My Love Hate Relationship with my Co-operative House

At the end of each day, I look forward to going home. When I return home to the cook group playing upbeat music, housemates swing dancing in the kitchen or just playing foosball in the living room, it makes up for a long,exhausting day at Cornell. For me, home at Cornell is a small, blue house on North campus.

I still live one of the co-operative house on campus. Although the building is owned and supervised by the university, the house itself is self-governed by the nineteen undergraduate residents. Until now, I have always painted a rosy picture of my co-op life. Perhaps, being a freshman in a house where half the residents were seniors did not allow for much opportunity for me to handle problems in the house. So much so that I did not even think there could be problems in the house.

This semester, I am a house officer – treasurer for Whitby and half of our residents are new – they moved in this semester. So I feel more responsible, or more entitled towards house operations. It ranges from are we getting enough bread/bagels for breakfast? Does our budget allow for a new house printer? Why is our kitchen so messy during the weekends? Why aren’t people doing their chores? Can we sponsor more house events to increase bonding between residents?

Being able to make decisions about how our co-op runs, how we live and what we’d like our house to be gives me a greater sense of belonging to the house. It feels more like it’s my own home and not a university building I have signed a contract for. But the issues we face are sometimes more complex than which printer we want to buy.

When your cook group goes to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon to prepare dinner for the house and finds the sink full of dishes, used pans with remains of two day old omelettes and counters stacked with kitchen applications, it’s hard to love your co-op in that moment. Since there is no way to tell who all contributed to this mess and how much, a handful of people must take the responsibility to clean it up. In recent weeks, I have often had to help clean up this collective mess.

I wonder if the house was like this last year as well. Even if people had not shared their responsibilities equally, I don’t recall being frustrated about it. Then I realized that last semester, I just did not take it upon myself to clean the occasional collective mess. There were some older housemates who would often clean a mess they did not contribute to. Then they’d send an email to the house list-serve about cleanliness. Now I am that older housemate.

At some point during the collegetown apartment lease madness, I even considered moving out of my co-op because I was so frustrated with cleaning others’ mess. But when I went to the kitchen that weekend, it was neat and someone had baked cookies for the house. I definitely didn’t want to move out. This place and the people aren’t perfect, but no home or family is.

Life in a Co-operative House

Since I moved to co-operative housing on campus this semester, several people have asked me about my ‘co-op life’. It’s hardly been two weeks since I’ve moved into the Prospect of Whitby, but I do have a few insights that maybe helpful to those who are wondering.

Welcome to Whitby!

Welcome to Whitby!

1) Finding a Place
Having a community where I belong has always been important to me. My freshman dorm did not do a great job at that. Although my neighbors were all very friendly, the design of the dorm and the sheer number of students did not allow for much engagement. The first time I saw Whitby, the sweaters lying on the living room sofas, backpacks on the floor, used coffee mugs on the table immediately created a sense of home for me.

2) Cook Groups
When I tell my friends that everyone at Whitby must cook once a week with other housemates, as part of our meal plan, they get concerned. “I don’t have the time to cook” and “I don’t know how to cook” are common responses. But there’s always a more experienced person in your cook group, so even if you can’t cook, you can chop vegetables or wash the dishes. And I prefer dinners at home with a group of people I know to dining halls with hundreds of strangers.
Bonus: You don’t  have to go outside for food when it’s freezing out there. And the kitchen is open 24×7!

3) Clean Ups
The worst reactions I get are when I say that we share responsibility for the cleanliness of the house. “I will have to clean my own house? And wash my own dishes?!”  It is a small responsibility and practice for real life. Nobody is going to pick up after you. It’s no surprise that most college students are not ready for independent living after graduation.

4) It’s FUN
I have probably had more fun in the past two weeks than the entire Fall semester. We watch movies together and obsess over them; there’s always someone who wants to go to the events I do; I get to be crazy and not be judged for it! There’s always something fun to do.

5) It’s also Inexpensive.
Co-ops are the cheapest housing options on campus. Also, you are not charged for forgetting your keys or misplacing your ID. You don’t even have to pay a considerable amount for laundry each semester. Overall, I think this house is definitely worth more than I pay for it.

5) “Co-ops? Very hippie”
I also hear that a lot. I don’t fully understand the cultural implication of the noun/adjective ‘hippie’, so I don’t know how hippie Whitby is. But people here are as diverse as in my freshman dorm. We have environmentalists,dancers, actors, computer scientists, ornithologists, engineers and writers, just to mention a few. There are various nationalities, opinions and interests reflected in our community. I don’t see a specific shared quality in Whitby residents except that they are all amazing people. 😉 

Although I had my own concerns before moving into Whitby, now those doubts seem unfounded. I am loving my new home!