besides the quad and the Dragon’s Lair. Jazzmans is used primarily for studying or a quick coffee before class. Starbucks offers a similar (though more leisurely) environment. The seating area outside of Starbucks is more of an alternative study place to the library than anything else. What is missing? A pool hall, a social and casual cafe, a music venue—or, looking to the school’s past, an on-campus bar and bowling alley.
Oneonta faces the same struggle as any college: keeping students safe, entertained and on campus during the weekends. While the evening events can be fun, they pale in comparison to programs like SUNY Binghamton’s “Late Nite” in which local and student bands put on free concerts in the student union, mocktails are served and craft activities are held. Binghamton’s student union features an eight-lane bowling alley, a pool hall, a ping-pong room, a movie theatre and a movie rental service. While Binghamton caters to a significantly larger student body, its student union is a bubbling hub of activity and interaction. Similarly, SUNY Potsdam’s pool hall and fireside lounge offer opportunities for students to run into friends on campus.
What could bring a social atmosphere back to SUNY Oneonta? A more central student union would certainly help. Hunt Union was established 41 years ago in a time when the prospects of the college suggested that upward expansion would leave Hunt in the center of campus. When the school no longer had the funding to expand, the student union was left far from the center of campus. It’s a long hike up to Hunt from anywhere—even the quad. In order to call itself a gathering place for students, Hunt would need to either be located more centrally or have more enticing venues. The former is likely the most promising (and unlikely) of the two options. Hunt Union is an ideal study environment and SAAC programs are excellent, but with its remote location and modest atmosphere, Oneonta is left without a social hub.