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A student center is a type of building found on university campuses. In the United States, such a building may be called a student union, student commons, union or student center. The term "student union" refers most often in the United States to a building, while in other nations a "students' union" is the student government. Nevertheless, the Association of College Unions International (largely US-based) has several hundred campus organizational members in the US; there is no sharp dichotomy in interpretation of union in this context. The US usage in reference to a location is simply a shortened form of student union building.
The first student union in America was Houston Hall, at the University of Pennsylvania, which opened January 2, 1896 and remains in operation to this day. The first Ohio Union at Ohio State University was Enarson Hall. The building opened in 1911 and was the first student union to be built at a state university and the fourth of its kind in the United States. Oklahoma State University's student union opened in 1950. Subsequent additions, and renovations in 2010, have made the building one of the largest student activity centers in the world at 611,000 sq ft (56,800 m2).
Some student centers carry unique origins and historical significance with some on the National Register of Historic Places. The William Pitt Union was originally constructed in 1898 as a hotel and was converted into a student center in 1956. Some student activity centers on the NRHP include O'Hara Student Center (University of Pittsburgh), McKenny Hall (Eastern Michigan University), and the Tivoli Student Union. The Tivoli Student Union was originally home to the Trevoli Brewing Company but since has been converted to serve several institutions in Denver, Colorado.
Other examples of student centers include West Virginia University's Mountainlair, the J. Wayne Reitz Union at the University of Florida, the Bronco Student Center at Cal Poly Pomona, the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the Price Center at UC San Diego.
Broadly speaking, the facility is devoted to student recreation and socialization. A student center or student union is the community center of the college, serving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests. A student activity center might offer a variety of programs, activities, services, and facilities.
It may contain lounges, wellness centers, dining facilities or vendors, and entertainment venues. The student center is often the center of student affairs and activities and may house the offices of the student government or other student groups. It may also act as a small conference center, with its meeting rooms rented out to student groups and local organizations holding conferences or competitions. An example of this for instance is the Michigan Union, which hosts the University of Michigan Model United Nations conference.
Depending on the school and its location it might have unique amenities such as a bowling alley, cultural or prayer rooms and unique services. At Eastern Michigan University Student Center the building offers a kiva, a round, 360-degree room patterned after spaces used in Native American cultures. The Kiva Room at EMU is used as a meeting space, for collaboration, or for musical purposes. In the Ohio State University-Ohio Union, the student union offers an interfaith prayer room which has feet washing area for Muslim students. The University of Central Florida has an eyewear and optometric consumer service location.
- Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania George E. Thomas, David Bruce Brownlee, p3
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