WSU Pullman students now have more spaces to gather with the reopening of the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center (ESFCC) and increased in-person capacity at dining centers around campus. The openings are part of campus-wide efforts to offer more in-person experiences to students, many of whom are missing opportunities to safely spend time with their friends outside structured classes and activities.
With the move to phase 3 of reopening in Washington last week, the ESFCC has begun offering students space to hang out, mess around, and geek out (also known as HOMAGO). On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 5 p.m., students can visit the center to hang out with their pod, watch a movie, or do homework in a quiet space.
Dr. Allen Sutton, the executive director of the Office of Outreach and Education, said the goal is to let students experience different campus locations while interacting in person with fellow Cougs.
“What we’re trying to do is to get students outside, out of that bubble they’ve built, and safely start exploring the Pullman campus and different areas they can make their own,” he said.
In additional to providing space to spend unstructured time, Sutton’s team is working with Cougar Health Services’ Health Promotion Department to offer “Cougs Meet” sessions focused on mental health on Thursdays in April. The center will also host several diversity and leadership education programs in April, and Sutton is encouraging student organizations to take “field trips” to the center to hold meetings.
“We think mixing these programs together in this framework will allow students to not only see the center as an educational spot, but also as a spot for them to just come and be themselves and have a good time,” he said.
The center’s capacity will be limited to 25 people for the remainder of the semester, and students must make a reservation and abide by all health guidelines to use the space.
Reservations aren’t necessary to dine in person at campus facilities, which can now accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity. Tables are still limited to two people, in accordance with a state mandate that people from no more than two households may dine together.
Dining Services Director Sarah Larson said that in addition to increasing capacity, her teams are focusing on adding new foods and flavors to the menus to avoid “menu fatigue” among students. She hopes the rotating menu options and increased seating capacity will encourage more students to share a meal.
“There’s nothing that can replace that in-person experience from a community building and social experience perspective,” she said. “Food is central to socializing. Food is fuel, but it’s also much more than that.”
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Larson and Sutton both said that many of the changes spurred by COVID will carry over into post-pandemic life – and into their plans for the fall semester. For example, dining has implemented touchless payments and improved its mobile ordering app, which will continue to create superior dining experiences for students after COVID.
Sutton said he hopes that, in addition to the ESFCC being available for events and meetings, its use as a casual hang-out space will carry over into the fall semester and beyond.
“Dr. Floyd wanted this center to be a place where all students feel like they belong,” he said. “We want it to become a center of campus where people can be comfortable and be their true selves.”
Editor’s note: This article is part of a WSU Insider series spotlighting the careful, phased re-opening of WSU’s residential campus in Pullman as it prepares for the return to in-person instruction.