By Nick Statt
Lauterbur Hall towers over West Drive like a Manhattan skyscraper in a city of shacks. Its seamless design, sleek blue-white color scheme, and intricate walkways surrounding the base give it the look of hotel. It’s eco-friendly, with natural lighting and energy-efficient features, and provides a remarkably lavish interior. But to some of the Southampton students that were forced onto the campus this year, nothing here at Stony Brook’s main campus is worthy of being called a home.
“We’re not the kind of people that need to live in the ‘Marriott’,” says Juliann Navarra, now in her junior year. She stands on the edge of the bench fixed outside the front door of Lauterbur with a navy blue Southampton sweatshirt on. “Every time I say I’m in the ‘new Kelly’ building, people get angry and don’t want to speak to me anymore,” she adds. “But I didn’t choose this…I didn’t take your spot.”
Navarra’s close friend, Chelsea Holmes, is quick to add that the disrespectful attitudes run surprisingly deep, even dropping to the level of name-calling. “Dirty backpacking hippies was actually the term,” says Holmes, a sophomore sustainability major. She points out to the road and says cars pull up alongside the building and people stick their heads out to yell insults. A few nights earlier, Holmes says she woke up to three bags of garbage outside her suites’ door.
To SBU’s mainstays, living in Lauterbur and Yang is apparently the same as having a permanent target on your back. The Southampton students were given first priority for housing and naturally, a majority of them chose the brand new buildings to help ease the pain of losing their entire campus and stay close to one another. Housing was one of the few points of condolence ushered by President Stanley when the announcement was made last April, but many main campus students feel betrayed for having to suffer through the noise and sight of constant two-year construction with no benefit.
But when looked at in perspective, it becomes easy to see that while dorm choice may be a large concern to the main campus’ student body, it is far from the top of the Southampton transfers’ list of priorities. “If you’re going to sit there and talk about how you have been inconvenienced, then that’s just the biggest joke I’ve ever heard,” says Holmes with an energy verging on explosive. “This is the least they could do.”
Holmes and Navarra stand at the edge of Lauterbur with a handful of their friends, almost all Southampton transfers. The scene is far from light – the constant hum of construction, the dozens upon dozens of orange construction fences all up and down the road, and the grey and empty landscape of a typical Stony Brook weekend blanketing everything in sight. They find it hard to believe that their environmentally focused education has to continue here instead of in the lush, secluded campus 40 miles to the east.
“How am I suppose to be a sustainability major in a concrete jungle?” asks Holmes. No one has an answer.
Believe it or not, the fact that Holmes even had a major to return to this fall can be considered a lucky situation. “My major, sustainable business, didn’t even transfer over. I just wasted money, a lot of us did,” says Navarra. Right now, she’s technically undeclared.
To the Southampton students, their environment was their world. The campus wasn’t just their home. It was the embodiment of their education, their new life, and their goals and aspirations.
“That campus was sustainability,” says Holmes. Off to the side of the group, Amanda Sylvester, 20, a junior environmental studies major who dons the same Southampton sweatshirt as Navarra, breaks her spell of silence, “We were living what we were being taught.”
Sylvester and the group start listing off the countless measures the school took to set a strong example for environmental sustainability and reinforce their flagship curriculum. Clara Perez, a sophomore marine science major, worked in the dining hall and recites a number of ways the campus cut back, from holding off on dish washing to conserve water and the use of fully biodegradable, and edible, silverware.
“I knew the second I walked onto that campus that this is it…the most secure thing in my life – my college education,” says Navarra. “It is something that I’m really and honestly passionate about and it was ripped out from under me without even a forewarning.”
“The major is a different way of life. The only way that things can get better is if people change the way they live,” comments Holmes on the whole ideology behind environmental sustainability. “That’s how it was out there. We were living the new lifestyle that everyone should be living.” Each and every person standing in the group, which is now growing into a bursting semi-circle of Lauterbur residents, expresses the same solitary fact – they chose Southampton over Stony Brook’s main campus for a deliberate reason.
“Here was the last place I wanted to be,” says Navarra. Her outlook, marked distinctly by the fact that she is the only one in the group to have had her major completely eliminated upon shifting campuses, is a complex mix of cynicism, sarcasm, and passionate resilience. “I came anyway; there is still my education.”
Two weeks into the first semester can feel like an eternity to even the most able of seniors. To the Southampton students, it’s not just a shift from a summer lifestyle to a school one, with classes, early-mornings, and the added responsibilities of living on your own. To them, all the negativity surrounding a whole new environment is doubled and magnified to an extreme.
With an inescapable label and the feeling of betrayal under their belts, it’s as if Stony Brook waged a civil war, forcing the prisoners to assimilate into and be consumed by the enemy. The Southampton students fought for their campus, for their lifestyle, and they lost. There was apparently never time, nor money, for a battle.
“Do you know how much it sucks to be fighting so hard for something you care about so much and your enemy is the president of your university?” asks Holmes. Her questions are razor sharp, honed from countless hours spent protesting and fighting the decision that was set in stone only days after it was publicly released to the student body. “…And then you are forced to come here.”
Sylvester somberly nods her head, “I’ve lost all respect for the administration, and any kind of trust.”
The September 4 ruling from judge Paul J. Baisley Jr., which deemed the Administration’s closing of the Southampton campus illegal, is the first victory in favor of those abandoned on SBU’s doorstep, but the future of the campus is still up in the air. That leaves Southampton students who are unhappy with their current situation pinned between accepting an environment and lifestyle they deliberately rejected and starting anew somewhere else. There’s always the chance that Southampton will reopen, but that means pouring time and money into unhappiness.
Liz Monahan, a sophomore marine vertebrate major, wants to return to Southampton just as much as any of her friends, but understands the reality. “If they reopen the campus, it’s not going to be the same because they ripped it out from under us,” she says. Looking ahead, optimism is almost non-existent. “Everyone is going to start to leave either next semester or next year and everything we built is going to be for nothing.”
With two weeks of experience, Holmes, a resident of the town of Stony Brook whose home is a mere 5 minute drive from campus, has been thoroughly weighing her options. “I know for a fact that I’m not coming back next year, “ she says. “So if Southampton doesn’t open after this year, I’m out. There is nothing here for me.”
As evening approaches, more and more people begin to file in and out of Lauterbur’s front entrance. Each and every time someone passes, Holmes, Navarra, and the rest of the group give welcoming greetings and waves, something they say is commonplace back at Southampton, even if you don’t know the person’s name.
So despite being outnumbered by a student body of over 20,000, with so many of them being transient, ghost-like commuters, the Southampton students are infusing the culture they have developed with their environment. It was how they’ve been taught; it is simply a way to learn, live, and grow with balance.
“It’s not a bad place. They’re a lot of really smart kids here…” says Holmes. “But long story short, it is not for us. We have established that we are not happy here.”