November 6, 2008

Guest View: The Risley Hall I Know and Love

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On Oct. 30, The Sun published a feature on Risley Hall: “Inside Risley’s Castle: One Daze staffer ventures into the infamously elusive Risley Hall.” The article was met with many responses, one of which is featured below:

Last Thursday, The Sun published what was supposed to be a profile of Risley Hall, Cornell’s program house dedicated to the arts. The article, however, was less a profile and more an exercise in perpetuating stale stereotypes about the people who live here, and concluded with a lame attempt at mitigation, claiming “at the end of the day, it’s a home.”
Risley is obviously “a home” for the approximately 200 students who live here, just as is any other building in which Cornell students reside. What differentiates Risley is its role as a community center that brings together people from all over not only the Cornell campus, but the city of Ithaca as well.
The Risley I read about last Thursday bears little resemblance to the place that I have called home for the entirety of my career here at Cornell — going on five semesters this fall. So I’m writing the profile I’d like to have seen last week, one that better reflects my experience in Risley and the significant role it plays both on campus and within the local community.
Risley is the most visible of Cornell’s program houses. We support many artists, both art students and hobbyists, and have shops to accommodate those interested in anything from photography to stained glass to printmaking, and more.
But Risleyites don’t just stick to the visual arts. Playwrights, actors and actresses, dancers, musicians, poets and zinesters all live here. An instructive example is the abundance of musical groups, ranging from the always funky Funk Apteryx to members of the all-women a-capella group The Callbaxx, and from the tight beats of Artist-In-Residence (AIR) and professional beatboxer Adam Matta to one Risleyite’s historically accurate interpretation of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, to be performed in Risley’s Great Hall Nov. 14.
However, Risley doesn’t just house a plethora of creative people. We also provide a space, supplies and support for groups all over campus as well as the greater Ithaca area. In a very real sense, Risley is a community center that brings together town and gown on a regular basis. Cornell dance troupes and comedy groups make daily use of the building’s dance studio. The Out Loud Chorus, an Ithaca community LGBTQ chorus, has called our space home for years and happily returns the favor by welcoming Risleyites into its ranks and giving impromptu concerts at some of our weekly programs. The Melodramatics, a drama troupe in which Cornell and Ithaca College students collaborate, rely on Risley’s student run theatre (the only one of its kind at Cornell) to perform their musicals, which consistently sell out. Risley is a hub for creative and performance activity at Cornell simply because we make it our mission to house and assist almost anyone who comes to us looking for a venue or creative resources.
The Sun’s article, unfortunately, glossed over or ignored Risley’s community-building function in favor of revisiting ancient rumors, with little attempt to seriously challenge them. Honestly, I think the article gives us too much credit. We are Cornell students after all. We have homework and prelims and massive papers just like everyone else — how could we possibly make the time to have an orgy every night? Any student here who’s sexually active knows how difficult it is to maintain a healthy sex life with just one partner, let alone several partners at once. So even if we were having orgies between the turrets, rest assured that they would certainly not be held every night.
Any further misconceptions regarding Risley activities and traditions can be rectified by a quick visit to, where you can find extensive information about Risley’s history, traditions and upcoming events and programs.
Risley’s receptiveness and engagement with the Cornell and local community is also reflected in a pervasive atmosphere of acceptance, remarked upon by almost anyone who spends some time here. Risleyites make a conscious effort to treat everyone who lives in or visits the building as equals, regardless of what they look like, or what they do in their spare time. Our governing body, Kommittee, is open to anyone with a building membership. Kommittee members decide how our money and space will be allocated. Kommittee itself presents anyone a chance to get involved in the community, by running a program for the building’s residents.
Such a welcoming environment encourages an incredibly diverse group of people to be active participants in Risley activities. Yes, this means that we have a relatively high percentage of people with dyed hair and facial piercings — but we also warmly welcome people of different races, socioeconomic classes, body sizes, gender identities, sexualities … and I could go on. The same tolerance Cornell does its best to formally extend to various races, the Risley community extends to so-called perverts and freaks as well. It is this spirit of acceptance and non-judgment that makes Risley such a progressive and welcoming home for so many people who would feel wildly out of place among the rest of Cornell.
At the end of the day, as they say, Risley is a home. But we’re not just like you. Honestly, we don’t really want to be. But if you decide to come hang out and use our shops, or put on a show in our theatre or you have another idea for some neat project you’d like to put into action, we’ll welcome you with open arms — exactly the way you are.

Sara McDermott is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a resident of Risley Hall. She can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears sporadically.