Time and again, I am struck by the amount of socializing that I see on the campus of Pontificia Universidad Católico Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), the university that I am attending while studying abroad here in the Dominican Republic. On my way to and from class every day I watch my Dominican peers shoot the breeze in the sunshine. This campus feels active and full of people. All the activity is cultivated by the design of PUCMM’s campus which features covered, outdoor social spaces that are welcoming even during the rainier months.
It feels alive in the way that Lewis & Clark does when the sun comes out after long weeks of gray and the vitamin D-starved masses hit the steps of J.R. Howard. When the rain returns, LC students escape to the indoors and take refuge in the only places they can: the nooks and crannies of Watzek and the other academic buildings.
It is common knowledge that the long weeks and months of PNW rain weigh heavily on the well-being of large swaths of the LC community. Seasonal Affective Disorder is no stranger to many students and faculty.
However, I believe that rain is detrimental to our well-being in another way as well. When we seek shelter in the cozy, secluded corners of Watzek, we also hide ourselves to a certain extent. We are less likely to bump into acquaintances and cannot be seen by close friends from across the campus. Simply by not being seen our socialization is limited. We miss out on shared experiences that could otherwise help us feel more connected to each other. I believe that missing out on feeling connections because of the need to be indoors poses a problem to our collective well-being. I also believe that a potential solution lies in the design of the PUCMM campus.
The J.R. Howard steps are the main place where I see shared experiences of the community. This is because the steps are centralized in the academic campus, highly visible and comfortable to lounge on. The PUCMM equivalent is Café Santo Domingo, which is similarly centralized, visible (three of the walls are made of glass) and has a remarkable amount of seating for such a small place. The crucial difference is the wrap-around awning that protects all of the outdoor seating.
Obviously, the Caribbean features a much different climate than the Pacific Northwest (the sweat will not let me forget), but the bursts of rain that come through two or three times a week do not keep Cafe Santo Domingo from being a social hub.
The issue of rain is, in part, an issue of design. There is a Master Plan in place as of 2019 to renovate the LC campus in order to deal with the lack of social spaces. The ambitious renovation will feature modern buildings with elegant glass walls to connect people indoors and out, and there will even be a cafe installed in J.R. Howard. Although the plan will make for more visible campus social spaces, it is years away from being installed and pieces of the plan may never actually come to fruition. Current students at LC will likely never get to experience the new and improved social landscape.
I would like to propose a solution to tide us over until the sweeping renovations occur: a big ol’ pop-up rain shelter over the J.R. Howard steps. If the rain shelter is too unsightly for our svelte campus, a group of rogue sculpture students could whip up something else. What matters is that we would be able to reclaim the space during the long months of rain. It is a quick and small solution to the large and long-standing issue of students feeling disconnected in our community, but the potential to boost student well-being makes it well worth a try.