It’s been about six months since the campus’s largest student cooperative house was purged of its membership after efforts to alter the house’s culture. All but one of the house’s residents have left, and now, the final remaining member is getting ready to pack his bags.
After almost a semester as the only resident of Cloyne Court to return to the co-op this fall, UC Berkeley senior Neal Lawton is preparing to make the move to Ridge House, where many of his former housemates now reside.
“I came in this fall and was immediately faced with all of the memories this house holds,” Lawton said. “Having to hang out in Cloyne means repeatedly having to face everything that happened.”
In March, Berkeley Student Cooperative’s board of directors and some of its members voted to pass a proposal that would convert the house into a substance-free, academic theme house, after the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the mother of John Gibson, a former student who sustained brain damage after a drug overdose while at Cloyne in 2010.
The suit alleged that the cooperative system — and Cloyne in particular — created a dangerous environment. Many of the proposed changes aimed to address concerns over the BSC’s liability in future incidents.
Part of the board’s proposal, in addition to converting Cloyne into a substance-free academic theme house, was to “purge” the house of its current and former residents, barring 149 residents from returning. The proposal was adopted, and Lawton was the sole resident of that house’s generation allowed to stay after the board’s decision, having vouched for his substance-free lifestyle prior to the vote.
His friends and other cooperative members call him the last “Clone” — a term used to define the house’s residents.
Although Lawton stayed in the house with the hope of serving as a torchbearer for the past generation of Clones, he has found it difficult to maintain the house’s former culture.
“Even now that it’s farther into the semester, it feels strange to spend time here,” Lawton said. “I wish I could do more to carry on the legacy of what this place was, but it’s a lot to come back to this house.”
After the proposal’s release in February, the house served as the fulcrum of a Save Cloyne campaign that included all-night discussions, drafts of counterproposals and emotional debates.
A new house
The changes to Cloyne are both physical and cultural. The most notable adjustments to the physical space include new study rooms and the painting over of some of the murals that were seen to reference substance use.
But for Lawton, the house’s demographics and new policy are what most influence the culture. Most notably, Lawton says, the majority of new Clones have not lived in BSC housing before, which reduces the size of the veteran force that has had experience with cooperative living.
Although Lawton views this as an obstacle in creating a cooperative environment, some new Clones are enjoying the opportunity to create a community from scratch.
At a recent dinner at Cloyne, about 15 of the house’s members sat in the courtyard, planning an upcoming camping trip. Several Clones sported headlamps and laughed as they weighed options from walking to Mount Tamalpais to hitchhiking to Slab City in front of a pitched tent that some had slept in the night before.
Once the Clones reached a consensus on the Grand Canyon, Kelly Archer, the house’s waste reduction manager, noted that the decision-making process for the camping trip was a basic example of discovering how to work cooperatively and democratically.
“We’re still learning how to utilize the resources a co-op provides,” Archer said. “But people are beginning to experiment and grow as we start to realize the potential this place has to offer.”
Archer, a sophomore, moved into Cloyne over the summer after the controversy last spring. She said the policy has largely been positive for the house’s culture.
“This space is a really valuable environment,” Archer said. “I feel like my relationships are a lot more real and honest because everyone is always interacting mindfully.”
Cloyne’s substance policy stipulates that the use or possession of any substance will result in eviction for members of Cloyne. Some situations, such as being intoxicated in common spaces, will result in a conduct meeting between house management and the resident — what the task force calls a “restorative justice” approach to problem solving. Similarly, a request for emergency assistance will not result in eviction.
The management team has not yet had to take disciplinary action that results in eviction, according to Natalia Reyes, chair of the Cloyne Task Force and a former Daily Californian staff member. Although violation of the policy can result in serious consequences, Reyes said she has not found the substance-free culture to be a large component of the house dynamic.
“In a way, the substance policy is a very incidental thing,” Reyes said. “It came out of a very tumultuous, internal BSC issue last spring, but for those of us living in the house now, it’s just the way we live.”
New and old
Although not being able to return to Cloyne this fall has been difficult for former Clones, Kate Boden, a former resident who worked on the task force in the spring, said she is still invested in the house’s success.
“A house was broken up, and now these people have to rebuild it,” Boden said. “I want community to exist for people in whatever form it can. If that means supporting what now exists at Cloyne, I’m going to do that.”
For some, however, the relationship between old and new Clones is still strained, and the emotions from leaving the house are fresh. Former Clone Amy Edwards said many former residents would like the opportunity to pass on the history of the house.
“That space is almost a holy spot for our community,” Edwards said. “It’s like a siren call.”
As the new members of Cloyne move forward with building their own community and new traditions — such as Sexy Scholars, in which house members follow intervals of studying with dancing or exercise, and a Prohibition Party — Archer and others hope to prioritize mending relationships with old Clones.
“No one’s endorsing what happened by living here,” Archer said. “I’m just interested in seeing how it could work positively, and I want to put my energy toward that.”
While new members of Cloyne shape the culture and former Clones work to maintain the strength of their own in other communities, Lawton reflects on his experience as he prepares to join his former housemates at Ridge.
“I guess it really is an interesting story,” Lawton said. “But that’s history. Interesting stories are always at someone else’s expense.”