Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

The Redbud cooperative house on March 6, 2023. Within Von Cramm Hall, the house is the largest Co-Op on campus.

March 6, 2023

Underserved and Minority Students Find Belonging and Support In Co-Op Housing

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Students at Cornell can live in a variety of housing arrangements on campus. Although freshmen are required to live in dorms, sophomores are also able to live in fraternity and sorority houses, while upperclassmen can also rent off-campus apartments or houses with friends — and students entering their sophomore years or older can apply for cooperative housing.

Living off campus may not be accessible to all students, especially those with limited financial stability, given the marked increase in rent. From 2021 to 2022, there was a 7.6 percent increase in Ithaca rental rates. Cornell has some living options — particularly for low-income, minority and LGBTQ+ students — including program houses that provide close-knit communities as an alternative to living in the dorms or Greek housing. 

Co-ops provide a more affordable housing alternative. Each unique house, scattered around North and West Campus, is completely student-run and has its own executive board. These committees handle house repairs, cleaning routines and general house rules. According to Cornell’s student and campus life webpage, co-ops are among the least expensive housing options on campus. The average cost ranges from three to four thousand dollars per semester.

Students who currently live in the co-op system praised it heavily, often saying it was one of the best decisions they made during their time at Cornell. While each house has its own unique quirks to the “moseying” process — the co-ops’ analogue to rushing in Greek life — most houses follow a relatively similar procedure. 

Information about co-ops often spreads by word-of-mouth or on social media. Nnenna Ochuru ’25 moseyed during the Spring 2022 semester and has been living in the Wari Cooperative since August. After filling out an online application, Ochuru attended a few Zoom information sessions and was able to get a sense of the Wari community. 

“[It is important to] make sure you vibe with the people and you’re not just using it as a place just to have a house,” Ochuru said. “That’s what I really was looking for, and I feel like I got it. I’m really grateful for that.”

Wari is one of the few co-ops that offers a meal plan, with a maximum of 10 students who can live in the house. Wari has a rich history in the Black community at Cornell — it was founded by a group of Black women who wanted to foster an environment for other Black women to expand their self-confidence and grow academically together. 

660 Stewart Avenue and Watermargin co-ops cater to LGBTQ+ students looking for a safe space on campus. Brook Diamond ’25, a 660 Stewart resident, said that they enjoyed the mosey process and how it valued diversity and inclusion in the prospective residents. Diamond hosted numerous events at the house, including a garlic naan night and a ‘mattress down the stairs’ night. 

“The events are silly [activities]. We have a ‘mattress down the stairs’ night where we take our mattresses and you just jump down the stairs,” Diamond said.

The mosey processes for 660 Stewart and Watermargin are nearly identical. Both require prospective residents to attend three events in order to meet live-in members and get a feel for the house. After completing the initial application and attending a few events, interested students are placed in a lottery system, which is used to determine each applicant’s need for cheaper housing options. 

Not only do co-ops offer opportunities for students struggling to find affordable housing after their freshman year, but they also allow students to work on their time management skills and leadership roles, since the house is run by live-in members. Once prospective residents receive a spot in the house, they have the option to live in for their remaining academic years, but it is not a requirement. 

The mosey process considers diversity factors including race and disclosed LGBTQ+ identity along with need-based financial aid. Students who have financial need and do not receive an acceptance to their first-choice co-op house are more likely to receive spots in other co-op houses. Nonetheless, given the low number of available beds, the application process is quite competitive. 

“It’s a lottery process based on equity,” Diamond said. “So it’s not like you’ll have no housing option [if you do not get admission to one co-op house]… Especially if you need [co-op housing], then [you’ll move to] the top [of the waitlist].” 

Diamond only wanted to mosey 660 Stewart because they already knew some people who lived there. Despite the internal connections, Diamond was still placed on the waitlist before being selected. 

Despite the competitive nature of the mosey process, many students who went through the mosey process highlighted the strong, inclusive community atmosphere that the co-ops provide, whether or not they were ultimately accepted into a co-op. Although Vera Kelly ’25 did not get into a co-op in Spring 2022, she loved getting to know live-in members at the events and understands the fair process students go through to find a community they can call home. 

“It’s all about inclusivity and making the people inside the co-op feel as comfortable as possible,” Kelly said. “I do think they do a really good job of prioritizing people with financial difficulties.”

Dunia Matta ’25 is a Sun Contributor. She can be reached at [email protected].