Throughout the United States, many colleges and universities are either conducting classes online or closing their doors temporarily or permanently for the rest of the academic year. All of these changes or closures have been made to combat the spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus.
It’s been a month since the long-awaited opening of the new crown-jewel of Jacksonville State University’s campus, JSU’s new Recreation and Fitness Center.
All University channels paint a well-deserved pride in the opening of the facility, praising the versatility the RFC provides for Gamecock students.
“The center is a game-changer for the university, both as a recruitment tool for future students and as a hub of campus life for current students. More than a place to exercise, the center serves as a gathering space for students – featuring an outdoor patio, video game lounge, ping-pong tables, snack bar and study areas.”
That’s how Jacksonville State University’s new Recreation and Fitness Center is described by the University in a press release announcing the opening of the brand new social center.
“We in University Recreation are very excited for JSU students,” Joanna Prociuk, Director of University Recreation at Jacksonville State said about the opening. “The Rec Center will become the prime location for students to hangout, build relationships, relax, and be active while on-campus.”
But how do the students feel?
With students having access to the Recreation and Fitness Center since the soft opening on January 14, the perception of the Rec Center has had the chance to be re-evaluated by the primary target of the facility.
A survey conducted by The Chanticleer finds that, after the opening of the RFC, the majority of the are happy with the new facility, despite some concerns about the operation of the facility still remaining.
Of the participants who responded to the survey, 75.8 percent said they had a positive or highly positive view of the new facility, and 58.6 percent said that their feelings toward the rec center became more positive after experiencing the amenities for themselves.
“I think it’s an awesome addition to the campus!” one anonymous participant commented. “People complain about the fee but I think it’s somewhat reasonable for what all it has to offer.”
While the excitement around the opening of the RFC is certainly echoed by some students around campus and is evidenced by the droves of people that can be found utilizing the new space at most hours of the day, the new center has been subjected to its fair share of detractors in the student body.
The Recreation and Fitness Center has been mired in controversy and unrest amongst some conflicted students since the conception of the plans.
The decision by the university to implement a mandatory fee for students to help fund the rec center has been called into question by some since plans were first announced for the new facility back in January of 2017. Jacksonville State Students are now required to pay a $190 fee per semester to pay for the Rec Center.
Despite the overall positive outlook, the mandatory fee still seems to be a hang-up for many.
Of the responders, 47.1 percent said their feelings toward the mandatory fees were negative.
“If it wasn’t a $190 fee, I may feel less negatively,” one student said. “But for that much, I can join a regular gym and pay monthly rather than all at once.”
The fee, whether too high or just not worth it for students who are uninterested in using the facility, gives many reservations. 74.7 percent of surveyed students said that they would either be unlikely to pay the fee to receive access to the facility or that they were unsure if they would, while just 25.3 percent said the benefits of using the RFC outweighed the cost.
“I think the students should have the option to pay the fee or not,” a JSU senior majoring in Finance commented. “I will be using the RFC at least 5 days a week, so I think it’s an amazing price for all that is offered. I just know many students will probably not use it one time (especially commuters/online only students). So, there should be a different option for those students.”
Most students share a similar view that the fees themselves are not unreasonable, but the inability to opt out of them is a problem, especially for students who will not be using the RFC very often.
“I think a fee is perfectly acceptable,” said a senior pre-nursing major. “I disagree that it should be mandatory for online students who may not even have the opportunity to use it. The fact that students who will never use the center (for whatever reason) have to pay for it will always be a point of contention. I think JSU will eventually have to address that part of it.”
Some students have even questioned the need for the facility at all, with upgrades and improvements seemingly needed at other buildings on campus.
“I believe this was an unnecessary build that the students were forced to pay for,” said one responder. “There were greater priorities than building a new fitness center. There are many buildings on campus that still have not even been touched after being damaged by the tornado. I think the campus priorities should be revisited and we as the students should not be forced to pay for these. Because of this I have been deterred from completing additional degrees through this school.”
The disastrous tornado of March 19, 2018 further sullied the population’s feelings toward the RFC, as it was no longer the only location on campus with droves of construction workers, fences and equipment surrounding its perimeter.
Still other students raised additional legitimate concerns about the Recreation and Fitness Center in their comments.
“I think the fee should have been announced to incoming freshmen,” said one comment. “Everyone talked about the new Rec center and how it was going to be like UAB’s rec center on tours but never mentioned a mandatory fee (UAB doesn’t have one), which makes the rec center more negative, especially for people who can’t make it to classes and work out on their own.”
The university, however, did take into account the opinions of students throughout the process of designing, building, and implementing fees for the RFC.
“When I arrived to JSU in April 2018 I was immediately impressed by how closely JSU administrators listened to students in the design of the facility,” Prociuk says. “Students and Student Government have been involved in the planning, fee decision, and decision-making process for the Recreation and Fitness Center since the project’s beginning in 2016. Input from thousands of students was collected via surveys, focus groups, and meetings.”
Prociuk says that the University is listening to the concerns of students, and encourages all forms of feedback as the RFC continues to serve students.
“We will continue to work with students as we expand our programs and operations,” Prociuk says. “I’d encourage students to continue to voice their opinions about all of campus life to their representatives in Student Government. Student Government is well positioned to advocate on their behalf.”
The Food Court inside the Theron Montgomery Building at JSU received some updates and renovations over the summer, and, according to a survey conducted by The Chanticleer, the majority of JSU students are in favor of the changes.
Among the new changes to the TMB are an updated Chick-fil-a with a more traditional restaurant style layout, some added menu options at Freshens Fresh Food Studio, and new retail location Mein Bowl.
Of students who responded to the survey, 60.6% said they either liked or strongly liked the new renovations, with 22.5% saying they disliked or strongly disliked the changes. 16.9% said they were indifferent.
The new Coke Freestyle machines are one of the most popular additions to the TMB, with 67.2% of students saying they liked the new beverage options. The updated layout at Chick-fil-a (56.9%) and new tables and floor setup (63.8%) are also among the most popular changes.
However, the changes weren’t entirely well received among JSU students.
While most students said they like the new addition of Mein Bowl, they didn’t want to give up Baja Express or the Simply to Go in exchange. 66.2% of students said they did not like the absence of Baja, and one even wrote “#BringBackBaja” when given the chance to provide an additional comment on the survey.
“While the TMB looks much more nice and modern, it’s convenience and ease was lost. The full-service Chick-fil-a is great but the amount of time and length of the line is always very long,” one student responded. “Especially since only one register does debt cards. I don’t feel the upgraded look was worth the inconvenience.”
While Students are divided on some aspects of the new changes to the TMB, most agree that, overall, the new renovations will be something students can be proud of for years to come.
On February 1, The Chanticleer published an opinion piece entitled “Please stop releasing balloons” and received an impressive response from the JSU community. Following the article’s publication, The Chanticleer published an online survey asking about opinions on balloon releases.
One hundred people filled out the anonymous survey. Of those, 19.2 per cent of respondents indicated that they did not know that the latex balloons released during balloons releases were harmful to the environment, but nearly a third (32.3 per cent) had participated in a balloon release, either at JSU or with an off-campus group.
Students of all classifications, from freshmen to seniors and graduate students, and JSU faculty, staff, alumni, retirees, community members, parents, siblings and friends responded.
Many respondents addressed the environmental impact of balloons.
“Alabama is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, and we’re very high on the species extinction rate rankings too. We need to protect our wildlife,” wrote a sophomore double majoring in biology and chemistry.
“Please stop hurting our environment. We are supposed to be the friendliest campus in the south, why can’t we be friendly to the environment?” wrote one respondent, a junior majoring in art and communication.
Over three-fourths of respondents (78.1 per cent) indicated that they did not think balloon releases should be allowed on campus and offered numerous alternatives. Blowing bubbles, releasing biodegradable paper lanterns or throwing eco-friendly confetti were popular suggestions. Other alternatives included lighting candles or luminaries, throwing paint powder, making banners, having public recognitions or moments of silence and planting trees. Some more unique ideas were to “shoot guns off in the air like Yosemite Sam,” put “glitter bombs in Beeher’s mail box” and to “release a rooster into the sky.”
Some were concerned about how practical it would be to eliminate balloon releases.
“Balloons are hazardous to the environment, but on the scale that they are released I doubt it is making a signifigant [sic] impact,” wrote a junior majoring in computer information systems. “However, any impact is more than none. There are alternatives, but I doubt the balloon release will go anywhere soon.”
Other respondents hoped that bringing attention to the issue would inspire JSU to make changes.
“I watch the balloon releases while behind a camera during the football games, and I don’t appreciate the idea of releasing balloons for a cause like raising money for a charity, but then add to the problem of hurting our own environment. I hope this survey makes a huge difference for JSU,” a junior drama major wrote.
However, not all respondents believed there was an issue. Over 20 per cent (21.9 per cent) indicated that balloon releases should be allowed to continue.
“Quit being so sensitive,” wrote a senior psychology major. “Balloon releases are fun. Emissions from the cars you drive do more harm than releasing a balloon. The only people that care about this are the ones eating Tide Pods.”
“Literally no one on campus is upset about this,” wrote one music major.
Balloon releases are popular at Gamecock football games as a pregame festivity. Large student groups stand on the field and release balloons in celebration of a successful fundraiser or as a tribute to those who are fighting or have died from a disease. Balloon releases have been done to honor Children’s Miracle Network, Autism Speaks and breast cancer survivors.
“JSU should take note that the community is rallying behind this article about the dangers of plastics and participate in more recycling programs and decrease their usage of plastics in general,” one alumni commented on the survey.
California, Connecticut and Florida have a blanket ban on outdoor balloon releases. California also limits the materials with which any balloon can be made. Additionally, Tennessee and Virginia have a state-imposed limit on the number of balloons that can be released. According to balloonsblow.org, Baltimore and Ocean City, Maryland; Louisville, Kentucky; Huntsville, Alabama and Nantucket and Provincetown, Massachusetts also have city laws regarding balloon releases.