Co-op compromises

According to the Office of Student Life’s website, “Co-ops are small houses where seniors live in small groups, providing students with a more independent living experience; however the houses are close enough to campus to provide connections with the rest of the community.” But, as a senior who is fortunate enough to be living in a co-op this year, I have really been struggling to understand the College’s purpose for co-ops, because the site’s definition fails to articulate the true essence of a co-op. I have come to the conclusion that while co-ops are wonderful, the College’s policies towards co-ops are inconsistent. Ultimately I believe that it would be worthwhile for the College to determine whether co-ops should simply be intimate, desirable housing much like Sewall and Parsons Houses or de facto off-campus housing.

There are many inconsistencies associated with living in a co-op, and I can give a few examples from my own, Milham House on Hoxsey Street. Our house came with stocked with toilet paper, but no paper towels or soap. We can be off the meal plan. We have Wi-Fi and cable provided, and we cannot leave our toiletries in the bathroom. We have a driveway in which we cannot park. Only residents of the house have swipe access. Facilities cleans our house and Campus Safety and Security has jurisdiction over us. There is a strange dependence on the College that remains, even in our hypothetically independent house.

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe we are spoiled rotten by the College at my house, and my friends, who are living in other co-ops, echo my sentiments. Nevertheless, the College seems to be in an odd state of limbo between coddling those in co-ops and cultivating independence within them. If we are responsible for purchasing soap and paper towels, then how come we cannot leave our toiletries in the bathroom? Shouldn’t we assume the risks that come with leaving our toothbrushes in the bathroom?

In attempting to discover the ideal function of the co-op, I reject the notion that it is simply optimal housing, because senior housing in Perry, Spencer and Parsons Houses far surpasses that of housing in Poker Flats and several other co-ops. There is more to the co-op system: I believe the most crucial element of the co-op, which ultimately should dictate its purpose, is the lack of a Baxter Fellow or JA. This means that no one is in charge of organizing snacks and sending passive-aggressive emails for those who leave their empty pudding cups in the sink. The absence of an authority figure responsible for maintaining order (besides Security) is what ideally makes co-ops successful for the maturation process of its residents. If possible, residents of a co-op should remain entirely responsible for their house and housemates. This housing should provide the experience of living off-campus but be affordable for all.

So while I appreciate that our lovely custodian vacuums the house and refills the toilet paper for us, I feel like this compromises the function of a co-op. How can we be weaned off the nurturing environment of traditional on-campus housing if we can leave our mess for someone else to clean up? Or, how can we be expected to take ownership of our house if our parking lot is off limits and thus remains empty when it can fit eight cars? Ultimately, just like the College, I am conflicted regarding the autonomy of co-ops. I take advantage of the fact that a custodian cleans up after us –  but I know that doing so represents a regression and nullifies much of the maturation and independence that co-ops should ideally foster.


Raphael Menko ’12 is a history and economics double major from Narberth, Penn. He lives in Milham.

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