Don’t judge a co-op by its cover

alex_quintana

Constant partying, acid and sex: These were some of the things I expected before moving into a co-op, but my personal experiences have shown that they are made up of much more.

My journey to becoming a co-op resident began as a community college student attending Los Angeles Harbor College. After two years of hard work, I had applied to a variety of universities for fall 2014, hoping to move away and get the “real college experience.” It was clear from the beginning that I would be moving to Berkeley in the spring as soon as I got my acceptance letter. My first concern, however, was, “Where the hell was I going to live?” — a common question almost every college student faces.

Luckily for me, I had a friend who had previously attended UC Berkeley and introduced me to low-priced student co-ops. A co-op is exactly what it sounds like: Students work together to cooperatively run a house. Each resident is assigned a weekly five-hour work shift, which mainly involves cleaning. I decided that this was the best option for me, especially as a new transfer student looking to meet new people. I decided to apply and was accepted into a co-op called Casa Zimbabwe, located on Northside.

When I first walked into my co-op, it was nothing short of overwhelming. I saw artwork covering the walls and dirty dishes stacked on top of one another. In my short two months of being  a new co-op resident, however, I have really become fond of two under appreciated aspects of cooperative life: the freedom we have as co-op residents and the diversity of people you can meet.

Everyone has a voice in a co-op; you can make personal decisions on what you think would best benefit the house. This is mainly done through deciding how we spend our house money, which can be spent on almost anything — as long as it’s legal. In Casa Zimbabwe, this has recently taken the form of spending a few hundred dollars on a house iguana, which has produced a fun debate on what to name our new pet. This is the beauty of a co-op: If you feel that the house needs something, you can propose a motion and put it up to a house vote. Simply put, we can shape the house to be what we want it to be.

Without a doubt, my favorite thing about living in a cooperative has been the people. Whether you’re shy or talkative, co-op life will force you to open up in ways that you never thought you would. I’ve already been able to meet tons of new friends and develop unique connections with every single one of them. The freedom that we have significantly encourages the residents of the house to socialize and bond.

This is a huge relief for any college student, especially when it comes to those students who have previously lived in residence halls, where the presence of hall monitors can make situations very tense. Some of the best moments I’ve had in the house have come from being able to drink and talk with friends late into the night.

This social dynamic in Casa Zimbabwe is unique because there are a total of 124 people who live in my house. There are still many residents in Casa Zimbabwe I have yet to talk to — however, there’s always an opportunity for me to get to know them. The house is beautiful in this way. It brings people from all walks of life who probably would not have met outside of a co-op.

Many UC Berkeley students who have never lived in a co-op unfairly judge them with preset notions. I did so, too, before actually experiencing what life in one would be like. When most students hear the word “cooperative,” they think of two things: a place to have wild parties and a place to find drugs. There’s definitely more, however, to Berkeley co-ops than you’ve heard. If you’ve never lived in a co-op, try one out for yourself this fall, and see what they are truly like.

Contact Alex Quintana at [email protected].