The Berkeley Student Cooperative, formerly known as the University Students’ Cooperative Association, has been around for 80 years. In that time, its members have taken part in many of the defining moments of the last century, and as an organization, it has provided opportunities for students who otherwise couldn’t have afforded to attend the university. Punk bands such as Green Day and Black Flag have played shows in Cloyne Court and the now-defunct Barrington Hall, and author Beverly Cleary even lived in Stebbins Hall for a while.
Many students don’t know of this history, assuming co-opers are all Birkenstock-wearing, Kombucha-drinking, messy-haired hipsters who eat too much kale. This is true to some degree, but it ignores the different people who come through each co-op house and make it their own. The BSC at 80, an exhibit on display at the Bancroft Library, seeks to change that image, with photos, pamphlets, old party fliers and much more. Madeline Loh, development director for the BSC, was integral in putting together the exhibit as a celebration of “80 years of cooperative living.”
She hopes that when students walk down the hallway of the library, they stop and explore the displays, which tell the story of how the BSC started as a Depression-era project for students who needed a cheap housing option while at UC Berkeley. It does a fantastic job of conveying that simple mission and tracks the development of the co-ops over the decades — and a lot has happened. The displays are broken into different crucial aspects of the co-ops: sustainability, the origins of the BSC, political involvement, music and art and traditions that have thrived because of students.
The exhibit is a way for passers-by to look into the past and explore how the co-ops grew from a few students to the largest student cooperative group in the country. Photos of the first houses and members show a very different time, and no two are the same. Over time, sustainability efforts have become one of the key aspects of the co-ops, making sure the mark members leave on the community and university isn’t a wasteful one.
The most fascinating display is the musical and artistic history of the co-ops, especially in the ’80s and ’90s. Some of the biggest hardcore and punk groups, as well as singers such as Elliott Smith, have played in co-ops over the years, and Les Claypool of Primus even wrote a song about the craziness of Barrington Hall. As a co-oper, you hear stories about the fabled house, but to see that Black Flag and Operation Ivy once played shows in the co-ops is pretty surreal. Music is an essential part of co-op living, and the fliers displayed in the exhibit indicate not only this tradition but also the artistic prowess of co-opers.
The murals that fill each house are also something to behold; members of the houses can let their imaginations run wild on the walls, making that space a more vibrant place to live. This isn’t a case of students just living somewhere out of necessity and never getting involved in the house — each co-op is unique and composed of different views, and the diverse spirit is reflected in the art and music that is produced.
With just four displays in the middle of a hallway, it’s not a very big exhibit, but it tells the story of the co-ops, which have been an integral part of the past century at Cal, “providing opportunity to students that want to get an education,” as Loh put it. Opportunity has always been a critical part of the BSC’s mission as it ensures student success through low-cost housing. The exhibit is open through next March, so while you’re looking for a spot to study for your next midterm, stop by the hallway in Bancroft Library and get the real story behind the co-ops.
Contact Youssef Shokry at [email protected].