October 12, 2001

Housing Alternatives: Cornell Student Cooperatives

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“Co-ops, what are they?” said Dave Carlucci ’02.

There are eight University-owned, student-run cooperatives on both North and West Campus that offer approximately 161 students a unique and often less expensive living environment.

The houses are intended to provide students with an opportunity to live cooperatively with other students by sharing in regularly scheduled house chores, participation in the decision making process, and in some, sharing of the cooking responsibilities, according to Pamela Zinder, manager of housing alternatives.

Like University housing, co-ops must follow all of the University living policies. However, they elect their own officers and do not have Resident Advisors or Faculty-in-Residence like on-campus residence halls.

There are “no house parents. We run the house ourselves. However, Campus Life sends people in to check on it and to see if there is anything major that they think needs to be fixed. Most of the time this is all right, but sometimes they get out of hand,” said Jesse Strock ’02, who is the steward at the Prospect of Whitby Cooperative.

Strock complained that the University decides on all maintenance projects and performs all maintenance, unless they are unable to do so. Many co-op residents want more say in what gets replaced around the cooperative.

“Technically we are supposed to call Cornell when we need a light bulb replaced, and get charged for it,” Strock said. “And then what really gets me is that they make us use their labor to pay for repairs, but don’t give us a cent in return,” he said.

Residents of other houses have also made similar complaints. “The house really is falling apart. I do wish we had more money to make repairs on our house,” said Gretchen Poulous ’03 of the 308 Wait Avenue Cooperative.

Despite repair problems, many students enjoy living in a cooperative because it gives them a greater range of opportunities than in a dorm room or in some apartments.

“Living in a co-op gives me a freedom and independence in housing choices that I would not get living in a traditional residential hall or program house. I like the fact that my room is my room and personalized to me. I can actually paint my walls the way that I want, arrange my room the way I want and I’m not being squeezed into a small closet-sized single. It’s an actual house, not a mass living environment,” said Bukky Gbadesgesin ’03 the secretary of Von Cramm. Von Cramm is located just below West Campus on Stewart Avenue.

But not everyone sees co-ops as offering a great freedom. Briana Gordon ’03 a Collegetown resident, said that co-ops seem too much like the dorms.

“I moved out of the dorms and to an apartment because I wanted to have my own kitchen and my own bathroom,” Gordon said.

For those people that do like sharing living space with others, co-op living also offers a sense of responsibility. Unlike a traditional dorm, residents are responsible for making house decisions and in many of the houses, making dinners.

“I am looking into a co-op next year, mainly because I like working together with other people. I think it would bring a great sense of unity,” Meghan Cuddihy ’03 said.

However these responsibilities aren’t for everyone. “Co-ops are very inconvenient because you have to take a turn cooking for the entire house,” said Mario Rivera ’04.

Through sharing responsibilities, co-op residents develop a sense of community. According to Lisa Root ’03, this sense of community becomes an integral component of a co-op “I like to gather together with other house members to make apple crisp and to have people to talk about my day with at dinner,” said Root, of the Triphammer cooperative.

Gbadesgesin of Von Cramm also expressed a similar sentiment. The co-ops offer, “an extraordinary sense of community and solidarity. I get to be a part of this very relaxed and loose, living environment where everyone knows everyone. It’s really reassuring to be able to walk through the halls and say hi to people and know they will say hi back,” Gbadesgesin said.

Not only do co-op residents have a strong sense of community within the house, but they also take part in activities together around campus. “There is definitely a lot of community spirit through the activities we do as a co-op. This year we started an intramural soccer league, which we are all really excited about,” said Laura Granka ’03 treasurer of Watermargin Cooperative.

Another reason that many students join co-ops is because they offer a feeling of home. Isaac Spencer ’04 of Prospect of Whitby said he completely agreed with this.

“When I lived in a dorm last year, I didn’t feel a separation between school and my home. I felt my home was part of school, and I couldn’t escape the feeling of always being in school,” Spencer said. “Now I feel a separation from school and home. I don’t feel so overwhelmed now that I have a refuge from school: school and then home instead of school, school and more school.”

Although co-op residents are randomly selected through a lottery, the residents said they become very close.

“We all have something in common which is we want to live here,” Granka said. “Because of this, you can really develop great relationships with the other members of the house. You get the opportunity to live closely with really fun and interesting people that you otherwise wouldn’t have met living with friends in an apartment.”

In order to find the perfect fit, in February the co-ops open up their houses during “mosey” to attract new members. Mosey is “basically a tour of the house and a run down of what is expected, in terms of contribution to the upkeep and maintenance of the house,” Gbadesgesin said.

After touring the house, many houses hold activities during the week of mosey.

“The events are generally fun but unimportant; the main idea is that the mosey-ers get a better feel for the house. At the end of mosey week, everyone who wants a space and attended at least two mosey events is given a space in the lottery. Those fortunate enough to get a space come over to the house and choose the room they want for next year,” said Adam November ’03 of the 660 Stewart Ave. cooperative.

Zinder points out that although most of the spaces are filled during mosey and through retention, many houses still have openings in the fall. She recommends that anyone who is interested should stop by at co-ops and visit them.

Although many of the cooperatives are set up similarly, each house has its own special atmosphere and options. Root said that she chose “Trip” (the Triphammer cooperative) because the meal plan offered a vegetarian option.

Lisa Martin ’03 of Von Cramm said that she enjoyed her co-op because of its diversity. “We have at least 10 different nationalities here and students from sophomores to grad level.”

Tanisha Jones ’03 of Wari House says that her co-op is unique because of its rich history. Ten black women founded Wari house in 1967 before the creation of other program houses.

Overall, most co-op residents said they enjoy their living situation and are not any more frustrated with slight problems than residents of other housing situations.

“Co-ops are a great option for just about anyone. They’re close to classes, filled with students, and easily budgetable through the bursar like a dorm, but has big living spaces, a stocked kitchen, and more relaxed rules like having an apartment. Not to mention that the people are lots of fun and very accepting,” said Jess Omniewski ’02, a former resident of Von Cramm.

ived article by Katherine Klein