To the Editor:
Perhaps the most damaging reputation that exists about housing co-ops are allegations that co-ops are anti-social, intolerant communities that do not respect those who are not "mainstream" co-opers.
This is a very serious allegation because it suggests that the entire philosophy behind co-ops, namely consensus based decision making, is not practiced; and hence we don't have housing co-ops, rather we have frats.
However, I argue, that this is not true. Yes, over the years, there have been residents of co-ops who have been made to feel uncomfortable by certain actions of other co-opers. Similarly, there have been Oberlin students who may have been offended by the actions of certain co-opers in previous years.
But, this is not reflective of the community, but of the actions of individuals. What is reflective of the community is how they respond to these actions.
The failure in the past was that the co-op communities lacked leadership and education about how to properly respond and maintain open lines of communication. This is no longer true.
Co-opers take pride in bringing issues to house meetings and having both the HLECs (House Loose Ends Coordinators) and the entire community facilitate the resolution of conflicts. Consider the following conceptions and how the housing co-ops have responded this year and plan to do so in the future:
"Co-ops are not diverse. They have racist attitudes."
"Women in co-ops live in a sexist environment."
"Co-ops don't respect everyone's opinions."
Several weeks ago at Keep we had a discussion about co-op diversity. People generally felt that the reasons housing co-ops are so "white" is because co-ops suffer an image problem.
It was also argued that because co-op communities are so tight, it's hard for minorities and other people who have strong communities outside their co-op to be able to balance being a part of both. But surely, this is a challenge that minorities face in the real world as well.
Yes, co-ops have been historically white. However, there has been a growth in the number of minorities in co-ops. In Keep, Japanese, Cubanos, Koreans, Latinos, Indians and African-Americans number among our white co-opers. Co-opers especially take pride in displaying their cultural heritage and learning about others through cuisine.
If the trend of increased minority enrollment in co-ops continues, many problems in the past related to racial or cultural issues will fade away, while others will be handled by the community.
To suggest that most co-opers are racist because certain individuals may have been in the past is unsubstantiated stereotyping. The same holds to suggest that co-opers are sexist. Consider that the Keep community - which is always 50/50 men/women, like all housing co-ops - decided to have elected positions this semester to advocate women's issues. We've had co-ed discussions on eating disorders, videos about issues surrounding pornography and a women's night out, among other events.
What matters in consensus based communities is that everybody's voice is heard and respected. We try to make decisions that everyone can at least live with, and preferably enjoy living with. That is the purpose of consensus and its processes such as keeping stack, the ability to voice major objections in private and general feelings. It's not always perfect, but as facilitators we try our best.
In our community, a problem or conflict affecting one person affects our whole community. In the past this may not have always been the case, but it is now.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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