December 11, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Cornell’s Student Veterans Deserve A Home

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We call on President Martha Pollack and the Cornell administration to repurpose the former Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at 525 Stewart Avenue as a program house for veterans and civic-minded students. A group of students and alumni have proposed this drastic change for the house to Vice President Lombardi with more than 118 letters of support.  We, a current student and an alumnus both unaffiliated with Phi Kappa Psi, wholeheartedly back this proposal. Cornell should dedicate 525 Stewart for veterans and their civilian allies. The Cornell Undergraduate Veteran Association has sought a space to call its own since its establishment in 2015.  Repurposing 525 Stewart would support civic-minded students. Additionally, it would support many of Cornell’s ongoing initiatives and be a substantial step towards making Cornell the leading home for student veterans among its peers. 

Cornell serves a variety of students in a variety of ways. One of us came to Cornell at 17, enjoyed four years on the Hill and left for the U.S. Army.  As with most of the student body, his Cornell experience served as a transformation from an adolescent to a functional young adult and colored everything that came after it: learning to fly helicopters, traveling across the United States and spending many months all over the world.  The other author, a current student, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 18, spent six years in federal employment, and made his way to Cornell just over a year ago.  Here, the Cornell experience is focused on a transition from one life chapter to the next: a Government major, Cornell in Washington and an aspiration to attend law school.

Student veterans largely share a transitional experience. Creating a veteran and civic-minded program house recognizes that veterans are a legally protected identity group worth acknowledging and respecting in the Cornell narrative on equal footing with other Diversity and Inclusion groups granted dedicated housing. The community at 525 Stewart will join under one roof students who want to enter the international arena and those returning from the same, and it will improve the experience of both.  Students with the optimism and naivety of youth would have their views enriched and challenged by students with more life experience. At the same time, older students would be encouraged by their younger, more open peers to critically examine the pieces of their identity they may have ignored while getting on with life. 

A veteran and civic-minded program house also aligns with broader University initiatives. Provost Kotlikoff is leading a charge to enroll more than 100 undergraduate veterans. Thus far, Cornell is home to 67 undergraduate veterans, with more expected to be admitted in the Spring. Prioritizing 525 Stewart for veterans and civic-minded students would provide a literal home for those student-veterans. Alumni Affairs and Development, with help from multiple alumni of the Cornell Undergraduate Veteran Association, recently launched the Cornell Military Network to provide a community for veterans and civic-minded alumni. 525 Stewart would give these alumni a place to call home on campus. The Cornell Institute of Politics and Global Affairs seeks to solidify Cornell’s position on the world stage. 525 Stewart could provide a metaphorical home in Ithaca for the New York-based Institute.  

525 Stewart is University-owned. The sponsors of this house additionally proposed that the house be dry and substance misuse free — a requirement we think contributes to Flavia Tomasello’s challenge for ‘cultural change in colleges’ social life.’ We also hope that the environment in 525 Stewart will match Ms. Tomasello’s goal: “that students will be armed with the information they need to make good decisions, to balance adventure and new experience, with safe and compassionate choices.” With this change and its new mission, 525 Stewart can be a place where undergraduate and graduate students live and learn in a lodge dedicated to national security, defense, diplomacy, international trade and civil society support abroad. This outcome has the potential to improve both Cornell and the world. Let’s empower tomorrow’s leaders by giving civic-minded Cornellians a home today. 

Robert Callahan ’14 is a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences.  Roland Molina ’22 is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the President of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association.  The views are the authors’ alone and do not represent the position of the Department of Defense, any of its components, or any part of the federal government. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.