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Winter 2023

The History of Blind Spot


Nora Matland

Hear from Scott Jens, OD ’91 on the importance of Blind Spot for students at ICO.

If our walls could talk, they’d tell a thousand stories. But perhaps one of the strangest they might tell is how two friends decided one night to throw a party and in so doing, built a tradition that continues to this day.

Perhaps, it was just a party, but unintentionally Brent Gandolfi and Scott Wojciechowski had effectively built a “third place” for ICO students. 

In 1989, Ray Oldenburg published a book titled “The Great Good Place” in which he emphasized the importance of “third places” distinct from the home (first place) and the workplace or in our case, the College (second place). The coffee shop, the bookstore, the local bar, the barbershop around the corner these are all third places. Third places are accessible, affordable, and welcoming. It’s a judgement-free space, where you don’t have to be


Brent Gandofi, OD ’84

“It was Friday night, and we just needed a place to blow off steam from the intense week.” 

“It was just a party.... it was just a party that got structured,” says Brent Gandolfi, OD ’84 co-founder of the original Blind Spot. “It was Friday night, and we just needed a place to blow off steam from the intense week.” There weren’t many places for twenty-something-year-olds to relax in Bronzeville in the 80s. So, Brent Gandolfi and his roommate Scott Wojciechowski, OD ’84 took matters into their own hands, “We took the door off our dorm room, put it across the top of two chairs in the hallway, and sold beers for $0.10 and kamikaze shots for $0.25.”

“We tried to figure out how much we could charge and break even,” continues Dr. Wojciechowski, “We opened our doors, we had barely gotten an hour in, and we were already running out of beer.” So, they ran to the store and got some more.

On Fridays at 4:00 pm, the party would start, and it got crowded fast. "We would have 200-300 people in the hallway, so we needed to expand. There was space in the Brady Hall basement. I went to the administration and asked for a couple of thousand dollars to remodel it, and they instantly said yes,” explains Dr. Gandolfi. Everyone chipped in to make the bar a success. “I had a classmate, Mark Mlsna, OD ’84, he worked in construction, and he built a 15-foot wet bar in the basement. We got a bunch of people to volunteer time. We painted the walls. We put chairs in. We had a video company bring in video games and just like that, we had our very own bar in the basement.”

productive, where familial duties can be left behind (for at least a few hours). It’s a space to simply be. And for the Class of 1984, a third space was desperately needed at ICO. “We got to ICO, and we were kind of stuck in Brady Hall,” says Scott Wojciechowski, “The area around ICO was pretty sparse back then. There was no convenience store. There was no liquor store. There was just nothing much for any of the students. We kind of felt like we were trapped there.”


Perhaps because of this pent-up demand, perhaps because optometry students really need a place to relax, very soon, even the new bar couldn’t fit the crowds. So, they moved across the street to Rodriguez Hall and roped in their classmates who had started a band to make things even livelier.

“When we started bringing in the band, more than once they had to turn on the lights or zap the power to get us to leave. It was that kind of fun,” Joe Tobias, OD ’84 says with a smile as he pages through the 1984 yearbook. “I left my home in Trenton, NJ and came to Chicago and, you know, felt like a real small fish in an ocean. Being out of town and away from home, in my case for the first time, the Blind Spot was the place to build fellowship.

I just remember being young and wanting to have a party and wanting to be in a band.” The Adipose Rhythm Dukes, now perhaps better known as Bob Dickey, OD ’84; Andy Lorand, OD ’84; Tom Banton, OD ’84; Fred Hjerpe, OD ’84 and of course, Joe Tobias, OD ’84 would play well into the night, and at least once, even when the janitors cut the lights for the night, everyone kept singing even though without electricity the band couldn’t play. 

A bar, a big party, live music, Warren Zevon and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” what do these stories have to do with the room with a red neon sign that now stands where the original Blind Spot stood? Actually, a whole lot.

The need for third places has not disappeared. If anything, the need has become more acute.


In 2023, the surgeon general published an 82-page report on the epidemic of loneliness, and how time together has shifted over the last 20 years. Here is how our time together has changed in the past decades:

  • When looking at the average time spent alone the numbers have only gone up. In 2003 people averaged around 142.5-hours/month alone, in 2019 the numbers increased to 154.5-hours/month and continued to increase in 2020 to 166.5-hours/month. This represents an increase of 24 hours per month spent alone. 

  • The amount of time respondents engaged with friends socially in-person has also decreased from 30-hours/month in 2003 to 10-hours/month in 2020. In other words, we spend a third less time engaging with friends than we did a decade ago.

This decline is starkest for young people aged 15 to 24. For this age group, time spent in-person with friends has decrease by nearly 70% over almost two decades, from roughly 150 minutes per day in 2003 to 40 minutes per day in 2020. This is the population that will be entering optometry school in the next few years.

And these statistics don’t even touch on the isolation of those who belong to marginalized groups who may feel they don’t fit in many of these third places. Addressing these specific concerns was one of the drivers behind the newly founded Blind Spot space.

“Building a space like this wasn't first born out of the idea of the Blind Spot being important,” confesses Scott Jens, OD ’91, the donor who was instrumental in bringing the Blind Spot back. “Our goal was to improve the campus' support for marginalized students and specifically the LGBTQIA+ community. We first thought scholarships, but then we started talking about campus life. My daughter, Shay, was a participant in the utilization of an LGBTQIA+ community space at UW-Madison where she went to school, and she suggested building a similar community space at ICO. Leonard Messner, OD mentioned the former Blind Spot space as a potential on-campus space. And then all of us together had this moment where those two ideas melded into a sort of an AHA moment, like this idea has real potential.”


Joseph Tobias Jr., OD ’84

“Being out of town and away from home, in my case for the first time, the Blind Spot was the place to build fellowship.”

“The Blind Spot is a space to just exist, and those aren't that common. It’s just such a great space for LGBTQIA+ students to come together,” says Alyssa Lancaster, OD ’21 the co-founder of Queer Eye Club, “Just having a space for students to come to gather as themselves and to not feel judged or experience any sort of discrimination, I think is so important as people, but also as students in what is a really vulnerable time in their lives. I hope that this space sets the precedence for similar types of spaces. These spaces shouldn’t be a rarity.” Although very clearly built with the Queer Eye Club in mind, the space has expanded to welcome all ICO students. 

This sentiment is mirrored in how the original founders talk about their Blind Spot.

“In the Blind Spot, I mean, everybody and anybody could come,” says Scott Wojciechowski. “Blind Spot was about people just wanting to be with people. I hope that’s something they’ll continue now as well. It isn’t just a place you go to have a drink and then leave. You go there to hang out with everyone. Our Blind Spot bound anybody who came through that door together,” adds Dr. Gandolfi.

When asked what Dr. Tobias hopes that this new Blind Spot might take from the old Blind Spot, the first suggestion was that we make sure we have a good logo (see the bartender’s shirts on the previous page), but


Scott Jens, OD ’91

“Our goal was to improve the campuses support for marginalized students and specifically the LGBTQIA+ community. ”

after thinking a little harder, he hit on something more profound, “The friendships that have lasted a lifetime came out of the Blind Spot,” Dr. Tobias put simply. “Look at the person that you're sitting next to and think of them when you're both 65 and try to imagine. Imagine that someday, it's gonna be 40 years later, you'll be retired, but that person sitting beside you in this room could very well still be your friend.”

Third places are vital in fostering the type of conversations and connections that build trust. Blind Spot was and is this space at ICO.

Class of 1984, in case you’re wondering, there’s still a tapped keg there whenever you need it. Stop by next time you visit.

1991 - 2023
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