Community reacts to reopening of Cole Hall


Students pass by Cole Hall between classes.

By Linze Griebenow

Wreaths and rose stems no longer hold shut the doors to Cole Hall.

As one enters the hall, they are submerged in a transformed world. An unlit common area waits to shelter more than just the handful of students speckled within the tall windows, to warm themselves from the blizzard. Walls stand bare yet provide a sense of security, as if they are standing guard.

Lesley Rigg, NIU professor of geology and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, paces around the common area, peeked into classrooms and chatted with all around, full of energy and awe. With a sincere smile and an eager handshake, she filled the room with a sense of unbridled pride. Her voice calmed as she dove into the details of her personal relationship with Cole Hall.

“I have many students who were in the building [Feb. 14, 2008],” Rigg said. “I knew the instructor in the class. I knew many, many people closely related to the incident. And I felt very close to the incident as I taught in that room. I love teaching in that room…it was a sad day.”

Looking out the window, Rigg used hand gestures and geographical savvy to illustrate how Cole Hall is not only physically near the center of campus, but serves as the academic starting point for many of NIU’s undergraduates. Being centrally located and serving as a collection of lecture halls for many of the university’s core requirements, students and faculty are often faced with walking past or into the building.

After teaching in the classroom where the Feb. 14, 2008 shooting took place for years, Rigg readily described how difficult it was to watch the hall sit vacant and unused, her tone thick at times with an indistinguishable mix of melancholy and elation.

“I feel a genuine happiness that there’s students in the building again, that the building has been rededicated to the use that it was intended for,” Rigg said. “It was sad to see it just sitting there empty.”

Rigg has been checking in on Cole’s renovation progress since the beginning of summer, and is relieved to finally be inside its completed halls again.

“To see it all come together…it’s just such a great building,” she said. “The acoustics make it feel as if what you’re saying is really reaching the students.”

Awaiting his first opportunity to learn in one of those classrooms yesterday was Sireze Booker, NIU sophomore communication and media studies major. He was perched on a window ledge, silently taking in his surroundings.

“When I first walked in, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really nice,'” Booker said. “I think they did a wonderful job with it, I feel very comfortable in here.”

Booker said he is happy the building remains an integral piece of local history.

“I really think it’s really good that they didn’t tear it down because it would have been just a blank, empty space,” Booker said. “By reopening the hall, it says it’s still a part of Northern Illinois and the school’s history, just like Reavis and DuSable. If they tore it down, it would have just been like, history gone-despite the massacre.”

Tracy Ostman, NIU junior English major, agreed that in spite of Cole Hall’s tragic moment in history, reopening its doors is a step in the right direction for everyone.

“I’m sure it’s going to be difficult for those who are still around that were there or were involved,” Ostman said. “But I think it’s a really good thing.”

During a Midwestern winter, when overcast skies blend into day-long fogs and dead earth is exposed for miles along flat Illinois fields, “good things” are welcome.

As February approaches, it seems at times as if the damp, heavy skies act as reminders to the NIU community of painful events; yet amidst the misting snow and soggy ground stand strong red-brick pillars and glints of light peeking through lecture hall doors that, too, have a purpose.

“[Cole Hall] was like taboo when I was a freshman,” Ostman said. “I think rebuilding it will give it a new meaning, especially for freshman who weren’t here when it happened.”

As Jan. 17 now marks the anniversary of a new Cole Hall, feelings of progress, happiness and a university’s strength outweigh less-favorable anniversaries. An opportunity to finally move forward, together forward is within reach.

“To open [Cole Hall] back up feels right,” Rigg said. “It’s like a butterfly unfolding it’s wings, it’s just really nice to see it finally fly.”