The aroma of sizzling eggplant wafts amidst a group of students seated beside a sea of multicolored walls. Dishes are neatly stacked away, and a pile of cookbooks on a shelf beg for attention. In the kitchen, multiple conversations are taking place at once amongst student chefs. It’s dinner time at SCoop, the sustainability cooperative, and members are gathering for a communal dinner — one of their many household traditions
Cooperative environments such as this are by no means a rarity at Wellesley. Wellesley has five student-run cooperatives in total. The SCoop and The Instead Feminist Cooperative function as places for student housing while El Table, Cafe Hoop and Punch’s Alley serve as student-facilitated eateries.
To live at SCoop or the Instead Feminist Co-op is to relinquish dorm life in favor of communal style living. SCoop houses a total of fourteen students, while the Instead Feminist Co-op caps at six, both striving to create an inclusive, sustainable and home-like environment. In order to achieve this, the co-ops implement a set of ‘Norms,’ or rules which each member is required to abide by. These Norms are decided collectively, and new Norms are often added to the pre-existing list. At SCoop, keeping a clean dining room and putting away one’s own dishes are two examples of Norms.
Meals are another facet which set student housing cooperatives apart from general residential life. Instead of paying for the meal plan, members of SCoop each contribute about $400 at the beginning of the semester to a pool of funds which is then used to pay for groceries. Members are also assigned various chores throughout the week, acting as grocery shoppers, lunch chefs, dishwashers and the like. Communal dinner and weekly cleaning are mandatory for members, all of whom dedicate around 10 hours per week to maintaining their cooperative.
While cooking and cleaning constitute a hefty time commitment, students are able to save money by being off the meal plan, paying approximately $400 for food per semester instead of the usual $7,742.
Financial benefits aside, members of Wellesley’s student housing cooperatives find the experience to be an extremely positive one. Sophia Natividad ’18 emphasizes the supportive nature of the cooperative, adding that SCoop is a place that “changed life for the better, helped [her] relate to people better and is a home at Wellesley.” Annie Blumfield ’18 also stressed SCoop’s inclusiveness of the larger college community, arguing that “anyone can stop in to stop for dinner or just say hi, anytime.”
Cafe Hoop, El Table and Punch’s Alley create collaborative work environments that are intended to foster an atmosphere of community. While a main goal of these cooperatives is to serve the Wellesley campus, a sense of camaraderie amongst members is key.
The El Table application that was recently distributed to the student body emphasized collaboration as a vital skill for future employees. As the El Tablers stated, “For us, being part of a cooperative means the following: (1) that everyone is equally invested and accountable for the business, (2) that we value a cooperative and non-hierarchical decision-making process and (3) that we fundamentally respect each other’s time, effort, and well-being.” Cafe Hoop also stresses a non-hierarchal method amongst its workers.
Weekly meetings are held within both business cooperatives in which all opinions are intended to be valued equally. Due to their commitment to egalitarianism, student workers in the cooperatives are required to hold themselves and their colleagues responsible for duties. Sitara Zoberi ’19 works at Cafe Hoop and says that this accountability has shaped her experience at the cooperative. She highlighted the importance of responsibility, stating that working at Cafe Hoop is “also a process of learning how to be vulnerable with other people and learning how to be forgiving and understanding. It’s the same thing as being part of a group that’s doing something together and therefore has to hold each other accountable.”
A student employee at one of these three venues is most likely not involved simply for the salary. Zoberi works between four and six hours per week and gets paid around minimum wage, earning significantly less than a typical work-study job on campus.
Earnings at El Table are about the same. Because both cooperatives operate on a ‘tab based system,’ these earnings can sometimes be diminished. Zoberi underlined the fact that customers who fail to pay their tabs essentially put the cost on the workers. Neither of the two cooperatives make a profit or are able to invest money, instead existing solely to serve the College community. This doesn’t bother Zoberi, who describes working at Cafe Hoop as “not an easy job, but one of the most fun, rewarding and fulfilling jobs that a college student could ever have.”
While working at a cooperative can provide student earnings and living in a housing co-op can lessen student budgets, both venues view money as a secondary issue. Instead, the cooperatives focus on cultivating community. As Blumfield emphasized, “it can be hard to keep it together at Wellesley but SCoop provides a home base, and a place for growth.”