El Table and Cafe Hoop are two popular student-run cooperatives that both serve up student-made confections and serve as valuable social spaces for students of all backgrounds. These are more than just places to eat and gather; they represent a safe, intentional community that is otherwise hard to find at the College. Tarini Sinha ’22, incoming financial manager of Cafe Hoop, can attest to just how priceless co-operative spaces are on a campus where it can often be challenging to find a place where you feel comfortable.
“Being part of Cafe Hoop really turned my Wellesley experience around, and I think that I genuinely don’t know how or if I would have found community and safe space at Wellesley without Cafe Hoop,” Sinha said. “[Cafe Hoop] is the first place I’ve ever encountered in my life that very intentionally served as a safe space for queer and trans students of color.”
Jill Foye ’22, an El Table member, talked about what El Table contributes to the Wellesley community.
“[El Table] is so much more than a business. … It’s a very intimate community, and we love each other very much,” Foye described. “[El Table] is crucial to the Wellesley community, specifically to BIPOC populations … because we specifically carve it out to be a safe space, specifically QTBIPOC students. So it is important in that respect, in a pretty irreplaceable community on campus, both for members and non-members to feel like they belong somewhere.”
Additionally, these co-ops serve as critical components of the Wellesley nightlife experience, which interviewees said can be otherwise sparse. Paloma Calderón-Carabantes ’21, the current general manager of Cafe Hoop, described another facet of Wellesley’s need for Cafe Hoop.
“Cafe Hoop was really reliable, it’s there every day. If you’re in your room and you want to get out at midnight, you can go do that,” Calderón-Carabantes said. “When the sun goes down, what is there to do in this town? Absolutely nothing, but there was Cafe Hoop at least.”
Despite these spaces playing a key role in Wellesley’s LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, the College’s administration announced that both Cafe Hoop and El Table would be unable to reopen this year during Term 4 as was previously hoped. After students drafted plans and presented their proposals for a safe re-opening, they were ultimately still unable to reopen due to safety concerns. For many students, especially those who called these co-ops home, this announcement was not only a let-down, but also a troubling sign for what may be to come during the Fall semester.
[Cafe Hoop] is the first place I’ve ever encountered in my life that very intentionally served as a safe space for queer and trans students of color.
Many co-op members are also dissatisfied with the administration’s lack of transparency regarding the status of their co-ops. Despite Hoop members writing a proposal that includes take-out options, social distancing, mask-wearing and thorough cleaning of the space, administration did not let Cafe Hoop open for Term 4, citing that if the cafe opening were to cause a spike in COVID-19 cases, it might interfere with the College’s graduation ceremony plans.
“It was definitely frustrating, considering the reasons for us not being able to reopen was so that people wouldn’t get sick or end up in quarantine during graduation,” Medhanit Felleke ’21, the current general manager of El Table, explained. “It seemed like a decision that they had made for themselves well before we had submitted our reopening plan. … I don’t know why we weren’t notified sooner.”
Additionally, both co-ops have concerns about making up for lost time both within their staff, and in the broader community. In the time since the co-ops have been forced to shut their doors, not only have new students joined the Wellesley community without ever visiting these spaces, but both have continued to hire new students in hopes of staffing a potential reopening.
Karla Macias ’22, a general member of Cafe Hoop, explained their concerns about re-opening next fall. Because Cafe Hoop has been closed for over a year now, many new staffers have never gotten the chance to actually work in the cafe.
“It’s been [almost] three semesters since I’ve been in [the cafe] without doing things, without managing stuff all around,” Macias explained. “We’ve hired [new members] for three semesters now and those people have never stepped foot or cooked their own thing, so we’re going to have to teach a lot of people everything that we know.”
Additionally, many underclassmen are not yet familiar with these co-op spaces because they have been unavailable for the majority of their time at Wellesley. Macias elaborated, “There’s a whole first-year class that doesn’t really know [Cafe Hoop]. So we’re really going to try and just build it back up and like, make it what it once was.”
We have so many plans that we can’t wait to share with you next year.
During the co-op closures, staff members of both groups have been without their previously anticipated income, which is particularly troubling since both cafes employ many first-generation and low-income students who would benefit the most from an income.
“The loss of income was definitely felt. Financially, we had some fundraising efforts, and the community really rallied around us — which we really appreciate — to pay back our debts from last semester when we had to close the first time,” Kelly explained. “But there’s still some financial instability that really would have been alleviated if we were able to reopen.”
While the future for both co-ops remains somewhat uncertain, students are hopeful that they will reopen in full during this coming fall. Until then, members of the organizations will continue to brainstorm innovative ways to respark their businesses and spaces whenever they are allowed to reopen.
“At the end of the summer, we hope to reopen. We have a lot of ideas for what we can do — different menu items, different ways we want to have our space interact with the community,” Felleke said. “We have so many plans that we can’t wait to share with you next year.”
Recently, El Table has launched a fundraising campaign to provide employees with wages. If you are interested in supporting the staff of El Table, please click the link here.