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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Boorstein: Don’t table outdoor tables

Aaron Boorstein
Students at Norris University Center’s East Lawn enjoying the warm weather on Tuesday, February 27.

Northwestern students need a seat at the table. An outdoor one, to be precise.

In February, ready to take advantage of a rare 70-degree winter day in Evanston, I went to Norris University Center determined to find a table outside. But my plans were scrapped when I arrived to see every outdoor table occupied.

Studying in the grass was not an option — just ask anyone who has tried writing a research paper while hunched over on uneven ground. I accepted my fate and retreated indoors, sacrificing fresh air and sunlight for a more practical studying environment. As I sat at a table facing outside, I noticed I wasn’t alone in my retreat; I watched several other students walk through the East Lawn searching for a table, only to end up indoors.

This scenario isn’t isolated to February’s unseasonably warm day. It’s an issue I’ve experienced and witnessed too often on campus.

The Lakefill, Norris and Main Library are three of NU’s most popular studying and socializing spots. But combined, their surrounding areas have just 22 outdoor tables, which each seat four. This isn’t nearly enough to accommodate NU’s more than 8,000 undergraduate students.

Although the broader Evanston campus boasts more than 100 total outdoor tables, their scattered placement in typically inconvenient locations diminishes their utility for studying and socializing. For example, four tables are tucked in Kresge Hall’s often-forgotten courtyard, and one sits alone outside the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

Today, students who do not want to battle for a Norris picnic table but are eager to study outdoors have four options: one, bring a hammock or folding chair; two, sit on the ground; three, find a bench; four, go back indoors. The first three options fall short of supplying the same functional environment that sitting at a table offers, and the fourth option keeps students inside.

The limited outdoor tables on campus also present accessibility challenges. Those with disabilities, both visible and invisible, that make it difficult to create makeshift outdoor studying arrangements may have no choice but to stay indoors.

Given the Lakefill and Norris’ plentiful green space and the sizable patio beside University Library, the University administration has a perfect opportunity to act.

In 2022, NU announced a renovation of Norris’ East Lawn to create “a prime location for student, faculty, staff and community interaction and collaboration on the Evanston campus.” The new East Lawn would feature shaded pavilions and dozens of movable tables with chairs and umbrellas. But, the construction that was supposed to start last summer never began.

I contacted Northwestern Facilities — who forwarded my message to the East Lawn renovation project manager — but received no response.

The large patio nestled between University Library’s buildings. Photo by Aaron Boorstein. (Aaron Boorstein )

Consider the sizable patio situated beside Main Library, an area with no tables at all. This empty space presents an easy win for students and administration. Without structural renovations, the patio can readily evolve into a hub for student activity by adding weather-proof, umbrella-covered tables and chairs.

Yes, some students prefer indoor studying. But the spring time crowds, after months confined inside by winter’s harsh weather, reveal a widespread eagerness to be outside. Adding more outdoor tables for studying and socializing will allow more students to enjoy the campus’ seasonal revitalization alongside their coursework.

Allocating funds to purchase outdoor tables for Main Library, the Lakefill and Norris is a practical enhancement and prudent investment in the NU student experience. While the initial costs may spark some pushback, the long-term benefits are significant. Equipping these locations with tables and chairs will transform them into vibrant hubs of student community and productivity during warm months.

The call for outdoor tables cannot be tabled any longer.

Aaron Boorstein is a Medill School of Journalism senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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