One of the perennial criticisms of life at Stanford is the lack of community in non-tier one housing, a criticism that perhaps overlooks the good fortune of guaranteed on-campus housing in a very expensive area with limited public transportation options. With the Housing Draw now open, students can rank the sixty-plus different dorms, self-operated houses, and cooperatively-operated houses. A majority of students will ignore the co-ops, writing them off as “hippie housing.” Given this reputation, the Editorial Board would like to highlight cooperative housing as one of the best options available, as it brings together desirable aspects of other housing on campus.
Stanford’s seven co-ops vary considerably in size and culture. If they do share a certain “something,” it is perhaps a common pride in their cooperatively-operated culture. This, however, is not something to be written off. The lessons in cooperatively managing a house are manifold, from learning how to delegate tasks or follow directions in the kitchen to the risks of free-ridership. The few hours a week students put in to cook, hash or clean bathrooms offer valuable life lessons. Every Stanford student will eventually live independently after graduation, and aside from teaching domestic skills, co-ops offer the chance to learn how to more effectively manage and work with other people in a non-professional situation. These lessons are, of course, not unique to co-ops. To some extent students learn how to live with others from their first roommate experience freshman year, and some students choose to live independently while at Stanford in Mirrielees or Rains. At other schools without four-year housing guarantees, it is even more common for students to live independently and they learn many of the same lessons that co-ops offer.
What independent living does not offer, however, is the sense of community found in co-ops. Perhaps even more than freshman dorms and self-operated houses, co-ops have distinct personalities. This is not to say that co-ops all have the same community (students choosing to live in Terra may well rather live in a self-op or dorm than in Kairos or Columbae, and vice versa). Instead, they engender feelings of belonging among those choosing to live there. This is partly due to the size of the house – it is far easier to get to know everyone in a 40-person house than in a dorm with 200 people – but it also has to do with shared experiences. In a freshman dorm, shared activities bring everyone closer together despite differences in personalities and interests, and the shared experience of putting in the work to keep the co-op running smoothly has the same effect.
Co-ops, then, offer a best-of-both-worlds combination of the closeness of freshman year and the lessons of independent living that we will all need to draw upon post-Stanford. The decision by Housing to require use of Tier 2 Housing for a year in a co-op is perhaps a reflection of the inherent desirability of living in a co-op. Given their increasing popularity, the Editorial Board believes housing should, if feasible, consider creating additional co-ops on campus.
It is true that the subcultures of the Stanford co-ops are not for everyone, but this is not to say that co-ops themselves are objectionable. If anything, more students choosing to live in co-ops would allow for more diversity in the cultures of co-ops. Students who might not otherwise consider a co-op should think twice, realizing that a year in a co-op will leave them more prepared for the real world, both in the practical skills they will have gained and in the relationships they will have made along the way.