It’s 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 8. Bundled up in thick winter coats with hands nestled in their pockets, students walk past the Union, a building that dates back to 1969. Others, perched on bikes or skateboards, whiz past the main entrance – all except for a young man and woman. The woman tries to open one of the doors, but it refuses to budge. “Student Union closed as of 12/1/2016,” a sign on the door announces in capitalized red letters – closed for a three-year renovation.
The Union was a place where students could study or kill time at Starbucks, grab late night burritos or take classes and final exams. The rooms for clubs, dining areas, offices, religious services and foundations are now vacant but have preserved years of memories.
There’s the WUSB 90.1 FM radio station, where Chris Greening, a freshman physics major, said he played music and lent a hand with live broadcasts.
“The first day that I was here, the Saturday of freshman orientation, he [Greening’s suitemate] invited me into the studio and we just hung out until 3 a.m.,” Greening, who was able to talk on air during the last 15 minutes of that day’s show, said. “Shooting a breeze.”
Years before, another student, standing outside the radio station on the second floor, had a different thought.
“Wow, this building was constructed before Bill Gates founded Microsoft,” Gabrielle Martin, a senior psychology major, said.
The building housed one of the two on-campus Starbucks stores, which attracted hundreds of students, like Eric Engoron, a 2015 graduate of Stony Brook, who could be found sipping a grande vanilla iced coffee, or, more often than he liked, stuck in one of the Union’s two elevators.
“I got so used to being stuck in elevators that, instead of like getting nervous, I would just put in my iPod and go to sleep,” Engoron, who has cerebral palsy and uses a mobility scooter to move around, said. “It was a good place to take a nap.”
There’s also rooms 248 and 249, which are divided down the middle for the male entrance and female entrance, where Muslim students, like junior biology major Farhin Haq, could pray to Allah. For Haq, the place was particularly special – a second home, where she said she felt welcome when she was a new student.
“Bismillahi rahmanir rahim,” Haq, speaking so softly that the person beside her in the prayer room could not hear, would say – “I’m starting my prayer.”
And it was a place of reunion, especially for Gregory Muller, a junior health science major and transfer student from Suffolk Community College.
Three or four semesters ago, Muller ran into a friend from SCC, with whom he had lost contact, who was now a fellow student at Stony Brook University, wearing an SBU beanie in the Union. The last time Muller had seen him was more than a year ago.
“I sat down, [was] about to eat and I just looked up. And I saw him,” Muller said. “A place like that – you wouldn’t expect to find somebody that you know.”
It’s 4:44 p.m. now – just past twilight. Another person strides to the Union entrance and tries to open the three doors, moving from right to left – even pushing the blue button for handicapped access, all to no avail. For now, only the shadows of reflections glide across the Union’s transparent doors.