By Gigi Antonelle, Sarah Peck, Rob Romano, Brett Weiser-Schlesinger
Chancellor Kent Syverud and Dr. Ruth Chen open the doors to their historic residence as part of the One University initiative.
While the residence of Syracuse University’s Chancellor at 300 Comstock Ave. may seem off limits or even mysterious to many students, Chancellor Kent Syverud has been on a mission to change that. Since being inaugurated as Syracuse University’s chancellor in January 2014, Syverud and his wife, Dr. Ruth Chen, have opened up their home to thousands of Syracuse University students and staff as part of the school’s “One University” events. The purpose of these events is to gather members of the university together to talk and get to know people from different aspects of campus.
“We started with the goal of having every student be here before they graduate,” Syverud said.
As part of the One University program, Syverud invites leaders of student organizations to receptions at the residence as a way to better know the student population. These receptions are steeped in the house’s history.
The University acquired the chancellor’s 20-room home in 1915 from William and Eloise Holden Nottingham. The house, which was built in 1901, cost about $125,000 at the time it was bought in exchange for the previous chancellor’s home at 604 University Ave. and a cash donation from John Archbold. In the 1930s, it was home to an annual freshman reception, where Chancellor William Pratt Graham and his wife welcomed the approximately 2,000 new students to an event that was “as gay as a fraternity ball.”
Television, radio & film junior Erin Skelly recently attended a 2016 One University reception on behalf of Syracuse University’s sketch comedy group, Float Your Boat. Based on her experience, the home tour allows the chancellor to show off his comedic side.
“He brought us into this room in the house and he closed the doors and turned off the lights and was like, ‘isn’t this spooky?’” she said. “He was just really funny.”
Beyond the jokes, Syverud impressed Skelly by knowing the best spots for photos.
“We asked to take a picture with him, and he was like ‘Oh, let’s use this lighting,’” Skelly said.
Math education junior Julie Harnett said she was amazed by the Chancellor’s House during the first of two One University visits.
“The first time I was there I was amazed by it,” Harnett said. “The house also feels very comfortable and very welcoming. I think it was the chancellor who made the remark that it was a campus building, so he had mentioned that he wanted students to have the experience to be in there.”
“I think that him saying that helped create the welcoming environment that I felt.”
Along with Syverud, Chen attends most of the receptions and interacts with students, often telling them about lesser-known facts of the house. For example, the house has a third floor party room that is no longer used for events because of fire code regulations. Additionally, a pool was removed from the property because students threw things into it, and there is a “secret door” that was once used by the butler.
Despite the university’s efforts to get more people inside the residence, an informal survey conducted in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the Einhorn Family Walk, Schine Student Center and the Life Science Complex, showed that of 100 students polled, less than a dozen had been inside the chancellor’s house.
Syverud wants these receptions to bring the Syracuse community together. At the Nov. 28, 2016 One University reception, Syverud advised the crowd of student leaders to find another student organization that they didn’t know existed, mingle and take advantage of the free food.
“Find an organization that you can be synergistic with,” he said.
Harnett recalled a story the chancellor likes to tell about Zamboni drivers and a student organization known as Zamboni Revolution. Syverud is proud of the way he brought people together in this way, Harnett said.
“The Zamboni drivers let Zamboni Revolution promote one of their performances via the Zamboni, the actual Zamboni in the hockey rink,” Harnett said. “I know he was very proud of that and laughing about it because I think he recognized that it was kind of silly.
“That’s something he is very passionate about, making the connections across campus between very different groups and finding something in common.”
When it comes to connecting different parts of the Syracuse campus as one university, the chancellor’s mansion may be considered a place that accomplishes this. Sitting on the edge of the Syracuse University campus, the house is a symbol of orange pride.
Mrs. Eggers, the wife of Chancellor Melvin Eggers, once said: “This house belongs to the University, so it belongs to you as well as me.”
Her words still ring true today.