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Willard Straight Hall

Cornell University
Willard Straight Hall
Straight Hall
Western facade on Libe Slope
General information
Type Student union
Location Ithaca, New York, USA
Opening 1925

Willard Straight Hall is the student union building on the central campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It is located on Campus Road, adjacent to the Ho Plaza and the Gannett Health Center.


  • History 1
    • 1969 building takeover 1.1
  • Current uses 2
  • Further reading 3
  • External links 4
  • References 5


The construction of Willard Straight Hall was initiated by

  1. ^ Saulnier, Beth (July 8, 2010). "Cornell Alumni Magazine – Living History". Cornell Alumni Magazine. Retrieved July 9, 2010. 
  2. ^ F.E. Moyer, ”Cornell Student Activities,” Cornell Magazine (8:4)(Jan. 1895) at 187–194
  3. ^ "The Elmhirst Connection". The Straight.  
  4. ^ "The Straight Opens". The Straight.  
  5. ^ a b Geng, Julie (September 2, 2005). "Straight Up: The Construction of Willard Straight Hall".  
  6. ^ Anonymous (1982). Dartington. Webb & Bower.  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Neubauer, Richard L. (April 20, 1969). "Parents Expelled From Straight React With Fear, Relate Events".  
  9. ^ Warshauer, Richard M. (April 20, 1969). "White Attempt to Break In Sparks Dispute Over Cops".  
  10. ^ a b Lowery, George (Summer 2009). "40 years ago, a campus takeover that symbolized an era of change". Ezra Magazine (Ithaca, New York:  
  11. ^ Downs, Donald Alexander (April 1999). Cornell '69: liberalism and the crisis of the American university. Cornell University Press.  
  12. ^ N.Y.S. Education Law § 6430
  13. ^ Thomas Sowell, "The Day Cornell Died," Hoover Digest 1999 no. 4, November 30, 1999.
  14. ^ "Facilities". The Straight.  


  • Willard Straight Hall Home Page
  • Official Board of Governors Home Page (SUB)

External links

  • Leonard Knight Elmhirst, The Straight and Its Origin, 1975, OCLC 2046429 originally serialized in Cornell Alumni News, 1974–75
  • Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich, Norton, 2003, ISBN 0-393-73087-5

Further reading

The offices of Cornell Cinema and the Dean of Students Office are also in the building. [14]

The building currently encloses several dining facilities (Okenshields, The Ivy Room, and Cascadeli), and lounge spaces for students. A lounge on the south end of the building is named in honor of Leonard Elmhirst. Special facilities include: Several multi-purpose rooms used for dance and performance troupes, Cornell Cinema (in the Straight Theater), a full service digital computer lab, newly remodeled 2nd floor Elizabeth Staley Office of Student Support and Diversity Education, 5th floor Student Activities Office, Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, offices and mailboxes for student organizations, the 4th Floor WSH Art Gallery, and the Browsing Library, International Lounge, and Music Room. It formerly housed the Cornell Ceramics Studio, which closed in May 2011. A long-running joke among students concerns the placement of a power outlet on the ceiling of the staircase leading down to the Ivy Room.

Inside the Memorial Room, used for administrative meetings, dances, fashion shows, craft fairs, and weddings

Current uses

Beyond Cornell, the Straight Takeover led to the New York State Legislature enacting the Henderson Law, which required each college to adopt "Rules of the Maintenance of Public Order."[12] Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to the Straight Takeover in speeches as an example of the excess of college students. Thomas Sowell would later refer to the takeover as the result of policies intended to "increase minority student enrollment... by admitting students who would not meet the existing academic standards at Cornell." In Sowell's opinion, some of the militants accepted "turned out to be hoodlums who terrorized other black students".[13]

On campus, the Straight Takeover led to the formation of the University Senate, a restructuring of the Board of Trustees, a new campus judicial system, and the foundation of the Africana Studies and Research Center. By the end of the academic year, Cornell President James Perkins resigned.[11]

Ultimately, the Cornell Administration, particularly Vice President Steven Muller, negotiated an end to the building takeover. However, the photos of the students marching out of the Straight carrying rifles and wearing bandoliers made the national news and won a Pulitzer Prize for Associated Press photographer Steve Starr.[10]

In the 1968–69 school year, the university judicial system was the center of a controversy in connection with the disciplining of African-American students who had engaged in a protest. As racial tensions escalated, some African-American students demanded amnesty for the accused protesters as well as the establishment of an Africana Studies center. On April 19, 1969, some of them occupied Willard Straight Hall, ejecting parents who were visiting for "Parents Weekend" from the hotel rooms on the upper floors.[8] Subsequently, white students from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led by C. David Burak formed a protective cordon outside the building.[10]

Willard Straight Hall and Ho Plaza as seen from McGraw Tower.

1969 building takeover

As Cornell built more dormitories on the West Campus and the North Campus, two additional buildings supplemented the Straight to serve students: Noyes Center on West Campus and the North Campus Union (now Robert Purcell Community Center) on North Campus. The combined operation constituted the Department of University Unions. In 1970, with the advent of the University Senate, University Unions became a part of the new Division of Campus Life. In order to end duplication and tensions between the University Unions and the Dean of Students Office, University Unions merged into the latter Department.

Prior to 1969, the upper floors of the Straight served as a hotel for Cornell's visitors and guests. The broadcast studios of the WVBR Radio station were in a lower level. The building also housed the University Theatre, where until 1988 the Cornell Dramatic Club (formed in 1925 from the merger of the Dramatic Club and the Women’s Dramatic Club) staged almost 50 performances a year.[5]

From Willard Straight Hall's opening, the main desk was staffed by undergraduate students. In addition, the building's policies are set, updated, and enforced by the student-led Willard Straight Hall Board of Governors, more commonly known on campus as the Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board (SUB). However, the North Entrance was at first reserved for men, women being relegated to a second entrance at the south end of the building.

Leonard Elmhirst came from a land-owning family in Yorkshire, England. The seeds for his study of agriculture in Ithaca, NY and subsequent Dartington Hall School and "Institute for Rural Reconstruction' in the agriculturally impoverished England of the 1920s were sown on his first visit to India during World War I. Willard Straight Memorial Hall was designed by a noted architect of the day, William Adams Delano,[5] and constructed from the local "llenroc" bluestone, a feldspathic sandstone; the architectural model for its Gothic revival style may have been the 14th-century Dartington Hall in Devon, which the newlyweds purchased in 1925.[6][7]

The North Lobby entrance on the eastern side of the building on Ho Plaza. This entrance was previously limited to use by men.

In 1918, recently widowed, Dorothy Whitney Straight met a Cornell Agriculture student, Leonard Knight Elmhirst, who persuaded her to visit the campus. Elmhirst and Straight together with certain faculty members decided that the best realization of Willard Straight's wish that some of his estate be used to make Cornell a more "human place" was to build a student union building. Elmhirst graduated from Cornell and left for India in 1921. For the next three years, Dorothy Straight oversaw planning for Willard Straight Memorial Hall, which was to be built with part of her Whitney family fortune in addition to Willard Straight's bequest. The cornerstone was laid on June 15, 1924 and the dedication ceremony was held on November 25, 1925. Elmhirst and Dorothy Straight had been married in April 1925.[3][4]

Later, Barnes Hall was built to house the Students’ Christian Association in 1888. [2]

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