A decade in the making, ASUC Student Union officially reopens

With the snip of a scissors, a giant gold ribbon wrapped around the ASUC Student Union dropped to the sidewalk Tuesday afternoon, allowing a celebratory crowd to enter the shiny new facility — and a new era of student life at Berkeley.

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A ribbon is cut on the ASUC Student Union, and the crowd entered Eshleman Hall for an opening ceremony. (UC Berkeley photo by Josephine Wu)

“This is a new beginning … a new space, with new opportunities to grow,” Lavanya Jawaharlal, ASUC executive vice president, told students, staff, faculty and alumni who gathered in the lobby of Eshleman Hall for a welcoming event that included speeches, refreshments and live music.

The modern, reimagined complex — 10 years in the making — smartly ties together the renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building (MLK), a rebuilt Eshleman and a more inviting Lower Sproul Plaza. Called the ASUC Student Union, the complex has been opening in stages since fall semester began, but is now complete.

It houses a spacious “living room” and “dining room” where students can meet and socialize; rooms for studying, collaborating, meditating, dancing and attending student organization meetings; the ASUC’s headquarters; a store for buying books and Cal gear; four ATMS; a bike repair station and new bike racks; two coffee shops and four eateries, plus an upgraded Bear’s Lair pub; and two concierge desks. Students will have access 24/7, except on holidays.

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Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates called the complex “fabulous” and an important anchor for Telegraph Avenue. (UC Berkeley photo by Josephine Wu)

In 2010, students voted to impose an escalating fee on themselves, in perpetuity, to pay for a big share of the $223 million project. Construction began in 2012.

The word “fabulous” was used several times by ceremony guest Tom Bates, the Berkeley mayor, to describe the day, the architectural design and the complex itself. It “anchors Telegraph Avenue,” he said, adding, “We really needed this beacon” for Southside Berkeley visitors and residents.

“You guys really are the future,” he told students, “and I’m so proud to be a Cal alum and connected to this building.”

Other speakers included former ASUC President Donna-Jo Pepito, former Graduate Assembly president Miguel Daal, Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland and, via video, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande.

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Students, faculty, staff and alumni listened to speeches in a festive Eshleman Hall lobby. (UC Berkeley photo by Josephine Wu)

Koshland praised the “remarkable partnership” between a decade’s worth of students and campus administrators, faculty and staff, who “shared a vision, goals and responsibilities” to create the complex. Several guests mentioned former Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s work with students on memorandums of understanding that launched the project. He was a “chancellor who wanted it to happen,” said Daal.

Student leaders involved over the years gained experiences that included collaborating with architects and deciding how to allocate spaces in the complex, and some, said Koshland, “even put their dissertations on hold, started families and still managed to graduate.” Jawaharlal, a senior, said she put in 20 to 30 hours a week, worrying her parents but broadening her Berkeley education.

Alumna Pepito’s involvement as a student leader led to her career path – today she is the ASUC Student Union’s commercial space coordinator – and her proud role as emcee of the milestone celebration.

“We are confident of the future, and in the enhancement of student life left to come,” she said, dispersing the crowd for self-guided tours and a second round of free coffee, cookies and commemorative chocolate bars.

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Free cups, chocolate, coffee, coupons and other giveaways quickly disappeared. (UC Berkeley photo by Gretchen Kell)

The festivities continue through Friday, with free and discounted food offered by ASUC Student Union restaurants. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., food samples from the eateries are free for the tasting in the 200-seat MLK dining room.

In addition, $3 specials at student union restaurants will be sold all day every day through Oct. 30 — ficelle sandwiches at Root 150, chicken tenders and tots at True Blue Burgers, a veggie bowl at Asado, a pizza slice and soda at House of Pi and snacks at The Bear’s Lair.

At a student union booth at Sather Gate, students also can pick up fall coupons and enter giveaways, including for a flat screen TV and Warriors game tickets.

On Saturday, (Oct. 31), “The Huddle: California Football Fest” will start at 10:30 a.m. on Lower Sproul Plaza before the noon Cal vs. USC game. Featured will be an Oakland Raiders’ DJ, a photo booth, student performances, a poster-making session and a Cal Student Store sidewalk sale.