Revive hangouts to cultivate campus pride


by Leonardo Castaneda

File Photo
File Photo

San Diego State wants one, but can’t get it. University of California San Diego has one, but might close it.

It’s not the kind of thing they tell you about on college tours, but it can attract new students or drive them away: the campus hangout, a place for students to call their own and the lifeblood of university life in colleges nationwide.

Places such as the now defunct Louie’s Suds n’ Sun, or UCSD’s Che Café aren’t always the centerfold in college catalogs, but nonetheless they are often remembered fondly by countless students.

However different the hangouts may be, these spots all have a thing in common: They are places where students can relax, kick back with some friends, watch a show or down a pitcher of beer. Above all, they are places that are thoroughly unique, with storied pasts passed down verbally through multiple generations of students.

But don’t let their unconventionality take away any of their importance. These holes-in-the-wall enrich our college experience in a way school rankings can never show; they build an irreplaceable sense of community. This feeling of belonging is something SDSU has always struggled with.

SDSU suffers the paradox of being a commuter campus with a sizeable Greek population right next door. This leaves many non-Greek students feeling left out, and without many non-Greek dominated places on campus to hang out. Once Louie’s filled this void; if not perfectly, at least as much as it could. However, it was torn down this summer to make way for the forthcoming shiny new Aztec Center. Unfortunately for students, the new center could not find room in its LEED Platinum-rated heart for Louie’s.

Rest assured, SDSU isn’t the only school in San Diego turning its back on its student hangouts. The Che Café at UCSD faces closure in March if it cannot raise the $12,000 annual insurance premium it owes the university. Since opening in 1980, the Che Café has catered to a different crowd. It’s been a haven for political radicalism, a mecca for underground music and a vegan promised land. Tucked away in the forests surrounding UCSD, it is not as well-known as Louie’s, but it’s just a beloved. And like Louie’s did, the Che Café provides a place for students to come together and feel like part of a school and a community.

Of course, not everyone thinks feel-good ideas like community and belonging are all that important, especially when you’re never more than five minutes from a Starbucks anywhere on campus. But take a minute to consider the financial implications the degradation of SDSU’s student cohesion can have.

Every year about 65 percent of first-year students and 13 percent of all SDSU undergraduates live in on-campus housing. Compare that to a school such as UCSD that, despite recent developments, has been far more effective in fostering student-run businesses.

The result: A whopping 92 percent of first-year students and 40 percent of undergraduates live in UCSD housing. That means SDSU could be missing out on thousands of student living, eating and shopping opportunities on campus. That translates into millions of dollars in added revenue through housing and increased business for Aztec Markets and on-campus eateries, not to mention the pressure that would be taken off of the school’s overflowing parking structures.

File Photo
File Photo

Clearly, nurturing and protecting campus hangouts, whether they are student-run or just student-loved, makes sense; not only for the students whose college experience is enriched, but also for the school whose wallet needs enrichment.
However, by their very nature these places cannot be fabricated, especially not by tactless school administrators. Luckily, SDSU still has a chance to save an invaluable part of its heritage, by welcoming Louie’s back on campus once the new Aztec Center opens. Even if that means losing some of the short-term revenue a Chili’s or Rubio’s might bring in. In the long run, the campus will benefit.
Even if Louie’s does return, there must be more done to provide for students’ social nature across SDSU’s ever-growing campus. Alternative coffee shops, eateries or even music venues should be given space to develop and grow. Creating a Che Café-like place at SDSU may be little more than a whimsical dream. Yet catering to the diverse social tastes and needs is a very serious idea the school must consider. If it doesn’t, SDSU’s students will flock elsewhere and build their own communities independent of the school, and independent of Aztec pride.

— Leonardo Castaneda is an
economics and journalism