August 25, 2004

Alice Cook House Welcomes Students

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As Kabir Matharu ’07 said, “The pantry doesn’t have food, the library doesn’t have books, and the TV-room doesn’t have a TV,” but Alice H. Cook House looks and feels great.

Matharu is one of 360 upperclassmen who opted to live in the newly opened dorm, the first of five to be built as part of the West Campus Residential Initiative. The WCRI, 20 years in the making, was championed by former Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

The House has a 400-person dining hall, classrooms, a library, a computer room, a music room, its own service center, offices for graduate students to hold office hours, a late-night snacking pantry, common rooms, and a TV room. It is an all-encompassing community that might make it easier for students to never step out of their dorm save for class.

Many projects and programs are being planned to create an informal academic environment. This includes parking the “Rock the Vote” van outside the dorm this Saturday and encouraging students to register to vote. In addition, four sophomore writing seminars will be taught in a fully-equipped classroom on the ground floor of the building.

The dean of the Alice Cook House is Prof. Ross Brann, Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, who was appointed to the position as the first-ever dean in the WCRI system in May 2003. Brann and his family moved into a two-floor apartment this past July that is part of the dorm. Students began moving in August 20.

Six graduate students will assist Brann with the administration of the dorm, as well as serve as Resident Advisors.

Rawlings and the other key planners, John Ford, former dean of students, and Susan H. Murphy’73, vice president of student and academic services, envisioned a community-like environment only for upperclassmen that built on the experience of the restructured North Campus.

To develop a community environment, the planners included the construction of guest rooms, where guest lecturers such as A.D. White professor and former Attorney General Janet Reno ’60 and neurologist Oliver Sachs will stay.

The five houses will eventually replace the Noyes Community Center, which will be razed after the third as-yet-unnamed house is completed. Another Noyes Community Center will be built with a convenience store, sports courts, and a fitness center where the West Campus tennis courts now sit.

Alice Hanson Cook was one of the first scholars to concentrate on the issues surrounding working women and their rights. The second house now under construction will be named after Carl L. Becker. Becker, a former history professor who served as a Cornell faculty member between 1917 and 1941, authored several books about the history of political parties in New York and the Declaration of Independence .

“All of the houses are named after deceased distinguished professors who also contributed to teaching and mentoring students outside of the classroom,” Brann said.

In the first few days of the new dorm, students say a difference in atmosphere is noticeable. Transfer student and resident Andrea Hlopko ’06 noted how friendly the Alice Cook House is compared to other dorms she has lived in. She and her suitemate Nida Bajwa ’07 spoke of how Brann and the graduate students take the time to introduce themselves to everyone at dinner and make the effort to get to know the residents of the dorm.

Many students, residents, and faculty members expressed their disdain for the aesthetics of the building as it was being built. However, David Riz of Kieran Timberlake, the architecture firm commissioned to design and build these dorms, said there were many factors that made this project challenging.

Most specifically, Riz said it was difficult to balance the “aesthetic agenda of complimenting the Gothics with the program agenda” of creating an intellectual and social community.

While many of the students were drawn by the allure of the community atmosphere, many more also simply wanted to live in a brand new dorm. Rob Morelli ’07 and Dan Erekson ’07 both said with enthusiasm, “Everything is new.”

The dorm is so new that some kinks have yet to be worked out — a siren sounds consistently on the ground floor as residents don’t close doors quick enough, many construction workers sift through the floors finishing off last touches, and as most students agree the dining hall still needs some work.

But all in all most students opted to live in Alice H. Cook Hall and they are thrilled to be part of something new.

Archived article by Michael Margolis
Sun Senior Writer