Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

The sun shines through Founders Hall (left), and Baker Tower (right), two of the West Campus Gothics, on Sept. 5, 2023.

September 6, 2023

Students Question Hygiene, Safety of West Campus Gothics

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Abbie Conrad ’26, a resident of Baker Tower in Alice Cook House, slept multiple nights wearing her AirPods set to the noise-canceling function. Water was dripping inside the heaters in her room, so loudly it kept Conrad and her suitemates awake at night. She called her on-call graduate resident fellow to report the issue and ask for repairs, but they informed her it was not an emergency and she would need to wait for the maintenance request to be addressed, which typically takes 24 hours to process. 

“It just feels like they honestly don’t care that we’re living like this,” Conrad said.

The West Campus Gothics, which includes Baker Tower, have become associated with unwanted critters and maintenance issues among Cornell’s student body, despite their outward, ivy-lined beauty. However, Karen Brown, senior director of campus life marketing and communications, said that it is common for unwanted pests to enter residences through open doors and windows during move-in, and that the University works with local authorities to address any issues.

“We work with the Tompkins County Environmental Health Division as needed to assess exposure risks, and with pest control vendors as needed,” Brown said.

According to Nicole Cioffi ’26, a resident of Founders Hall, another resident found a bat on the third floor. Everyone in the building was instructed to stay in their rooms for an afternoon so animal control could remove it.

Sia Harisingani ’26, who lives in North Baker Hall, said she improvised her own methods of dealing with pests. When she and other residents found two bats in one of the lounges, they were forced to chase one of them with a pillow until maintenance could respond. Harisingani was also ultimately instructed to stay in her room until the bats were removed from the building.

“I was extremely surprised and quite scared when I first saw the bat,” Harisingi said. “Even more so when I realized that there were two.”

Cioffi also said she noticed an abundance of bees and other bugs in her living spaces and communal bathrooms. 

“It’s uncomfortable to go into the bathroom and try to get ready for the day and think there are going to be bugs in there,” Cioffi said. “It makes it difficult to live.”

Dead wasps in the bathroom of Baker Tower Gothic. (Courtesy of Abigail Conrad ’26)

Bat and bug infestations are not the only issues that affect the Gothics, whose residents have also complained of essentials such as showers and window screens falling into disrepair. Both Conrad and Petros Georgiou ’26, a resident of South Baker Hall, said the shower in their suites often lack hot water — an issue that Conrad mentioned could be a safety issue as temperatures begin to drop.

“The shower itself doesn’t even get hot — the water is always cold,” Conrad said. “[This] feels like a health hazard to me, especially as winter comes around.”

Georgiou, meanwhile, said he faced long wait times for basic maintenance such as paper towel replacements and stressed Cornell should be maintaining the older residence halls even as new ones open on North Campus, a complaint that students have been raising for over a decade.

“Especially with how much they are working on the new dorms, it would be the bare minimum to keep the older dorms to the same status,” Georgiou said.

Brown told the Sun that Housing and Residential Life staff are taking immediate action to address complaints. 

“Our team is actively following that protocol this week, including looking for gaps in exterior walls and roof joints, and securing screens on windows that lack them or where they’re not tightly attached,” Brown said. 

Brown noted that Student and Campus Life has a housing strategy that includes spending about $6 to 8 million annually on maintenance and repair of residential dorms. 

“The Gothics on West Campus, among our most cherished and memorable buildings on campus, are a current priority in our comprehensive housing renewal plan,” Brown said.

According to Cornell’s 2022 spending plan, the administration spent $74 million on repairs and maintenance last year, which is slightly more than one percent of its $5.26 billion budget. These expenses include the cost of utilities, as well as routine and preventive maintenance.

(Cornell Operating Budget)

Some Gothics residents, however, said they have seen no change in the quality of their living conditions.

“I honestly think they just need to be faster in their responses and have at least a little more concern for our well-being,” Conrad said.

However, not all Gothics residents were displeased with their living situations. Ella Rimland ’26, a resident of North Baker Hall, transferred to Cornell this year from State University of New York at Binghamton. She said although her dorm at SUNY Binghamton had newer, more modern facilities, she appreciates the beauty and social environment of her dorm now.

“I’m pretty satisfied with my experience,” Rimland said. “There’s not too much for the higher-ups to change in my opinion.”

Similarly, Mary Ellison ’26, a resident of McFaddin Hall, also had no complaints regarding the safety and hygiene of her living quarters. 

“I have not been affected by any infestations, and I have seen maybe two bugs and no rodents or bats,” Ellison said.

Regardless, some Gothics residents remain frustrated with Cornell’s lack of timely response and care for these living issues.

“I definitely think [Cornell] should deal with it, because students are living there and it should be our safe space to go to,” Cioffi said. “This is supposed to be our home away from home.”