Though she moved nearly 700 miles away from Syracuse University after her graduation in 1950, Renée Schine Crown ’50, H’84 has never let the distance between Syracuse and Chicago stand in the way of a deep and abiding connection to her beloved alma mater. The recipient of multiple awards for her philanthropy and her service to the Board of Trustees and the College of Arts and Sciences , she is one of the University’s most esteemed alumni. And for good reason.
Crown is a longtime advocate for ensuring that every Syracuse University student has the opportunity for an exceptional experience that defines what it means to be Orange. That vision has guided her work on the Board of Trustees, its Executive Committee and University Relations Committee, and on the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors. She was co-chair of leadership gifts for the Campaign for Syracuse and served on the $300 million Commitment to Learning Campaign Executive Committee. She has received the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumnae Award, the George Arents Pioneer Medal, the Chancellor's Medal for Outstanding Achievement, and an honorary doctorate. Following her retirement from the Board and—thanks in part to the tremendous generosity of Crown and her husband, Lester—the Honors Program was named the "Renée Crown University Honors Program” in recognition of her service to and support of the University.
Laying the Groundwork for Transformation
The newly renovated Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center opens this semester. When Renée Schine Crown spoke at the 2014 inauguration for Chancellor Kent Syverud, she lauded him as the right leader at the right time “who would build on our strengths and core values, our intrepid spirit and our capacity for innovation to address the evolving challenges and needs of the times.” The idea of transforming the Schine Student Center began to take shape shortly thereafter as part of the Campus Framework, the 20-year roadmap to meet the evolving needs of students.
“Schine will be the new home away from home for all our students,” says Robert Hradsky, vice president for the student experience. The renovated building will house dining, student cultural centers, activities and organizations. “This will be a very special place where our students can find safety and support in navigating the complexities of college and set a course for successful futures.”
Long before its current renovation, the Schine Student Center earned its reputation as the gateway to campus, the pulse of student life and the heart of the student experience. Before it was built, there was no central location for students to gather. In 1937, Club Sahara, the first student union, was built in the basement of Slocum Hall. Over the next few decades, students gathered in temporary student center locations all over campus to study, socialize and dine, but still lacked a central gathering place.
Then, as a Trustee during the 1980s, Renée Crown helped launched the campaign to establish a centrally located space for students. She and Lester provided the primary gift in honor of her parents, Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine. The first cornerstone of the building was laid on May 19, 1984, and the Schine Student Center was dedicated on October 18, 1985. Described as a “reflection of the diverse intellectual, cultural and social interests of the Syracuse University community,” the center included the bookstore, the Schine Dining Center, and the Faye and Henry A. Panasci Lounge. Through additional philanthropic support led by Ann ’48 and Alfred R. Goldstein H’85, the center also included an auditorium to host large events, performances and speakers. The facility also housed a student-run nightclub called The Milky Way, later renamed the Underground, to provide an alternate, smaller space for concerts and performances.
Reimagining the Possibilities
When the future-looking Campus Framework began to take shape several years ago, the input of students, faculty and staff was vital to shaping the look and feel of the new Schine Student Center. And, once again, Renée and Lester Crown played an active role in reimagining their namesake as a hub of student life on campus. Renovation began in May 2019, adding 8,600 square feet of space devoted to student activities, new food options to create a dining destination, new spaces for student cultural centers and organizations, a large media wall (perfect for game-watch parties!) and a light-filled two-story atrium.
“Certainly the Schine Student Center is designed to promote that distinctive and unsurpassed student experience we talk about,” says Hradsky. “But it’s especially focused on bringing together students who haven’t always had an opportunity to celebrate their history and identities and to find intersectionality and common ground,” he explains, referring to the newly co-located Disability Cultural Center , Office of Multicultural Affairs and LGBTQ Resource Center . Hradsky notes that Syracuse University was the first in the nation to have a Disability Cultural Center, founded in 2011 and inspired by student interest and needs.
Bringing together students from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and experiences, the center’s open design encourages interaction and inclusion. “We want our students to feel safe to explore their identities and to connect with others as they grow throughout their academic career.” Naming opportunities offered by the renovation of the Schine Center also allow for interested donors to invest in the student experience.
With thousands of students, prospective students and their families, alumni and University guests passing through each year, the new Schine Student Center will offer an expansive view of the vibrancy of the Orange community.