Well the Spring semester came to a close and a few thousand relieved graduates crossed the stage at the end of the Roost stadium. Campus was quiet for a few weeks between sessions, but now the summer session is in swing and prospective freshmen are again wandering the campus in wide-eyed innocence. I reckon that means it’s time to resume our own Campus Tour highlighting interesting spots on campus.

Truth be told, most tours for prospective students start at the Edgar Garland Student Center. The student center was completed in 1969 and is a popular campus destination for killing time. From the outside it may look like just another plain, two-story, rectangular building. Inside, students can get their fast food fix in the food court, pick up necessities in the overpriced convenience store, buy and sell textbooks at the bookstore, and avoid studying at the small movie theater or game room. In fact, if you come to college without wheels you can find just about anything you need (or at least the essentials) without ever having to drive off campus.

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the first floor, the quieter second floor hosts offices related to some student services and various sized meeting rooms used by clubs, study groups, and the occasional couple looking for privacy.

While all of those features are fine, most student agree that the best part about the student center has nothing to do with what’s indoors, but what isn’t. You see, deeper inside lies a huge, open courtyard with a fountain, modest shade trees, and patio furniture. Although the building walls block much hope of a breeze, the trickling  fountain offers relief from oppressive Texas heat and lulls studying students into peaceful torpor. The same can’t be said, however, during football season when fans cram shoulder-to-shoulder for raucous pep rallies and ceremonially dunk the mascot in the fountain.

Although campus legend claims that the courtyard is haunted, level-headed naysayers claim the ghostly voices are only an acoustic trick. After all, to hear anything unusual the courtyard must be near-silent–which usually means at late night when the courtyard is empty–at which time one can sometimes detect phantom conversations presumably funneled from unseen corners of the building. The “courtyard ghost” is also a popular and sometimes elaborate prank, making it even harder to know if there’s a kernel of truth behind the stories. Maybe one day it’ll all be explained.

Regardless of spooky nighttime noises, the student center is a designated “safe zone” and is open 24 hours a day.  Students who feel in danger after dark are encouraged to take shelter there and call campus security. In fact, a sign at the main entrance reminds students of the “triple s”: seek Shelter, stay in Sight, and call Security. As long as you stay alert and play your cards right, one day you’ll be one of those relieved seniors crossing the stage.

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That is, if your city is near Indianapolis (mine sure isn’t) and “soon” means August. Yours truly (Preston) will be making my first trip to  GenCon this year. Needless to say I’m really excited and I’d love to meet as many 12 to Midnight fans as possible. I’m running three games (Brainwashed, Chickens in the Mist, and Sorority Secret) and to my surprise all three have filled. I’ve tried to leave enough time in my schedule to hang out, try some games myself, and maybe run a pickup game here or there if plied with sufficient incentive. If you’d like to meet up, have a beer, or just put a face to a name (you’re not missing much– just imagine Brad Pitt and we’ll both be happier) shoot me an email and we’ll work something out. In person I’m an introvert so unfortunately I can’t promise scintillating conversation, but I’ll do my best! Probably the best way to find me will be by stopping by the Studio 2 booth, where I’ll check in multiple times a day.

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From the outside, the most striking features of  ETU’s DuBose Aquatics Center are the bas-relief carvings of sailing vessels and divers which frame the entrance. Students who answer the carvings’ call to adventure find a pleasant but less ostentatious interior. The single-story building offers a training pool for diving and swimming, as well as an Olympic pool with two sets of bleachers. The adjacent outdoor recreational pool is popular with students in the late Spring and early Fall semesters but during the Summer the sun’s rays heat the shallow water to the temperature of a warm bath. At that point students who are desperate to beat the heat usually retreat to the “Lost Pond”, a natural, spring-fed pool in the heart of Pinebox green space known as Crenshaw’s Woods.

Although construction of the the Aquatics Center was completed in 2004, the entrance’s distinctive bas-relief carvings harken from the school’s original natatorium which had been built in Neo-Classical style. The original natatorium was the last campus building to be completed prior to the Great Depression and by the time money finally loosened up again after WWII, architectural trends had changed. Its distinctive, classical design (as well as cool waters) made it a beloved campus landmark. While the outside boasted bas-relief carvings of wooden sailing ships, sea creatures, and brave divers, the interior was every bit as impressive. An enormous statue of King Neptune loomed over visitors in the lobby and both indoor pools were lavishly decorated with murals depicting lifelike mermaids and other sea creatures which alternately beckoned or threatened swimmers.

Sadly, in the late 1950s the beloved natatorium suffered from a seismic event that rendered it structurally unsafe. Administrators arrived to work one morning to find numerous puddles throughout the building and both pools cracked and half-empty. Engineers determined that the soil beneath the foundation had shifted, causing in effect a “mini earthquake”. Not only were the pools cracked, but the foundation and walls as well. Tragically, the beautiful murals overlooking the pools experienced some of the most violent structural damage, looking practically smashed in places. Although the building was condemned for safety reasons and eventually destroyed, students mounted a campaign to save as much of the old building as possible. Unfortunately, with the murals destroyed and the statue of Neptune misplaced in the confusion, little remained that could be salvaged except the bas-relief designs.  These were carefully removed and placed in storage until a replacement natatorium could be built. Ironically, the old site didn’t stay vacant for long. After many surveys and much bulldozing, the Ravens basketball arena–the Roost–was constructed on the site of the old natatorium in the early 60s.

Yet, for nearly 50 years campus politics and shifting priorities pushed a replacement natatorium down the priority list. During this period the swim team trained on open water at Lake Greystone, about which the less said the better. Let’s just say it was “character building”. It wasn’t until a wealthy alumnus with fond memories of the natatorium left a donation for a replacement that a proper swimming facility finally returned to campus. A university archivist eagerly directed architects to the still-warehoused bas-reliefs, allowing designers to create a building that acknowledged earlier times. Sadly, other than the carvings the DuBose Aquatics Center shares little of the glamour of its predecessor. Even so, students are glad for a place to swim on campus and the ETU swim teams are thankful for being able to practice without getting mud between their toes.

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Not only does ETU require Freshman and Sophomore students to live on campus, but the majority of the dormitories are still single-sex. While the practice may be less “enlightened” than other campuses,   many young women and men say they feel more relaxed and “at home” without social pressures inherent with living in close proximity to the opposite sex.

Built in the mid 1990s and still in relatively good condition, the Danford Male Dormitory is one of the more sought-after dorms on campus. Danford is also the largest male dorm on campus, at five stories tall. Each floor has its own common area with a wide-screen tv, game console, couches, and even some compact workout equipment. The ground floor includes a mail room and an oversized common area with a pool table and vending machines. Building access is restricted to student ID cards keyed to their dorm.

Unlike older buildings at ETU, Danford offers few urban legends to titillate its residents. The most notorious is the prank residents call “feeding the beast”. It seems that students figured out how to use a giant, home-made slingshot to lob items at the dorm’s giant air conditioning condenser units positioned next to the building. These large machines, surrounded by a locked, steel privacy fence, use large spinning fans to exchange the heat from inside the building. However, students found entertainment in lobbing leftover food into the fans’ path for a spectacular spray of watermelon, spaghetti, or whatever else was sorted that night in the dining hall.

Obviously Feeding the Beast wasn’t popular with the campus maintenance crews, so it became a once-a semester prank the Danford men saved the night before the first final exam of the Spring semester. According to legend, the problem began shortly after the turn of the millennium. The story goes that the Danford men had fed “the Beast” several plates of scraps, when a genuine beast shuffled through the darkness to feed. Depending on who you talk to it was either a big dog like a Great Dane, a young black bear, or bigfoot. Whatever it was, the creature was drawn by the smell of food and charged right into the cheering crowd. Before they could sort out what happened, several young men received deep, bloody scratches and one had to be taken to the hospital with bite marks. The animal was never caught and probably faded right back into the Big Thicket after feeding.

Although a Danford men were still game to follow traditional the following year, there wasn’t much enthusiasm and it looked like the prank had finally run its course. However, the morning of Finals maintenance crews found numerous scratches and dents in the security fence protecting the air conditioning condenser units. Worse, the upper half of a Danford resident was found atop “the beast”. The bottom was never recovered, but campus officials and local law enforcement officials ruled the poor resident had been the victim of an alligator attack.

Ever since, the Danfords carefully follow tradition and Feed the Beast the night before finals. These days it’s a quick affair with not a lot of fanfare. Just a sacrifice to unknown forces for the sake of “good luck”.

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Formerly the English building until 1995 when that department moved into the new Lansdale Language Center, this worn   building now serves students in police sciences, pre-law, corrections, and social services. Although superficially renovated after the English department moved out, this somewhat dreary two-storey building still reflects its long use dating back to 1962.

Although the building offers a number of classrooms and faculty offices, the most notable feature of the Criminal Justice Center is a working courtroom used for misdemeanor cases. When the court first opened in 1995 it saw cases for felonies as well but the practice was halted in 1999 when suspected murderer Jeremy Bell managed to take hostage a student court secretary. After a five hour standoff in which Bell and hostage Nicole Allen were barricaded alone in the courtroom, deputies risked storming the room to find Bell dead and his hostage comatose. Although Nicole Allen eventually recovered and finished her degree, she claims amnesia of the event due to traumatic stress.

Although the building offers an elevator to the upper floor, most faculty and students prefer to take the flight of stairs located near the front entrance. Maybe it’s due to the relatively cramped size, the peeling paint, or the series of groans and rattles each time the elevator creaks from one floor to the next, but many people claim to get an unsettling feeling from the time the elevator doors close to the time they open again. Particularly imaginative English majors used to claim that the groans and rattles didn’t come from stressed metal but something wanting in as the car passed through spaces more metaphysical than what could be described between floors. The practical Criminal Justice majors that followed scoff at the idea as drug-fueled hallucinations from hippy English majors. Still, few use the elevator.

 

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