"Residential Housing in this New Era of Imagination"

Union Street Center
IU Bloomington
October 26, 2010

Union Street Center

Union Street Dedication

Indiana University formally dedicated Union Street Center today, the first new residential complex to open on the IU Bloomington campus in more than 40 years.

Union Street Center offers one-, two-, and four-bedroom units to undergraduate students. All apartments are fully furnished and feature energy-efficient appliances, granite countertops, fully carpeted living rooms and bedrooms, ceramic bathroom flooring, wooden kitchen flooring, air conditioning, card-access security, cable television, wireless Internet service and insulated windows.

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Meditations on the Meaning of Home

Over a century ago, art and social critic John Ruskin wrote:  “[H]ome . . . is the place of peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division.”[1] As we celebrate and dedicate the new Union Street Center residential housing facility, we should keep in mind Ruskin’s meditations on the meaning and importance of home.

When many of us think of home, we imagine places where we belong, where we feel comfortable, where we are part of a community. As Robert Frost put it, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”[2]

A Renaissance in Student Living

Union Street Center is already more than a home not only for students but for this entire campus. It signals the renaissance in student living that is taking place across the Bloomington campus.  In my inaugural address delivered just three years ago, I announced plans to upgrade all of the residence halls on campus over the next fifteen years as a major effort to enhance and expand the quality of student life. This dedication marks the first step towards delivering on that promise.

At the end of those fifteen years, imagine all of IU’s student residence halls with increasingly flexible and adaptable technology combined with academic programming all conveniently located to maximize student learning at any time of the day.  Imagine accommodations that reflect a more contemporary sensibility and style.  In short, imagine a campus whose student living environment rivals the best in the world.

IU's Traditions of Planning and Preservation

Such an environment does not develop by accident or by luck.  It develops as a result of careful planning that goes back generations. That planning includes a working map developed by a Mr. R. Ulrich and submitted to IU’s ninth President Joseph Swain in 1900. It includes the General Plan for the university submitted by the renowned Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects to the university’s tenth President William Lowe Bryan in 1936. More recently, that planning includes the master plan for the Bloomington campus created by the Smith Group and master planner David King. 

This latest master plan builds upon some of this campus’ finest assets.  It recognizes and preserves the great beauty of the landscape.  It honors the architectural traditions that give our built landscape a sense of cohesion, order, and integrity.  And in doing these things, it preserves some of this community’s—and this state’s—most treasured natural and architectural resources. It also helps the university achieve the principles of excellence in education and research that I announced in my State of the University speech last month—principles that have guided this institution for nearly two centuries. 

Specifically, as I mentioned earlier, this facility will help us enhance and expand the quality of student life through an environment that vigorously supports and sustains academic achievements at the highest and most competitive levels and that is culturally rich, diverse and inclusive, which is a key aspect of IU’s first principle of excellence:  to provide an excellent education.  As you will hear from all of our speakers today, the Union Street Center is precisely the kind of facility that will help students reach this goal. 

A Brief History of Residence Halls

And residence facilities have been central to students achieving their highest potential for some time now. Studies conducted as early as 1935 determined that students living in residence halls were more likely to achieve social and academic success compared with those living in a fraternity or renting space off campus.[3] No doubt, one significant reason for that success, is the sense of community that residence halls create and sustain.

But the history of residence halls dates back to well before 1935. In fact, student housing dates back at least to the 13th century when students flocked to the great medieval universities including the University of Paris, Cambridge, and Oxford. And legend has it that—because of housing shortages—some of these students may have actually lived in tents during the course of their studies.[4]

Fortunately, students at IU Bloomington have never been driven to such extremes.

A Home That Sets Fire to the Imagination

But our situation today does parallel those early days in certain ways. Record numbers of students are graduating from high school, and many of them are looking for the perfect college. The quality of residential housing can dramatically influence their decisions. Students are not just looking for a place to sleep.  They are looking for a home that harmonizes and synchronizes their lives inside and outside of the classroom. 

Students will find that here at the Union Street Center.

They will also find opportunities for personal growth, social interaction, and leadership. They will be able to meet with faculty and friends, becoming part of a community of learners. This is the kind of community that can set fire to the imagination, fueled by the concentrated energy of young minds living and learning together.

And the apartments themselves are quite magnificent, well designed and well furnished, offering students first-rate amenities.

As exciting as this moment is for students, it is even more exciting for Indiana University.  It signals a renaissance in student living taking place across the university.

Conclusion: This Era of Imagination

By way of conclusion, let me turn to the words of IU’s legendary 11th president Herman B Wells.  Fifty years ago, President Wells addressed a group of housing officers who were meeting in Bloomington.  In his remarks, he commented on the new era of imagination in which we find ourselves.  He said, “In [this] new era of imagination there will be new demands on the non-academic life of the students.  There will be a return to the earlier concepts of unity between academic and non-academic aspects of college, each supporting the other.”[5]

The Union Street Center demonstrates this unity in remarkable fashion even as it provides the very best of homes to Indiana University students. 

Thank you very much.



[1] Ruskin, John. Sesame and Lilies:  Three Lectures. Philadelphia:  Henry Altemus, 1893. Page 136.

[2] Frost, Robert. “The Death of the Hired Man,” l. 118-9, North of Boston.  New York: Henry Holt, 1915.

[3] Rodger, Susan C., and Andrew M. Johnson. “The Impact of Residence Design on Freshman Outcomes:  Dormitories Versus Suite-Style Residences.”  The Canadian Journal of Higher Education 35.3 (2005):  83-99. Page 86.

[4] Information about the scarcity of housing for scholars in the Middle Ages can be found in Pearl Kibre’s “Scholarly Privileges:  Their Roman Origins and Medieval Expression.”  The American Historical Review 59.3 (April 1954):  543-567.

[5] Wells, Herman B.  Remarks delivered to the 12th Annual Conference of the Association of College and University Housing Officers.  Indiana University.  Bloomington, Indiana.  31 July 1960. Indiana University Archives.