February 9, 2023

KEMPFF | What Cornell Got Wrong About Housing

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I don’t like it. It’s hard to make friends.

This is now familiar commentary from residents about life on West Campus. When I first heard this, I asked them: How could this be? Wasn’t it clearly much better than my shoebox in the infamous Mary Donlon Hall? 

Many residents are excited at the prospect of living in these brand new dorms, many of whom are experiencing college life for the first time. Unfortunately, a segmented design and feeling of isolation often seem to follow these students.

I’ve spoken to about a dozen freshmen who live in the new dorms on North Campus. When asked how nice it must be, they have similar responses. It’s walled off. Isolating. In fact, the people I’ve come across seem to spend much of their time escaping their new dorms. 

Cornell has spent millions of dollars to build these new palaces. Instead of a happier student body, however, these dorms may have the opposite effect. For multiple years, The Cornell Daily Sun has reported on the isolating nature of the new dorms. 

So, what should Cornell do? It’s time to relax the new on campus housing requirements and give students the chance to foster their own community. It’s also time to rethink the format of the student dorm areas to make them more liveable.

Empowering students to make their own housing choices is not new for Cornell. A.D. White advocated for off campus living, and this tradition carried for many years. But the university has pushed harder and harder for on campus living, culminating into the requirement for two years of affiliated living.  

Many sophomores may end up opting to live on West or North campus — and that makes perfect sense. But providing them with the choice to live in Collegetown or elsewhere if they so choose may help alleviate some of the pains found in the new dorm accommodations. 

The truth is, though, that Cornell has already undertaken a massive expansion. So what can we do with what we already have? 

I’m reflecting on the differences between Collegetown, where I live and the new dorms. Collegetown is eclectic, filled with a mix of businesses, high rises and houses that don’t at all match. That’s what makes it great. It’s vibrant, with an energy that’s visible even on the coldest winter nights. 

It’s a different feeling than the one near the new expansions. It feels sterile, or at least subdued. 

A long term plan for the University should include more mixed use facilities that mimic Collegetown. I’m imagining restaurants, businesses or maybe even a bar. It should feel more connected, instead of just a place for people to lay their heads at at the end of the day. Creating a less residential atmosphere will foster a stronger community.

The university is clearly committed to improving student well being. But the new dorms may be having the opposite effect. No one’s Cornell experience should be lonely. It’s time for Cornell to put students first and rethink its approach to its on campus housing problem. 

Brendan Kempff is a senior in the Hotel School. He can be reached at [email protected]. Slope Side runs every other Thursday this semester.