We are all prophets who fall victim to our own self-fulfilling prophecies. The idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which the prophecy becomes true due to the belief in the prophecy, has littered the pages of literature throughout time. In “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, a painting of Dorian showcases his ethereal beauty and youth. He is told again and again to value his youth and beauty over his experiences and crimes. Dorian remains ageless and beautiful, committing sin after sin, while his painting changes to show a decrepit and hideous old man. Unable to withstand such a macabre depiction of his beauty, Dorian stabs the portrait, killing himself. The painting symbolizes the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy: What Dorian becomes, he sees; what he sees, he becomes.
Unlike the case of Dorian, self-fulfilling prophecies need not end in destruction, and an example of positive beliefs leading to positive action can be found in the current controversy over the closure of the UC Berkeley cooperative Cloyne Court. Many in the outside community believe that the Berkeley Student Cooperative is choosing to shut down Cloyne because it is a wild drug den, where parties are rampant and studies are scarce. This conception is completely false. Cloyne is the largest student cooperative in the BSC. It is filled with about 150 UC Berkeley students of all majors and backgrounds, does not have a major substance abuse problem and has parties much less than many fraternities on campus. The BSC wishes to reform Cloyne not because of an actual problem but because of a perceived problem due to a drug overdose that happened four years ago. The perceived notion of a “wild drug co-op” may potentially raise insurance rates, which would affect student payments in the co-op, posing a huge risk to the entire BSC.
The extremity of the BSC’s proposal to reform Cloyne parallels the extremity of the threat to the organization. To briefly summarize the proposal, Cloyne will be shut down temporarily and turned into an “academic theme house”; all current members will be expelled like naughty school children and prohibited from returning; a zero-tolerance “one-strike-you’re-out” substance policy will be implemented; and the beautiful murals of Cloyne will be erased, thus destroying the last visible remnant of 1960s counterculture — the very ideals of the Civil Rights Movement, Free Speech Movement and antiwar movement that the co-ops were founded upon.
If Cloyne becomes a “substance-free academic-themed house,” with white walls and zero tolerance, the perceived notion of a drug culture will lessen, but this solution will pose other threats to the organization. The idea of Cloyne as the studious “academic-themed house” suggests that at the other houses students are not as studious and that substances are more tolerated, polarizing, rather than balancing, the co-op houses. As someone who lives in the other larger co-op, Casa Zimbabwe, I fear the Cloyne decision would disrupt our culture here by attracting less study-oriented students. Furthermore, the extreme one-strike policy could possibly create an unhealthy culture of fear and secrecy regarding substances.
Instead of enforcing draconian measures, the BSC should realize that Cloyne is a house in the process of crafting its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Actions follow beliefs. The members understand the risks and the stakes. They, in response to the proposal, have begun to view and prove themselves as a more serious and studious house, and the outside community has begun to view them as such. Cloyne members are capable and ready to change their house’s reputation in the community. They have other proposals that elaborate on the proposals of BSC’s cabinet. Changes in attitudes have already started to occur without the need of disrupting the vibrant house culture of 150 Berkeley students. Quick dramatic solutions are tempting, but for complex organizations — such as the BSC — history shows that healthy and permanent reforms require education and time. This proposal is a Band-Aid fix to a much larger wound. The board meeting, in which the board will vote on the proposal, will occur Thursday. I have heard that “the decision has been made already,” and I urge the BSC community to not fall victim to this particular prophecy — that nothing we can do can change the outcome. There are other solutions that do not involve eviction or expunction, which any BSC member can voice at the meeting Thursday. Cloyne members believe the house can change its reputation and culture in the eyes of the outside world, and I have full faith that action will follow belief.
May the murals of Cloyne match the beauty of Dorian’s painting, and may we remember that self-fulfilling prophecies need not end in death.
Alexandra Kopel is a resident of Casa Zimbabwe and a former news reporter for the Daily Californian.