Living Cooperatively

Last year I moved into Stebbins Hall, one of 17 houses in the Berkeley Student Cooperative.

Stebbins Hall, a 3-story buildin, as seen from the streetStebbins Hall, purchased by the University Student Cooperative Association in 1950

The Berkeley Student Cooperative’s mission is “to provide a quality, low-cost, cooperative housing community to university students, thereby providing an educational opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to afford a university education.”

The above statement is something I think about daily. My “quality, low-cost, cooperative community” has become one of the most valuable parts of my young adult life and certainly one of my most cherished experiences here at Berkeley. Though I think the co-ops do tend to get a lot of criticism (especially from within), there isn’t a single person living in BSC that isn’t having the quality of their lives seriously improved–I’ll explain.

After freshman year like the vast majority of my fellow UC Berkeley students I moved off campus into an apartment with some friends, and though I was able to finagle cheaper rent and living expenses than what I pay now to the BSC, aspects of my daily life (like what I was doing about dinner, what essentials like toilet paper, garbage bags, paper towels needed to be replaced and how I’d work this out with my roommates) became stressful enough to impact how I felt in class.

I always tell people that you can live cheaper than the co-ops in Berkeley, but you can’t live as cost-effective. In fact, I think I may be able to pretty confidently say that applying and moving into the BSC has been one of the best choices I’ve made in college.

Three students laugh at a table covered with playing cards and poker chips; 11:35 AM is superimposed on the imageA late night poker game in the dining room gets out of hand

And as I type this “the BSC has over 1300 student members living in or eating at [their] seventeen houses and three apartment cooperatives around the UC Berkeley campus.” By living in in Stebbins Hall, I am one of the 1300, and I love that more than almost anything else that I love (which is a lot of things). Perhaps it would be more clear to you just how much I love living in my Co-op if I just shared without an average day in Stebbins, which is home to me and 63 other excellent students.

Today in fact, I woke up and made coffee in out diner-style industrial coffee pot. It always reminds me of Denny’s, but like, in a good way. I sipped the coffee with my bathroomate Ali and we watched some a few episodes of the the Venture Brothers, which is available on Hulu but also on our house server ‘Charizard.’ (Our house printers are named Magikarp and Gyrados).

Four students brush their teeth

The 328 and 329 Bathroom Buds share some Tooth Suds

One more note: in Stebbins, though there are more single rooms then usual, all of the double rooms share a bathroom with another double. So in a sense, if you don’t have a single you actually live in a four-person suite. My roommate, Kean, and I share a bathroom with Ali and Leandra. During our house’s ‘Room to Room’ party we collaborated with the room across the hall to have a Bed, Bath, and Beyond sequence of rooms. Kean and I were Bed.

After coffee I rushed to class, and at 4:00 joined August and Sid for my Tuesday cook shift. Two of the key ways that the room and board in the co-op’s are made so cost-efficient is through bulk purchasing for all 1300 members and effective allocation of 5 hours of ‘work shift’ at the house level. Everyone living in my co-op has to put in 5 hours a week of work shift. For me that means three hours of cooking on Tuesday and 2 hours of Intensive Kitchen Cleaning (or IKC) on Sunday nights. Tonight Sid, August and I made Chicken Fajita, a fried Tofu stir fry, a vegetable soup, rice, beans, garlic bread, and a salad for 60 hungry students.

A menu hand-written in colored markers: Monster Mashed potatoes; Creature from the Black Legumes; Rice of the Living Dead; Stir-Friday the 13th; Mystery Meat Skeletakos; Fajitaaaahhs; Spooky KookiesThe Menu I cooked on Halloween: recipes mostly found online, terrible puns my own

Cooking in the co-ops has certainly given me a lot more confidence in the kitchen. Cooking for 60 hungry kiddos each week has forced me to get over whatever initial hangs ups or worries I had a year ago. I can teach you the best way to dice onions, chop bell peppers, which beans to soak and which to cook without soaking and so on. There are skills I will take with me out of Stebbins hall even though I’ll hate to go.

The author enters a large storage room with crowded shelves. 'Nothing in this world is free' is spray-painted high on one wallMe after a long morning cleaning and re-organizing our house’s ‘free pile,’ where residents leave clothes etc. for others to discover and appreciate anew (kinda like Plato’s Closet but free)

In fact, that last point I think brings me back to one of the most important arguments to about our “quality, low-cost cooperative community:” it is continually created by us, for us. We have dinner each night because people come done earlier to cook it. We have food (and toilet paper) delivered because we elect kitchen managers each semester who put in time to order it and members from each house volunteer to show up at the central office and do delivery runs; in turn members in each of those peoples’ houses put in time cleaning bathrooms, dishes, hallways, and more. Co-op kids aren’t being pampered–we’re taking care of each other.