The University of Connecticut Storrs campus was recently voted fifth among campuses with the “most dark academia vibes,” a distinction seemingly unfit for this university that has been growing and developing for 142 years.
There’s a reason why this ranking has left many heads scratching. Beyond the fact that they put a positive spin on the cold, rainy days in Storrs and claimed that this college town is home to 11 bookstores when there are only two, they also say that UConn can be considered “dark academia.” The term “dark academia” refers to the old, mysterious and classical experience of higher education. Such a distinction, however, ignores the buildup of campus.
That “buildup” is literal. Not one original academic building remains unaltered, and for those that stand today, only a small section of them were deliberately constructed in a classical or colonial style.
This is a matter that extends beyond the architecture, however. UConn is an institution that has a distinct story and student culture that cannot be categorized — one that can, at least in part, be told through the buildings around campus. So, while UConn may not have a universally charming exterior, it’s the story on the inside that counts.
The first place to see that story lies in the heart of the campus: Homer Babbidge Library. When you first approach the behemoth of a building, it’s difficult to be impressed. Its brutalist style makes it look like a massive wave of brick and cement, but its great significance lies within its moniker.
Named after UConn’s eighth president, Homer D. Babbidge, the library commemorates someone revered for his leadership during its period of great change. Babbidge oversaw an increase in the library’s collection to one million copies, a massive increase in the student body, a rise in professors’ salaries and a greater focus brought to the study of liberal arts to expand the school’s academics beyond agricultural studies. Even through the era of student protests during the 1960s, Babbidge remained popular with students. This unseemly building holds an important story of UConn’s evolution, academic growth and the developing voice of the student body.
As you move towards the northeast corner of campus, you’ll find yourself looking at a building that is an odd hybrid of two very opposite eras in the school’s history: Storrs Hall and its Widmer Wing combine to create the home of UConn’s extraordinarily competitive School of Nursing.
Storrs Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus, originally acting as a dormitory. Built in 1912, Storrs was designed in a colonial revival style, but the Widmer Wing visually opposes that classical beauty. The Wing was built in 2012 to expand the School of Nursing and was named after Carolyn Ladd Widmer, the school’s first dean.
While the buildings don’t fit cohesively, they symbolize growth from UConn’s origin and display a mix of the old and the new, each playing a massive role in UConn’s history and cultural makeup on campus.
Though Storrs Hall no longer houses students, a trip westward takes you to a place that does. North Campus was constructed in the 1950s following a rise in student enrollment that stemmed from the post-World War II G.I. Bill. Though the entire dormitory lacks distinct features and is outdated, residents there created a place to call home: “The Jungle.”
That old charm of The Jungle has been lost through the years, but even so, North remains a place for thousands of students to make their first memories at UConn, establishing a home for a rich start to student life despite its indistinct physical aspects.
As you stroll to the middle of campus, you’ll find the physical and cultural epicenter of student life at UConn. Constructed in 1952, the Student Union stands as a massive building with many new and modern additions, representing UConn’s growth over the years. As its name suggests, “the U” is home to student life. Here, students find their place through both personal and community-related interests, such as with cultural centers including the Asian American, Puerto Rican and Latin American and African American Cultural Centers. This is where students are provided a place to join cultural communities at their home away from home.
Even though its original grandiose appearance has been lost to the new additions, it continues to enrich both the academic and personal facets of student life to create a thriving college community.
So, it can clearly be said that UConn doesn’t fit into the “dark academia” mold. UConn does, however, hold a unique story told through its building development that details the rise of the university and its students. A distinct student culture is created and memorialized here, and it’s done behind every ugly brick, cement and metal wall on the Storrs campus.