You are here

Celebrate 25 years of the Kahin Center

Kahin Dedication

IT MAY BE HARD TO BELIEVE that the Kahin Center has been the heart and home of SEAP for 25 years! In honor of this milestone, and to dedicate our efforts to ensuring that the building is in good shape for another 25 years, we are taking advantage of Cornell’s upcoming “Day of Giving” to launch a fundraising campaign to make major repairs and renovations to the Kahin Center.

For SEAP alumni who were in the program from the early90s onward, the Kahin Center probably evokes many fond memories. For me these include the late nights/early mornings spent writing my dissertation—fueled by Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream and cinnamon pop tarts. The main room brings to mind a whole series of memorable brown bag lectures—including Ben Anderson’s discussion of images of hell from a Thai monastery and his regular attendance at the weekly Thursday talks where he would sit in shorts in the back of the room and surprise guest speakers with penetrating questions. The meals and receptions and language class potlucks mingle together with some of the best conferences and symposia I have had the pleasure of attending at the Kahin Center.

For me, the Kahin Center predates email and the web, and I now look back fondly at the flyer-folding gatherings of the student committee from when paper was the only way to let everyone know about upcoming events. I celebrated the completion of my PhD in the building along with a dear SEAP friend in the government department who finished the same year. Weddings and baby showers and other rites of passage have been celebrated in the rooms that have been used to host VIP delegations from Indonesia, Thailand, and elsewhere in the region. At one point graduate students with offices in the Kahin Center insisted that the chair in the elevator was for the ghost of Oliver Wolters, and during a recent clean out, decorations from Halloween parties long past were found hiding among musty stacks of journals in the basement. Perhaps many of us will have bits of our spirits linger in the building to catch a few strains of the Filipino rondalla rehearsing or to catch a glimpse of the “coconut boys” rehearsing a dance number for an appearance at the spring banquet. Twenty-five years ago this past May, the Kahin Center was dedicated with speeches by dignitaries gathered under a tent in front of the main entrance. Provost Mal Nesheim ceremonially handed the keys to a beaming George Kahin who was still an active emeritus member of the program. When SEAP moved into 640 Stewart Avenue, there was a powerful sense of nostalgia for 102 West Avenue, the original SEAP building that occupied what is now a parking lot behind the Law School. After years of uncertainty and comradery in a condemned building, when SEAP graduate students, faculty, and staff moved into an elegant and imposing mansion, it marked an important coming-of-age and point of stabilization for the program. The generational shift from the founding members of the program was well underway, and the strong fiscal infrastructure that they had built with major endowments from the Rockefeller, Mellon, Luce, and Ford Foundations was finally matched by a solid physical home, thanks to the efforts of the faculty and the SEAP Advisory Council. At the dedication, many quipped about the challenge “to be sure that the program continues to be better than the building.” The renovation of 640 Stewart Avenue brought it up to code and accessibility standards while maintaining the historic character of the stately home built by Robert Treman in 1902. Installations of Southeast Asian art provided the finishing touch and fit gorgeously with the wood paneling and views of Cayuga Lake. A large photograph of 102 West Avenue still hangs on the wall behind the lectern, and each new cohort of graduate students picks up and adds to the corpus of SEAP lore. Writing groups spring up in the seminar room for mutual support when semester deadlines approach, and some students pay extra respect to the Buddha that stands watch over their studies. The availability of WiFi has changed some patterns in the building, and cell phones have replaced the shared phone lines that I reluctantly used to answer while trying to write. The rhythm of the weekly Thursday lecture series provides a steady pulse around which most activity in the building revolves. In other words, the Kahin Center is still very much the “spiritual epicenter” of SEAP—to use George Kahin’s words. Contributing to the Kahin Center Building Fund to undertake major maintenance and repair work is an investment in the continuity of a vibrant intellectual community—one in which many of us still take part, no matter how long ago or how recently we finished our time in the program. I hope that you will join us in these efforts.


SEAP already has $20K pledged in matching funds and your gift will help us tap into those funds. To make a gift, please visit the SEAP website and click the button on the top right labeled “Give to Global Cornell.” Enter the amount under “Other-Global Cornell” and in the instructions box, please specify “SEAP-Kahin Center Building Fund.”