On Campus After Dark

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

The moon takes its place in the sky, sending a light to guide those still be out. Stars poke pins of light, sending tendrils down to life like some interstellar Lite-Brite.

Perhaps you had a late class. Perhaps you were meeting friends. Perhaps you just like to walk in the inky silence. Whatever the reason, you’re out, touring SDSU after dark.

Wednesday night is calm and clear. Breath hangs in the air, and the cold leaves a pleasing sting in the eyes. Outside the foreboding Lincoln Music Hall, sprinklers click and whir, fighting to keep the grass green for a few more weeks before snow settles on the ground and leaves only the green tips visible above the snow.

Above you, the Campanile blinks red to warn low-flying aircraft, though not many ever fly over Brookings by night. The bells do not ring at night, but the structure is still visible from miles away, welcoming SDSU students home.

At midnight, the campus will turn over to custodians and students who will ready the campus for the return of students and faculty.


It’s 11:40, and the custodial staff is eager to get to work. They have started the tasks they can complete while students are still in the building. At midnight, they begin in earnest.

Rodney Dawkins has worked at SDSU for 16 years, all of them spent there after dark, in the eerie silences of these empty public buildings. For the past few years, he’s been stationed in Admin, starting at 10 p.m. and going home at 6 a.m. just before faculty and students begin to show up an hour later.

He is the supervisor of this crew and he and his workers take out the trash, vacuum, clean out classrooms and sweep the floors. As the night wears on, they joke to each other in the hallways, their laughter echoing through empty corridors.

The silence doesn’t bother Dawkins.

“I have a radio upstairs. As soon as (the students) are gone, I’m going to turn it on,” Dawkins says.

It took Dawkins about six months to get used to this schedule, but now that he is, it feels routine. He only asks that students at SDSU be neater and treat he and his staff with more courteousy.

Some would say the building is not empty. Administration, after all, is home to SDSU’s most famous ghost, George, who is rumored to haunt Doner Auditorium.

Dawkins doesn’t believe the rumors.

“There is no ghost in there,” he says.

No ghost at all?

Dawkins shakes his head and tells of a time he went to Doner on Halloween night and issued George a challenge to show himself. He didn’t see or hear a thing. That settled the matter for him.

He strides down the hall with two bags of trash, taking them outside to be thrown out.

Down the hall, Sanoop Kumar oversees a few last minute computer users. He usually works late, preferring the quiet.

“I prefer night hours because I get time to study,” he says.

Soon, however, the door to the lab must be closed and the lights turned off. Midnight is here and the campus should be settling into a slumber.

But it won’t be.

Mathews Hall

A few students are out in the cold tonight, dark indistinct forms passing between the tall lights that illuminate the campus’s walking paths. For the most part you can see no one. But as you approach Mathews Hall, you notice that almost all of the many lights on.

Outside, Anna Greiner sits on the cold cement steps, blowing smoke into the air. She says she usually goes outside at night to smoke, though she does come out to talk on the phone or go running. She has no class until 11, so the night is her oyster.

“I do my best at night,” she says with a laugh.

You move past her to the front door. Remarkably, it’s not locked yet and you can still get inside to the Mathews Hall lobby.

For whatever reason, Mathews Hall is rocking tonight. Dozens, if not hundreds of students, play foosball or cards, do their homework or just wander through on their way to somewhere else. Jovial RAs go on rounds.

A group of five sit around a small table, playing what appears to be a generic rip-off of Uno. RA John Buchanan sits watching them.

“Our lobby gets used more than anyone else’s,” Buchanan says, citing the lobby’s size and high ceilings, which make the lobby space seem even larger.

Buchanan says the lobby is used all day long. He’s even seen games of Twister at 4 a.m.

Few of these students think much partying is going on on this tranquil Wednesday night. Thursday will be the night for revelry.

“On a Wednesday night, I would guess (people) would be having good, clean fun,” says Zach Oster.

Across from the card-playing group, Katie Hunstad is huddled under a blanket on a nearby couch. She is in her pajamas and using the whole couch, studying chemistry and trying to ignore the TV. On the screen, Jon Stewart is making his studio audience laugh, but Katie is oblivious. She is sick and she looks rather miserable, but she has lots of studying and no couch in her room. Still, she refuses to turn off the TV.

“They’d probably miss the background noise,” Hunstad says.

All the way across the room, the other set of doors open and a guy in SDSU garb wanders in, accompanied by a girl. He is thwacking a can of Skoal against his hand, preparing to indulge.

He has been drinking, he explains to you. His name is Chris, but he won’t give his last name, afraid that his supervisors will find out. His description of the night stands in contrast to the card players.

“Our whole fucking hall’s a fucking drunkfest,” he says with an excited laugh.

Tonight, he’s slamming Captain Morgans with two other guys from his floor. He’s already had a liter, which is his limit for the night. He estimates that on this campus of 10,000, 8,000 are drinkers.

He says goodbye, then he and his friend head off to his room. Despite what he said, most of the people in the lobby tonight don’t appear drunk.

You consider leaving, but the doors to the boys’ side of the hall burst open and a guy wearing fuzzy bulldog slippers and a cast on his arm steps out, crossing the lobby to buy a Mr. Pibb, then heading back to his room.

His name is Eric Sencenbaugh and he doesn’t have class until noon, so he has time to commiserate and socialize tonight. He loves the night life, though its debatable whether he likes to boogie with his arm broken.

“(At night), you see lots of foosball, lots of TV, a lot of Battle of the Sexes (a board game) and a lot of drunk people stumbling back and forth,” he says with a smile. “Nighttime is fun. … You meet interesting people.”The UPD

There is another building where people are up all night-the University Police Department. An officer sits behind the desk, catching up on paperwork. Downstairs, the all-night computer lab is full. Numerous students huddle around every computer, as others wait for one to open up.

Outside, a police car rounds the Scobey Hall parking lot a few times before heading out onto the street. Police officers in golf carts silently roll down sidewalks, hoping to help those who need helping and apprehend those who need apprehending.

All in all, it’s a quiet night. You start back towards the Administration building, one other student out on the paths just ahead of you. In Crothers Engineering Hall, a professor sits at his desk, finishes up some work, then gets up and leaving.