Representatives of Stanford’s traditionally diverse co-op community have reacted as one to Stanford’s recent decision to revoke Chi Theta Chi’s (XOX) lease, voicing both criticism of the University decision as well as sympathy for XOX residents. The effects of direct University management on co-op life, however, are more muted than the outcry suggests.
“I chose to live in a co-op because I wanted to feel like I had control over and was contributing to my environment,” said Hannah Kopp-Yates ‘12, resident assistant (RA) at Synergy. “Chi Theta Chi takes that to the next level…It offers something special that even we don’t have.”
“XOX is a continual source of wonderful rebelliousness that brings new life to the co-op scene,” said Jacob Boehm ‘12, community manager at Columbae. “Having a place like that on campus fills a niche, so it hurts to see [Residential Education] try to take away something that’s so core to its existence.”
Kopp-Yates said that complaints about University management of the co-ops may not fully take into account inconsistencies between building managers and may rely largely on ill-founded preconceptions or anti-establishment sentiment. She added, however, that Synergy’s isolation may contribute to a diminished University presence, thereby limiting negative experiences compared to other co-ops.
“In co-op culture, there tends to be a rebellious streak,” Kopp-Yates said. “To say that ResEd is oppressive may not be fair…They’ve often been really supportive.”
Daniel Mattes ‘12, kitchen manager at Enchanted Broccoli Forest (EBF), highlighted a lack of clarity in University policy and inadequate consultation with co-op staff as persistent areas of conflict between co-ops and ResEd.
“There’s not enough delineation of expectations and responsibilities,” Mattes said. “They’re intimidating without having to do anything, so for us there’s constant worry and anxiety.”
Boehm echoed the sentiment, arguing that while ResEd does conduct appropriate research prior to implementing co-op policies, co-op residents and staff themselves are often marginalized in the process.
“The underlying idea is that ResEd does what they want,” Boehm said. “In order to transition to something they want, they’ll offer concessions [to facilitate the change].”
Boehm cited Columbae’s own experience with ResEd regarding the house’s murals as evidence of an unbalanced relationship with the University. Students used to paint new designs on the house’s walls and pipes every year. Since 2008, Columbae residents have been prohibited from adding new murals. While the University initially provided free canvases as a means of continuing the house’s tradition, such canvases are no longer provided.
“That’s a great example of standardization,” Boehm said. “Not painting over the murals would be more work, so it would just be easier for them not to exist…There’s a certain steamrolling of character.”
Boehm argued that co-op peculiarities, such as the murals, offer “a larger-than-life connection that holds together the network of [house] alumni.” While Columbae responded to a ResEd opportunity to discuss the murals by appealing to the alumni community to demonstrate the murals’ ongoing relevance, Boehm added, ResEd has yet to return to the issue.
While noting that ResEd has yet to impose any significant constraints on life at Synergy, Kopp-Yates said that some residual tensions between co-ops and the University stem from a lack of understanding by the administration.
“Co-ops as a whole have felt a level of threat and instability with some higher-ups in ResEd,” Kopp-Yates said. “There’s a lack of information…They don’t see our purpose or the assets we bring the community in the same way we do. Co-ops can seem like a liability.”
Boehm acknowledged that Columbae’s current relationship with ResEd is less fraught than in previous years, and noted that the University has sought consistency and efficiency in co-ops. He argued, however, that direct University regulation has led to a diminished sense of ownership for co-op residents, even as ResEd continues to minimize liabilities and peculiarities within the co-op community.
Conceding that the University cited concerns about the interests and comfort of residents who unwillingly end up living in XOX, Boehm argued that the inclusiveness of the co-op community lies within its emphasis on individual preference.
“That idea that you need to standardize things to a lower standard to accommodate different expectations is frustrating,” Boehm said.