At first glance, Squires Student Center seems like an epicenter of movement on Virginia Tech’s campus. With a parking lot that gives new definitions to cut-throat, Colonial Hall holding endless introductory lectures, the few feet between Au Bon Pain and Burger 37 making it harder to choose to eat healthy with every passing day and a bus stop that sees every line known to Blacksburg, neglect would be the last word you would think of to describe it. However, take just one more staircase up and you’ll find an eerie emptiness. You may notice just a few people on couches (though they’ll only be filled when it’s finals week), some quiet offices and not much more. Yet, these barren halls house the many art and humanities programs our campus offers, despite the fact that many people don’t even know about them.
The Collegiate Times has taken the initiative to hand distribute print copies of our newspaper. I opted to pass out papers outside of Dietrick’s, where the most common response was, “we have a newspaper?” In contrast, back in Squires, other members of the staff are already working on the next issue, a process that will take countless hours in just the span of a week. Occasionally, we’ll catch a glimpse of our neighbors as we walk through the hallway. At WUVT, the door is always open, with someone scanning their back rooms with an admirable determination, though they’ll surely smile back as you pass by. The sounds of an a capella group practicing their music tirelessly is almost omnipresent, even though you’ll have a hard time trying to figure out where exactly they’re coming from. Fliers for The Bugle are posted throughout the hall reminding people to order their yearbooks.
Playing a game of word association with Virginia Tech may bring many things to mind. You can’t walk a few feet on this campus without hearing about chicken parmesan, Frank Beamer, Cassel or Foundations of Engineering to which many of us would like to say, “please stop complaining about having to write a paper or do a group project because literally every college student ever has had to do so.”
Sure, we excel in these things, and it’s great that we pride ourselves on them, but you do have to wonder why we are so hyper-focused on food, sports and STEM. There is far more diversity on this campus in our student bodies’ talents and skills. Perhaps if we recognized and celebrated our different specialties, we’d find even more.
As an interior design major, junior Raelynn Maier said she “always had a passion for the art whether it was painting, drawing, photography, but after I took a drafting class I found that I love the more architectural side of art, and so then after talking with a family friend and my counselors I found interior design ,which was that perfect amount of architecture and art for me. I will be honest; at first, I thought that interior design was more of picking out finishes and furniture, but then I learned that that is more interior decorating, and interior design is creating spaces for the user the thrive in.”
Students like Maier are what make Virginia Tech stand out. Her projects are unique and special to her individuality and her time here as are the works of the countless other creators on campus. Exclusive to Virginia Tech, an artist may be inspired by the Duck Pond or Main Street and apply their personal style to their depiction. A piece like that isn’t something that will be replicated at another university. It represents our school in a way that will always be specific to us and who we are.
Yet, when you think of the word underappreciated, you might think of the art programs at Virginia Tech, but you probably don’t because no one really thinks of them at all. While the designer may see the redrawn-and-discarded-and-redrawn sketches, pricked fingers, hours of model fittings and endless dress rehearsals when they look at the fashion show that they have dedicated themselves to, any other student just sees some event happening in Squires. But, as long as there’s no free food there, there’s no reason to care. The stacks of magazines sitting in the stands represents a writer’s artistry and hard work channeled into just a few sheets of paper, a production team’s meticulous work and a shared passion for the project among a team. For the passerby, it’s just not somewhere they can throw away their coffee cup, assuming they are a decent passerby. As someone who has picked up a copy from those stands, it is safe to say there are many not decent ones and potentially a caffeine problem on this campus.
Like many others who have chosen to pursue their creativity in college, Maier finds herself often having to debunk people’s stereotypes and assumptions. She explains, “I wish people knew that I will do more than just decorate their houses for them because I can't even count how many times I have gotten asked the question of ‘you are going to redo/redecorate my house after you graduate right?’ Interior design is the work of creating a space to support the user in their everyday lives whether it’d be through work, live or play.”
There isn’t just one reason to blame for our lack of understanding of the importance of art. We’ve become centered on certain fads that reinforce the status quos of the college experience. With sports, it’s the promise of partying on Center Street, a reason to believe you’re superior to your counterparts at other colleges and the discussions of the games that proceed with an inflated intensity and importance as if they’re hearings at the UN. Frankly, no one is pregaming a play, competing with other schools over a literary magazine or discussing a fashion show like it’s the Super Bowl.
Maier compares our campus treatment of sports to the developmental arts. “Everyone knows our football, basketball teams but not everyone knows, for example, the team that help create the FutureHAUS. When I would be walking across the Drillfield when they had the FutureHAUS set up, I would over hear students be like ‘what even is that’ or ‘why is that there?’ This is sad because the work and design in it really has the capability to change how we design homes and how we look at sustainability.”
Whether it’s thedesigns and breakthroughs of award-winning FutureHAUS or Burruss Hall from a new perspective, art reflects the individuality and devotion of people, and we should appreciate the fact that we have so many artists who create for our community. Our programs stand on their own, fully capable of expressing and representing our campus in a way that the conventional things can’t. Just as you would cheer on your favorite player, boast about a technological advancement or savor chicken and waffles at Turner, you can do the same for the arts that paint our school in a unique, beautiful way.