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Cornell Student and Campus Life manages several initiatives related to student housing, health and belonging.

September 6, 2023

Ryan Lombardi and Marla Love Share Student Campus Life Priorities

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Whether students are having a lazy day in their dorm room, visiting Cornell Health for a check-up or participating in an on-campus organization, Cornellians are constantly engaging in projects and initiatives developed by Student and Campus Life. Last Tuesday, Aug. 29, The Sun sat down with Vice President of SCL Ryan Lombardi and Dean of Students Marla Love to discuss the office’s top priorities for the coming years.

Residential Experience

Central to SCL’s priorities is developing and expanding the on-campus residential experience for first- and second-year students. Beginning last fall, all underclassmen were required to reside in campus-affiliated housing, a change that was aided by the development of additional dormitories through the North Campus Residential Expansion project, which added approximately 2,000 beds.

Currently, the historic women’s dormitory Balch Hall is undergoing renovations, which are slated to be completed in Fall 2024, with about half of the dormitory opening in the beginning of the semester, and the other 50 percent by mid-semester. Lombardi said the University plans to begin construction on the Gothic residence halls on West Campus next summer, focusing on exterior renovations, such as roofing and preventative measures for water leaking, over the course of four years. Residents told The Sun previously that they believe renovations are needed for the Gothics.

The next major renovation planned for the next few years is Clara Dickson Hall, according to Lombardi. He said that SCL has made tentative plans for the next 20 years for all residence halls that will need to be renovated, with Risley Residential College high on the list and Mary Donlon Hall lower in priority, being mindful to space out construction so that ample beds are available for students.

Lombardi also pointed to SCL’s recent decision to change the housing selection process for current sophomores and juniors. Now upperclassmen have the opportunity to reserve on-campus housing for the following year in September as opposed to the spring semester, which is more in line with the timeline students follow when deciding to sign off-campus leases.

“We’re continuing to tweak and iterate and change this process so that we can support as many students as want to live with us on campus in those later years as well,” Lombardi said.

But Cornell’s housing plans did not go without some controversy this year. To start the semester, dozens of mainly first-year students were forced to live in rooms with more students than the intended layout, or in lounge areas converted into dorm rooms.

“[Converting lounges to dorm rooms] is not a completely new practice for us. It was something that we had to do quite frequently pre-COVID. We still don’t love it. But it does happen when we get into these variables that are not always completely linear,” Lombardi said. “The good news is that of those lounges, none of them still have five students in them, so they’re all de-densified.”

By mandating more students live on campus, Cornell may be helping to slightly alleviate some of the housing problems not only in Collegetown, but also in the greater City of Ithaca. Students wishing to live in Collegetown typically sign leases almost a year in advance and face expensive price tags. The City of Ithaca is the second most expensive city to live in New York State and continues to manage its relatively-large homeless population.

“One of our very early stated objectives was to try to relieve some of that [housing] pressure by building all these new buildings on campus, because we wanted to do our part in the community and take some of that pressure off of Collegetown, not only for our students, which is of course our primary interest, but also the local community who is facing that housing shortage,” Lombardi said.

Love pointed to the Office of Off-Campus Living as a resource to help students navigate the off-campus marketplace.

Health and Wellbeing

Also falling under SCL’s purview are the University’s health and wellbeing initiatives on campus, including departments at Cornell Health, recreational and fitness facilities and student support and advocacy services. 

At the heart of the University’s guide to campus health and wellbeing is the Okanagan Charter, an aspirational document signed in October 2022 as a formal pledge to become a health-promoting campus.

“[It] is an aspirational guide to thinking about full campus wellness,” Love said. “Not just students, but faculty and staff, and not just at Cornell Health, but across campus, in classrooms, in co-curricular, in residence halls, to think about how we are creating an environment in which people feel sustained, renewed and feel invested in terms of health and wellbeing.”

Last semester, multiple governing bodies in the University passed resolutions calling for Cornell to hire an M.D. gynecologist, but the proposal was rejected by President Martha Pollack. The President stated that the primary care physicians within Cornell Health were equipped to handle common gynecological issues, but that specialty care is not the role of Cornell Health. 

Lombardi noted that Cornell has recently established a partnership with Weill Cornell Medicine to expand the specialty services offered to Cornell students through telehealth consultations.

“[This partnership] expands support for psychiatry, for OBGYN, for radiology, to make sure that we utilize some of the Cornell resources that we’re not able to have here on campus, but they’re a part of the Cornell ecosystem,” Lombardi said.

The University is also adopting a new Counseling and Psychological Services initiative by embedding a therapist into the academic colleges. Lombardi said a therapist will be hired with a physical office in the College of Veterinary Medicine as a pilot program in the coming months.

“[The College of Veterinary Medicine] is a good model because they’re the furthest away. It’s a unique healthcare program. It’s a very unique student population,” Lombardi said. “But we’re going to be watching this really carefully to see if this is a model that we could think about expanding in other arenas on campus too, this notion of having therapists not only in Cornell Health, but then embedded in other physical spaces on campus.”

New to the University this year, Cornell Health acquired a self-care 24/7 vending machine with emergency contraceptives including Plan B, condoms and other over-the-counter products. Lombardi told The Sun students can expect to see more vending machines with these products spread throughout campus.

Lombardi said the new vending machine facilitates easy and timely access to essential products. “It also gives students a bit of discretion and privacy so you’re not going to a counter asking for Plan B, but you can just go to a vending machine,” Love added.

Another resource provided by SCL is Student Support and Advocacy Services. This initiative helps students not only navigate challenging situations, but also parse through the resources Cornell has available. Love said a “dean of the day” can help connect students who are facing difficult circumstances, such as unexpected injuries or the loss of a loved one, to the support resources offered by the University.

“It’s a really supportive team of folks who want to meet students in moments where they’re like, ‘Hey, I really need to figure out a decision here,’ or ‘I’m struggling and in distress and really need some guidance,’” Love said.

Looking at wellness holistically, SCL also supports varsity athletics and the recreational and fitness facilities available on campus. Lombardi said the office is developing plans to upgrade fitness offerings, specifically regarding swimming pools, which are operating past their expected lifetime and are actively breaking down.

“We’re continually thinking about how we continue to enhance the facilities so that there are ample opportunities for students,” Lombardi said. “That’s one thing that the new athletic director and myself will be working really hard on the next number of years is developing plans… for a new kind of comprehensive recreational center, inclusive of new pools and all the stuff that we know that both, like in the pool case, that’s beneficial to both varsity athletes, to everyday students, to faculty, staff.”

While still in the early stages of development, Lombardi said a comprehensive recreational center could serve the entire Cornell community and support enhanced fitness pursuits.

Belonging at Cornell

Love said one of her top priorities is to “create an environment where students feel that they belong, that they have purpose and that they bring unique things that this campus needs and desires.” 

The SCL leaders said this is embodied in the newly-named Centers for Student Equity, Empowerment and Belonging, which consist of various identity-based programs and community spaces including the Asian and Asian American Center and Gender Equity Resource Center. Love said Black Student Empowerment and Latinx Student Empowerment spaces have recently been added to facilitate initiatives supporting Black and Latinx students. 

Love also said the First-Generation and Low-Income Student Support, Undocumented/DACA Student Support and the Kessler Scholars Program, which supports first-generation leaders, are all moving to be housed in the second floor of Barnes Hall — which is traditionally home to Cornell Career Services.

“We think that’s a nice synergy because it’s the career services office. It’s close to financial aid. It’s close to Anabel’s Grocery,” Love said. “This [is an] opportunity to think through a career in a population, first gen[eration] low-income population, who might need more navigation in those spaces. And so to have that partnership, just based on geography, is really, really exciting for us.”

Student Leadership

On how SCL connects with students, Lombardi and Love pointed to the Undergraduate Student Leadership Council, a group of student leaders who meet monthly with the office to create a “channel of connection between students and administrators,” according to Love.

Love said the Council allows her to learn about happenings in the student body, student concerns and interests, ways to enhance the student experience and ways the student experience may be evolving. This is also a way SCL attempts to share its messaging about the various resources students can be connected with.

“It’s a really great opportunity for us to hear what’s on the mind of students. Sidechat can’t give it to us all,” Love said, referring to a popular social media platform gaining popularity at Cornell. “It’s a cross-section of students to help us and to partner with us as we think through how the student experience is going and what we can continue to do in terms of working together.”

To read about Lombardi and Love’s perspective on free expression and recent developments with Starbucks, read our story here.