Fans of the famous Willard Straight free popcorn can rejoice — the Willard Straight Student Union Board brought back the cherished tradition this semester, along with several other events.
Willard Straight Hall has a long history as a hub of student activities, serving as a place where students can gather and relax outside of classes. However, during the COVID pandemic, many changes were made in the historic building including the browsing library being transformed into a testing center and a lack of in-person community events.
According to Ansel Asch ’23, president of the SUB, it was difficult for the board to plan activities and organize large events last year due to COVID restrictions and a lack of active board members.
“Our primary responsibility is planning in-person, large-scale events and it’s very difficult to recruit people when you can’t do that,” Asch said, also commenting on how many experienced members graduated during the pandemic, leaving a knowledge gap of how to organize events.
The club has seen a large increase in participation this semester. According to Kevin Lu ’25, SUB treasurer, there are now over twenty general body members that attend weekly meetings, and a strong sense of community has developed among the members.
“We have had a meteoric expansion [of membership],” Lu said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the club and it’s nice to get the student union community back together.”
Avery Look ’25, SUB secretary, said that though it’s been challenging to plan events due to the lack of members with experience in pre-pandemic event planning, the group has nonetheless succeeded due to its members’ skills and willingness to learn.
Look also stated that the SUB has already held several events this semester. As part of a series of “TGIF” events held on Fridays, a Harry Potter themed night was held on Sept. 30, which included cookie decorating, free butterbeer and a trivia station with prizes.
“That was really successful and we had lines out the door,” Look said. “We have a great team who comes up with these amazing ideas which is why we’ve seen an increase in turnout this semester.”
The SUB has members from a diverse range of majors and backgrounds who take part in the organization out of passion and to engage with the community, according to Asch.
“A lot of people aren’t doing [SUB work] for their career or for their resume,” Asch said. “I think the biggest reason people are involved is because they actually really want to see things happen on campus.”
Austin Ping ’24, SUB vice president, said that the ability to plan and put on events is a strong drawing factor for new members.
“Since we’re getting more members now, we’re giving out the freedom of designing and planning these events to G-body members so they get to turn their ideas into reality,” Ping said.
Another recent achievement of the SUB has been the return of popcorn in the WSH lobby, which was a staple pre-pandemic. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and Monday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., students can stop by Willard Straight for a fresh bag of popcorn, free of charge.
“Popcorn is a big thing we’ve been wanting to do for a while and it’s at last made a resurgence,” Lu said. “I think the great thing about popcorn is that it lets all of our members get to see on a small scale what we do, and it has a really strong bonding effect in the community.”
While handing out popcorn is a relatively small weekly event for SUB, larger events require more elaborate planning. According to Look, event ideas start from brainstorming sessions, and then a few members are assigned as organizers. After getting approval from the Office of Campus Activities, it takes around two weeks to get events set up, which might entail ordering items, reserving a space or contacting performance groups.
In the future, students can look forward to the Halloween event, which will take place on Oct. 30. It will feature a professional haunted house in the Memorial Room, face painting, pumpkin painting and caramel apples. Beyond that, the SUB will continue to hold events for the remainder of the semester, including a potential multicultural night and a rock and geology event.
“All our events are free for everyone here. We don’t make any profit, we want students to feel less stressed and relax and enjoy their days here,” Ping said. “That’s why we’re doing free stuff and just hoping to make people happy.”