At least once a week, when I am at Northern Illinois University, and on my way to teach English composition, I am stopped in the hallway by a confused student who is looking for a certain room in “reevous” hall. The first few times this happened, it didn’t strike me as anything special. But after I got comfortable and began to think of the English building as my home away from home, I began to wonder about its history.
Reavis Hall (pronounced “rev-us”) is named after the influential educator, William Claude Reavis, who lived from 1881-1955. Mr. Reavis began his career as a teacher in rural Indiana and eventually became a professor of education at University of Chicago. Reavis published a number of books on educational administration, including The Elementary School, its Organization and Administration, and War and Post-War Responsibilities of American Schools.
As Chairman of the commission on appointments and field services, Reavis showed a high level of competence. When Illinois school district 158 hired him in 1949 to survey the north side of Lansing in order to determine the feasibility of a new school, he not only did this effectively, but also accurately predicted what the level of enrollment would be in 1960 to within eight students. There are a number of schools named after Mr. Reavis. Most notable of these is Reavis High School, in Burbank IL. as well as endowments and fellowships for people majoring in education administration
In the course of my research I learned that when Reavis Hall opened its doors in 1957, my own mother was one of the first students to attend classes within its walls. At that time, Reavis Hall fostered both English and Education classes.
Northern Illinois University was a great deal smaller in 1957, than it is now. According to my mother, the newly built Reavis Hall was on the outskirts of the campus. To get from Altgeld Hall, which housed classrooms back then and not administration offices, students had to cross what my mother describes as “a frozen tundra.” With no stadium or residence halls on the opposite side of Anne Glidden Road, the prevailing winds could pretty much roam freely from the Rocky Mountains until they got to Reavis. According to my mother, it was a real project to get there and students had to be very careful in bad weather, lest they get blown over on their way.
In fact, when Reavis Hall was built, the Kishwaukee river flowed east of Altgeld hall. It has since been diverted to run past Reavis.
Today Reavis Hall is no longer on the outskirts. Since 1957, the NIU campus has expanded to the point that Reavis is closer to the center than the outside. The intervening space between it and Altgeld has been more or less completely filled. With the construction of the Holmes Student Center, Founders Library, Zulaft Hall, and any number of smaller buildings, students can now reach Reavis without trekking across an open plain. The Convocation Center, Lincoln and Douglas residence halls, and of course the Stevenson building all serve to mitigate some of the wind that threatened to knock over my mother and her classmates.
Although the building is now fifty-one years old, Reavis is still much in use today. As the central hub for the First Year Composition program, Reavis Hall is visited by nearly every student that attends the university. Both undergraduate and graduate level English classes are held every day of the week in its “smart” computerized classrooms. Every spring, Reavis Hall hosts the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media, which attracts presenters from all over the country. In addition, Reavis is used for various community activities such as the Muggle Academy for Jr. high and high-school students to enjoy the richness that literature has to offer.
Just last year all of the windows were replaced with more efficient and prettier looking tinted windows. Reavis is now warm in winter and cool in summer instead of the other way around. In addition to that, a number of the smart classrooms were recently upgraded with Sympodiums, which are a next-generation computer that allows instructors to write directly on the screen and save their notes. Reavis Hall may be a little aged, but it certainly isn’t too old.
The recent upgrades will insure that the building is capable of providing service to students and teachers for a number of generations to come. Plans may be in the works to add Reavis to the list of buildings with wireless internet capability. There are still a few classrooms that are not smart, due to the fact that a number of professors prefer a more traditional feel for their room. As time passes, however, these will probably become upgraded as well.
Because I lack the aptitude for educational administration possessed by the man after whom the building is named, I find it hard to tell exactly what the future is going to hold for Reavis Hall. However, two things are likely to remain constant. Reavis Hall will continue to provide opportunities for students and teachers to interact in a comfortable atmosphere, and undergraduates will most likely continue to mispronounce the name.
Read Full Post »