By Nathanael Check
If you take a walk to the brand new Blessed Solanus Casey Hall, the latest Steubenville hotel-turned-dorm-hall purchased by Franciscan University to alleviate its growing pains, you have three ways of getting there.
The first is to walk down the West entrance by Assisi Heights, then stroll for a mile all the way down beautiful University Boulevard. until you reach your destination at the bottom of your descent.
The other walking route is to take the main entrance, a steeper but closer option. No matter your preference, your journey will involve a relatively long walk down a hill that guarantees a fun-filled uphill return.
There is, of course, the alternative to walking: the Baron Express. The shuttle promises to bridge the awkward gap between the upper and lower campuses by reducing the time students spend getting up and down the hill.
While the shuttle is convenient, its existence highlights the problem it was designed to fix—lower campus is out of the way.
That is not to say that the shuttle is ineffective; the Baron Express does a fine job of getting students to their classes and obligations on time. But a shuttle service does not foster an organic community, nor does the expansion of lower campus.
Assessing the problem of the divide between the two campuses, the obvious issue is the hill. It should not come as a surprise that geographical barriers hinder the connection of communities.
It is why we draw state lines along rivers and mountain ranges. The steep university driveway is by no means such an impediment to campus unity as a mountain range, but the sentiment is there—the two campuses feel like different places.
Furthermore, there is little incentive to go to the lower campus unless you live there. You may have friends there with whom you would like to visit, but common rooms fill up quickly in residence halls. For gatherings centered on a meal, the only full-service food locations are on upper campus.
Now, credit is due to the folks in Student Engagement for starting a weekly food truck event on lower campus, Walk Down Wednesdays, which has seen a good student turnout. And the in-hall weight room and daily breakfast at Blessed Solanus Casey Hall is a laudable effort on part of the Student Housing department to foster the lower campus community.
However, there is no reason for anyone on the upper campus to make use of either of said amenities when there is a better-equipped weight room in the Finnegan Fieldhouse and a wider selection at breakfast in Antonian Hall and The Pub.
It is difficult to take all of these factors into consideration and fail to acknowledge this: the lower part of Franciscan’s campus is largely disconnected from its upper half.
The expansion efforts, in my opinion, fall short of strengthening the university community not merely because the hill divides the student body, but because lower campus lacks a communal space.
The University’s plans for Blessed Solanus Casey Hall show more promise: a dedicated outdoor space where students can organically gather. Even with these additions, however, there is no central space on the lower campus, no anchor for a rapidly expanding development.
What will come of this? Only time will tell, but for now I predict that the future of lower campus will look a lot like its current status quo: a space that feels largely disconnected from the rest of campus.