MacVittie College Union has been a place to come together for 50 years.

By Carol Marcy

See photos of the Union over the years in our exclusive photo gallery.

Celebrating 50 years this winter, the MacVittie College Union has been a gathering place since its grand opening in 1970. From morning coffee to lectures, LateKnight ice cream socials to impromp-tu dance performances, the union has always been Geneseo’s hub — a transformative space to chill, connect, explore ideas and play.

“The College Union is far more than just bricks and mortar,” says Charles “Chip” Matthews, director of student life. “It’s also a symbol of how important community is to Geneseo. When we’re faced with challenging times or times of celebration, the unity of this place brings people together.”

Matthews is planning a celebration for the 50th anniversary this winter.

During its first years, the union quickly became the heart of the campus, bringing in students to hear music and famous politicians and speakers. Students hosted workshops and other events, hung out, played Ping Pong and pool, and shared conversations over a meal. When dining moved to Mary Jemison Dining Hall in the early 2000s, Matthews said the College wanted to create a new “collision space” — an architectural idea that maximizes chance encounters with people who might not normally interact with one another.

The union now features space for student organizations to promote their work in the lobby under a collection of flags that represent every country from which an international student has studied at Geneseo and countries in which Geneseo students have studied abroad. People meet over coffee at Starbucks, in the Fusion Market eatery and rest in fun, interactive furniture (think a giant blue hand). The centralized mail room also brings students together, as do the student-run Kinetic Gallery and the offices for student organizations, volunteering and community service.

As advertising manager for The Lamron, Dan O’Brien ’73 had his office in the union, but his favorite memories were the concerts in the ballroom.

“I saw a number of bands and musicians, including Yes and The Byrds,” he says. “The concerts were part of a wide range of cultural and artistic events available on campus at little or no cost to students.”

Decades later, this is true.

“It is so important to have a place that nurtures our need to socialize, learn, perform, plan and start to map out our lives after Geneseo,” says College Union Student Manager Olivia Murray ’21. “The union is the place where every facet of our lives as students comes together.” Some spaces have changed, but the union is still a second home on campus.

Tessa Chefalo ’06 jokes that she spent the majority of her waking hours there, between her work as the former College Union manager, involvement in student organizations, and meals she shared with friends on the patio or at the café.

“Those hours yielded me confidence, challenges, purpose,” she says, “and many of the long-lasting friendships I cherish to this day.”

Union Fun Facts

• Lobby flags represent countries from which international students have come and countries in which Geneseo students have studied. The College has added 53 since the flags were introduced in 2003.
• The “banana man” sculpture as it is affectionately called, was created by Gen Sato ’08 and is of his father, who grew up in Japan and loved bananas but could rarely afford the imported delicacy. Sato’s creation is one of several student works in the union and speaks to the things we carry from childhood through our lives.
• Some 400,000 students have played pool at the Corner Pocket since 1970.
• The number of student organizations has grown from 84 in 1970 to 185 today.
• Nicholas Pesce ’12 created the large mural depicting local landmarks as a gift to for everyone who lives, works and studies at Geneseo.