Rooms to Grow

The value of spaces that bring people together.

illustration of various small groups of students enjoying beverages, studying with laptops, and talking by Marco Chin

Last summer, a group of us who worked at the Daily Collegian in the early 1990s gathered in State College. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in almost 30 years, but it took mere seconds to revive our connections. Photo albums circulated, memories surfaced, laughter ensued. We carried on into the night, smooshing into sofas around a fire pit at the Tavern, shoving together tables at Zeno’s.

The next morning, we met up at the Willard Building for a tour of the new Bellisario Media Center, guided by current Collegian editor in chief Megan Swift. (PSA: Whoever hires this bright, personable woman will not be sorry.) We ooohed and aaahed as we pressed our faces into the glass to gawk at the studios and recording facilities. We got a kick out of the memorabilia-filled display dedicated to college namesake Donald P. Bellisario ’61 Com. “The parents all like that room,” Megan said. And we—we’re … parents now!?—did like it. The technology and opportunities now available to students blew us away.

We were giddy until we reached the Collegian office space on the second floor, a small suite of offices and a large table in an open space shared by the whole college. Yes, newspapers have changed, but I wasn’t the only one who expected to see something resembling our newsroom in the old James Building downtown. Maybe not with the towers of yellowing newsprint, greasy OIP boxes, and sticky Vermonster buckets (IYKYK), but absolutely teeming with people, noise, and energy. A space that invites students to create, mess up, fix it, argue, nap, run a business, meet future spouses, and build a foundation for life after college. Working in that newsroom was deeply formative; we figured out how to bond with others, overcome conflicts, and work as a team.

I am a parent now—one in college, one in high school—and that non-newsroomy newsroom poked at something I’ve been fretting about. I worry that our kids’ jobs, and their lives, will be more remote than in person, that many of the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay. Between virtual school and social media, many of our kids are struggling to know how to exist in real life. Will they have regular access to rooms full of people? If not, how will they learn to function with (and, sometimes, in spite of) others?

Where will they meet their people? The ones to work with, party with, travel with, live with, and reune with 30 years on?

Maybe what I felt when I left the new Collegian was as much nostalgia as nervousness. Maybe our kids will redefine IRL, and it will be sufficiently baffling, challenging, and fulfilling. Maybe I just can’t see it yet. I just hope they find themselves crowding way too many people around a table at wherever their Zeno’s is, staying up later than their 50-year-old selves deem appropriate, laughing at the core memories that were the bedrock of their adulthoods.


Rebecca Fishkin is the web content editor for a nonprofit foundation in Princeton, N.J.