March 10, 2009

Students Lament W. Campus Housing Discrepancies

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Last week’s housing lottery highlighted concerns over whether the West Campus housing system is evolving into an increasingly two-tiered hierarchy of living options. While many students were satisfied with their assignment to rooms in the new dormitories, those assigned to the Gothics expressed concern over a mounting discrepancy between their accommodations and those provided to their peers.
Proponents of the new residential initiative argue that the house system has positively influenced the overall quality of living on West Campus, but some students are concerned that the Gothics have been left behind by the initiative.
Prof. Ross Brann, near eastern studies, Alice Cook house dean and co-chair of the west campus house system council defended the Gothics, calling them “an architectural treasure, a part of Cornell’s history.” While acknowledging the tendency for the newer buildings to fill up first in the housing lottery, Brann raised the point that many of the older rooms are actually larger than their newer counterparts, and that many students in fact prefer the older dormitories and the historical ambiance they provide.
Elissa Rosenberg ’10, a former resident of Founders hall has a different perspective.
“Honestly, no one in the Gothics after living there would want to live there again … when you are looking at it in comparison to the much, much nicer dorms like Becker and Bethe.”
Rosenberg believes that residents of the Gothics should not have to pay equal housing rates as residents of the newer dorms.
“It is really unfair since we don’t have the same luxuries as they have, such as air conditioning, in house laundry …”
Construction on the $225 million dollar West Campus Residential Initiative began in 2003, and resulted in five new dormitories that comprise the house system –– Alice Cook, Hans Bethe, Carl Becker, William Keeton and Flora Rose. Each new dormitory houses about 350 students, features an in-house dining hall, laundry facilities, a library and common study areas with couches, fireplaces and pianos.
By contrast, the Gothics dormitorios –– Founders, Mennen, Lyon, McFaddin, Baker and Boldt –– were completed in 1933 and house fewer than 100 students each. There are no elevators, no dining halls and most do not contain laundry facilities.
The University has made improvements to many of the older buildings this year, including the addition of fresh paint coats, new carpeting, and new appliances for dormitory kitchens.
As for any larger scale renovations to the Gothics, Brann said that this financial climate is not the setting in which to launch another capital project, and while “… we would hope and expect that that would happen … [renovations are] not even something we can think about.”
However, for some students, the problem is not merely one of facility quality but rather whether the new house system has extended its sense of community to residents of the Gothics.
Kerry Quinn ’10 has lived in the Gothics for the past two years. Quinn did not find fault with the facilities, but rather with the lack of community within.
“The buildings are fine,” Quinn said, but noted that the dorm was just a place to sleep in the midst of his busy schedule. He said he does not know many people on his hall and has established most of his friendships through extracurricular activities.
Kayla Fang ’10, a former Founders resident, found her west campus experience isolating.
“The Gothics were very much on the periphery of the West Campus community” she said, citing the small population of Founders hall — the largest of the Gothics — in relation to that of the newer dormitories, and the shortage of communal areas for studying, lounging and meeting housemates within the dorm.
Brann argues that because all of the Gothics have been incorporated into the house system, their residents have access to all of the same facilities as residents of the newer buildings. Gothics residents are free to study in the new libraries, utilize the new laundry facilities, and attend the same house-sponsored programs.
Brann said that the old and new dorms are programmatically identical, with house programs open to all members of the Cornell community.
“There’s no distinction whatsoever,” he said.
Perhaps the issue of community isn’t related to whether students live in the old versus the new dorms, but rather a West Campus issue in general.
Katy Braun ’10 lives in one of the new houses on West and feels that her dorm lacks a cohesive community.
“I think the west campus system really tries to promote this false idea that your house is going to be a tight-knit community … Most of the people I’ve talked to agree that you really need to have an established group of friends if you live in one of the houses, because you’re not going to meet a lot of people through the dorm.”