The University of Richmond plans to renovate an unoccupied lodge on Old Fraternity Row, which student organizations will be able to use after spring break.
The lodge, which was formerly used by the unrecognized Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, will serve as a place for student organizations to hold events, meetings and functions.
To kick off the lodge’s new purpose, the Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton College Government Association are holding a competition among student organizations to create a name and logo for the space. The organization that submits the winning name and logo will also receive $500 in catering credits. Students can cast their votes until Dec. 12.
Once the renovations are finished, Alison Keller, assistant to the vice president for student development for special projects and former Center for Student Involvement director, said she would like to host an open house and hard-hat tours before a ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place in late March. UR contracted UrbanCore Construction and 510 Architects to undertake the redesign project, Keller said.
“I thought it was very important that we create a space that wasn't the traditional University of Richmond space, but represented a contemporary student experience,” Keller said.
The building will be designed to be flexible and accessible, Keller said. There will be lightweight furniture that can be easily moved indoors and out; an accessibility ramp to the main entrance and back patio; and a gender-neutral bathroom, she said. A garage door that occupies most of the back wall can be raised so the main room is open to the building’s back patio.
The space will also include a kitchenette with a fridge, freezer, ice machine, microwave and dishwasher. There will be a large projector screen, indoor-outdoor microphones and speakers, Keller said.
The project has been spearheaded by Keller, said Anthony Lawrence, senior and president of RCSGA. The project has gained traction and support through his three and a half years as part of the governing body, he said.
The Abolish Greek Life and Protect Our Web movements’ definition of space as a form of social capital accelerated the effort to turn the former SAE lodge into a space for student organizations, Keller said. UR’s vice presidents approved the plan in 2020, Keller said.
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The Abolish Greek Life movement gained popularity during spring 2020 and continues to call for the abolition of historically white fraternities and sororities at UR, according to its Instagram account.
The Protect Our Web movement created by the Black Student Coalition in March 2021 to advocate for the wellbeing of Black students also raised concerns about the lack of space for Black students at UR, according to its website. One of the demands being made by the BSC is the creation of a stand-alone building for the Multicultural Space, which is currently housed in Whitehurst Hall.
The goal of the project is to create a space where students of different backgrounds and interests can intersect and learn from one another, Keller said.
“This would be a connector space,” she said. “If every organization felt a connection, that would be my hope.”
Lawrence echoed Keller’s sentiments on the lodge. He hopes the lodge will become a space where all students can feel welcome, he said.
“It speaks volumes, it’s symbolic,” he said. “When you create space for somebody, it shows that they're worth that space being there.”
Lawrence highlighted the importance of having a social space for students who do not feel a sense of belonging in Greek life.
“If that space [to party] isn't there for somebody, that doesn't really make them feel welcome,” Lawrence said. “It takes away the monopoly from fraternities and lodges, quite honestly.”
The project is the first step in creating a campus that understands and prioritizes the connection between space and social capital, Keller said.
“I'm not so sure what the future looks like for the structures of fraternity parties,” Keller said.
As fraternities continue hosting parties at the lodges, the possibility of hosting parties in the new student organization lodge will have to be evaluated to create equal options, she said.
“I think it's a start of us having more space dedicated for social events for student orgs,” said Penny Hu, junior and WCGA president. “I think this is one of the biggest parts for students to feel comfortable socially.”
Contact contributor Sage Watterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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