Name: Hanna Hoover
What does the Co-op mean to you?
The Students’ Co-operative provides a unique living situation for college students at the University of Minnesota. The Students’ Co-operative, or “the Co-op” as it is colloquially known, is a large collectively-held house that occupies the 1700 block of University Avenue, owned and operated by its tenants and alumni board. There are large communal living rooms, a spacious kitchen located in the basement, and private residential rooms akin to a dorm. The entire organization (the by-laws, membership contracts, leadership positions, etc.) all originate from the ground-up. It is the members of the house and alumni board who decide how much is charged for rent, if the floors get resurfaced, and whether to buy a real or fake Christmas tree. Instead of landlords or resident advisors, there are elected Managers and Presidents. In short, the Students’ Co-operative is a self-organized governance system!
In 2014 I moved into the house and took part in this social contract. In exchange for monthly dues, which were extremely affordable at the time, and agreed upon house-duties, I was a co-op member. The duties were not paid and purely ran on a volunteer basis. Bills got paid, garbage was taken out, and toilets were scrubbed. If or when they didn’t, appropriate and automatic sanctions were put into place. I was surrounded by like-minded young adults who were also figuring out how to live independently and determining what type of life they wanted to live. We would cook and share meals together as part of the weekly Supper Club. We organized house events, like contra-dancing or progression parties (where the party would go from room-to-room to “progress” through the house). We held a Friendsgiving (the Friday after Thanksgiving) where we would share the left-overs our parents sent us home with. We were a tight close-knit community who supported each other.
The environment of the Co-op would often beget more than the minimal contractually-obligated labor from its occupants. We would donate items to the house “free-bin” or spend a sunny afternoon picking weeds out of the front garden. We would go out of the way to help one another, we would seek out particular opportunities which would be an interest to the house, but provided no direct benefit to the individual. Ever consider fixing your rental’s A/C unit out-of-pocket? Would you voluntarily paint the bedroom for a neighbor? Could you imagine this type of behavior in the place of a typical living arrangement?
Why did this particular living circumstance engender such contributions? We did these things because we deeply cared about the Co-op. We completed chores, we mowed the lawn, we maintained the furniture and appliances. We bought and installed new windows to replace the old drafty ones. We all overcame the individual incentive to “free-ride” on the efforts of other house members and instead made the conscious decision to contribute to the good of the Co-op. The detriment of the house implied the detriment of us all.
Living at the Co-op and contributing to the house was one of the most gratifying experiences of my younger undergraduate years. I would enthusiastically recommend living at the Students’ Co-operative for any student who is interested in living in an intentional community. When most living options in Dinkytown exist entirely to turn a profit, the mission of the Students’ Co-operative provides an alternative for students who seek a more meaningful experience to living off-campus.