September 29, 2006

Inter-Cooperative Council Upholds Independent Living

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Of all Cornell’s housing choices, the eight university-owned cooperatives, or coops, are some of the least-known options. Coops are on-campus residences that contain anywhere from six to 35 members.
The coops are a unique combination of living situations; though they are student-run organizations, the houses are university-owned. Students set most of the rules, but the university regulates the buildings’ facilities.
Some coops believe certain Campus Life policies interfere with their achieving autonomy, which resulted in the recreation of the Inter-Cooperative Council last spring. The ICC represents a unified voice for the on-campus coops. There are also coops that students live in, which are not owned by the University.
“The idea is at least if all the coops are communicating together, we could rally for each other and act as allies for each other,” said Emily Hurst ’07, secretary of the ICC and a member of Prospect of Whitby.
David Marshak ’07, a member of the council and president of the Triphammer Cooperative, agreed, saying, “The purpose is to present the collective interest of the coops and to make the coops stronger as a unit.”
Though one coop may lack the ability to make changes in Campus Life policy, the idea is that the eight organizations can work as a unit to further their goals.
Many of these goals include giving coop students the right to make their own choices regarding the houses.
“An integral part of the coops is that they’re run by students. We need the ability to make as many decisions as we can,” said Wei-Li Woo ’08, co-president of the council and treasurer of Von Cramm.
For instance, one of the most important issues that led to the formation of the ICC concerned the possession of keys.
Coops prefer that extra keys are kept in the individual houses. However, according to Julie Paige, assistant director of Campus Life residential programs, the keys need to be kept in a more central location “to make coops more secure.” Thus, if students are locked out of their room, they have to go to a service center and pay a fee to obtain an extra key rather than merely approaching a house officer.
The coops feel that this is loss of independence.
“I can understand how people can feel because [the key issue] is something they’ve had control over before. It will take a small piece of their independence away,” Paige said. “I like to feel that when it eventually happens, people will think it’s a good idea.”
Past issues have included the coop’s right to allow non-students, such as recent graduates, to live in the coops and their ability to have more control over financial matters.
Often, Campus Life acts as a liaison between the ICC and risk management.
“It’s difficult because a lot of information gets lost. It leaves us with questions unanswered sometimes,” said Suneth Attygalle ’07, co-president of the ICC and former president of Watermargin.
Attygalle noted that one of the duties of the council is “making sure that things don’t creep up” and the coops are aware of risk management policy that could affect decisions.
However, the coop’s position under the umbrella of Campus Life can still be advantageous for these organizations. Cornell is responsible for repairs in the houses, and University workers are familiar with the buildings. Because most expenses are handled by the bursar, house officers do not need to collect rent.
In addition, with the instatement of the ICC, representatives of the council have joined the Student Advisory Committee, the University Neighborhood Council and the Residential Student Congress, which used to only represent residence halls.
Although Campus Life has instituted certain changes in the coops, they wish to maintain the independent atmosphere of the organizations.
“We want to keep the spirit of the coops,” Paige said. “[There is] nothing in our thinking that we want to take that away.”
If anything, Paige expressed the desire that the empowerment and community of the coops spread throughout campus.
“What [has been] established in the coops we’d like to see in the residence halls,” she said.
The duties of the ICC go beyond interacting with Campus Life.
“[The ICC]’s an information-sharing hub. We use it to share ideas on how to run things,” Hurst said.
The ICC has organized several events to improve inter-coop relations, including the Inter-Coopular Iron Chef, the Annual Friedmann-Child Coop Crawl, a poker night and an upcoming Inter-Coopular Demolition Derby.
The Inter-Cooperative Council also hopes to raise awareness of the coops in the Cornell community.
According to Woo, the ICC needs “to increase the visibility of the coops on campus. A lot of people don’t know what the coops are and why somebody would want to live there.”
Ideally for the ICC, students would give coops the same amount of consideration given to dorms and Greek houses.
For now, however, one of the primary goals is to maintain the Inter-Cooperative Council. There have been several ICCs in the past which have deteriorated. Paige noted that often organizations like the ICC form in response to a concern. When the problem is resolved, the organization can easily “fizzle out.”
Also, due to the high rate of turnover in the coops, there will be complete student turnover in the ICC every three to four years. To overcome these problems, the ICC has appointed an advisor, written a constitution and appointed leaders within the organization. However, the leaders of this council are positive.
“[The coops] are all on the same page,” Hurst said. “There’s a pretty unified voice behind this council.”