The new sorority and student activities cottages opened their doors to students and alumni on Saturday afternoon after three years of planning and decades of anticipation.
Especially for students in sororities, the cottages have become the realization of a long-time dream to give each chapter a space on campus it can call its own.
"They haven't had a place to just be women and be sisters," said Alison Bartel Keller, director of student activities.
Since 1989, when the sororities were first chartered on campus, Keller's role was keeping the dream of an activities center alive, so that when the opportunity came to create one, Keller said, they would be ready.
With the appointments of Edward Ayers as president and Steve Bisese as vice president for student development three years ago, the opportunity arrived, Keller said. Both new leaders had agreed that Richmond needed a place for women in Greek life.
With a budget allocation of $5.2 million, Bisese and Keller worked with architects, builders and university facilities staff to make the cottages not only a social space on campus, but also an area equipped to host indoor and outdoor activities. The courtyard itself is a facility, wired with a centralized sound system.
The process was not without its challenges, Keller said, describing her role as a liaison between the board of builders and administrators and the sororities and student groups.
And, even with a budget of more than $5 million, Keller said an important challenge had been making sure that whatever the financial impact was, it would be affordable, so that joining a sorority would still be a viable option for those who wanted to participate.
The primary focus now, Keller said, is teaching sorority members how to use the cottages. "It's going to open up a world of opportunity that we haven't had," she said.
Alumni at the cottage opening said they would also benefit from the new cottages.
"As an alum, when you get a chance to come back, you'll have a place to go," said Mary Anne McKown, a Delta Gamma of the class of 1992. "It's a lovely place to store your history."
Molly Zaidel Slack, a Kappa Alpha Theta of the class of 1991, said she had been waiting for a space to be created for sororities since she had rushed in the first official recruitment run by the university. Having been on the advisory board for 13 years, she said she was excited that it had finally happened.
McKown agreed. "It's a long time coming," she said, adding that it was exciting, but also sad. "It's shocking to me that it took this long."
McKown also said that the cottages would provide some continuity in sorority life, a point that senior Jenna Flack, the president of the National Pan-Helenic Council, representing Delta Sigma Theta, echoed strongly.
"We're mostly excited to get to know the other sororities and bond in the spirit of sisterhood," she said. Flack said she hoped that being part of the cottage courtyard would bridge the gap between the two sorority councils on campus.
"And we can do it in style," she said, "because these cottages are fly."
Contact reporter Katie Branca at email@example.com