Campus bar C-Haus closes amidst safety, accessibility concerns
The rumors are true. The campus bar and music venue Coughy Haus (C-Haus) has been closed, at least for part of the semester.
The 2018-2019 academic year began with the announcement of Beloit Forward – the college’s response to its $7 million deficit. It also began with various posts on social media speculating about the decision to shut down C-Haus. Many of these posts were written by frustrated current and former Beloit College students mourning the sudden loss of a campus hangout spot. C-Haus has been open since 1971, and alumni shared memories online of listening to various bands in the basement while having a beer, eating mozzarella sticks upstairs and using the decades’ worth of graffiti as a background for photos with friends.
Some posts also blamed the Beloit Forward budget restructuring plan for the closing of C-Haus.
As the days went by, confusion around C-Haus’s fate continued. C-Haus student workers wondered if they were indeed suddenly in need of a new job on campus and others wondered how the supposed decision had been made.
It was at the Beloit Forward town hall on Aug. 27 that the issue was finally addressed. Former Dean of Students Christina Klawitter began the event with a disclaimer that the closing of C-Haus was not connected to Beloit Forward. Instead, a combination of events prompted a “pause,” Klawitter said. John Winkelmann, former Director of Residential Life, was the overseer of C-Haus. With his departure and the sudden resignation of the C-Haus manager, Darryl Smith’17, also known as Smiddy, over the summer, administration decided to reevaluate the space.
“The space needs a lot of work,” Klawitter added in a frank observation that was met with laughter from students in attendance. The plan, she announced, is to open the ground floor of C-Haus and keep the basement closed. It is unlikely that the basement will be reopened in the coming year; instead, the focus will be on remodeling and improving the ground floor.
With that disclaimer, Klawitter continued the conversation about Beloit Forward.
Since then, little news about C-Haus came until the first week of September when Beloit Student Government (BSG) announced a “town hall” to answer questions about the future of C-Haus.
The poster for the event stated “BSG will spend a few minutes describing our plan to get C-Haus operational. We’ll hang around and answer any questions you may have and there will be an opportunity to sign up to be a part of a committee that will plan and execute the renovation of C-Haus.” It also noted that the “first town hall of the semester” would be “insanely unconventional.”
Originally planned to take place on the ground floor of C-Haus, the event was moved after several students raised concerns about the inaccessibility of C-Haus. Students noted that much of the conversation about C-Haus has been centered around accessibility. In hosting the event at C-Haus, some students thought, these students who have been unable to use C-Haus would be unable to share their thoughts.
The event was eventually moved. However, it was not moved to one of the usual meeting spaces. Instead, the town hall was hosted at the outdoor common area known as the Wall.
The town hall was indeed “unconventional.” A DJ played music at full volume and strobe lights provided the only source of light at the event. Students there to ask questions glanced around, confused about when exactly BSG would be providing the information and opening time for questions while other students danced along to the loud music.
Danny O’Leary’20, one of BSG’s presidents, took to the mic and announced that the event was meant to be a “celebration” rather than a formal town hall. O’Leary reported that BSG would be donating $50,000 to C-Haus in order for it to open and renovate. BSG recognized that “without [C-Haus] student life is nothing” and therefore wanted to make it a goal to improve the space. O’Leary also announced that he would be leading a committee that would plan these renovations.
However, more information about this committee was not given. Instead, more information would be provided in the future, he said, and the committee would not begin until “after Fall Break” in mid-October – although Jen Walsh, Director of Student Engagement and Leadership, later refuted this. More questions about this committee would be answered at an event in Richardson auditorium sometime in the future.
In a separate meeting with The Round Table, Walsh addressed former C-Haus employees’ frustration at BSG leading the committee. Luke Zimmerman’19 asked “why BSG thinks they have the authority to make decisions about C-Haus […] WBCR makes decisions for WBCR. BUG makes decisions about the future of BUG […]Why do the other organizations get self-determination?”
Walsh clarified that firstly, “BSG has money” to work on C-Haus, and O’Leary had expressed significant interest in running the process to reopen C-Haus. Walsh also believed that the committee had to be led by “somebody who can be unbiased.” She noted that it would be as “if there was a committee deciding the fate of my department and I was the head of it.” She was not convinced they would be the best to facilitate conversation about C-Haus, Walsh added.
In the Student Board post, Walsh also explained some of the reasoning behind the closing of C-Haus. She stated that “the C-Haus building experiences issues around ventilation, accessibility and capacity. After 30 years of student use without renovations, it’s time to take a serious look at these issues and develop a working plan for improving this space to make it the best it can be for students.”
At the town hall, Walsh commended BSG for using “this gracious money,” provided by student activity fees, to make C-Haus better.
In the announcement for the event Walsh also addressed the concern about jobs in C-Haus. Several students were surprised to start the academic year without their student work job. “Student workers will continue working at C-Haus when it reopens later this semester. I have communicated this with students who have, and still wish to, work at C-Haus,” she said.
O’Leary and Walsh noted, however, that it is unlikely every student employee will get their position back. “The committee will assess the number” of student workers needed after renovations, O’Leary stated. However, because the basement will remain closed, it is probable that any employee with a position in the basement, such as bartenders, will not continue working there.
Neither O’Leary nor Walsh knew how many students will be on the committee. The process to select those on the committee will be led by both O’Leary and Walsh and likely through an application process.
For now, student frustration will likely resurface when the committee begins its work as soon as next week, Walsh said. Although several administrators and BSG have attempted to address the situation, many questions remain.