Scrolling through the College website, you might expect a bustling student life on campus, with late-night nacho deliveries, exhilarating pub nights, and even poetry slams or live music. For the past three years on campus, however, we have found ourselves unable to enjoy the co-ops that have historically made the Wellesley College experience so iconic.
Despite El Table and Café Hoop having a late soft opening last year, many of the best features were unavailable, and Punch’s Alley was unable to open at all. I know my own disappointment was immeasurable, especially as all of the upperclassmen surrounding me would always talk about how excited they were for the co-op’s reopening. While COVID-19 has impacted the ability of co-ops to return to normal operation, I believe the choices made by the administration in the last academic year made it close to impossible for many of the co-ops to fully reopen.
The administration began refusing to front the co-op’s funding as they had historically done, leaving them with almost no budget to be able to pay their employees or begin operations. On top of the college no longer providing startup funding, they also limited the co-op’s ability to do fundraising, as a GoFundMe started by El Table this August was forced to shut down due to “the College’s fundraising policies.”
Communication with the administration was apparently very confusing as well. Originally, managers were told they would be able to reopen after their health inspections, but after passing them, they were then told they could not open. It is clear to me that throughout last academic year, the administration changed the way they interacted with the co-ops, and has made it unfairly difficult for them to open. While the College did not provide adequate support for the co-ops to reopen, they have been happy to continue using them to entice prospective students on the Wellesley College website.
While it remains to be seen whether or not these administrative barriers will continue for the co-ops this year, the co-op’s absence has caused an immeasurable impact on student life at the College. These student-run and led organizations allowed us to have spaces to go on campus at late hours and for activities that aren’t possible anywhere else on campus. A personal favorite of mine is El Table, as they provide one of the only spots for us to get food in the academic quad. It also offers distinctive menu items that you can’t get anywhere else on campus, and provides a laid-back atmosphere to do work or chat with friends. While it holds similarities to other campus spots like Collins Cafe, it cultivates a unique environment by being student run.
Currently, the latest dining option available on campus is Lulu late night, which only runs until 10 p.m., despite the fact that most of us tend to stay up much later than that. On a near-constant basis, I am left with nowhere on campus to eat dinner or get a snack when I’m up late studying or staying up on the weekends. I believe that Café Hoop being open late at night helps combat this discrepancy without putting a burden on the Wellesley Fresh workers or the Union.
Not only is Café Hoop a great place to get late-night snacks, but it also provides us all a safe and relaxed place to socialize at late hours. It encourages students who are heading to or getting back from parties to eat, an important harm-reduction strategy that is stressed by the Office of Student Wellness. Going out to drink without having adequate food in your stomach, as most students are forced to do, can be potentially dangerous.
On top of the College not having any truly late-night food options, they offer no spaces on campus for safe partying or monitored drinking. Punch’s Alley has been a key part of campus social life in the past, providing a safe and monitored space for sibs to drink while also offering fun events such as pub nights, slam poetry and live music. It’s not something I have personally been able to experience, but I can still feel the gaping hole it has left in our campus community. By leaving Punch’s Alley closed, we have seen that more sibs are encouraged to go off campus for partying or late-night fun, into spaces that are potentially unsafe and poorly monitored. The administration needs to re-examine the importance of Punch’s Alley as a safe space.
Artistically, Punch’s Alley also served as a space for the Wellesley community to connect with small artists and have chances to express their own art in a safe space. I have been looking forward to a slam poetry night since I first got accepted to the College, but seeing the administration’s lack of enthusiasm to get our co-ops running has been frustrating. The spaces offered by the co-ops are important to the safety and well-being of students, both socially and physically, and their loss has caused all of us to miss out on opportunities to build a more expansive social life on campus.
As it stands, only the current seniors at Wellesley College have been able to experience the campus with the co-ops functioning normally. With the co-ops unopened, most students are losing out on distinctive community-building opportunities as well as basic staples of college life. As the academic year progresses, we are all hopeful that the co-ops will return and bring back some of the magic of campus life, and ask that the administration offers more support to these vital student-run spaces.