The mission of Highsmith Student Union is to provide a dynamic and inclusive experience where quality facilities and services meet engaging programs and activities centered around helping students excel well beyond graduation.
The William E. Highsmith University Center was dedicated on April 1, 1984. The Asheville Citizen reported how, “more than 400 people braved chilly spring winds” to honor Chancellor Highsmith, who was retiring at the end of June 1984, after a total of 22 years as Chancellor of UNC Asheville, and President of its predecessor, Asheville-Biltmore College. It was Highsmith who, in June 1980, had started construction on the project when he drove a bulldozer for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center and adjacent high rise residence hall.
Then Highsmith Student Center, Highsmith was designed to house the university dining hall, meeting and recreation rooms, lockers for commuting students, television viewing rooms, vending machines, the university store, and radio station. A pre-construction document described the Center serving “as the foundation of campus cultural life” by allowing students to be together in “non-academic contexts,” and it “should unite commuter students with campus residents.”
However, by 1997 the Highsmith Center’s facilities had become inadequate and the Board of Trustees designated the renovation and expansion of the building “as the campus’ first priority for capital funding.” Of particular concern was lack of space for students “to do their programs and have their meetings.” Plans were drawn up to renovate the existing center, and add a further 46,000 square feet, to more than double the size of the building.
Highsmith Student Union expansions and renovations began again in 2017, with an emphasis on connecting Highsmith and the adjacent Brown Hall, as well as surface refreshments around the facility. To better meet the needs of the UNC Asheville and Asheville communities, the new 6,000 square foot Blue Ridge Room, as well as the attached pre-function lounge, was constructed for large-scale events and programs. Additional offices and departments around the facility also saw facelifts and new locations, including the Highsmith Administrative Office, Student Life Porch, and Highsmith dining hall.