March 30, 2005

Cook House Redefines Dorms

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Cornell is often criticized for being a school where students tend to get lost in the crowd. However, the University is looking to swap this stigma of impersonality for a renewed sense of community and student-faculty partnership. With the opening of the Alice H. Cook House on West Campus last fall, and plans running smoothly for the construction of four additional residential houses, it seems as though Cornell housing is accomplishing this goal.

The Alice Cook House is home to 372 students, six Graduate Resident Fellows, and House Professor and Dean Ross Brann and his family. Additionally, 35 Alice Cook House Fellows, comprised of professors and senior staff, are part of the Cook House community. Residents have access to a private dining room, library, computer room, piano room, pantry, and laundry and mail rooms.

There is also a guest suite for distinguished visitors to campus. Guests have included Janet Reno ’60 and CNN correspondent Aaron Brown. Cook House residents have the chance to meet and converse with guests on a more intimate level than a class lecture can provide.

“The Alice Cook House provides special opportunities that Cornell students don’t always get to have,” said Brann.

These opportunities also include trips planned by faculty and students to attend the theater and ski at Greek Peak, an intimate dinner with Bill Nye ’77 in Brann’s apartment, the chance to participate in fundraisers such as Daniel Pearl Music Day and a tsunami benefit dinner, and even a “Janet Reno Dance Party” in honor of the ex-Attorney General’s visit.

Another perk is that the Graduate Resident Fellows, who study everything from engineering to history, hold additional office hours for Cook House residents.

Overall, residents are enthusiastic about participating in special events and programs which are a major benefit of the residential house experience.

“The Cook House is smaller, more personal, and the faculty bother to get to know you,” said Sarah Peters ’07. “Opportunities are more easily accessible,” she added.

Although other Ivy League schools, including Yale and Harvard, are known for their residential college systems, the Cornell residential houses will be fundamentally different, explained Brann.

“The other Ivies don’t have such diverse academic programs,” he said, citing Cornell’s seven colleges and larger student population.

Instead, the residential houses provide interested upperclassmen with the opportunity to interact with faculty members on a more intimate level to create and govern their own community. Students serve alongside staff on a number of committees to make decisions from everything ranging from dining to community service to a student newsletter.

The West Campus Housing Project is expected to be completed in four more years, with a new residential house opening each year, as well as a new community center to replace the Noyes Community Center.

Each of the five houses will be similar in size and setup, and each will be supervised by its own Resident Professor and Dean. The houses will each have a unique personality, and Brann expects a “friendly rivalry” to spring up among the houses over the years.

Prof. Brann also hopes that new dormitories and the residential house setup will draw upperclassmen to live in Cornell housing rather than move off campus after freshman year. He is optimistic that once the project is completed, student awareness about new housing opportunities on West Campus will increase and more freshmen will seriously consider residential houses as an alternative to off-campus housing.

“The idea is that Cornell has always been about choices for students. What we felt was lacking were small living/learning communities that focus on cultural and intellectual life,” said Brann.

Many residents this year originally opted for the Cook House so that they could live in a brand new building, and were surprised by the community and array of programs that they found.

“I thought it would be great to live in the new dorm because it would be clean and the rooms would be spacious,” said Christina Bellino ’05. She added that although she was initially wary of the limited dining options, it has all worked out fine.

Peters would recommend the residential house experience to other Cornell students. “[The Alice Cook House] has a lot to offer, which you can choose to take advantage of or not. Ultimately, the experience is what you make of it, so it can only be good.”

Archived article by Julie Zeveloff
Sun Contributor