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Debate over what to do with Agnes Arnold continues

A sign reading "Access Restricted" in front of Agnes Arnold Hall.

Access to Agnes Arnold Hall has been restricted following two recent deaths there. | Malachi Key/The Cougar

Following the death of a student last month at Agnes Arnold Hall, the building has been temporarily closed to student access.

Shortly after the student’s death was made public, anyone trying to enter the building would find themselves met with blocked stairways and signs reading “Access Restricted.”

As the building sits empty, students and faculty alike have sparked pitched discussions over what should be done with a building that seems marked by tragedy.

“No boards, no nets, UH must want us dead,” was one of several chants featured at a recent protest, referring to some students’ opinion that the University neglected to adequately restrict access to the building following the student suicide in February.

“The university’s inability to respond in an appropriate or timely fashion about suicides in Agnes Arnold hall is shameful,” said Middle Eastern studies professor Emran El-Badawi. “Had this happened back in 2017, we would have thanked the administration. Now it is too little, too late.”

For El-Badawi, who has taught in the building for the last 10 years, the recent incidents bear echoes of a similar suicide several years prior, but his concerns about the historic structure run much deeper.

“[The building] is a decaying colossus housing departments in the humanities,” El-Badawi said. “Its antiquated ‘open-air’ architecture gives the public free access to seven floors through over a dozen entryways and is entirely unsecured 24/7.”

Agnes Arnold Hall was constructed in 1967 by Kenneth Bentsen Associates and was designed entirely by graduates of the University’s College of Architecture and Design.

Named for the daughter of University benefactor Roy G. Cullen, the building was considered cutting-edge for its time, featuring Brutalist influences, a unique “corduroy” textured finish on the concrete, and even escalators that were later replaced with stairs.

While the structure was thoughtfully designed, El-Badawi said that it has led to increasing issues as the building has aged, including flooding, physical and sexual assault on the premises and a fire that damaged around two dozen office spaces.

“The effects of each suicide, security breach, and continued malfunction upon faculty and staff have been devastating,” El-Badawi continued. “There is a feeling of widespread helplessness and betrayal, especially as the Humanities undergo more budget cuts.”

Many students echo El-Badawi’s concerns, but some fear that focusing too much on one building distracts from more pressing issues surrounding how mental health is handled on campus.

“The anger feels misdirected,” said nursing freshman Alicia Thomas. “Let’s say the building does get shut down. Does that really help? The actual focus here is mental health, knowing how to spot when someone is struggling with it and how to cope with it.”

The University did unveil plans in 2017 to update Agnes Arnold and other older buildings on campus with construction to begin in Summer 2024. But for some faculty, the anticipated changes are simply “too little, too late.”

“The faculty and staff have expressed that they want Agnes demolished or totally renovated from top to bottom,” said El-Badawi. “The administration has said all options are on the table, but again, there is no money for Agnes Arnold, CLASS, or the Humanities.”

The University has assembled a task force to discuss what to do about the building, and they are expected to make their recommendation by May 15th.

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