Memories of SSU
Dorms, Community Council and Associate Students
In fall of 1976, when I arrived on the campus, Sonoma State was still a small liberal arts and sciences institution that promoted the cherished tradition of open communication and good personal relationships. I was a freshman and soon it became apparent that was not the norm; rather the campus was heavy with re-entry and older students. I had rented an apartment on Commerce Blvd and rode my bike to campus through what was mostly countryside. The one main shopping center was Safeway, there was also the Exchange Bank located on the corner.
There is always a little bit of destiny in things, my path seemed to lead directly to SSU. Over time I began to figure out the system. At the time the students ran the residence halls and the slogan used most often was the “run by the students, for the students.” Although we had administrators in place, the philosophy of the director had been to be hands off and to let the students run the dorms as they liked. They had established a Community Council that met weekly in the Orange Pit and this group decided how things were to be handled. One of the ways they provided staff was to offer half off your room and board if you signed up to work in one of the jobs they offered. Not a bad deal, you could work a set number of hours each week and get half off the cost of your room and board.
For the most part, this system worked quite well and even if some of the staff was having a little too much fun with things like room assignments. What was wrong with putting four Daves in a four-person unit? They all had different last names, right? My conclusion was that they also matched up opposite requests on the check in forms and had a good laugh about that too. All in good fun, and living there was just that. The atmosphere was relaxed, convenient, and it really was like a little village and some people seemed to be permanent residents. The power structure was centered in the group of old timers who would all sit together at a round table in the cafeteria.
At this time KSUN radio was located in the middle of the dorms. Soon one of my friends got me inside and I learned how to make reel-to-reel tapes from all the records (yes, we are talking about vinyl). We would use these tapes to have a party up in the cafeteria after all administration had gone home. They would check out the keys for the cafeteria to us and let us make snacks so we would make a table full of chips and dips, vegetables, trail mix and punch. Once in a while there would be two bowls of punch, one with something special added. Since this was primarily for residents, we could help ourselves to the supplies. Non-residents had to pay a dollar to get in and this money was turned into the community council fund. Once the reel-to-reel tape started rolling we would have a four-hour party until 1:00 a.m., then we would clean up the place and put all of the tables back into place. At these dances the cafeteria would be packed and at times students would spill out into the courtyard. One thing about students is that they love to party. When we could afford to we would hire a band to entertain us. The campus public safety would come to check up on us, but as long as the show was running smoothly they too participated in the hands off philosophy.
During the time of the Community Council, Sonoma State Collage lacked any official student representation at all. The Community Council considered the residence halls to be our own island, and we were different from the main part of campus. But of course all good things must come to an end.
The administration created a task force that recommended the dissolution of the Community Council and instead reinstated the power to the full time staff. Resident leaders decided that we needed representation in this new structure the administration was creating on the other side of campus. The dorm leaders approached me to run in the election. I had the feeling they were far too controversial themselves. I, on the other hand, was new to the scene and the only thing the administration knew about me was my involvement in putting on the dances in the cafeteria. Little did I know how much that choice was going to change my life.
Once I decided to run in the election, it became important to figure out what was really going on in the main part of campus. As I pieced together the story, the old student government had disbanded in 1970 and placed all of their assets in a trust fund. The complexity of the intervening incidents is reported in the Rohnert Park Clarion of September 14, 1979 (“SSU trust fund report – no money”), Sonoma County Stump of October 5-12-1979 (“SSU Student Trust Fund: A Kafkaesque Web?”) and involved bookstore management, audio visual and office equipment, and $2,500 cash, as well as state funds for construction of an interim student union. As an official representative of the students I inherited a potential lawsuit against the administration and the CSU. My original intention to make sure that the dorms had some representation, however, it blossomed into a nightmare.
The administration had provided close to no money to call our own. The Executive Committee decided to use our small start up budget to attend the California Statewide Student Association meeting to get oriented in the world of student government and the budget was gone immediately. But attending CSSA was a good thing because we were put in touch with Student Trustee Kevin Gallagher. He told us that the first order of business was to re-write the constitution that we had been gifted. He helped us streamline the document and also draft a measure to put the student body fee back in place: These two measures were put up to vote at the second election, both passed and it was at this moment that the Associated Students really got back their power. The fee was $10 per semester.
Prior to launching the election and after identifying some of the lost items and other problems, including becoming convinced of the futility of a lawsuit, a deal was brokered with the administration. By 1981 the students had a new office and their own budget. That year the top vote getter was Fernando Nugent and I was second: president and vice president. However, Fernando was quick to inform me that I could continue to run the Associated Students and he would continue to concentrate on his major interest, the Intercultural Center.
Other controversies centered on relations with the residence halls, and in my mind I worked for the students. Football players, cheerleaders and fraternities became issues. When a yearbook was initiated it was assigned to me after the first edition by the Dean of Students. One year we dedicated the yearbook to “the green fields we used to roam,” those lands once rich in hay, oats and purple vetch farmed by Forrest Benson who later established a scholarship fund for deserving students attending SSU.
My favorite professor was Sally Ewen. She sat me down in her office one day and told me what I needed to do to graduate. Go directly to the bookstore and purchase English Simplified and The Elements of Style, next take every class that is offered at the Tutorial Learning Center. I listened to her and did what she said. On the day of my graduation I thought of her. She had already passed away due to cancer, but she stood with me that day, as my mentor.
Each phase in the growth of this campus has come with a mixture of tales, from accomplishments to pranks. Precious are these memories and I will treasure them always.