Keeping UV Groovy

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In June of 2004, I, along with a fraction of admitted students that would soon be my fellow classmates, attended a session of freshman orientation.

I’d heard all about the whole “Groovy UV” thing but I was never really sure what it meant; I didn’t know if it was real. What made this place so “groovy?” What set us apart from schools like St. Michael’s, Champlain and Middlebury colleges?

At orientation, we tie-dyed.

The day we tie-dyed, I realized this place must be pretty groovy – whatever that meant.

On May 18, those students that attended freshman orientation that summer four long years ago will finally graduate.

Over the course of the senior class’s lifetime, we have seen the construction of University Heights and Gutterson parking garage. We’ve seen the dingy, dark, outdoor underground tunnel replaced with a freshly carpeted, brightly lit, heated indoor tunnel inside the almighty Davis Center.

“In the last four years we’ve started and finished University Heights – which are the first new residence halls we’ve built on campus since 1971,” Pat Brown, Director of Student Life, said. “Think about that: that’s 30 years that we’ve had no new residence halls. And then the Davis Center. That’s two major construction projects that have occurred in the Class of 2008’s time here. The area where University Heights is – do you even remember what it used to look like?”

The truth is, I don’t.

As the Class of 2008 prepares for graduation day on a campus that has undergone multiple physical changes in our college lifetime, many of us will also step back and look at the thousands of other UVMers that still have more obstacles, opportunities and goals to achieve in their remaining time as college students that we have already conquered.

We’ll look at the student body as a whole our campus as a whole and this groovy image that we project as a university and wonder what it means to be a part of Groovy UV and why we’re so groovy to begin with.

“I think that at the same time that UVM was at its Groovy UV peak, there were students that were lamenting the loss of the University that came before,” Kesha Ram, former SGA president, said. “I think that UVM, like any other school, goes through cycles. No school, for its own personal health, wants to be the party school forever.”

Ram, who became a member of SGA as a sophomore and will graduate in May, said that this “party school image” has diminished. UVM’s play hard, work hard mentality is far more evident than it was when she was a first-year student.

“When I was a first-year student, we had one of the highest binge drinking rates in the country. I am hoping that what has happened is that we have kept that spirit of activism but reintroduced the academic rigor and reintroduced this sense of community that goes above and beyond the partying mentality.”

Brad Miller, a senior from Great Falls, Virginia who has been an avid member of the Outing Club since his sophomore year, said that there have, of course, been changes to the overall image of our University since he arrived in the fall of 2004.

“The school has changed,” he said. “I think that if people try to say that the Davis Center didn’t have effects that go beyond its walls I think that they would be lying. I think it’s changed the direction of what the rest of the school is like.”

Miller thought back fondly on the days when the heartbeat of student life pulsed primarily from Billings Student Center, which he said has turned into a “relic” since the construction of the Davis Center.

Billings continues to be used for various purposes but the vibrancy that once existed in and around this building have indeed changed with the unveiling of the Davis Center, Brown said.

Cook Commons, for example, which was once a dining hall that provided those students not necessarily on a meal plan with an alternative option for food, has been converted into a residential dining complex like Simpson Dining Hall and the Harris/Millis Dining Hall, he said.

Brown, who mentioned several possible plans as to what should be done with the empty spaces in our old student center, said that Special Collections might one day be moved from the basement of Bailey/Howe to the North Lounge of Billings. He also said that part of the building might be the new home to the Holocaust Studies Department.

“When we were freshmen, Billings was the social epicenter,” Miller said. “It’s beautiful and earthy. Now it’s just a relic; it’s dead space. Everything that was there has gone to the Davis Center which is very sterile and not really in keeping with all these things that are groovy.”

For the Class of 2008, this transition from the former student center to the Davis Center is one of many changes that seems to have affected the image of the University.

But it’s these transformations that have also attracted a more diversified student body. The result has not been a loss of what once made UVM so groovy. Rather, there are simply more types of students; the groove is still there.

“Vermont is already groovy,” Miller said. “We’ve got organic farming, local produce, liberal politics, heady beer and pot. People smoke weed with their parents; we’re hanging off the left side of the world here.”

This, he said, will never change; this is the heart of the Green Mountain State’s lifestyle.

“Then you’ve got all of these kids who have never experienced anything like it – many of them with huge amounts of money — who delve right into it. They blow it up in every way, shape and form. That culture is allowed to flourish here.”

Casey Carroll, a senior from New York City, used to stick out like a sore thumb as he walked through campus in bright pink pants and vibrant, striped polo shirts with a double popped collar.

“Walking through campus a few years ago I would be called out for popping my collar and now I don’t stand out as much,” he said.

Though his exceptionally preppy fashion sense doesn’t seem so out of place on campus anymore, Carroll is confident that the so-called “hippie culture” at UVM will always have its place on our campus.

“The hippies are way into keeping their image intact and the preps are into keeping their image intact now, too,” he said. “I didn’t really see so much of that a few years ago, which may be a reflection of who I associate with, but campus has definitely become more polarized. But that sort of grassroots group of ‘groovy’ kids will always be here.”

According to a national survey that UVM, along with over a thousand other universities, gives to incoming freshmen at orientation sessions, the mentality of students on our campus has remained relatively the same over the years.

“There are pieces of information that tell us about our students that hasn’t changed much over time,” Brown said. “There are questions about social values like whether pot should be legalized. We’re about 18 percent higher than these other schools but I think that statement says something about these liberal sorts of social values.”

The two weeks after we returned to school from winter break freshman year were two of the coldest weeks I think I’ll ever experience.

I remember walking back to my room in Harris from the library one night in the snow. I walked through the tunnel, past the underground sub shop and walls caked in graffiti and flyers for shows at Slade Hall.

I remember wishing there were some sort of indoor passage that would take me from the library to Harris — preferably a heated one.

Now, we have that heated tunnel and I miss the character of the old one.

These changes aren’t bad ones; things are just different. Does that mean we’re less groovy?

“I don’t think so,” Brown said. “There’s always that time when you reflect back on your four or five years of college and begin to think about leaving a place that feels really different. But sometimes that place isn’t different. You’re different.”