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SU dedicates renovated residence hall in honor of Oren Lyons ’58: faithkeeper, scholar, activist, artist, athlete
SU dedicates renovated residence hall in honor of Oren Lyons ’58: faithkeeper, scholar, activist, artist, athleteDecember 04, 2007SU News ServicesSUnews@syr.edu
On Nov. 28, more than 100 Native American leaders, family and friends; students, faculty and staff; and political and community leaders gathered at Syracuse University to celebrate the lifelong contributions and continuing legacy of one of the most distinguished alumni in SU’s history: Oren Lyons ’58. The celebration marked the University’s formal dedication of Lyons Hall, which was recently renamed to honor Lyons’ contributions to the University, the community and the world.
During the event, remarks were given by SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, legendary retired Orange lacrosse coach Roy Simmons Jr. and Lyons himself. Mayor Matthew J. Driscoll presented a proclamation naming Nov. 28 Oren Lyons Day in the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Opening and closing words of thanksgiving were given by Lyons’ brother, Kingsley Lyons; musical entertainment was provided by noted Cayuga artist and activist Dan Hill; and Barry L. Wells, SU senior vice president and dean of student affairs, served as emcee.
Cantor’s decision to rename the hall came during the planning stages of its summer 2007 renovation, one of the most comprehensive transformations of a residential facility in the University’s recent history. Formerly the International Living Center, Lyons Hall houses about 40 undergraduate students.
“It is particularly appropriate that we dedicate this particular building as Lyons Hall, given its rich history of facilitating interaction, friendship and collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds,” Cantor remarked in her address. “It is distinctly Syracuse University’s honor that Oren agreed to allow us to name a building for him. His contributions as a scholar, athlete, teacher, author, artist, diplomat, environmentalist, human rights activist, historian and, of course, faithkeeper are befitting the longevity of the tribute we pay him today.”
In accepting the honor, Lyons hailed the University’s efforts to strengthen partnerships with the Onondaga Nation, the Haudenosaunee and Native American people everywhere, citing both the University’s academic pursuits involving Native issues and its direct offering of access and support to Native American students. “When Chancellor Cantor sat with the chiefs in the longhouse and told us about the Haudenosaunee Promise, we were beyond surprised,” said Lyons, referring to the University’s full scholarship for all eligible Haudenosaunee matriculants. “It was much more than just a promise — it is a door held open.” In his remarks, Lyons also discussed how his experience at SU as a student-athlete prepared him for his expansive and continuing success at changing the world in many venues. A brief sampling of his achievements:
- While at SU, Lyons was a fine arts major — and has gone on to a remarkable career in that venue, with 10 years’ success in Manhattan and considerable renown as a publisher of Native American literature.
- He was an All-American lacrosse goalie, playing with Simmons Jr. on a team coached by Roy Simmons Sr. He led the 1957 team — which also featured football legend Jim Brown — to a perfect, best-in-the-nation record; he later led the resurgence of the Iroquois national lacrosse team, which has become known as one of the best in the world.
- Lyons distinguished himself as a scholar while at SU; now, he is director of Native American studies at the University at Buffalo, where he helped found that program of study; he is widely published and well known in the field, delivered the 1993 Commencement address at SU, and is the recipient of an SU honorary degree.
- A member of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, Lyons serves as faithkeeper, or spiritual leader, of the Grand Council of Chiefs, and as primary spokesman for his people on a wide range of important issues.
- Lyons has evolved as an activist in areas including the environment, Native peoples’ rights and general human rights since his early days at SU. He has addressed the United Nations on indigenous people’s rights, advocated tirelessly for environmental protections that address the needs of the seventh generation after our own, and served in a pivotal role in discussions regarding the future of Onondaga Lake and other natural resources in Central New York. During his visit to Syracuse for the Lyons Hall dedication, he also participated in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Annual Indian Leadership Meeting. Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Region II administrator, sent a message to be read at the dedication that stated in part, “People with vision change the world, and Oren Lyons is a man of vision. He has proven to be a great and caring individual, and one who has made a significant contribution to his people, his community and his alma mater.”
Following the dedication program and an exchange of gifts between Lyons and Cantor — Lyons gave the University a self-portrait to display with other Haudenosaunee-themed artwork and quotes in the hall’s common area, and Cantor gave Lyons an image of the building — the Office of Residence Life conducted tours. Lyons and several members of his family attended the tours, and he spoke face-to-face with dozens of current students, asking about their SU experiences and sharing his thoughts about how to make the most of the educational experience.
The building renovation is a noteworthy step in the University’s movement toward improvement of its housing stock on a number of fronts. Named the International Living Center (ILC) when it was opened in 1974, the structure was originally used as a multinational campus community for intercultural exchange and later as the home of the International Living Center Learning Community. As SU’s Learning Communities Program grew, learning communities proliferated across campus to serve more than 1,400 students in nearly all of the institution’s residential facilities. Over time, the ILC came to house not just international but a variety of undergraduate learning communities, and as plans for a significant renovation took shape in fall 2006, it became clear that a new name was in order.
Naming the building after a Haudenosaunee leader represented the institution’s commitment to diversity in general and stronger partnerships with Native people in particular. Cantor, in a message to Lyons, explained that the name change was “a symbol of the University’s appreciation of your achievements over the years, and our ongoing commitment to trusting, honorable relationships with the Haudenosaunee and other Native American people.”
Renovation began in June 2007, and was completed by mid-August thanks to the dedication of staff in SU’s Physical Plant and in Office of Housing, Meal Plan, and I.D. Card Services. The exterior was refurbished and repainted; interior spaces were recarpeted and repainted; windows were replaced; and the old restrooms were essentially replaced by four private, gender-neutral facilities on each residential floor — allowing students to have private, single-occupancy use of a shower, sink and toilet. This series of investments in Lyons Hall residents’ experience is one of the most comprehensive housing renovations in recent years.
For more information on Lyons Hall, including building descriptions, visit http://housingmealplans.syr.edu.