March 19, 2019

JONES | West Campus House Dinners Should Be Open to Everyone

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One Saturday last spring, my friend and I found an open piano room in the basement of Becker House on West Campus to break away from reality for a moment. I talked, laughed, but also enjoyed the sounds of the piano I could produce. Inspired by my playing, my friend encouraged me to perform in Becker House’s talent show later that month, which he was hosting.

Unfortunately, as we later discovered, because I was not a resident of Becker House, I was unable to participate in the talent show since it was held during a House Dinner. House Dinners, held every Wednesday night in each West Campus dining hall, are a distinct occasion in which the House Chef prepares a special menu, entertainment is provided by Cornell’s student organizations and faculty and students come together. Becker’s talent show is only one example of an event held at a House Dinner; other popular events have included performances by the Cornell Piano Society at Cook House and even a pre-health advising session and discussion at Bethe House.

After being prevented from entering the talent show, I was also reminded that any non-Becker resident is disallowed from eating there on Wednesday nights during the peak dinnertime, 6 to 7 p.m. Even worse, this prohibition is not limited to Becker House; every West Campus dining hall prohibits non-residents from eating there during the first hour of its House Dinner. While a one-hour prohibition doesn’t seem bad at first glance, the harsh reality is that most important House Dinner events occur during this hour.

Closing off House Dinners to non-residents is a missed opportunity for the concourse of a large portion of Cornell’s student body and faculty. House Dinners are some of the only occasions where students can eat and interact with their professors in an informal setting. One dinner-table conversation between a student and professor can easily lead to a discussion about research positions or future goals, benefiting both the student and professor. Unsurprisingly, Cook House strongly encourages interacting with professors at House Dinner, noting that it can “enhance your relationship [with your professor] through discussing academic pursuits and personal interests.”

Students seeking to live on West Campus the following semester or year, especially freshmen, use the dining and living experience of each West Campus House to help decide where they want to live. The optimal time to observe this, though, would be at a House Dinner event — during the prohibited hour — since the events usually correspond with the theme and lifestyle of the House. Bethe House, centered on the cultivation of intellect and integrity, often involves events like discussions about career options and science, for example.

Moreover, keeping House Dinners exclusive to residents is simply unnecessary. Immediately following the first hour of House Dinners most Wednesdays, two Becker House professors host an informal conversation hour in their apartments, open to the public regardless of their residence. Why can’t West Campus Houses do the same for their House Dinners? Opening the dining hall doors to the public would facilitate conversations between professors and students and enhance the West Campus dining experience in general.

Finally, closing off House Dinner to non-residents is uninviting, if not a little elitist. Cornell University and its on-campus residencies pride themselves on inclusivity, something which is not represented by the House Dinner policy. Non-residents that are on campus in the evening are effectively punished for not having a desire, or a lucky enough housing lottery timeslot, to live on West Campus by having significantly fewer dining options on Wednesday nights. This could be a little problematic for students who have prelims on Wednesday nights, since their only on-campus options would then be a possibly distant North Campus dining hall or Okenshields.

Cornell’s West Campus Houses form a great, unique aspect of Cornell because they aren’t so much dorms as they are communities. As such, extending the House Dinner invitation to everyone is an excellent way to bolster the interconnectedness among Cornellians and further enhance our already tight-knit university. By opening the dining hall doors one hour early, we can all more easily partake in the conversations that help shape our school, one student-professor interaction at a time.

Nile Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Rivers of Consciousness runs every other Wednesday this semester.