More Than Just a Million Bricks
Red Square is the heart of Western Washington University’s campus. It is a crowded hub for outdoor studying, snacking, chatting, and relaxing. On warm days, this busy social center never seems to calm down. People sit along the large fountain waiting for their class to begin, while others skateboard and bike around the square. Sometimes there are booths advocating for different clubs or social issues. Other days, there are musicians whose music can be heard throughout campus. Between classes, people use Red Square as a walkway to get from one place to another. But as classes begins, the square becomes vacant almost instantaneously. As a first year student, I love to watch this happen every day. That’s not the only thing that makes Red Square such an interesting place to visit. I have yet to find another place so compact that has such a large and unique presence of community. These are the reasons why Red Square is one of my favorite places to meet people throughout the state of Washington.
Coming into WWU, Red Square has been my favorite spot. This is partially because of the events that frequently go on here. At the beginning of the year there was an info fair held in Red Square with booths from almost every club that the university has to offer. Thousands of people attend this fair and as a result, it brings the campus together (see fig 2). There is also an annual underwear run in October where upwards of 500 students run into Red Square with only their undergarments to jump into the fountain. Although it is the events that are bringing people together, Red Square is the perfect place to do these activities. In an article written by Lynn A. Staeheli, she explained, “…a place is the result of the layering of activities that constantly make and remake it.”. This further proves that Red Square is defined by the annual events and daily activities that this location hosts. Staeheli then went on to say, “…place, in this sense, describes the social positionality of an areal unit…” This simply means that the physical location carries an identity and set of norms that the people inside of the location willingly abide by. If you sit back and watch, you will be able to tell that this location helps people connect, build a further sense of community, and create friendships.
People watching for a moment will prove that people value this community space. You can see this when they stand there for hours, asking you to vote, donate blood, sign a petition, or even take a moment to learn about their religion. While I have seen people doing these activities in other locations; such as the Seattle Center, there is just something different about the people at Western.
If you are unfamiliar with the Seattle Center, it is home of the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, the International Fountain, Experience Music Project, and much more (see fig 3). Not only is it a common tourist attraction, but also a city center. Red Square acts a lot like the Seattle Center and other city centers due to its foot traffic and the activities that happen every day.
What makes Western’s Red Square different then then Seattle’s city center is our unspoken definition of community. Here, community represents friendship and the welcoming of strangers. When there is negativity, it is swiftly shut down. When there are demonstrations, we accept them. And when someone says “hello”, we say it back. In the end, it isn’t about the events, it is about the people in this area and the place where everyone comes together to meet.
Contrary to Red Square, the Seattle Center, and other Seattle areas, have a phenomenon called the “Seattle Freeze”. “Newcomers to the area have described Seattleites as being standoffish, cold, distant, and not trusting.” (Gates). People tend to be polite but not friendly and willing to make a connection with people.
WWU students are incredibly different, causing this school’s center to have a completely different atmosphere than a city. For example, when negative protestors spend the day in Red Square. Upon their arrival, the public handles the situation respectfully, while advocating for people who take the negativity seriously. Students come together to make everyone feel safe and welcomed again. Sometimes they do this in the form of a sign. I have seen signs that say “free hugs” or “everything will be okay” in order to combat the negativity (see fig 4). Another student dressed up in a costume to add comic relief and brighten everybody’s day for just a moment. This community of strangers who want people to feel safe is an extraordinary thing to see. The love that’s reciprocated is even more fascinating. People hug the sign holders and give them encouragement. The humor, sense of belonging, and continuing positive connections is what makes Red Square my favorite place on campus.
WWU freshman, Griffin Boyle, also titled Red Square as his favorite spot on campus. He described it as “a neighborly place that gives people an excuse to talk to each other.” He then compared his home town, San Francisco, to this area. “Honestly, it is way easier to make friends here. I will skate around for a minute and people will just naturally start to join me.” Griffin’s example is just another reason why this center is such a sociable place.
In the end, it is Red Square’s community, heavy foot traffic, and friendly demeanor makes it a perfect place to meet new people. I love watching people actually stop to ask what a petition is about, or take the time to learn about what a booth is advocating for. This place has a type of community that just cannot be replicated; even in Washington’s largest city. Red Square has been a wonderful place to start friendships and has provided a far more hospitable and welcoming environment than other central areas, like the Seattle Center. So, if you are ever in Washington, I highly recommend you stop by Western Washington University’s Red Square, as it is a great place to experience community and meet new people.
· Jim Gates (March 17, 2014), Is The Seattle Freeze A Real Thing?, KUOW