Campus Joe

Campus Joe is a biweekly column from Oracle columnist Joe Polito that explores random spots on USF’s campus. How does it work? Polito throws a dart at a large map and goes there to find a story.

To be completely honest, my first few dart throws this week didn’t even hit the map.

One veered to the left, landing where my roommates and  I  estimated  The  Todd Couples Superstore on Fowler Avenue would be. The next fell short of the map right near Busch Gardens.

The first dart to connect on the campus map landed smack in the middle of what I call the undergraduate anthill — Russell M. Cooper Hall.

The sun was shining and students were everywhere — sitting on the benches socializing, passing through on foot, bike and longboard and shuffling in and out of the building’s many classrooms. Hungry consumers stood in line at Subway, which pumps the scent of freshly made sandwiches through the air conditioning vents.

Walking up, one can see signs advertising fraternities and a stand for the College Republicans that reads “Fire Pelosi.”

Trenton Spears, a junior majoring in criminology, glanced down to read some of the chalk-scrawled messages on the concrete. He said he transferred to USF this semester from the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

“This one’s a political ad for Alex Sink — I don’t think I ever saw things like this at UWF,” Spears said. “I’ve definitely endured more political conversations since I moved.”

From the outside, not much in Cooper’s usual inflammatory displays have changed.

Take a step inside, however, and one can see that this isn’t the same old Cooper. Renovations began this summer, giving the populated hub for the College of Arts and Sciences a much-needed revamp.

Shiny new tiles line the inside halls on the first floor, fresh paint coats the walls and doors and new furniture outfit the classrooms.

In front of the first-floor dean’s office is a cardboard display showing future plans for Cooper and the surrounding landscaping.

The “before” and “after” pictures look promising, but I couldn’t help laughing. The two pictures look exactly the same except for a few bright floral displays photoshopped into the “after” pictures.

The second floor looks as brand-new as the first, with large pictures of USF and its students lining the hallways. When I hit the third floor, it was back to the Cooper I know and love — feels like a prison, looks like a large storage closet.

The first classroom I peeked into had an old piano shoved in the corner. In the hallways leading to various offices were other old pieces of furniture — seemingly placed on the third and fourth floors so as not to be associated with the brand new chairs and desks on the first two stories.

The fourth floor has one of my favorite rooms — the Memorial Reading Room for Steve Yates, who was a mass communications faculty member and served as The Oracle’s first general editor in 1966.

This mini-library is shelved with volumes of various books and a few archaic television sets. Everything looks old and the light flickers in the corner, but it’s a very peaceful spot to get things done if you are stuck in Cooper.

It does say “Mass Communications Faculty Only” on the door, but I’ve never been kicked out.

Ariadna Lobo, a sophomore majoring in international studies, sat alone listening to headphones and working on her laptop for her online world religions class.

“For me, most of my classes are here in Cooper, so it’s better than fighting for a spot in the Library,” Lobo said.

The building is a symbol for the transition stage our university is undergoing right now. Some of it is old; some of it is new and striving to improve — one fresh coat of paint at a time.