Ellie Kurlander ’24 is a Government and Art History double major from Atlanta, Georgia. She formerly served as Flat Hat Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief and is a member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. Her favorite activities include Wordle and talking about how study abroad “changed her.” Contact her at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
I gave very little thought to the College of William and Mary’s plans to complete a construction overhaul of campus housing and dining facilities when the news broke in April 2022. In my four years at the College, some kind of construction project has always been underway. It’s an old institution, so I assumed the occasional repair or beautification effort was par for the course. However, as I arrived on campus for my final year of college, full of excitement and anticipation, I was welcomed by an active construction zone cosplaying as the College.
Like many students, I spent the first week of classes navigating makeshift gravel paths and calculating how many minutes the new detours added to my class commute. The realization that this would be the reality for the remainder of my college career was disappointing, to say the least.
However, fencing off the field between Lemon and Hardy halls was the final nail in the coffin. As an off-campus student, that field was a key access point to campus and critical to my daily commute — the lack of courtesy to give notice or leave so much as a sidewalk felt like a slap in the face. As I navigated yet another detour, I grappled with an unsavory, enduring truth: the current student body, especially the class of 2024, will never catch a break.
Though my first instinct was to mourn the “normal” college experience that would never be, my wallowing self-pity soon turned to anger. I am exhausted by the administration’s chronic inability to provide even a moment of undisrupted college life to students whose entire higher education journeys have been defined by uncertainty, fear and restriction. The administration often acknowledges the lousy hand dealt to the class of 2024 but offers no recourse to the collective mental toll the past three years have taken. Instead, the administration is happy to parade the class of 2024 off the graduation stage with the cacophonic symphony of jackhammers, excavators and nailguns as our “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Moreover, the cost-benefit analysis of campus construction does not swing in the favor of current students. Though the quality of education remains steadfast, the other key selling point of the College is its natural beauty and timeless architecture. However, New Campus is now nothing short of an inaccessible, unnavigable eyesore. In short, students are no longer allowed access to the campus we’re paying to have access to.
The best example of denied space is the Earl Gregg Swem Library Patio. The College spent a year hyping up the construction of a new outdoor study space for students, only to promptly deny access to said space after less than a year in favor of a new construction project. Limiting outdoor spaces for students, particularly near an academic hub like Swem, again places an unfair burden on students who are just seeking to exist and enjoy their time on campus.
Complaining about something as simple as fewer places to hang out outside may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but with the ever-rising tuition costs, we are quite literally not getting what we pay for. With so much talk about the good that the construction will do for the campus and students for generations to come, I struggle to see how the College is making efforts to improve the lives of students currently enrolled. A Starbucks that doesn’t take Dining Dollars and a new hipster coffee shop that sells $8 lattes don’t feel like fair trades (R.I.P. to Drips and Sips). I don’t want your Starbucks; I just want my sidewalk privileges back.
I understand that campus construction will have a net positive impact on future student life once completed. I root for the day when all dorms have air conditioning, and there’s no denying that some buildings are overdue for a facelift. However, the all-at-once approach to demolition and construction comes at the detriment of the current student body. Frustrations could have been avoided by increasing transparency and communication between project coordinators and students. We want to know what’s happening and how campus construction will impact our daily lives before being thrown into the deep end.
Additionally, the administration should have had the proper foresight to know that the number of projects currently in development is incompatible with daily student life. Easing into the construction process and being more realistic about the timeline could have added a semblance of normalcy to a period of heightened stress among post-pandemic students.
No student could have anticipated how much construction would dominate campus life. And after finally achieving some sense of routine and recovery following the pandemic, taking a year-long breather would have been nice.
Instead, the administration’s urgency to begin construction as soon as possible demonstrates little regard for the time, money and mental well-being of currently enrolled students. By focusing so heavily on the students to come, the College neglects the students they have.