Residence Hall for Women
opened in 1913
was given to Cornell University
Mrs. Rachel Sage
of the City of New York
and at her request was named
in honor of her husband's mother
Prudence Risley Hall
The site of this hall
together with the adjoining lots
in all about four acres
being the first extension of
the campus of Cornell University
to the North of the Gorge
was a gift of
Emerson McMillin, Esq.
of the city of New York
April 8 1911
Article I: Name
A. The name of this organization shall be Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts. (Apr. 1987)
Article II: Purpose
A. The purpose of Risley Residential College is to promote the creative and performing arts in the Cornell and Ithaca communities
Risley Hall is a dormitory on Cornell University's North Campus. The building is a brick castle on Thurston Avenue, facing Zeta Psi, Louie's Lunch, and the Latino Living Center on the East and falling into the Fall Creek gorge on the South. Risley was originally built in the 1910s to house genteel young ladies, some of whom lived in suites which consisted of two rooms: a large sitting room and a small bedroom. These suites have since been subdivided, leading to some exceptionally small dorm rooms, though there are also some unfairly large ones, and even a couple with balconies. Risley was reorganized in 1970 as a coed program house. It houses 190 students, at least 25% of whom must be freshman. With the dual exceptions of the Virgin's Corridor and the Monk's Corridor, every hallway in the building is coed, and so is every bathroom.
Risley members are all required to submit an application, including an essay, and to pay an $80 anual activity fee. Out-of-house members, who need not be Cornell students, recieve a key to the building and full use of its facilities. Risley employs two Guest Suite Artists, who live in the building and organize regular programs in which Risleyites participate. Many of the inner walls are painted over with murals by the residents. The building contains shops for art, digital music, jewelry, sewing, printmaking, video editing, wood working, metalworking, stained glass, and pottery, as well as a recording studio and a darkroom. It also houses Risley Theatre (http://www.rso.cornell. edu/risleytheatre), Tammany Nightclub, a small library, a music room, and a dining hall. The latter is modelled after Christchurch Refectory at Oxford University, and has, sculpted into its high moldings, a series of upset looking gremlins whose expressions and gestures depict the fourteen stages of botulism. Entrants to the dining hall have their meal plan card swiped by the inimitable Mathis Jackson, THE MAN BEHIND THE MACHINE.
There is a lot going on in Risley. The theatre runs plays all through the semester (I recently had the priviledge of watching "Godot! The Musical" by Jared Emerson-Johnson and Nick Dunfey) and bands play in Tammany almost every week. There are regular television marathons, including a yearly Twin Peaks marathon that lasts three days. There are also weekly programs such as Eat This!, Lost Coffee, and the Glowing Lobster Cafe. This semester one of the Guest Suite Artists ran a weekly acting workshop, and the other frequently presented slide shows of his photographic work. Risley also puts big events, such as a live production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show each semester, and Masquerave, a Holloween Ball. Both of these draw hundreds of people and generate the revenue that supports smaller projects. The building also hosts a yearly community recital of Handel's Messiah. Outside groups regularly request the use of space inside and outside the building, and every Sunday members of the Society for Creative Anachronism can be seen wearing armor and fencing on the lawn.
In the interests of unpredictability, students are free to run programs after any interest, and they can easily obtain allocations of money and spacetime from Risley's self-governing body, Kommittee. Of course, the activities that result tend not to reflect Cornell's institutional goals. This past year during orientation week there was a communal hair dying party, a few years ago Risley hosted a "Roman massage party" that quickly degenerated into a bona fide orgy, and there is a yearly porn night. The semi-official Risley purity test awards points for each common room one has had sex in, and for each staff member one has had sex with. A group of residents termed the AmphibiRisleyites regularly lounge naked in a wading pool full of hot water in the rear courtyard; those among them who are suitably hardcore even do so in the rain and snow. Risley's lawn has been the site of a huge snow penis, famed as the largest within a hundred miles. Capitalizing on its spontaneous atmosphere, the protagonist of Matt Ruff's 1988 novel Fool on the Hill hung out in Risley, with a group of students who called themselves the Bohemians. The current cabal of Risley cool kids mockingly calls itself the Riselite.
Risley is cliquish and incestuous. Here's an item of Rislingo: Unkatunk, adjective, related to you by virtue of having exchanged body fluids with someone with whom you too have exchanged bodily fluids. Drawing up mental or literal trees of unkatunkhood is a popular pastime. Risley's official political procedures are byzantine, and often degenerate into power struggles between the student-run Kommittee, presided over by ¡El Presidente for Life! (who is, incidentally, elected), and the Residence Hall Director, who works directly for Campus Life. An item of graffitti in the first floor bathroom asks "Are You Risley Bitter?", and as of yesterday there was an equal number of "yes" and "no" responses. And yet, here's another item of Rislingo: Rislifer, noun, somebody who has lived in Risley for all four of his or her years as an undergraduate. There are a number of rislifers living in Risley now, and I know of at least two current seniors who will be living here next year as graduate students. Risley has an astounding wealth of resources, and these may be what attract people to live here. But they aren't what make people stay. Risley is special, at least to some. Its atmosphere is exciting, its residents are eccentric, its history is proud, and its traditions are both entertaining and painfully endearing. The building is, overall, a fantastic place to live, even if it has a reputation for sketchiness. Those Risleyites who are clear sighted tend make the distinction: I hate Cornell, but Risley is not Cornell.
See http://www.mattababy.org/~belmonte/Risley/cv13/lex.htm for a complete Rislingo dictionary