This article is part of the Daily Trojan‘s supplement issue, “If you build it, will they come?” This semester’s supplement focused on the impact of the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center and University Gateway apartment complex, both of which will open this fall.
USC’s reputation and the quality of its student body have made unparalleled strides in the last 15 years — and the campus social scene could finally be ready to catch up.
When the Ronald Tutor Campus Center opens its doors in August, it will represent the first serious attempt to change a culture whose social heart is often on The Row or at the Coliseum, but rarely on campus. Administrators and students are hoping the building will have a major impact on USC’s social scene, creating a permanent residential atmosphere on campus for the first time.
But the building is not targeted exclusively at students, and the allocation of the campus center’s space, along with the hours its rooms and restaurants will be open, leave questions about whether it can meet administrator’s lofty goals.
“A residential community is not just beds and pillows,” said Patrick Bailey, the Student Affairs administrator charged with overseeing the new building. “The campus center is one of the biggest first steps the university is making in really welcoming students to stay on campus after hours [and] on the weekends.”
Bailey and others involved in the project hope the new building will draw students to campus even when they don’t have class. The building will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. A new Traditions bar with seating and televisions is tucked into the basement next to a large performance venue, Tommy’s Place, which also has pool tables.
“To change a culture, it takes four years,” Bailey said. “You have to go through each class.”
In a way, the campus center represents the midway point of USC’s long transition from a commuter school to a true residential university. If the last decade was marked by a dramatic change in the student population — SAT scores that rival Stanford’s, students who hail from across the country and world, an unprecedented ascension in the U.S. News & World Report rankings — the next decade will be shaped by physical changes.
The massive University Gateway apartments and campus center buildings will open in the fall. USC’s Master Plan, the school’s road map for expansion north of Jefferson Boulevard over the next 30 years, calls for razing the University Village, Cardinal Gardens and Century; building new housing and retail space; and turning Jefferson into a pedestrian walkway. And by next year, a new light rail along Exposition Boulevard should be operating.
Of all these physical changes, the campus center will have the quickest and most dramatic impact on student life. But unlike campus centers at other schools, the Ronald Tutor Campus Center was not designed solely for students.
The campus center’s anchor is not a student lounge but is instead the Trojan Family Room, a meeting area that also serves as a showcase of Trojan memorabilia. Upscale furniture and a concierge booth greet alumni, current Trojans and prospective students, who can walk upstairs to the admissions office on the second floor.
There is no movie theater — like in UC San Diego’s massive Price Center — and no bowling alley, like the one on the top of The George Washington University’s student center. There are several student lounges, but most are smaller rooms more conducive to studying than watching a football game.
This will make it harder for the campus center to impact student life as much as administrators hope. But students say that just having a central place to hang out, relax, meet friends or study will be a huge boost for the campus experience.
“[USC is] a college community, but it’s a college community with a lot of people living in apartments Downtown, living off campus and a lot of people who come to campus just for classes,” said John Legittino, who was an Undergraduate Student Government spokesperson in 2009 and graduated the same year.
And although Jenny Novak, the incoming president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said the center likely would “not be enough to draw me in on weekends,” she said it will give graduate students an easy, central meeting place on campus.
The administrators in charge of the campus center acknowledge that it was never meant to be tailored entirely toward students. Faculty, incoming students, alumni and administrators all had little space to interact and mingle, and the campus center was designed to be an upgrade for all of these groups.
Denzil Suite, associate vice president for Student Affairs, said this won’t come at a cost to students. The building is meant to be flexible. Suite highlighted the building’s 30 meeting rooms — some of which can hold hundreds of people — that student groups can reserve without paying a deposit.
“If someone wants to have a small, intimate poetry reading, you can have that, and if you want to have a large fundraising dinner for your organization, you can do that, too,” he said.
Indeed, the campus center’s success might hinge on whether students are tempted onto campus by the venue’s programming. Student Affairs has planned a slate of activities and events to keep those rooms busy.
This fall, the Undergraduate Student Government, GPSS, Program Board and the University Residential Student Community will each host a Thursday evening event in Tommy’s Place once a month. “Friday Night Fix” will feature recurring performances by the Second City comedy group Upright Citizens Brigade. College band night and other concerts dot the venues’ calendars. And, during football games and other sporting events, the enormous projection screen in Tommy’s Place will extend for students to watch the action.
Still, many parts of the campus center will close on the weekends. Traditions will sell food and stay open until 2 a.m., and Lemonade, a restaurant new to USC that has several locations in Los Angeles, will also have extended weekend hours. But the five restaurants in the center’s main food court — including Carl’s Jr., California Pizza Kitchen and Wahoo’s Fish Taco — will have hours similar to The Lot, where venues close at 7 or 8 p.m. and are closed on weekends (with the exception of Baja Fresh).
Those hours could be extended depending on student demand, and some food court restaurants might eventually stay open on the weekend, said USC Hospitality Director Kris Klinger.
“As students speak with their feet and their money, we will determine what will be open and when,” he said.
Students aren’t the only ones excited about the campus center’s potential impact. President of the Faculty Alex Capron, a professor at the Gould School of Law and Keck School of Medicine, has made what he calls a “living university” road map his goal. The idea is to encourage interactions between faculty members and students outside the classroom, and Capron believes the campus center has the potential to be an intellectual hub.
If students and professors take advantage of the campus center by holding meetings and socializing, Capron said, the center could become a natural gathering place and an incentive for faculty to live closer to campus.
“[Those interactions] really ought to take place by people being together in an environment that fosters intellectual exchanges,” Capron said.
When the building opens it will mark the first part of a broader plan to improve student life on campus. The recreational facilities need upgrading, Bailey acknowledged; so does the student health center, Suite said.
But for now, Bailey thinks the new building’s impact could be immense.
“The building is a game changer,” he said.