Designated spaces create division among students


Catherine Braman

Members of the Class of 2015 line the junior benches on the first floor. “If I need to find a junior or sophomore, I have a good chance of finding them [at the benches],” Upper School history teacher Mollie Ward said.

A freshman makes his way through the hallways, looking for a place to do his work. He approaches a long bench outside the upper level of the library. Wanting to check over his math homework, he is told that only sophomores can sit there.

He strolls down the stairs and sees another long bench outside the lower library and across from the technology department. Thinking he can sit down and check Veracross, he is now told that these benches are for only juniors to use.

Feeling a little frustrated, he ventures back down the hall, pokes his head in a room across from Señor Castellanos’ classroom, and mistakenly ends up in the senior lounge. Designated spaces exist at SPA. These spaces may appear open to everyone, but in reality it may not feel like it all of the time to all students.

The history of the modern designated spaces started with the creation of the senior lounge. According to the Dean of Students Judy Cummins, the Class of 2002 proposed having a space just for seniors. The students presented the rationale that a senior lounge would provide a place to build a sense of community within the class and that it would be a privilege for seniors to have their own space. The administration honored the request and the senior lounge emerged. “The sophomore and junior benches happened when we put new lockers in the school in the early 1990’s. Students congregated near the benches located by each of the sophomore and junior lockers,” Cummins said. She added that freshmen traditionally did not have much free time to hang out in a certain space because study halls and a more structured environment.

However, with the new academic schedule, many ninth graders seem to be gathering in the gym foyer area.
According to both students and faculty, there are advantages to having designated spaces. Upper School history teacher, Mollie Ward said “If I need to find a junior or sophomore, I have a good chance of finding them [at the benches].”

Cummins added that “these spaces create a feeling of community and are a place where everyone feels welcome.”

A lot of students enjoy gathering with their classmates. Sophomore Lexi Hilton sits on the benches during her free periods. “I like having a specific area where I can either work alone or with others [on schoolwork].”

These spaces also have some drawbacks. One concern that Cummins mentioned was that students who use the benches and the senior lounge can be loud and disruptive to the students in nearby classes. Since it is kind of a social space, students sometimes leave papers, trash, and even laptops around these areas.

Sophomore Anna Biggs commented that there is not enough room on the benches for the entire grade. She prefers going to the library because it is quiet and it is where her friends go. “The benches are nice, but they’re loud and distracting,” Biggs said.

Even though the spaces for sophomores, juniors, and seniors are intended to be places where everyone in each class feels comfortable, one concern is that they are exclusive in nature. Could there be students who feel uncomfortable sitting on the benches? There may be some perceptions that only certain groups or cliques are welcome in these particular places. Cummins emphasized that the designated areas should not be for one social group. It is evident that while students may be reluctant to say anything, they do not feel comfortable or welcome in these spaces. They find their own areas within the school that they consider their own “designated space.”

From Hilton’s perspective, she does not think that the benches are exclusive or inclusive. “Students can sit there if they want, but they don’t have to.”

One place on campus that is designated for all students to use is the Summit Center which is located on the second floor near the admissions offices. With several tables and couches in this area, students from all classes use this space. “This area is a really open and welcoming to the community. Anyone can stay here and collaborate on homework or just talk with each other. People from all grades and all backgrounds come here to relax and study,” junior Sandhya Ramachandran said.

The benches and the senior lounge provide a social outlet for students, as well as an area to study with friends. It would be a bonus to have more of these integrated spaces for students on campus. While that is an unlikely possibility, Hilton did have a suggestion: pillows for the benches.