Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

University Archives

UB's Student Unions

The Student Union has existed in many incarnations throughout the history of the University. At all times it has been one of the central fixtures of student life on campus.

(Old) Norton Union, 1934-1962

There was not a dedicated space for student activities at the University until 1931 when funds were allocated by former Chancellor Charles P. Norton in his will for a facility to be known as Norton Hall that would serve as "a club refectory and place of rest and recreation for the day students when not actually engaged in the class lecture rooms of the University" (Report on the Meeting of the Committee on General Administration, June 8, 1931). "Because of his understanding of students and their needs, Chancellor Norton bequeathed his entire fortune to the University, that such a building could be constructed" (25th anniversary program).

On February 26, 1932 the new student union, Norton Hall (now Harriman Hall on the South Campus), was formally dedicated. Homer W. Widener described the new building:

From the main foyer on the first floor, hallways run south to the little theater and north to the dining rooms. East doors open into lounges finished in dull glazed antiques and made homelike with cushioned chairs and wood-burning fireplaces. Rising to the left and then crossing horizontally to the right a narrow staircase with open ironwork finally leads up to the second floor game rooms and offices. Here are special quarters for publications -- "The Buffalo Bee," "The Buffalonian," "The Bison" -- rooms for Debate Teams, Glee Clubs, International Relations Club.

Perhaps the outstanding feature of the building is the little theater for student plays and dancing. Equipment is all up-to-date with an electric curtain, the latest in banks of colored and white flood lights, and indirect lighting for the auditorium, with intricate switchboard controls backstage.

Thus the New Student Union opens its doors, artisitcally and adequately equipped to serve the varied extra-curricular intersts of students at the University of Buffalo.

Constitution of Norton Union, 1933

Norton Union's mixed lounge, c. 1930s

The students however made up for lost time. Within a year the Union was an integral part of student life at UB:

By 1934, everyone registered in the University was acquainted with the building and "pals" with Bob Parke, who had filled his position so thoroughly it seemed that Norton Hall had always been in existence.

After the successful opening celebration, union programs continued with the outstanding even, the Farmers Ball, on which occasion all the fireplaces were lighted for the first time. Everyone wore farmers duds, square danced, and just had a good old-fashioned time. […]

Blue Masquers did more than their bit, what with staging short skits as well as their two major productions "R.U.R." and "Broken Dishes."

The Junior Prom, always the highlight of the social season featured Freddie Rich, noted maestro of the '30s. The Bisonhead members that were tapped that night struck sparks of hope that the honorary society would discover a function for itself and amount to something more than a name.

Even the debate teams consolidated and no longer existed as a small men's team and small women's team but as a debate union which included not only the teams but all other who were interested in the problems with which the union concerned itself […] Shortly after the Student Council of the Arts College put the clamps on gambling, a contract bridge club was formed.

Norton Union's cafeteria, c1930s

Many students were aided during the year by jobs in Norton Hall. A dance thrown by the Midnight Massagers (student janitors) evidenced that their life was not all briars […] The candy counter opened shortly after the official opening. The Norton Hall cafeteria […] was no money-making venture. It was to be operated in accordance with Chancellor Norton's desire to give students the best possible within their price range.

-- "From Orange Girders to a Student Union," The Spectrum, October 23, 1959

In 1934 being elected to the Board of the Student Union was one of the highest extra-curricular honors a student could attain. At that time, Robert J. Winegar was the President of the Union Board and Leicester Cuthbert was the Program Chairman.


Student Union Board, 1934

Norton Hall continued to the be main student union until 1962, with the exception of a brief period of time during World War II (1943-1945) when Army Air Cadets were quartered there. During that time, the center of student activities moved from forty-seven rooms in Norton to seven rooms on the second floor of Hayes Hall.

"Air Force Cadets move into Norton; Third floor band room becomes a military barracks" (from the Spectrum, October 23, 1959

Army Air Core (photo from the 1944 Buffalonian)

(New) Norton Union, 1962-1982

In 1961, the University built a new building for the student union. The name "Norton Union" was transferred to the new union (now Squire Hall on South Campus) and the old Norton officially became Harriman Hall.

At the time of New Norton's dedication the Courier Express wrote:

"Within the stately walls of the ultra-modern structure, students will study amid paneled walls while soft music emerges through ceiling outlets. The new building is the latest in a series of projects in what could almost be called a crash program to raise the University at Buffalo's facilities to the equal of those of the best institutions of higher learning in the nation" (November 4, 1962).

A Tour of Norton Hall, c. mid 1960s
Click to read a pdf version of this brochure

Squire was the home of UB's student union for 20 years. Those years, between 1962 and 1982, were the most tumultuous in the history of UB's student union.

During the 1960s and early 1970s student demonstrations were common and the Union soon became a nemesis of the University's administration. On the night of February 25, 1970, members of the City of Buffalo police force entered Norton Union in pursuit of rioting students. After the incident, acting President Peter Regan appointed a fact-finding commission, headed by William Greiner (who later became the University's 13th president). The resulting document is known as the "Greiner Report" and it is one of the classic documents of UB's history.

photo from the Reporter, (vol.1, no.11)

In April 1970, Norton Union staff wrote a letter to the University community:

"Profanity flagrantly written and painted on walls; needless destruction and vandalism of furniture, equipment and other property; the abuse and intimidation by some students and non-students towards students of different or opposing beliefs; thieving, burglary, instances of drug abuse and violence of narcotic laws has in total effect forced the House Council and the staff of Norton Hall to enforce more rigidly the existing rules and regulations governing conduct in and use of the building" (quoted in the Reporter, April 2, 1970).

Student graffiti, 1970s

When there was no Student Union at UB, 1982-1992

The controversy first began in 1977 when Norton Union on UB's South Campus was renamed Squire Hall, in anticipation that the building would be converted one day into a dental clinic to provide much needed space for the Dental School.

In January of 1982, the University at Buffalo Council members finally voted to support plans to close the student union on March 1st of that year. Student and faculty groups immediately formed in protest to the closing. By late January there was a large student-organized trip to Albany to try to persuade SUNY Chancellor, Clifton Wharton, to allow the union to remain open at least throughout the spring semester. Student organizations like KABASH rallied hoping they might have a chance to keep the union permanently.

However, Dr. Robert Ketter, the President of the University announced that Squire Hall would have to be

"sacrificed for the UB School of Dentistry, which eventually will use Squire for expanded facilities. The Dental School is facing the threat of losing its accreditation if it doesn't get additional facilities... Dr. Ketter told students that the master plan for the Amherst Campus envisioned smaller student unions for the various schools, rather than a large, centralized student union such as Squire Hall" (Buffalo News, January 23, 1982).

But since there were no solid plans for a new union on either of the campuses, both students and faculty were concerned. One reader wrote to the Courier-Express that

"Squire Hall is not a 'fun and games' building... Many hundreds of hours are given by volunteers for the Community Actions Corps., Anti-Rape Task Force, and many student clubs and organizations that make life on a large split campus just a little easier" (Buffalo Courier-Express, February 2, 1982).

An organized sit-in demonstration was held February 3rd when 300-400 students refused to leave Squire after the midnight closing call.

The "majority left slowly and by 1 a.m., when the others still inside had not left, they were issued the tickets charging them with trespassing and requiring them to appear in City Court" (Buffalo Courier-Express, February 4, 1982).

Eight-seven persons were given court tickets that night.

Then on February 28th, with only one day left before the official closing of Squire Hall, two hundred "mourners" gathered in the Haas Lounge for a second time and began to sing Vietnam war protest songs, student association anthems, and 1960s protest standards to a Squire beat. Two hours later thirty-nine individuals were issued court appearance tickets for criminal trespass. And as Dr. Ketter's last act as President of the University, he signed the papers suspending 32 out of the 39 arrested.

"The 32 suspended students have been banned from the campus until after they appear before the new university president, Dr. Steven Sample" (Buffalo Courier-Express, February 28, 1982)

When Sample first stepped into office, he lifted 28 of the suspensions. And on March 12th, he gave an update on the status of Squire Hall:

"I do not believe I am in a position to reverse these [previously made] decisions, nor do I believe that a reversal at this point would serve the best interests of the University. I believe instead that we must now turn our efforts from the past to the future."

So most student organizations housed in Squire Hall at the time of its closing as a student union were relocated to Harriman Hall (the Old Norton Union) or Talbert Hall on North Campus, leaving the University's students with a decentralized union of sorts. Over the next few years Harriman continued to be the hub of student activities on South Campus, while student activities on the North Campus were widely distributed across campus in a number of "activity spaces."

For the next ten years students and other members of the University would continue to clamor for a centralized union that would take the place of Norton and provide a home for student activities at the University.

See University Archives collection 8/8/975 for more information on the protests against the closing of Squire Hall.

North Campus Student Union: Student Activities Center (SAC), 1984-1992 Student Union, 1993-present

The Student Union on UB's North Campus, originally named "Student Activities Center" and now called simply the "Student Union", was built in two phases. The first in 1985, second in 1992.

However, at the time of its completion the general consensus was that the building was not going to meet all the needs of the campus or the University. The University House Council passed a resolution recognizing the SAC as too small and called for "an immediate extension of the SAC that would give it activity space comparable in usable square footage to that of Squire Hall" (October 24, 1985). Until the second construction was completed, the Student Activities Center remained only one step in the right direction.

Students present President Steven Sample with funds toward the construction of a new union

Student Activities Building construction, December 1982

Plans solidified for a real student union on North Campus in 1989. The expansion was completed almost one year ahead of schedule and student organizations began moving into the building after the end of the 1992 spring semester. A resolution was passed renaming the Student Activities Center "Student Union" in April 1992 in conjunction with the building's fulfillment of its potential.

During the November 1992 opening ceremony of the new North Campus Student Union, then-President Greiner stated:

This new union can be an invaluable resource if you, students, let it be so. Especially during this unprecedented time in the history of our county and the world, we need the energy and enthusiasm and freshness of your people... It's here to unite students, here to unite various aspects of their lives.

It will fall to you in your role as students and student leaders, to choose how you will shape student life here at UB. You will decide the use of the union; it is you who will decide the use of its facilities. Above all, I hope you will continue to use it, to enjoy it, to think about the new opportunities it offers for all kinds of people to put their talents and ideas to work on behalf of the UB community. ...So, students, it's all yours.

The North Campus Student Union, April 2004

The North Campus Student Union, April 2004