It is 4:30 pm and the setting sun is beaming right at me from an open door in the Structural and Mechanical Engineering building’s Visual Arts Presentation Lab. The rows of theater seats are near-full, which is sometimes a rarity at the New Writing Series. I’m only there because I ran into a friend who reminded me. The New Writing Series is an event put on a few times a quarter by the UCSD Literature Department to showcase new authors’ works for students. Like many events of its kind, the New Writing Series is free, and open to everyone.
The students around me each pull out pieces of paper and pens. It becomes apparent most of them aren’t here by choice, rather, they’re in a Lit class that requires you to come and take notes. The writers, John Gibler and Lorena Gómez Mostajo, present some pretty different, and interesting works about the state of Mexico and San Diego.
After the readings are finished, the authors take questions from the audience. At this point, a few students have already (noisily) packed up their things, and shuffled over a row of backpacks underneath people’s’ feet. The person in charge asks anyone who’s planning to leave to do it now, so we can have the Q and A in peace. Half the room leaves.
It’s times like this I realize just how UCSD UCSD can be sometimes. Here we have a pair of authors with really interesting focuses, and most kids are rushing off before the event is even finished. We have this dichotomy of amazing, interesting art around every nook and cranny, and students who wouldn’t even go if the teachers didn’t make them.
Why does it feel like there’s so little campus culture at UCSD? For this, I’ll define “campus culture” as the various events, clubs, and gatherings that don’t have anything to do with your major or future career. There are tons of great major-specific clubs on campus, but I’m talking about art, entertainment, basically anything that lets you forget about studying for a few minutes.
The first memory I have of campus culture disappearing at UCSD happened in 2013 with the shutdown of graffiti hall. In an all-too symbolic move, administration painted the whole hall asylum white, and forbade graffiti altogether. Later, they put up some plywood boards near Mandeville that people could paint on instead. Most students now probably don’t even know graffiti hall existed a decades-long tradition at UCSD, gone.
Then, in March of 2014, under financial strain and code violations, administration moved to evict people from The Che Cafe, igniting a 120-day protest from students. It was a pretty clear reflection of the two faces UCSD battling it out-the far-left radicals clinging for space in an ever more corporate University.
Porter’s Pub went quietly. Slumping sales and pressures from above forced them to close their doors in December of 2014. Then, in 2015 the University Art Gallery Closed, and so did the Craft Center. One by one, it seems, the hotspots of culture at UCSD not found in Price Center (if you can call PC “culture”) are disappearing.
Think about it: Do you think today’s administration would ever approve building something like the Che Cafe? It isn’t a secret that UCSD is an “uncool” campus, and it isn’t an accident that spaces like the art gallery, porter’s pub, and the craft center have shut down. They shut down because people stopped going to them, and at the same time, administration put greater and greater pressure on their continued existence. UCSD is a top or as the pamphlets like to point out – a top research university. Art is messy. And loud, active, engaged student bodies can cause a lot of headaches for administrators.
So then, why not just make the campus easier to deal with? The administration wouldn’t have to violently close or take away much of anything. All they have to do is slowly, consistently, underfund campus spaces that attract the “wrong kind” of people, and give preference to the programs that produce rich alumni. Easy as that.
What decisions like these fail to realize is that while STEM majors do usually make good money, and are safer bets for future alumni donations, campus culture is what draws people back to their college days, and feel an allegiance to their alma mater. Ask any graduate what they remember from college, and it’s not just going to be whatever they learned in classes. The coursework may (or may not) have landed them some cushy high-paying job, but if all they remember about their college days is sitting in silence, strung out on adderall, studying for the umpteenth midterm of the quarter, they’re not going to look back on college fondly. And that means a worse reputation, and yes, a lot less money.
Maybe there’s hope, though. The Che Cafe is still standing, thanks to the university administration paying for upgrades. FOOSH shows are drawing as big crowds as ever. Spaces like the Women’s Center, LGBT Resource Center, and Cross Cultural Center put on events all the time. But all of these only live as long as people keep them alive. So go to that weird thing your friend invited you to, the programming assignment can wait (hah). Campus life at UCSD depends on it.