Hasty decision threatens co-op community

Haley Williams/Staff

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We, and our nearly 150 housemates at Cloyne Court, are facing eviction on May 16.

Two weeks ago, Michelle Nacouzi, president of Berkeley Student Cooperative, sent an email to the entire cooperative system about a proposal that would severely alter our home. The proposed eviction is part of a proposal written by the cabinet (the executive board of BSC) in response to a recently settled lawsuit against the largest house in BSC, Cloyne.

The proposal addresses the legal ramifications of past substance use at Cloyne, which has strained BSC’s relationship with its insurance carrier. Yet neither we nor our housemates knew of the proposal until we received that email. As supposedly equal owners of this student-run organization, we are disappointed that our leaders kept us in the dark about the future of our home.

The cabinet’s proposal would also turn Cloyne into a substance-free house, in which all murals would be painted white. As Clones, one of whom has lived here for three years and the other of whom is still learning the names of her housemates, we are dismayed by these recent events.

By not tapping into the resources and passion our house has to offer, the cabinet’s members offensively implied that we are not trustworthy partners in the fight for BSC’s long-term stability. Unfortunately, they missed an opportunity to engage with the people who are most invested in Cloyne’s well-being. We believe Cabinet’s actions have led to a weak and unrealistic Band-Aid solution to a serious problem.

While we disagree with the specifics of this proposal, we recognize the well-intended reasons behind it. Like the authors of this bill, we are deeply concerned about the future of BSC. Yet their proposal does not adequately reduce the risk of unsafe substance use at Cloyne.

By creating a substance-free environment, BSC may exacerbate the problem it hopes to solve. A substance-free house would demand a culture of silence, in which house members are too afraid of termination to trust one another to open up about struggles with, or questions about, substance use. This could lead to an increase in closeted drug use and potentially to more overdoses.

The cabinet must know that a substance-free house of UC Berkeley students is unrealistic, and its proposal puts our housemates at risk in order to preemptively engineer a stronger legal defense. Ironically, enforced substance-free policies increase the risk that they will need a legal defense in the first place.

We are determined to critically explore alternative options before compromising the well-being of our community. Our house is already working on tangible changes necessary to ensure a secure future for BSC. We are working to create new structures that satisfy BSC’s legal concerns and put the health and safety of our housemates at the center of our community. Our proposal includes no house-provided alcohol, zero-tolerance enforcement of substance-related policies and increased resources for mental health.

It took active choices, strong leadership and necessary concessions to get Cloyne to where it is today. It will take much more to keep it going, and the leadership of this house is determined to do so. Erasing our culture of personal accountability and collective responsibility would reverse years of hard work.

Our house is filled with love and kindness. It’s one where members of the community gather in the garden, at election-viewing parties, intramural soccer games, craft skill-shares and Wednesday-night yoga lessons. Cloyne taught us that consent is sexy, that kiwi skins are edible and that the needs of the collective come before those of the individual.

There are so few places on campus that are spaces like this one, where we are encouraged to learn and grow in ways we never even imagined. Neither of us could ever imagine a college experience without this beautiful and magical place.

We are so grateful to have been part of spaces such as BSC and Cloyne, which have taught us so much about life, community and responsibility. We ask the wider campus community, and BSC as a whole, to work with us. Together, we can implement a realistic and feasible plan that effectively responds to insurance concerns and takes the health of our community seriously. Come over for dinner any night of the week and talk to us; just drop $3 in our Karma Box and grab a plate.

Shayna Howitt and Elon Rov are UC Berkeley students and residents of Cloyne Court.