Gathered in the common room of the Rochdale Village Co-op just after 5:30 a.m. Friday morning, the Berkeley Student Cooperative Board of Directors and some of its members voted to convert one of the largest cooperative houses in the country, Cloyne Court, into a substance-free academic theme house and prohibit all but one of the house’s current and former members from living in the residence in the fall.
The 903-449 vote marks the culmination of a month of intense discussion among BSC members on the future of Cloyne and more than 10 1/2 hours of stirring conversation at the meeting, which began at 7 p.m. Thursday. About 200 people showed during the course of the meeting, including many BSC members who individually cast votes for the proposals instead of having their board member vote in their stead.
After the announcement of the vote, some members of Cloyne embraced one another through tears. Shortly after the meeting adjourned, many members of Cloyne — who often refer to themselves as Clones — joined in a group hug and chanted in the middle of the street outside Rochdale.
“I was expecting the result that we got, but at the same time, during the middle of the meeting, I was hoping that things would go in Cloyne’s favor,” said Karina Rodriguez, who used to live in Cloyne but now lives in Rochdale. “I’m still hopeful that Cloyne will keep fighting.”
Two major amendments to the proposal, announced in its original iteration by the BSC Executive Cabinet on Feb. 13, were discussed at the meeting. An amendment to the repopulation clause allows one current resident of the house to return to Cloyne in the fall. Another allows for the preservation of 31 murals — selected by the Cloyne members and reviewed by the cabinet — along with a prohibition of painting over any murals in Cloyne’s common space unless they specifically reference drugs.
Originally, the proposal would have prohibited all current and former Clones from returning to the house in the fall and did not include any language about exempting any murals from being painted over.
The one Clone who may return in the fall, UC Berkeley junior Neal Lawton, said he approached cabinet and Cloyne leadership at one of their recent meetings and was able convince them of his commitment to a substance-free environment.
“It’s significant and symbolic for a lot of people that at least an inkling of the last generation of Clones still survives,” Lawton said. “I hope to participate in helping to build a new one, regardless of whoever ends up in the house next semester.”
These amendments followed the board’s Feb. 28 decision to extend the voting deadline from March 6 to March 13 with the stipulation that Cloyne leadership and BSC’s executive cabinet meet at least twice before the vote. Over the week leading up to the vote, BSC President Michelle Nacouzi and Cloyne House Manager Shannon Levis met multiple times in addition to these two meetings.
The cabinet originally announced its controversial proposal last month, after the settlement of a lawsuit against BSC over winter break. The suit was filed by the mother of former UC Berkeley student and Cloyne resident John Gibson, who sustained brain damage after overdosing at the house in 2010. The BSC cabinet proposed its plan in response to the suit’s allegations that the BSC and Cloyne in particular fostered a dangerous and drug-tolerant environment.
“We didn’t propose this plan for no reason. We did it because cabinet feels the organization is facing a risk,” Nacouzi said during the presentation of the BSC Executive Cabinet’s proposal. “Substance-free is bold and is something we haven’t done in the past. We’ve revised our policies and tried to make them stronger, but we haven’t seen the big improvement we’re looking for.”
The cabinet’s plan was hotly contested by many BSC members, especially Clones who felt excluded from the democratic process, because the cabinet did not include them in the drafting of their proposal. Many Clones also argued that the house’s culture has changed since the 2010 overdose, pointing to the fact that none of the house’s current members lived at the residence at the time of the incident.
Cloyne leadership responded to the cabinet’s proposal with its Save Cloyne campaign, which included a website where many current and former Clones posted testimonials about their experiences in the house. They also suggested multiple counterproposals that many Clones said would better address the issue of substance abuse, a problem many BSC members feel is prevalent across all college campuses, and invited every house in BSC over for dinner to discuss the future of Cloyne’s culture.
Cloyne’s final counterproposal, the Affordable Education Themed House Proposal, was also presented at the meeting. But the board, and in some cases, house members, voted against the counterproposal, enabling the vote on the cabinet’s proposal. If Cloyne’s proposal had been passed, a vote on the cabinet’s proposal would not have taken place since the two plans directly opposed each other.
During the meeting, BSC members spoke about the possibility of voting on Cloyne’s future at a general membership meeting, although it is uncertain whether Clones or anyone else will pursue this potential option in the wake of the vote.