The Exclusive Jaqua Center and the Perpetuation of Classism at the University of Oregon

Aaron Smet
6 min readMay 30, 2023

Disclaimer: This piece was written in 2014 and reflects the thoughts and observations of the author at that time. The description of the campus buildings and facilities, particularly the John E. Jaqua Center, pertains to the circumstances as they were in 2014. It is important to note that significant updates and changes to the UO campus have occurred since then.

One of the reasons I came to the University of Oregon was because I fell in love with the aesthetic that made up this university. I was well aware of Oregon’s renowned athletic program and was delighted to participate in its Nike-branded athletic atmosphere, especially the football games. However, during my first year, it became evident that there was an atmosphere of exclusivity created by these hallmark facilities, donors, and brand deals that put the student-athlete on a pedestal, which in turn created an atmosphere of disconnection between the students and the student-athletes on campus.

One of the facilities that represented this classism between athletes and non-athletes was the John E. Jaqua Center. The Jaqua Center was a state-of-the-art academic learning center that accommodated student-athletes at the University of Oregon. The John E. Jaqua Center was just one of many examples that perpetuated this idea of classism and created an unhealthy atmosphere between students and student-athletes.

The center contained over 40,000 square feet of space, including a 114-seat auditorium, 54 computer stations, 35 tutor rooms, 25 faculty offices, a computer laboratory, a graphics laboratory, 3D teaching laboratories, a library, and a café. The center was built during a time when new classroom and study space was in high demand.

The atmosphere throughout the building perpetuated this idea of classism.

To many students, the Jaqua Center was so different architecturally that it was sometimes thought of as a separate building apart from the university. Many students saw this eloquent building as a special hangout exclusive to the university’s seemingly most valuable, the student-athlete. The center was jokingly referred to as the jock box because it primarily served the student-athlete population. Aside from a small cafe, lecture hall, and restroom facilities on the main floor, the center was for student-athletes only. Many undergraduates were not even aware that they were allowed on the first floor. Although goducks.com presented the first floor of the John E. Jaqua Center as a great place for non-athletes to study, in reality, the atmosphere inside the building was quite intimidating. Unless your intention was to get a cup of coffee, there was really no reason for being there if you were a non-athlete. All of the computer labs, lounges, and libraries were on the second and third floors. The atrium contained an academic hall of fame to recognize past, present, and future student-athletes. For a non-athlete walking through the atrium, it was a blunt reminder of how glorified these 520 athletes were above the rest of us.

In my personal experience, when I walked into the Jaqua I automatically felt out of place. When I looked toward the front desk I saw a receptionist watching my every move. When I looked at the fireplace I saw a group of student-athletes conversing. The intimidation I felt every time I walked into the Jaqua inevitably reaffirmed this idea of classism.

On goducks.com, the official website for Oregon athletics, the Jaqua Center was described as a place where student-athletes gathered as a community focused on studying and learning.

I understood that athletes needed academic services that catered to their busy schedules. However, exclusive buildings like the Jaqua Center only perpetuated the idea that these athletes were better than the rest of us; when in reality, we were all here to earn a higher education.

Moreover, this sense of exclusivity represented an unequal distribution of funding. The Jaqua Center showcased the wealth gap between athletic facilities and undergraduate buildings on campus. In my experience as someone studying computer science, the computer lab in the Jaqua Center was said to have 60 Mac desktops each in its own wooden cubby, yet the computer lab in Klamath Hall, which was reserved for computer science majors, had about 30 Mac desktops sitting on white tables. While most of these student-athletes were not computer science majors, they were seemingly treated as such with over 60 Mac desktops in a lab that only student-athletes could access. Clearly, there was greater importance placed on upgrading facilities for student-athletes rather than upgrading the deteriorating classrooms for non-athletes. While 520 student-athletes were showered with the best the university had to offer, the other 20,000 undergraduates were left wondering which group of people the university really wanted to succeed.

Since the university made most state-of-the-art facilities exclusive to student-athletes only, it perpetuated this idea of classism. There was no denying that the university’s athletic success was what brought in the most money for the school to maintain its facilities. But how come student-athletes couldn’t use the same facilities, tutors, and guidance counselors that the rest of us used? The athletic department wanted its student-athletes to study together, house together, and practice together, separating a segment of the population that again, only perpetuated this idea of classism.

Being an athlete for the University of Oregon was the equivalent of having a full-time job. Many athletes drove cars and were not seen on campus simply because why go to class when you could take it online and rest your body at the same time? This was an option many athletes deployed which in turn disconnected them from the campus almost entirely. The closest many athletes got to going on campus was hanging out in the Jaqua until their tutoring was finished. I would be willing to guess a good amount of these athletes simply did not have the time to explore what they were interested in during their freshmen and sophomore years due to time constraints. Very few athletes participated in clubs, governments, Greek life, and other extracurriculars that made up a big part of the college experience.

As a student-athlete, one of the perks of choosing Oregon was that I was showered with Nike gear. The most notable piece of gear a student-athlete could wear was the famous Oregon backpack. Nothing said I’m a student-athlete quite like a dope Oregon backpack. I once came across a female who said she had been on the Oregon softball team. When I asked if she had the famous athlete backpack she responded yes but noted that she never wore it because undergraduates would rarely talk to her, citing that the backpack would inherently make her intimidating. It was a status symbol.

It was truly unfortunate that the most eloquent building on campus could only be fully accessed by student-athletes who made up less than 10% of the UO community. Students wanted to be a part of something beautiful. Limiting access to such a beautiful building perpetuated this idea of classism between undergraduates and student-athletes. When I was a prospective student touring the University of Oregon, I fell in love with all of the innovative buildings around campus. Buildings like the Jaqua made me excited to attend the University of Oregon! It wasn’t until I arrived that I found out that the most beautiful building on campus was reserved for student-athletes. Unfortunately, for myself and 20,000 others just like me, the most state-of-the-art facilities this University had to offer would never be fully accessible to us. If the University of Oregon continued to emphasize this wealth gap through exclusivity, the effect would inherently cause a perception that student-athletes were the elite among us, better than the 20,000 other undergraduates at this school.

My dream is that one day the most eloquent building on campus, The John E. Jaqua Center, would be accessible to everyone.

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