In the wake of an early Friday morning vote to prohibit almost all of Cloyne Court’s current and former residents from moving back to the house come fall, many of the house’s members shifted their focus over the weekend from fighting to keep their house to savoring their final months together.
The festive atmosphere at the house’s Mardi Gras-themed special dinner Saturday night — which included a brass band and dancing lasting late into the night — contrasted starkly with the tense mood of Thursday’s meeting at the Rochdale Village co-op, which lasted more than 10 hours and culminated with members of Cloyne embracing through tears and chanting in the street.
At the end of the meeting, the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s Board of Directors and some of its members voted to turn Cloyne, one of the largest cooperative houses in the country, into a substance-free academic theme house and prohibit the majority of the house’s current and former members from living in the residence in the fall.
“For the most part, people in the house have had a really positive spirit moving forward from the decision,” said Mirit Friedman, a house manager of Cloyne. “We’re trying to appreciate what we have right now rather than feel angry.”
An all-night discussion
The decision on Cloyne’s future, which was passed by a vote of 903-449 just after 5:30 a.m. Friday, came at the conclusion of hours of emotional debate as some members of Cloyne — who often refer to themselves as Clones — and other BSC members fought against the most drastic measures of the cabinet’s proposal.
The meeting was also emotional for BSC President Michelle Nacouzi who, at about 4 a.m. Friday, took a break from her role as facilitator and left the meeting. Shortly after returning, Nacouzi offered an apology to BSC membership and Clones in particular.
“I’m not perfect. Cabinet is not perfect,” said Nacouzi through tears. “I’ve heard from a lot of people that I haven’t been empathetic through this, but I’m empathetic, and I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think this was completely necessary.”
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.
While Friedman believes the board’s decision will be the final say on Cloyne’s future, some BSC members at the meeting mentioned the possibility of repealing the plan, originally put forward by BSC’s executive cabinet.
Shannon Levis, a Cloyne house manager, said holding a vote at a general membership meeting, which would require the presence of at least 40 percent of BSC’s membership, is still something she will discuss with her house.
The proposal and its transformation
The cabinet first announced its proposal in February, after the settlement of a lawsuit against BSC over winter break. The mother of former UC Berkeley student and Cloyne resident John Gibson sued BSC after her son sustained brain damage after overdosing at the house in 2010. In the suit, she alleged that BSC and Cloyne in particular fostered a dangerous and drug-tolerant environment. The BSC cabinet proposed the plan to help protect the co-op from future legal liabilities.
“I think they’re taking a step, although I don’t think that anybody knows what the right step is,” said Madelyn Bennett, Gibson’s mother. “This doesn’t help my family, but who it does help are the families of future Clones.”
After the cabinet’s announcement of their original proposal, current Clones mobilized by creating a social media campaign, hosting house dinners and drafting multiple counterproposals — one of which was discussed and voted down during the meeting. Many Clones expressed that they felt excluded by the cabinet throughout the process for several reasons, including the fact that they were not consulted in the cabinet’s original drafting of the proposal.
The board decided Feb. 28 to extend the voting deadline from March 6 to March 13 with the stipulation that Cloyne leadership and the executive cabinet — who together call themselves Cabi-Cloyne — meet at least twice before the vote. In response, Cabi-Cloyne discussed and approved several amendments to the cabinet’s proposal before Thursday night’s meeting.
Among these amendments, the cabinet agreed to allow one member of Cloyne, UC Berkeley junior Neal Lawton, to return to the house in the fall. Lawton said he approached Cabi-Cloyne before the vote and convinced them of his commitment to a substance-free environment due to his sober lifestyle.
“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.”
During the meeting, the board voted to approve an amendment that prohibits the painting over of any murals in Cloyne’s common spaces unless they specifically reference drugs. The board also voted to lift the ban on current and former Clones living in the residence after three years.
Looking to the past and the future
Over the last month, many BSC members and alumni have drawn parallels between the situation with Cloyne and two Berkeley cooperative houses, Barrington Hall and Le Chateau, which were shut down and converted into a graduate student house, respectively. Some have used the two houses as examples to support the idea that the BSC has not been successful in addressing issues of substance abuse across the co-op system.
“I really hope that the cabinet’s proposal works, I sincerely do,” Levis said. “But we didn’t oppose cabinet’s plan so that we could have the right to drink alcohol in our house. It was because we don’t think the solution is going to work based on our experiences actually living in Cloyne.”
Cloyne will be closed during summer to allow for retrofits to the building that will include the addition of new study rooms and the repainting of the house’s private rooms.
Some Clones hope that although they will not be allowed to return in the house in the fall, their legacy will live on.
“Even though it’s not going to be available for us in the same way next year, we have to remind ourselves there’s a reason we fought so hard,” Levis said. “We have to be thankful we ever even found Cloyne.”