North Campus by air, populated almost entirely by freshmen.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photographer

North Campus by air, populated almost entirely by freshmen.

August 24, 2019

Attention Freshman: The Backstory of Your New North Campus Home

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Bad or good, everyone has their first-year housing story: meeting their future best friend, dealing with an insomniac roommate or, for those in a single, the quiet.

As the class of 2023 finishes up the second day of move-in, The Sun took a look back at the history and ongoing process of North Campus housing.

The first dorm on what became today’s North Campus was Risley Residential College, built in 1913 and referred to as the first of the “women’s dorms.” Further developments in the area — Balch Hall in 1929, Clara Dickson Hall in 1946 and Donlon Hall in 1961 —  were constructed as all-female dorms.

The area encompassing these dorms was officially dubbed “North Campus” in 1970 during the construction of the co-ed Low Rise and High Rise complexes, as well as the North Campus Union, now known as the Robert Purcell Community Center.

RPCC’s dining hall will be replaced in the upcoming $250 million North Campus renovation — so, freshmen, get your Mongolian barbeque and RPCC brunch while you can.

A 1927 picture of Risley's dining hall, which is modeled after a building at Oxford University. At this time, the hall only housed women.

Courtesy of Cornell University

A 1927 picture of Risley’s dining hall, which is modeled after a building at Oxford University. At this time, the hall only housed women.

Later expansions to North Campus included the establishment of a number of “program houses” to accompany Risley, which was made into an creative-arts focused dormitory in 1970.

Click here for a 2008 primer on some of the traditions that make Risley unique. Many, like Pool — involving a midnight “swimming” session — still go on today. Risley is also home to Cornell’s resident pole dancing troupe.

Program houses are smaller dorms dedicated to the specific interests of Cornell’s diverse student body. There are nine different Program Houses. The newest among these niche residences is the Loving House, which is meant as inclusive housing for LGBTQ+ students.

First proposed through a 1992 Student Assembly resolution, the Loving House was finally approved in 2018 and will be opening in Mews Hall for the Fall 2019 semester. You can read a deep dive into the Loving House’s background here.

The east side of Mews Hall's first floor has the capacity to house approximately 30 students, and is the new location of the Loving House.

Sun File Photo

The east side of Mews Hall’s first floor has the capacity to house approximately 30 students, and is the new location of the Loving House.

Also among the program residences, the Ecology House, draws in close to 100 residents each year, all interested in “protecting the environment” and pursuing “environmentalism.”

It’s a bit of a hike from the other North Campus dorms, which residents typically make on foot or by bike.

“It’s decently far,” Keshin Visahan ’21, a first-year resident of Eco House, said about his experiences in the green community. “[But] the rooms are big; many have their own bathrooms. It’s quiet around and beautiful.”

“AC is nice too,” he continued.

Apart from Eco House, only Mews Hall, the townhouses and Court-Kay-Bauer have air-conditioning, which makes box fans a hot commodity for new students.

Some North Campus dorms also had a lot of trouble at the beginning of last semester due to broken or faulty heating equipment. Cornell saw its first snowfall in late October of last year.

If a new student is living in a program house, they had to indicate that they wanted to live in the house during the housing process. For all students, there’s a form that allows ranking of their housing choices. This is accompanied by a “lifestyle preference survey” meant to match students with similar habits as roommates.

This survey includes questions gauging a student’s nighttime activity to whether the new students smokes or not. Cornell toyed with the idea of banning tobacco across campus last year, but it is still permitted as of now.

The Housing Office tries to assign based on those rankings — but everything else after that is random. Prices are standardized for all rooms as well, depending on the number of occupants.

Balch Hall in the snow.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Balch Hall in the snow.

Aileen Martinez ’23, a first-year student in to Donlon Hall, said that the process was easy and she was pleased with her assignment.

“[For me] the most important factor was location (Donlon Hall is located in the middle of North Campus) and that it included both genders.”

For those not interested in a random roommate, the Housing Office “accommodates requests to be placed with a specific roommate or roommates,” which means new students can choose their roommate.

Facebook groups and social media group chats have sprung up in order to connect first-year students with potential roommates, rather than leave selection up to chance. The largest of these groups is the Cornell Class of 2023 Facebook group, which has over 3,300 members.

Nicholas Gregory Cicero ’21, who lived in Bauer Hall for his freshman year, was one of these students.

“I put in the 2021 group if anyone needed a roommate,” he said. His new roommate, he said, was the only one who liked the message.