Oberlin is known for its co-ops, which are an alternative dining option where Obies join a completely student-run and managed dining hall and/or house rather than eat in Campus Dining Services. Joining a co-op was one of the best decisions I have made at Oberlin, and I don't regret it at all. However, sometimes being in a co-op can be a little tricky or frustrating, even when overall it is a rewarding, character-building experience. When I first joined a co-op last semester, I was promptly introduced to the reality of Interim Week. Interim week, or just interim, is what OSCAns (co-opers) call the first few weeks of each semester when the co-op gets up and running. A sometimes-stressful time filled with last-minute crew shifts and randomly cancelled meals, interim can be hard to get through, but I realized this semester that it really isn’t so bad, and that it’s just a part of life in OSCA (Oberlin Student Cooperative Association).
So what happens during interim? Well, each semester every co-op creates a permanent workchart, which means each person in the co-op is eventually assigned specific cook and crew shifts that they work, modified depending on their availability, or if they have positions or time aid (more on that in a bit). BUT, during interim, the permanent workchart isn’t set up yet, so everything that goes into meal preparation and cleanup is completely volunteer-based. Tank, where I eat, is a five-hour co-op (some co-ops that are larger are four-hour co-ops, and Harkness was briefly a 3-hour co-op last semester before they realized that that wasn’t gonna fly), which means each person in the co-op is responsible for working 5 hours a week in the co-op, and at least one of those hours is dedicated to crewing (cleaning up after a meal). There are some good OSCA-related posts under the "Dorms, Co-ops, and Other Housing" and the "Food and Dining" sections of the blogs if you want to find out more about what living and eating in OSCA entails.
So, every meal in OSCA requires a head cook, the person who plans the meal and delegates tasks to the people on the shift so each element of the meal gets made in a timely manner. Each crew shift after a meal needs to have a Person-in-charge (PIC), who makes sure the kitchen is cleaned properly and would pass inspections. If a meal doesn’t have a head cook, or a PIC, or a shift is just understaffed, the meal gets cancelled. This is one of the things that often happens during interim, which is sad. The good thing is, as long as there is food in the kitchen (which there is, because the all-OSCA food buyers purchase food for all the co-ops during interim), people can cook for themselves. Or you can beg your friend to eat at their co-op (I ate several meals at Harkness last week) or have a friend swipe you into Stevie. So, even though cancelled meals happen, there are ways around a missed meal.
The other big thing that happens during interim is ELECTIONS. Each co-op has a lot of positions to help it stay up and running, and during interim the Interim Dining Loose Ends Coordinators (or iDLECs) facilitate OSCA-style elections and make sure all the positions are filled. If you’re curious about OSCA-style elections, check out this post here. Here are some of the positions that get elected during interim week (some of the others are elected every other semester, like Food Safety Coordinator):
-Dining Loose Ends Coordinators (DLECs; I did this last semester!)
-Kitchen Coordinators (KitchCos)
-Nutrition Coordinator (NutCo—Tank elected to eliminate this position this semester)
-Accessibility Coordinators (AccessCos)
-Membership Coordinators (MemCos)
-Education Coordinator (EdCo)
-Nicaragua Sistership Coordinator (NicSisCo—Tank doesn’t have this and also maybe OSCA doesn’t anymore? I'm unclear on this at the moment)
-Long Range Planning Committee Rep. (LRPC Rep.)
-Environmental Concerns Committee Rep.
-Tasty Things Makers
-Granola Makers (my position this semester!)
-Historian (we have this as an honorary position in Tank)
I’m sure for anyone new to a co-op, this seems like an overwhelming list of positions. It sort of is, and boy howdy we sure have a LOT of acronyms, but after a little over a semester in a co-op, these positions make a lot of sense and I recgonize now how they help the co-op run, each in their unique ways. Each position in a co-op has a corresponding number of hours to it that the position holder gets taken off the workchart. For example, a DLEC is a “full” position, which means that DLECs get 4 hours off the workchart and only have to do one crew per week. Granola maker is a 2-hour position, so this semester in addition to making granola once a week for the co-op, I have to do three one-hour shifts.
Additionally, every co-op has something called time aid. Each co-op has a different policy about it, but basically if you work a job outside of the co-op (which is also essentially a form of employment) to support yourself at Oberlin, you can get hours off the workchart, depending on how many hours you work. Again, this all sounds pretty complicated, but co-ops have been around for a long time and have things more or less figured out!
Once all the positions are elected and time aid is figured out, our newly-elected membership coordinators (MemCos) send out the finalized workchart, usually in the form of a majestic, colorful spreadsheet. In Tank, we fill out a google form saying when our availability is, and the MemCos work from there. In other co-ops, there are different systems like a lottery spreadsheet with specific times to sign up for shifts you want.
Generally, during interim, at each meal there are a few elections, but sometimes we have to table discussions if there aren’t enough people to vote or no one is nominated/nominates themselves for the position in question. When this happens, we just continue the discussion at another meal. This semester, Tank elections got off to a slower start, and I was worried that interim was going to last more than two weeks. Luckily, our iDLECs were highly competent, and Tankers are very efficient at voting (we even came up with a new hand gesture to propose status quo on a position, the revered eagle sign)
Today, interim ended and we had a delicious official first meal of the semester! It was nice to see faces old and new. I can’t wait for another glorious semester in Tank! I love my co-op!