Elevating the Experience

Kicking off a new program to spruce up spaces on campus and boost the residential experience, the College renovated Mephistos Lounge in Willets Hall over winter break.  

Out is the 70s rec room feel — the dark wood paneling, worn furniture, the random piece of art that seemed tacked onto the wall. In are a flat-screen TV, a sound system, cafe-style high tables, gaming consoles, and brightly colored walls and chairs.

“It looks a lot better,” says Jack Ryan ’18, of Longmeadow, Mass., seeing the new space for the first time. “This feels much more inviting and more open, somehow. I’m definitely more likely to spend time here now.”

The update was spearheaded by the Space Matters committee, consisting of students and staff, recently commissioned by Dean of Students Liz Braun. The committee's mission: get the most of existing spaces on campus.

“Let’s use what we already have — it feels very Quaker,” says Rachel Head, assistant dean and director of student engagement. “The Matchbox and [the Danawell lounge expansion] are great additions to our community, but you don’t always have to build something new.”

The committee toured social spaces around campus and explored questions such as “what was working about the space, how it could be improved, and whether there were any opportunities to expand its usage or make it work better for students,” says Braun.

They zeroed in on Mephistos, in part to provide a comfortable space for Willets’ high concentration of first-year students, but mainly to reach the space’s full potential.

“We wanted to create a flexible space that can support a range of programming,” says Head.

Among the additions is a small stage with lighting and amplification, perfect for poetry readings, singer/songwriter performances, or class presentations. Students can gather in front of the TV for screenings or sporting events, slide the new chairs to the side to create a rehearsal or dance space, and test their skills at the pool table.

“We’re meeting them where they are and doing what we can to enrich their experience,” says Head.

Early reviews have been positive. For Bella Levine ’18, of Louisville, Ky., Mephistos went from afterthought to a place “people will definitely enjoy more now.” Resident assistant (RA) Katherine Zavez ’17, a math major from Winchester, Mass., has rarely used the lounge but in her three years in Willets but now looks forward to sharing it with students “looking to unwind and/or study in a comfortable environment.”

Student input fueled the renovation process. RAs and residents became intentional designers, offering suggestions for the walls, lighting and furniture, A/V capabilities, and space flow.

“They really took charge of both the aesthetics and functionality, right down to making sure that the floor had the right bounce for a rehearsal space,” says Head.

Thrilled with the outcome of its first project, the Space Matters committee will soon get back together to identify its next target.

“It’s a part of our ongoing initiatives to improve and create social spaces on campus to facilitate positive interactions and connections between students,” says Braun, “and help to promote taking a break and taking care of themselves.”