Proposal to transform Cloyne Court’s culture sparks controversy within co-op community

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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In response to past allegations that the Berkeley Student Cooperative tolerates a drug culture, BSC’s executive cabinet proposed a controversial plan last week to designate one of its residences, Cloyne Court, as a substance-free academic theme house and prohibit the house’s current and former members from moving back to the residence in the fall.

The proposal, announced last Thursday, comes as a response to a 2010 incident in which former student John Gibson sustained brain damage after a drug overdose at Cloyne. A suit Gibson’s mother filed against BSC two years ago alleged that the co-op — and Cloyne in particular — created a dangerous environment. Although the UC Board of Regents was initially named in the suit because Cloyne sits on university-owned land, the case against it was later dropped.

The suit was settled out of court by BSC’s insurance carrier over the recent winter break, and the co-op is free from direct financial liability in this case, according to BSC President Michelle Nacouzi. Still, the cabinet remains concerned the allegations could adversely affect BSC’s ability to secure insurance coverage in the future.

Nacouzi said that the co-op’s insurance rates have already increased and that any similar incidents could make it difficult for BSC to maintain affordable liability insurance rates. This could lead to the potential shutdown of Cloyne — the largest house within the BSC system, with a capacity of 149 residents during the school year — and the entire BSC, she added.

“I think everyone is a little bit shell-shocked,” Nacouzi said. “No one expected this to happen this semester, but no one expected the lawsuit to be settled.”

In addition to calling for the redistribution of Cloyne’s occupants to other BSC houses or outside housing options, the plan urges a slight reduction of the house’s total occupancy, the creation of additional study rooms and fresh paint — part of the cabinet’s larger plan for Cloyne’s cultural transformation.

Since its announcement, the plan has been hotly contested, particularly by Cloyne residents. The house’s leadership was not involved in the drafting of the cabinet’s plan and was briefed on the proposal last Thursday, shortly before Nacouzi notified the rest of the BSC community, according to Cloyne house managers Mirit Friedman and Shannon Levis.

“The way this proposal has been framed to us and the rest of the BSC community is that this is the only option, which is an unfair rhetorical strategy because it makes other people feel like there’s no alternative way to go about this,” Levis said. “It’s making our battle an uphill one.”

Cloyne’s “battle” has coalesced into the “Save Cloyne” campaign, led by many of the house’s leadership and members, who have created a website that includes information about the cabinet’s plan and testimonials by current and past house members.

In response to the plan, Cloyne’s leadership has also begun to draft a counterproposal, which will focus on addressing what Friedman and Levis consider the main flaw of the cabinet’s plan: the impracticality of self-selecting and self-regulating substance-free housing. Instead, Friedman said, she hopes to provide members with resources to address issues of substance abuse instead of looking for a “Band-Aid solution to a larger drug-culture problem” across college campuses.

“With our counterproposal, we’d have the ability to have conversations about substance abuse without creating a culture where people are afraid to talk about it,” Levis said. “We’re afraid that this plan is really optimistic in that it relies on self-regulation but that it could result in future overdose as a result of neglect from the organization.”

Friedman added that this is not the first time Cloyne has been “purged.” In 1995, the co-op shut the house down after it sustained massive damage. More than a decade later, residents were again asked to leave so the house could be seismically retrofitted. In the latter instance, residents were allowed back to Cloyne based on their reputations, Friedman said.

The cabinet plans to use half of a $400,000 anonymous donation made last semester to finance the academic theme house portion of the proposal. The other half of the donation will be used for seismic retrofits of BSC houses, according to James Chang, BSC’s vice president of external affairs.

Cloyne’s leadership plans to submit its counterproposal to the BSC Board of Directors by Thursday. BSC members can ask questions about and comment on the plans at next Thursday’s board meeting, after which the board will have a week to review all proposals on the table before taking its final vote March 6.

Chloee Weiner covers campus life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .

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