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Davis, California

Monday, March 4, 2024

A World Unchanged


Peering back through 40 years of Davis history, similarities and differences

In 1909, what was known as The University Farm School opened its doors to 18 eager students. More than 100 years later, the campus now known as UC Davis boasts more than 35,000 students. Although the campus has shifted and grown over the years, UC Davis alumni remember their time as students being not so different from what students experience today.

“Well, I mean, there’s the whole youth and phones and how electronics have come in, but […] students are students,” said Sean Davis, who graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. “For example […]  they procrastinate just as much as they always have.”

Davis has been working at UC Davis for about 20 years now as a lecturer in computer science. Even though he’s an expert in computers now, Davis didn’t have the luxury of laptops and conveniently located computer labs around campus when he attended school here in the 1970s.

“From the standpoint of computers, the basement of Hutchison was where the [only] computer was,” Davis said. “You went down there and you gave them your computer cards and you ran them through the computer and you’d pick them up the next morning with your output. It was just a big old computer which was raised up on special floorings.”

The computer labs in places like the library and Wellman Hall didn’t exist either, but instead were lounges for the students. Wellman itself was a completely fresh design at the time and offered a funky, colorful atmosphere.

“Wellman in the ‘70s was an amazing design,” Davis said. “The interior was all one big […] trip. You’d go in and there’d be a band of blue on a wall coming down at an angle […] and the tiles were blue. Then they had a picture of an electro-micrograph of a head of an ant on one of the walls.”

When Davis was a freshman, he got to experience a whole different kind of Tercero as well. At the time, there were two clusters of six buildings titled the letters of the alphabet, and Davis decided he wanted to join the 64-person Pierce Co-op that occupied the G building.

“They cooked for themselves down where Trudy’s of Tercero was [which] was called Trudy’s Fox Hole [during that time],” Davis said. “The co-op was more responsible, you-do-the-work-for-yourselves-type stuff; we cooked and cleaned for ourselves. That was a terrific experience.”

Another student who happened to live in the Tercero Co-op at the same time as Davis is David Dodd, who graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts in German. Dodd recalls some of his favorite pastimes as a student — activities a little less popular with today’s student population.  

“We did stuff like going to the barns and jumping from the loft into the hay, believe it or not,” Dodd said. “We climbed the water tower. There was this place called ‘the Trestle’ […] over the railroad tracks, and we would climb on the ladder and walk across. You could go across and go down through a trap door and watch the trains go by. It was quite a thrill.”

One piece of campus culture that has remained through the years is none other than The California Aggie itself, a student-run organization then and now and something Dodd is proud to have been a part of.

“[The Aggie] was the most fun,” Dodd said. “We were a daily [paper], so there was a lot of pressure. I don’t know how many hours I spent writing, but I was just a reporter then to staff writer in my freshman year. The next year I was campus editor, and that was really fun because I got to write anything I assigned myself.”

Dodd enjoyed writing book reviews, album reviews and record releases, but was most stoked for concert reviews. According to Dodd, UC Davis experienced a booming entertainment scene, hosting breakout music groups at the time like The Talking Heads and The Police.

“This was 1977, which was a historic year for rock and roll,” Dodd said. “The big wave happened, all these bands broke that year. And we had this guy booking the Coffee House at the time, and he booked all these acts before they broke and they were at Davis as they were breaking. They would play in stadiums, and they would play in the UC Davis coffee house.”

Room-sized computers, dorm-coop hybrids, a daily print newspaper and CoHo rock concerts are all aspects of Davis culture that have clearly changed through time, but something that stands out the most is the growth in the connection between campus and community.

“When I settled on Davis and moved in, at first I wasn’t sure because it’s such a small town and it seemed like there wasn’t a lot to do or there wasn’t much to it,” said Thara Randawa, a 2009 graduate with a degree in biology. “My wife and I stopped in [Davis] within a few years after we graduated, and the town seemed very different. Downtown seemed […] more active, like [UC Davis] had crept out into the city a little bit; more of that campus vibe had pushed its way out, which is cool.”  

Randawa and his wife went to Davis together a little less than a decade ago, and grew to enjoy their educational experience in a small college town — the most intrinsic characteristic of Davis that will hopefully never change.

“We both really miss it,” Randawa said. “We love where we live now, but there’s something about the town. We both loved it a lot. California is a great place to travel, so anywhere we can work it in [our travels], we like to stop in Davis at the very least.”

A lot has changed over the years, each decade characterized by its own unique contributions. Despite any changes to the campus or the culture, UC Davis students have always retained an affection and pride for their Aggie home.

“A certain tradition at Davis [is] about being serious about school and at the same time being aware of the world, and to know that not everybody thinks the same way,” Dodd said. “You can’t really stereotype a Davis student the way you might a Berkeley student or a USC student, […] and I think that’s part of the big strength of Davis. Anywhere you go out in the world you’re going to meet people who went to Davis. These people will show up throughout your whole life and you will have that instant connection of that [shared] place, and that’s what’s really cool.”


Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org


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