For a campus sometimes referred to as a “concrete jungle,” a little extra green space at the University of Illinois-Chicago might seem like a welcome addition.
A 2018 UIC master plan calls for tearing up the paving stones on the East Campus quad and replacing them with grass — creating an “invigorating heart of student life.”
Some students don’t see it that way. A dozen or so set up a makeshift camp in the quad Monday, saying tearing up the grass — planned for this week — is unnecessary at best.
“The main concern is the grass because it is a central hub, not just for gathering, but also for commuting through campus. And so when you add a giant, elevated grassy area, it kind of creates problems for people trying to get where they need to be,” said Roni Lee, a student protester.
Lee also said that the grass would create a hardship for people living with disabilities.
“Keeping it accessible is really what we are looking to do because once you start having grass and ramps, that limits who is able to come,” Lee said. “Access is equity.”
An rendering of the proposed UIC quad. | provided.
Lee said approximately 1,000 students, facility and staff have signed a petition opposing plans for the quad.
In a statement, the university said the renovation won’t hurt accessibility on campus, which is connected by sidewalks throughout.
“The current proposed renovation design for the University of Illinois-Chicago quad, a familiar gathering space in the heart of campus, is ADA compliant; incorporates several inclusive and universal design elements for parks and plazas; and will improve the sustainability of campus,” the statement said. “To ensure that accessibility standards were met, the university hired Chicago’s pre-eminent accessibility consultant, LCM Architects, to review the design.”
The university has held a series of town halls and has made changes to the plans, but Lee said administrators have not fully addressed the protesters’ concerns.
That includes those of Rubi Valentin, another student protester, who said the plan “makes absolutely no sense.”
She thinks the goal is to limit students’ ability to get together.
“The only reason to do that is to obstruct students gathering,” she said.
“The beautification of the campus — I understand that. And that’s supposed to attract prospective students and community,” she said, “however, it’s not like [that] for the students who are already here.”
Lee said she planned to be in the quad to protest all week.