Turlington Plaza is a 45-year-old campus landmark, but for some, it’s simply a cue to put on sunglasses and headphones.
The bustling intersection of classrooms, restaurants and Marston Science Library is one of the campus’ official public forum areas, along with Plaza of the Americas and the Reitz Union’s North lawn. Clubs continuously advertise through the brick-laden strip as students hurriedly make their way to class, most preferring to avoid eye contact, ducking and dodging eager club representatives.
Jaret Tran, a 20-year-old UF history junior, tables for UF at Turlington to spread word about events celebrating Gator pride, like Homecoming and Gator Growl. He said most students walk past without a word.
He understands, he said; he doesn’t always stop at the tables himself.
“Ninety percent of people are just going to walk by, and that’s just how it is,” Tran said.
Robert Schachel, a 47-year-old English professor in Orlando, attended UF from 1993-1996 for his undergraduate in English and from 2002-2006 for his PhD. Turlington, housing the English department, was his home base.
It acted as a common medium for students who wanted to explore what UF had to offer, Schachel said. He was in the cast of the local Rocky Horror Picture Show and went to Turlington to inform students of the upcoming production.
“There was no social media,” he said. “That was social media.”
He said credit card companies, like Discover or Visa, put up foldable tables to offer students Slinkys, Tootsie Pops or Skittles if they signed up for a credit card; UF quickly stopped the practice in 1995 to deter companies from taking advantage of students who didn’t understand what they were signing up for.
The tables were replaced with concrete pillars and brick slabs by the time Schachel returned to pursue his PhD.
Ilana Herman, a 22-year-old UF visual art studies senior in UF Hillel, said the now perdurable plaza is valuable for organizations advertising to new Summer B and Fall students who flock toward the area.
“They’re curious,” Herman said. “They want to get involved in things.”
UF Hillel often uses falafels and shawarma to persuade students to learn more about the club, she said.
Meka Acholonu, a 31-year-old UF civil engineering alumnus, graduated in 2014 and said Turlington was a high-traffic area and served mostly as a hangout spot between classes. The Reitz Union was where he was approached by clubs, but Turlington never overwhelmed him.
“It was just kind of like an area to destress,” Acholonu said.
Sheila Corzo, a 28-year-old UF architecture alumna who graduated in 2019, trekked through Turlington when she was scheduled to work in Marston. By that time, the scene was comparable to a crowded concert, and religious groups would routinely yell at students.
“If I walked through there, I knew what I was taking on,” Corzo said.
But the plaza turned peaceful as bats flew overhead after 5 p.m..
Lamia Elmahdawy, a 48-year-old Gainesville resident, attended UF from 1991-94 as an undergraduate student and from 1994-98 as a medical student.
She said the campus grew, and the student population increased over the years, but when she drops her kids off at Turlington, for activities like SAT testing, the plaza looks mostly the same.
“It's always kind of been considered the central location of the university,” Elmahdawy said, “no matter how much it expands.”
Michelle Sullivan, a 20-year-old UF architecture junior, walks through Turlington three times a week on her way to class or an on-campus restaurant. Club members try to catch her attention with music, flyers and free items roughly 75% of the time, she estimated.
Sullivan said she seeks out clubs she’s interested in, like Gator Christian Life or clubs related to the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, but otherwise, she just keeps walking.
“It can be a bit much,” Sullivan said. “Most people seem to try to avoid the area.”
As a freshman in Fall 2020, Sullivan used to keep Turlington at arm's length, but she’s now accustomed to the maneuvers needed to pass through tables: secure headphones, don shades and push through with the determination of a Gators football player.
Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.