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Losing serendipity: why the WAC needs billboards

The Wedgewood Academic Center has 30 spacious classrooms, 430 underground parking spaces, 186,000 square feet of elegant neo-classical design and strikingly blank walls.

With the construction of McWhorter Hall, the Inman Health Sciences Building and the Baskin Center, university policies have intensified to try and bring a unified aesthetic to campus. But by attempting to foster a cohesive university atmosphere, the administration’s policies have limited ways for students and faculty to make campus feel like home.

The stringent aesthetic restrictions in the WAC are proving especially problematic for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as it prepares for its 13th humanities symposium without the most basic form of publicity: billboards. Dr. Maggie Monteverde is an English professor and the head of this year’s humanities symposium.

“If you don’t have a place to post things that people can see, you lose that group of people who weren’t looking in the first place,” Monteverde said. “That’s what we’ve lost in this building – we’ve lost it in every single new building we’ve built on this campus; we have removed the opportunity for serendipity. There’s no opportunity to stumble upon something we didn’t know about.”

Monteverde notes that the lack of publicity in the WAC will not only effect the humanities symposium, which opens in a mere seven days, but will also effect promotions for university study abroad programs and Belmont’s undergraduate research symposium.

In Belmont’s newest buildings, administrative policies ban professors from decorating their doors, hanging pictures or posters independently and don’t allow for extra bookshelves.

Monteverde says the barrenness of the building also highlights the absence of a more intrinsic quality of education.

“Part of teaching is hospitality; part of hospitality is welcoming people into one’s space,” Monteverde said. “It’s hard to offer hospitality when you feel the space that you’re bringing somebody into is not your space.”

Dr. Bryce Sullivan, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, says he is unsure whether the restrictions on publicity and signage in the WAC will be amended.

“We’re just getting sort of moved in right now,” Sullivan said. “It’s just like moving into a new house or a new apartment; it just really takes a while to figure out some of the things that need to be addressed.”

Stephanie Ray, a senior biology major, says the lack of signage in her department’s new home makes feeling welcome difficult.

“It’s like Hogwarts in there,” Ray said. “It seems like the stairways keep changing directions and you never know where you are and a bunch of random doors are always locked.”

Of course, the WAC allows more interdisciplinary collaboration than the physical separation of departments across campus previously allowed.

Sullivan’s old office was in the Wheeler Humanities Building, which kept him separate from professors in disciplines outside the humanities, but now he often  sees professors from departments that were formerly across campus.

“We have biology right down the hall from English,” Sullivan said. “Those faculty are interacting now in a way they haven’t before, and those kind of interactions are one of the greatest advantages of this building.”

Monteverde agrees the opportunity for community is the building’s greatest asset.

“This is the first of our large buildings that Belmont has built that they have put physical space for students to sit in,” Monteverde said. “Even if it’s kind of…antiseptic, which happens in any new building.”

The $78.4 million Wedgewood Academic Center is an impressive addition to Belmont’s campus, but the sterile atmosphere of the building is troubling to students and faculty.

This article was written by Mary Coggins.

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