The East Campus Coffeehouse has long been a quirky, unique haven most frequently utilized by alternative groups, attracting a clientele that might shy away from more mainstream campus culture. The Coffeehouse regulars and the student groups that often hosted events there enjoyed its late-night hours, the murals painted on the walls and the permission to smoke inside. It is truly a shame that the Coffeehouse has fallen into such disarray—from poor management and scheduling to poor building maintenance.
The building itself is in such bad shape that the University will likely have to tear it down in the near future if it is not repaired. It is good, then, that the Office of Student Activities and Facilities stepped in when it did, taking control of the mismanaged Coffeehouse and giving it to the Duke University Union—a student group with a stellar track record in programming student events.
Gregg Heinselman, director of OSAF, was only doing his job in recognizing the Coffeehouse as an underutilized space and taking steps to remedy the situation. As it stands, there is a dearth of small- to medium-sized meeting spaces for student groups on campus, and the Coffeehouse fits this description to a tee. The University, however, risked losing this valuable resource if it allowed the Coffeehouse to continue down this path. The Coffeehouse has been on a slow decline for years, and last fall a short in a lighting rig kept its doors closed for over two months. This is the last straw, and the University needs to step in and revive the Coffeehouse.
The Union seems to be the natural choice for new management. The organization has had success in nearly all of its student activities endeavors, and it has the manpower and experience to make the Coffeehouse equally successful. It is unfortunate that the improvements come at the expense of the current patrons of the Coffeehouse. Many students involved with the Coffeehouse in the past feel slighted by the OSAF takeover and fear that the Union will change the atmosphere of their hangout. For example, smoking in the Coffeehouse will no longer be permitted.
In developing its plans for the Coffeehouse, the Union would do well to consider these students’ opinions and involve them in parts of the process. The intent of the change in management is not to suppress the minority groups that use the venue or to take away their alternative culture refuge. This is no tyranny of the majority, it is simply what is in the best interests of the University as a whole.
In reshaping the Coffeehouse, the Union should attempt to make it as accessible to students as possible while still maintaining the alternative feel of the space. Although the groups that currently utilize the Coffeehouse should not be given exclusive rights or priority in booking the venue for events, these alternative groups should take an active role in the new Coffeehouse—maintaining the atmosphere and funky feel that the Coffeehouse is known for.
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