ASG seeks student support for Norris expansion

Janette Neuwahl

ASG President Rachel Lopez has set out to gather campuswide support for the expansion of Norris University Center, a subtle change in Associated Student Government’s lobbying strategy.

“There’s not really any doubt that this is something that would benefit students enormously,” Lopez said. “The use of that building has been pushed to its capacity and it’s bursting at the seams.”

ASG will gauge student opinion on the issue using an online poll and other research to show the demand for space. They also are asking student group leaders to write letters expressing the need for expansion. Lopez said she hopes this report will both validate and illustrate students’ desire for a larger student union.

“We want to get student feedback on the matter so students get exactly what they want in Norris,” she said.

Working with Ebo Dawson-Andoh and Jeff Fine, Norris Advisory Board co-chairmen, and Bill Johnston, Norris director, ASG’s Executive Board plans to present its report by the end of the quarter. All of the information will be compiled in a packet and distributed to University President Henry Bienen, other administrators and trustees.

“We want to create this proposal so when President Bienen is approaching donors, there will be information about students’ desires,” said Lopez, a Weinberg senior. “(This way) there’s always an emphasis on Norris in their donor recruiting efforts.”

The need for a larger union is not only apparent in students’ opinions. ASG had to turn away more than 30 student groups from the Activities Fair because Norris lacked sufficient space, Lopez said. Student groups also are in constant competition for space for their meetings and events, especially among the theater groups, said Nicole Mash, ASG executive vice president .

“I foresee this snowballing because Norris is maxing out and we need to expand outward,” Mash said, adding that out of ASG’s 93 recognized student groups, only 20 have office space.

Norris hosts more than 14,000 events each academic year, Johnston said. By creating two black box theaters and a larger ballroom, Johnston said some of the large spaces often reserved for student productions — including the Louis Room and McCormick Auditorium — could be used for other events.

“This is something the whole campus needs, and not just the students,” Johnston said, adding he supports any efforts to expedite donations for expansion.

But at ASG’s Senate meeting last week, Bienen told senators fund-raising for expansion will be difficult considering the university’s financial situation. Despite his repeated efforts to raise the money, Bienen said donors would rather spend money on buildings with an educational purpose than a facility for student life.

Setbacks and financial woes aside, Lopez remains optimistic.

“There’s a way to make this happen,” she said. “It’s just about figuring out how to do it.”

Working with the Dawson-Andoh and Fine, Lopez has gained support to bring together student leaders and make Norris expansion a campus goal.

“The point of this whole project is to promote the expansion of Norris and to unite the student community together under this banner,” said Fine, an industrial engineering and management science graduate student. “We thought the best way of addressing this need is to show how students and student groups would benefit from the expansion.”

Dawson-Andoh added that a campuswide initiative would influence donors more effectively.

“This way, we open it up to more of something for the students so that rather than a small group, it’s us trying to pull together student leaders to say ‘we want this’ and it’s not an assumption but a fact that students want it,” she said.