Filed Under Places

SUB I

Student Union Building I, Mason's First Student Center

Students today know SUB I as the place where their student ID cards are issued and where they can grab a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. However, when it opened in 1974, it was first building of its kind on campus and the place to be. The Student Union Building was the first building at Mason conceived entirely with students in mind. It provided dedicated spaces for student clubs, government, media , leisure activities and services.

The original Student Union Building (today known as Student Union I or, simply, SUB I) was announced in January 1968 and was the first building at Mason intended to be entirely for student use. It provided dedicated space for student dining, student clubs, student government, student publications, and other student activities. Unfortunately, the building project was delayed for four years, due to difficulties gaining budget approval in the Virginia Legislature. Phase I of the Student Union Building’s construction broke ground on March 1, 1972. The building’s cost was estimated at $1.9 million at the time (about $9 million in 2023). However, upon completion, the Student Union's operating costs were to be supported predominantly by student fees. To achieve this, President Lorin Thompson added a "building fee" to tuition fees in 1973. By 1974, the Student Union was 97% student funded.

Because students funded the Student Union, they expected that the building would be entirely for student use, and that they would be engaged in decisions regarding its operation. However, the Board of Visitors and new Mason President Vergil Dykstra’s administration had its own plans for the building’s use and students’ inclusion in its governance, leading to conflicts and controversies before and after opening. For example, the Board of Visitors hired the Student Union's director without considering students’ input, although they had participated in the interview process. In addition, they relocated administrative offices for student services to the Student Union and opened its student-only dining room to faculty. Furthermore, the Board of Visitors unilaterally changed the building’s name from Student Union to University Union. Their decisions prompted backlash from students who felt they  were funding the building with the understanding that it was for them.

When Phase I opened on February 1, 1974, it housed the offices of Career Planning, Financial Aid and Placement, Campus Ministry, Honor Committee, Student Government, and the University Union Director. The 40,000 square foot space also included meeting rooms, study lounges, spaces for student clubs and activities, a game room, a bookstore, a cafeteria, a card room, a television room, a music room, telephones, and an information desk. In addition to the amenities advertised by Mason’s administration, the Student Government ran a coffee house program in the building that featured live poetry and music on Fridays. The Student Union replaced the Ordinary and provided students with a permanent hangout spot. By the end of the school year in 1974, the Broadside noted that the building “glowed with activity” late into the evening.

Although students were grateful for the building, resentments simmered over the lack of communication from Mason’s administration. After the building opened, students voted to change its name back to the Student Union, and the presence of administrative offices in the building remained unpopular. Tensions over space in the Student Union reached a breaking point in the fall of 1974. Students found out that the administration planned to relocate the Campus Ministry to use its office for a newly hired scholarship placement assistant. As a result, the Student Government circulated a petition against the relocation of the Campus Ministry. Those who signed the petition said they were signing for students’ rights to give input in decisions regarding the Student Union Building. Within two weeks, the petition had five hundred signatures from students, faculty, staff and administrators. The three-week controversy between Mason students and administration regarding autonomy over the Student Union Building concluded when President Dykstra canceled the Campus Ministry’s move and gave the new staff member a smaller space until the completion of Phase II’s construction.

Construction on Phase II of the Student Union Building I began on January 1, 1974. It opened partially in May 1975 and completely in the summer of 1975. Phase II added 40,000 square feet to the building, doubling its size. Existing student clubs, fraternities, and student services received expanded space. Phase II added new amenities like a clinic, a counseling center, an arts and crafts center, a bank, dry cleaning, and a pub. The Rathskeller, Mason’s first and only student pub, operated in the Student Union from 1975 to 2019.

Phase III, which added to the back of the building, was completed in 2011. This additional space allowed the Registrar’s Office to move from the Chesapeake Module behind Fenwick Library into the Student Union. Many amenities originally located in the original Student Union eventually moved to Student Union Building II (The Hub) or the Johnson Center, but it retains its student focus and many original services and amenities. Financial Aid, Career Services, Health Services and the Counseling Center are still in the original Student Union. The building’s stairways look the same as they did in 1975, retaining the original walls and floors and still functioning as a place to hang posters and advertisements. In addition to the aforementioned student services, students new to Mason or craving waffle fries visit the building for the Mason Card office and Chick-Fil-A.

Images

Students in the plaza in front of the Student Union Building
Students in the plaza in front of the Student Union Building Students walk and sit on the benches outside Student Union Building. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 17, Folder 45 Creator: Jerry Boyd Date: October 19, 1978
Student Union Building under construction
Student Union Building under construction Two vehicles are parked in front of the Student Union Building under construction, view from the side facing Fenwick Library. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 9, Page 4 Creator: Michele J. Rubenstein Date: August 30, 1974
A sign labels the Student Union Building “Finley Building of the South” as a silent protest against sharing the building with administrative staff
A sign labels the Student Union Building “Finley Building of the South” as a silent protest against sharing the building with administrative staff A large handmade protest sign hangs in the top floor windows of the Student Union Building. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 9, Folder 15 Creator: Keith Dorset Date: September 17, 1974
Career Day in the Student Union Building
Career Day in the Student Union Building Recruiters speak to Mason students on Career Day, including a recruiter from Korvettes department store in the foreground. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 9, Page 32 Creator: Stefan Dobrowolski Date: October 9, 1974
Patriots Day celebration in the Student Union Building
Patriots Day celebration in the Student Union Building Several individuals dance while a live band performs inside the Student Union. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 15, Page 50 Creator: Myrna Garza Date: October 14, 1977
The Godfrey Moore Dancers, a George Mason University student group, perform in SUB I, as part of Mason's Black History Month celebration
The Godfrey Moore Dancers, a George Mason University student group, perform in SUB I, as part of Mason's Black History Month celebration Eight dancers pose on a stage in front of a banner. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 20, Page 18 Creator: Paul Torpey Date: February 29, 1984
Parade of Flags during International Week, an annual Mason tradition
Parade of Flags during International Week, an annual Mason tradition Students carrying flags of various nations line up in SUB I. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 26, Page 93 Creator: Andy Woodall Date: April 5, 1999
Hip Hop dancers in Student Union I
Hip Hop dancers in Student Union I Three hip hop dancers participate in a performance in the lobby of Student Union I. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 22, Page 9 Creator: Unidentified Broadside photographer Date: circa 1990s
Student protesters sing and dance in Student Union Building I at the rally in support of the GLBT Center
Student protesters sing and dance in Student Union Building I at the rally in support of the GLBT Center A student stands on a chair singing expressively, while three other students hold up flags in front of a poster that reads, "GLBT CENTER NOW!" Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 22, Folder 50 Creator: Tom LeGro Date: November 18, 1996
Student walks by the south-facing side of Student Union Building I
Student walks by the south-facing side of Student Union Building I A student walks by the south side of SUB I. Mason's original student housing, the Student Apartments, are visible behind the trees on the left. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135 Box 27, Page 110. Creator: Unidentified Broadside photographer Date: Fall 1999

Location

Metadata

George Mason University Past and Present Team, “SUB I,” The Mason Experience: Past and Present, accessed June 17, 2024, https://pastandpresent.gmu.edu/items/show/7.