The Marshall University Memorial Student Center opened in 1971 to provide students with a place to socialize, rest, and study on campus. It replaced an older facility, the Shawkey Student Union, that had been in use since 1933. The MSC was named in honor of the victims of the November 14, 1970 plane crash and serves as a living memorial. Today it houses a food court, lounge areas, the campus bookstore, a recreational area, various offices, and several meeting rooms, dining halls, and event spaces.
In 1933 Marshall constructed a student union building on campus to provide a place for students and faculty to socialize. The white brick, colonial-style building cost $25,000, which came from a mixture of donations and student fees. It was named the Shawkey Student Union after Morris P. Shawkey, who was president of Marshall College from 1923 to 1935. A former state legislator and state superintendent of schools, Shawkey witnessed Marshall double its enrollment and was responsible for securing funding to build the James E. Morrow Library. The Shawkey Student Union was very popular with students, and notoriously crowded. It contained a soda fountain, jukeboxes, pool tables, meeting rooms, and other facilities. An expansion in 1953 added a basement and a west wing, doubling its size.
By the late 1960s plans were in place to build a much larger student union due to significantly higher enrollment. In 1969 construction began on a $4 million, two-story, red brick student center just southeast of Shawkey. The Huntington architectural firm of Dean and Dean designed the new building in such a way as to allow the construction of additional floors or wings in the future, if needed. Following the Marshall Plane Crash in November 1970, the university formally named the new student union the Memorial Student Center (MSC) to serve as a living monument to the victims. The building was completed and opened for use in 1971. At the time it featured a cafeteria, coffeehouse (which sold beer), bookstore, listening room, poster room, meeting rooms, offices, dining halls, alumni facilities, and recreational facilities including a bowling alley. The old Shawkey Student Union closed upon the opening of the MSC, and it was demolished in August 1972. The MSC underwent a series of renovations in 1996-1998 that included the construction of a 7,000 square foot west wing for the bookstore.
The Memorial Student Center underwent a new round of refurbishments in 2019 that extensively remodeled the interior; changes included a more open floor plan, an expanded food court, and a touchscreen digital memorial to the 1970 Marshall Football team. Today the MSC features a large food court, school bookstore, recreational space, computer lab, lounge areas, several dining halls, meeting rooms and event spaces. It also houses the Student Government Association, the Campus Activities Board, the Office of Student Involvement, and the LGBT Office.