Student-led group campaigns for updated public health facilities

By Noah Kouchekinia

(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

Amidst the ongoing construction projects at the University of Massachusetts, one group of students argues that their college is getting left behind. The School of Public Health and Health Sciences Facilities Improvement Campaign, abbreviated SPHHSFIC, is an emerging effort to bring awareness to the conditions of buildings inhabited by the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Organizers of the campaign argue that the conditions are inadequate.

The campaign is headed by students in the undergraduate departments of SPHHS, including public health major Delbar Mamedzade, kinesiology major Greg Petrucci, nutrition major Jen Vachon and communication disorders major Luna Hino-Nakayama.

Arnold House is one of the buildings in the campaign’s focus. According to Vachon, Arnold House acts as the only “group study area” used by students in any SPHHS building. Although built as a dormitory in the 1950s, Arnold House was later converted into an office and educational space. Many of the issues with this particular building, including cramped conditions and signs of deterioration, stem from its age and misapplication, according to campaign organizers. Although the building is no longer home to students, the campaign claims it is still inhabited by pests such as cockroaches, which they say constitute a constant and nasty distraction. The building is also rumored to contain asbestos, although campaign organizers say that efforts to confirm this rumor with the university have been unsuccessful and they lament that the university has been less than forthcoming with information on recent inspections.

The campaign also focuses on the Totman gymnasium. Though many students across campus associate the building with its pool and weight room, the building’s two classrooms host many of the kinesiology department’s classes, as well as classes in the SPHHS. The leaders of SPHHSFIC cited survey results indicating that students were unhappy with Totman’s consistently elevated humidity and the periodic smell of chlorine, both attributed to its pool and poor ventilation. Additionally, the campaign’s survey results indicated that students feel the space is isolated, not only because Totman sits apart from the majority of academic buildings on campus, but because many of the research and academic spaces are tucked underground or in windowless rooms.

Petrucci believes there is a disparity between the success and importance of the kinesiology department and the attention the University has paid to its facilities. He said that although SPHHS has a highly ranked kinesiology program, research within the department is conducted in cramped conditions that have a detrimental effect on focus and productivity.

The campaign is only in its beginning stages, but has big plans. Mamedzade explained the campaign is modeled after the “What the FAC?” campaign, a recent student-led bid to make the Fine Arts Center more accessible for disabled students. SPHHSFIC has collected their survey data indicating that other students within the college share the campaign’s sentiments, and organizers plan to host a forum on Nov. 2  at 5:30 p.m. in the Integrated Learning Center room N151 to further engage students. There, they will further outline their plan for the campaign’s future, which they expect will involve extensive research into the University’s budget and building plans, analysis of SPHHS buildings and comparison to facilities in similar programs across the country. The time and location of this event has not been announced.

The campaign believes that with more information in hand, and students and faculty behind the effort, it will have the necessary tools to push the administration to enact a solution.

Noah Kouchekinia can be reached at [email protected]