Survey: LaFortune lacks adequate social space
By JASON McFARLEY
Although results from a campus-wide survey conducted last fall indicate that most Notre Dame undergraduates are displeased with the University's social space facilities, any new building initiatives or renovations to the current student center will likely be years down the road.
Over 90 percent of sampled students expressed negative opinions of the campus social space situation. Respondents gave the LaFortune Student Center particularly bad ratings.
The survey, administered by the Student Senate subcommittee on Centralized Social Space, polled a random sample of 20 percent of current undergraduates as well as alumni who have graduated within the last five years.
In addition, the survey was made available via the Internet for the entire student body.
"The purpose of [on-line availability] was to keep things fair. There was a random sample of students and alumni, but other students also got the opportunity to respond freely," said Joe Cassidy, director of the Student Activities Office.
The survey generated 1,136 student responses beyond the randomly sampled group. Of those responses, 1,058 said that it would be beneficial to have 24-hour student center access.
"The most common reasons given [for the 24-hour access complaint] were for uses which included eating, individual or group studying, socializing with friends and computer availability," said 1999-2000 Student Union secretary Luciana Reali, who chaired the social space subcommittee.
LaFortune rated very poorly as a recreational and entertainment facility, Reali said. Of the 1,136 free respondents 1,018 said they would not consider the current student center to be an entertainment venue for a weekend night. Students suggested the addition of a movie theater, a bowling alley, a nightclub or more large screen televisions as possible remedies to this concern.
Students did, however, give LaFortune some favorable ratings. Most considered the center's food service operations "good or fair," according to Reali. The most frequented areas inside the building are in the Huddle Mart and the basement.
But the majority of the 1,136 free respondents did agree that there should be more fast food restaurants in LaFortune, Reali said. Many also recommended a restaurant with table service.
Reali said most students favored LaFortune's current location but feel that the best solution to LaFortune's inadequacy is to erect a new student center or to make large scale renovations to the current center.
"Many of the problems that were illustrated by the survey, such as the lack of adequate recreational space and the need for more 24-hour space, are self-evident on this campus," said Reali. "However, the overwhelming student response we received served to highlight the urgency of these problems and the necessity for student leaders to work with the administration to solve them."
But Reali cautioned that although the administration has been receptive to student opinion in this matter, "we may not see major renovations to LaFortune or construction of a new student center for the next few years."
She also said that this represents the first time that Notre Dame students have been consulted on a construction initiative.
The issue of campus social space first surfaced two to three years ago, following a University self study, Cassidy explained. He said these self-studies are designed to effectively expose and address current concerns on the campus. University self-studies are conducted every 10 years.
After the most recent self-study, University administrators approached then-student body president Micah Murphy and members of his staff last fall.
"[Administrators] asked [Murphy] to gather student opinion regarding social space," said Reali.
The information that student government collected would be used for the prospect of constructing a new student center and to improve existing social facilities on campus, according to Reali.
In response to the administration's request, the Student Senate committee on University Affairs formed Reali's social space subcommittee. The subcommittee consisted of members from various organizations within the Student Union. The subcommittee was charged with investigating features of student centers at Notre Dame's peer institutions throughout the United States, garnering feedback from those individuals and groups who directly utilize the current student center and creating the on-line survey.
Reali said her subcommittee sent an e-mail message with a link to the on-line survey to every University undergraduate student. The survey's availability was also publicized through the Hall President's Council, the Student Senate and on the "Student Union Happenings" page of The Observer each week last fall.
Results of the survey were collected in an electronic database operated by Dome Designs, a student-run business on campus. Results were posted from Feb. 16 until March 1 on the World Wide Web.
Reali said she was pleased with the surveying process.
"We received a generous response to the survey, a much better success rate than has been achieved through student government paper surveys in past years. I think that on-line surveys such as this will prove to be an excellent way to garner student opinion, as they are convenient for participation and are easily facilitated via the Web," said Reali.
Cassidy said that researching the campus social space situation has been a tremendous undertaking. In addition to the survey conducted by the Student Senate and the random sampling of students and alumni, Cassidy said the University held focus groups and hired professional consultants to better understand Notre Dame's current handling of social space and means to improve it.
"We now have actual statistics on [student and alumni] opinion that can be used to effectively address everyone's, including the University's, concerns," Cassidy said.
While Cassidy was involved in facilitating research on the social space situation, he said that the Student Activities Office will not be using the findings to implement campus changes. That job, he said, will be left to the Office of Student Affairs.
"It's sort of a `now that we have the results, what do we do?' situation," Cassidy said. "Student Affairs has all the information from the surveys, the focus groups and the hired consultants. It's up to that office to do or not do anything with the results."
No representative from Student Affairs was available for comment.
All News Stories for Tuesday, April 11, 2000