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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Movers arrive at the Mecha De UW-Madison house on Wednesday, Nov. 15 to empty their house. Mecha's new location is on the second floor of the Red Gym in the Multicultural Student Center, and programming will restart on Nov. 21. 

Mecha de UW-Madison temporarily relocated to Red Gym

Mecha de UW-Madison moved from its location on Bernard Court to the Red Gym for at least one year due to looming Levy Hall construction.

Mecha de UW-Madison has moved from their house to an office space in the Red Gym for at least one year due to Levy Hall construction disruptions. 

The university-owned and managed Mecha de UW-Madison house, located at 206 Bernard Court, is a former home near the business school. It allowed substantial space for students in Mecha to gather for events and study.

map of levy hall

Courtesy of UW-Madison.

“There are student murals all over the walls, with prominent figures that highlight activism, there are cultural symbols, all kinds of artwork on the walls attesting to some experiences and how we express ourselves,” said Mecha’s house committee chair, who asked to remain anonymous.

Mecha’s house was deemed unsafe during initial construction of the hall after a structural assessment of the house raised concerns about the existing building.

Jenny Bernhardt, UW-Madison communications director for the vice chancellor of student affairs, told The Daily Cardinal the Latine student organization will reevaluate a move back to their home in a year based on several factors. Factors include “an evaluation of the construction’s impact on the Mecha house, the cost of any repairs” and the results of a cultural center review.

Concerns over Mecha’s displacement have persisted for some time. Last year, students from the Indigenous Student Center and Mecha de UW-Madison spoke at a town hall on the rumored displacement of their centers for Levy Hall construction. 

Conversations with Mecha leadership, campus planning administrators and Office of Student Affairs staff continued over the last year, according to a university timeline. Delays in the construction of Levy Hall and studies on the construction continue to change Mecha’s future.

The organization’s new home is an office in the Red Gym. Students were originally unhappy with relocation to the Red Gym.

Mecha leadership said they chose the Red Gym after a back-and-forth with the university despite the solution not being their optimal temporary home.

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“We had been very vocal from the time we found out about our house being in jeopardy that we did not want to be sectioned off with all of the other multicultural and marginalized student groups into one space,” the house committee chair said. “I don't think that it reflects this idea that the university values its multicultural, marginalized or minoritized students.”

Administrators put the organization on a strict deadline to choose their temporary location and then pushed back the timeline for the entire project, the leader said. 

“We were pretty upset to receive a notification that our decision-making timeline had been cut so significantly,” the house committee chair said. “Not only that, but after we scrambled in two to three days to have this decision made and ready to go, we found out that the timeline was pushed back again.”

Mecha said the Red Gym was also a better physical space for the organization because they will benefit from a closer relationship with the Multicultural Student Center (MSC).

Plus, it wasn’t near a cadaver lab, like another alternative they said the university offered.

“We were offered a basement storage area in [the medical sciences building] with exposed pipes and one single small window,” the house committee chair said. “We're surrounded by a lot of support in the Red Gym — we've got the MSC right there.”

Mecha’s history of displacement

This is not the first time the university displaced Mecha. The home on Bernard Court was allocated to Mecha after the Hamel Music Center disrupted the organization’s previous location in 2011-12, according to the university timeline.

Ismael Cuevas, who was involved in Mecha from 2007 to 2011, recalled fights with the university when Mecha was last displaced.

“What happened a decade ago, it's something that has continuously happened with student organizations on campus, specifically organizations for people of color,” Cuevas said. “When we've created a few spaces so that we can thrive on campus, a few years later, the university has turned their back on students.”

“It seems like every decade or so, the student population has to stop going to class and stop almost all of their studies fighting for our survival of staying on campus,” Cuevas added.

Although Cuevas graduated by the time Mecha moved into their house on Bernard Court, he said his brother was a part of the generation who moved in. 

When people asked Cuevas why he was advocating for a new home for Mecha that he would not see or use as a student, he shared his hopes that future generations of students in Mecha would have a space of their own on campus. 

“The Wisconsin Idea is not just going to UW football games, it's not just being at the end of the graduation and taking a picture with Lincoln. The Wisconsin experience was also the Mecha house, and I wanted my little brother to enjoy that legacy that we left for Mecha,” Cuevas said.

As early as 2016, conversations began again about another potential displacement for Mecha.

“That's all strategic because [the university] knows that they are a revolving door of students,” Cuevas said. “Every four years, they are going to have a new generation.”

Maintenance, the future of the house

A possible parking structure on the site will be considered in future campus planning periods, according to a statement from UW-Madison. However, this would need to pass a multi-step approval process.

Concerns about the condition of the Mecha building have persisted for some time, according to the house committee chair. In a structural study from last summer, Mecha’s two-story porch was “identified as a concern” regarding safety during construction, according to the university timeline.

The porch will be removed and repaired before Levy Hall construction, and vibration and settlement monitoring will be performed during construction, according to a statement from Lori Wilson, UW-Madison Facilities Planning & Management communications and marketing director.

Students were also aware of widespread issues with pests and uncleanliness, according to the house committee chair. Maintenance tasks — the responsibility of Facilities Planning & Management — often fell onto students.

“Our house has been severely neglected over the years. There's been a lot of problems: water damage, other issues with plumbing, the foundation is poor,” the house committee chair said.

“I have a video on my phone of a bat flying through the room, ironically on a day when we were supposed to have a meeting with administrators about the house. So it was kind of funny to say we had to move the meeting today because there was a bat in the house.”

The Mecha board member noted that the loss of their community space is a loss for both their organization and other organizations on campus who have partnered with Mecha, such as Dreamers of UW-Madison or Students for Justice in Palestine.

“One of the beauties of having an autonomous meeting place is that we get to decide who comes in and out. We've opened up our house to organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, especially as they've been facing the genocide of their relatives abroad,” the house committee chair said. “We're consistently an afterthought… It shows and it says a lot about how this university treats its brown, Black and Indigenous students.”

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Noe Goldhaber

Noe Goldhaber is the college news editor and former copy chief for the Daily Cardinal. She is a statistics major and has reported on a wide range of campus issues. Follow her on Twitter at @noegoldhaber.

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