The Heart of Michigan State Campus

This is an update by undergraduate intern Eve on her campus landscape project

My nose has been in the history books for the past few weeks. I’ve been panning through articles, books, yearbooks, newspaper clippings, and student publications in order to gain a greater insight into discovering where the center of campus is located. This research has led me to more information than one could ever believe, however, now it is all about putting it together.

As I have been researching, I have been concentrating on the center of campus in two separate forms: the actual geographical center, and the metaphorical, “social” center of campus. Our university has changed so much over the past 150 years and these two are not always the same thing, or place in this matter. Geographically speaking, I have been looking at maps, and connecting ideas on change in academic structure, growth in student population, and change in transportation to the expansion of campus, and why it has expanded this way. It has been really interesting to look into where the social center of campus is located; social center of campus in reference to where people perceive the heart of campus to be located. In order to seek out an answer to this question, I have been looking at campus landmarks, places where events are held, and the location of certain buildings among other factors.

The Rock, 1973, MSU Archives

One campus landmark is proving to be vital in my research. “The Rock”, as today’s students call it, actually traces over time where students perceive the center of campus to be. When the class of 1873 donated The Rock, they dug it up from the current location of Beal Botanical Gardens and moved it to a location just north of Beaumont Tower. This would be The Rock’s home for about one hundred years. In the 1970s, a time of protest, change, and student activism, The Rock seemed to take on a role of a public posting board. Students would not only write things on The Rock, but they would gather by it and hold public rallies by the large stone.  It was moved to it’s current location in the mid – 1980s and continuously serves the purpose of a public announcement board. One question I have asked myself, is why is the location of this rock important? Why would the university decide to move it to a different location after so long? I think The Rock’s location reflects a correlation between landmarks and the center of campus.

Class of 1873 posing in front of their class gift, the Rock circa 1907. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections
Class of 1873 posing in front of their class gift, the Rock circa 1907. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Another factor I have been looking into, as a way to find out where the center of campus is located, is places where events are held.  MSU is a school with a rich history of tradition.  I have noticed a trend in observing where events are held and where the center of campus is perceived to be. In the early years of the school’s history, the area called the “sacred space” seems to be the center of campus. Diaries and journals have indicated that Williams Hall, the dormitory of that time, was where students gathered to interact socially. As time goes on and we enter into the new century, new campus traditions emerge. We have such events as the MAC Barbeque, the Senior Swing Out, the outdoor plays, and the lantern lighting that all took place around the sacred space area. Some of these traditions extended all the way through the 1960s! As the 1970s approached, we see MSU students become more active in protests, rallies, and demonstrations. Linton Hall, the former administration building became a gathering place for students to protest. When the new Hannah Administration Building was opened, students moved their gatherings there. We also see something called “People’s Park” develop in the 1970s. Students occupied this area between Wells Hall and the International Center as a living area. This became the social center of campus. As the 80s, 90s, and 2000s have come and gone, we saw a shift in student activity center around this Wells hall and International Center area. Wells Hall is currently home to “Campus Center Cinemas” and the International Center is home to a multitude of social events planned by the University.  It seems as though this still holds true today.

With all of these facts acquired in my research, one would expect to be one step closer to finding and solidifying an answer to my research question. However, most of us know that with more answers, come more questions. I plan on looking closer into the location of buildings such as the union, the auditorium, and the football stadium. I am eager to attribute a connection between the social center and the geographical center of campus, and I am curious to find out why exactly these shifts have occurred. With each day that I research, I love my project more and more. I can’t wait to continue looking through the old papers to find answers to my new questions.



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