Oberlin Blogs

Living in the Harkland

May 11, 2011

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

I am JUST KIDDING. Or am I? Read on to find out where I am semi-clothed in this post...

My first year of college seems SO LONG AGO (sidenote: I began this post on Thursday,
and that evening, Patrick stalked this draft and left me the following message: "THAT'S BECAUSE IT WAS, MA'AYAN"). Yes, I did just graduate from college around this time last year, at about the same time that most of you readers are about to graduate from high school, but that doesn't mean I don't remember it like it was yesterday. We're going to get in our little time machine and head back there for the few minutes it takes to read this blog.

In the spring of 2006, I was the most excitable young pre-Obie. You may have read about this excitement previously, but let me tell you, the weeks between sending in my deposit and getting the Big Book of Forms (lovingly abbreviated to BBoF when in the throes of question askings on the various forums, Facebook discussions, and this blog from here on out) were truly agonizing. I wanted to know where I was going to live, who I was living with, what I'd be eating, who my adviser was going to be, what classes I was going to take, and I wanted to know the answers immediately. Speaking from firsthand experience, time pretty much stops the summer before you get to Oberlin. I wish there was a way to speed things up, but I don't know how to do so. I guess you can peruse the blogs while you're waiting! ;)

I'm here to talk about housing. I may eventually write a post about advisers (mine was awesome!) and about choosing classes (but probably closer to orientation), but right now, it's OSCA time!

You may remember that I spent many semesters in Harkness. I lived and ate there for three years, and spent another year eating and splitting in there. I have written about cleaning, and many many meals in Harkness, but I never wrote about why I chose OSCA in the first place.

My dad was in Harkness for three years. Thanks to a friend of his, Susan, who recently wrote a blog about my dad's three careers, and who talked to me briefly about the article, dug up some old photos from Harkness past and sent them to me. The following photos are in my top five favorite emails of all time.

Oh man. I love family photos. These are of my dad (the one with the long hair and stylish aviators) in a Hark room with a bunch of his friends, and then on the roof of the entryway on a couch. Kids, please don't do this at home, or in Harkness when it is your home. Many thanks to Susan Harris '71 for sharing these two photos with me!

So, I don't really know what went into my thinking about choosing OSCA as a first-year, but it probably went something like this:

- I care about what I eat a fair deal, and I care about where it comes from. I very much love cooking and feel very comfortable around sharp knives, hot stoves, and in industrial kitchens.

- I like being around people of all ages, so a first-year hall wasn't exactly my speed; I wanted to be able to spend time there but not live there.

- College is a bit expensive, but Oberlin's got options for housing and dining that can help with these costs. I saved several thousand dollars over the course of my college years because of my participation in OSCA (over two thousand dollars a semester, almost four thousand dollars a year!). I paid for my own housing and dining costs throughout college, both from working during the school year and during the summer as well. OSCA was much more in my price range; though I would have been able to manage otherwise, this was simpler.

- Harkness, the wacky wonderful veggie hippie haven, was my first choice, mainly because of its very central location (smack in the middle of campus!), and because cooking meat is/was still scary to me, especially in large quantities. Hark (and Fairkid) are both known for their vegetarian and very vegan-friendly natures, though every co-op has veggie options at every meal.

My trajectory of co-opery went as follows:

- I mailed in a letter enumerating my choices: Harkness, Tank, Keep, Old B, Pyle, Third World, Kosher-Halal.

- I got a postcard at some point in early summer saying I had gotten into Old B for dining. Cheering commenced!

- Later in the summer, I was placed in Tank in a double with a girl named Emma. She didn't have a Facebook (at the time) but we managed to get in touch and exchanged several excellent emails talking about the things we liked and wanted as a part of our room. I distinctly remember that we were in mutual agreement on the attractiveness of Johnny Depp and that we wanted to have musical singalongs while we brushed our teeth. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but, alas, it was not to be (more below). I still consider Emma to be a faux roommate, however, since we would have made such an excellent pairing. Emma is so incredibly lovely; we ate together in Harkness later in our college careers, and even shared one of our final classes together as seniors.

- Sometime in early August, I was showering after a long day at the banana bread bakery, when my dad opened the door to the linen closet (due to the mechanics of the house we were living in at the time, the bathroom vented directly into the closet) and yelled in that I had just received a postcard saying I had gotten into Harkness. I started dancing in the shower, then jumped out, hair half-washed, wrapped myself in a towel, and ran out to see the postcard in person. Yes!

- I then contacted my roommate Elisabeth, a transfer from Sarah Lawrence (and also, ironically, an alumna of my mom's high school in Westchester), and chatted with her several times over the next month to coordinate some last-minute room things and general getting-to-know-you small talk.

And then it was all counting and waiting until I got to campus. On move-in day, Elisabeth's mom and mine had a great time carrying up our suitcases with the volunteers from the fall athletic teams (yay for the strong and awesome men's and women's soccer players who were around Harkness!), bonding while we both unpacked, lofted our beds (fact: if you have a hammer, you will be everyone's best friend during orientation), and generally figured out how to arrange our belongings and furniture in Harkness 202. Fun!

Cleverly, my mom took two photos on move-in day of Elisabeth and me in room-setup-mode. Hurray!

I love it when my past self leaves presents for my future self. I obviously *knew* on my first day of college when I took a 270 degree photo of my room to document where I was living that it would end up in an Oberlin blog post. Forgive the stitching job, I'm not the best at this sort of thing, and I didn't know five years ago that I would use them again.

Elisabeth went on leave halfway through our first year together at Oberlin, so I had a new roommate, Shaina, who went on to be a star of many photoshoots during our second semester freshman year. Shaina was one of the HLECs (housing loose ends coordinator, a co-op equivalent to an RA) for our second year.

Shaina pensively stares out of the lounge windows onto Harkness bowl.

Shaina and Deanna pose in front of the Harkness mural. It's always changing.

Shaina plays a folky concert in the Harkness stairwell.

Shaina and I bonded a ton over orientation, when we went on the massive co-op capture-the-flag game on our first two nights in Oberlin. All the HLECs will paint a yearly banner for their co-op, and after a few hours/days/weeks, a co-op will eventually win. Harkness won, no small part because of Shaina's and my determination and lack of sleeping during the first few days of orientation.

In order: Keep's flag, Old B's (it's the rolled-up yellow one), Harkness, and Tank.


So, while I greatly enjoyed my first year as an OSCA-n, I realize it is not for everyone. Here are some things to note, and take with a grain of coarse sea salt and a dash of sriracha (all-purpose spicy sauce you will become very familiar with both in co-ops and in CDS).

- If you live in a co-op, you are required to eat there (with the exception of if you're dining in Kosher-Halal or Third World, since they are application-based safe-spaces). However, if you're a first-year, and wish to eat in Harkness, Tank, or Keep, you must also live there (Old B is for upperclassmen only in regards to housing, so you can eat there without living there as a first-year). Starting second semester, you'll be able to apply for dining-only in these three co-ops. This is how Harris and I were co-op buddies starting in the spring of our freshmen year!

- A co-op is an instant community, but so is a first-year experience hall, or themed housing, or program houses, and even traditional housing. Regardless of where you live, you'll probably gravitate to the nearest first-year hall and spend time there. For me, that was Dascomb. I was an honorary member of Dascomb 229 (Kit and Greg!) and 338 (Sandhya!), and visited the Battle Lounge quite often on my way out at obscenely late hours.

- In an indecisive yet perfect world, if you're thinking about a co-op but aren't sure if you want to take a big plunge, know this: it is easier to get into OSCA as a first-year than any other year (there are a certain number of slots reserved for y'all!). If you want to take advantage of this, consider eating in a co-op and living in a residence hall. You'll have two communities! Even better!

- It is easy to get caught up in the co-op mindhive. I had friends that lived in Harkness, but I also didn't spend all of my time there (remember? Dascomb honorary, and I also had a fair chunk of friends in South, where I did a ton of my homework). I always had someone to say hi to in the lounge or in the kitchen, but I actively visited friends elsewhere to maintain a basis of friends all over campus. I actually did this all three years I lived in Harkness, and it worked very well for me.

- Because the at-cost nature of OSCA means that we are responsible for the way we live, this does mean that sometimes your co-op will have its dirty days, but that also means that we all pitch in and clean. When my mom moved me into Harkness, she semi-joked that she was going to buy me a carpet cleaner; I prefer to look at our carpets as intentionally dark, and incredibly well-loved. If you're really invested in the cleanliness of your space, you can always run to be cleanliness coordinator! Then you tell people how and what to clean and assure that your co-op is next to godliness. (I wrote a whole post about doing housejobs in Hark, you should read it!).

- Cooking and cleaning together makes for one of the tightest bonds of friendship you can think of. I enjoyed my first year in Harkness, both as a living space and as a place to meet some incredible life-long friends. So many of my friends passed through Harkness's doors at some point; clearly it has a positive influence on our college experiences.

- Learning to respect the space you are living in is an incredibly valuable experience. Cleaning, especially when you're working on finals or otherwise procrastinating, is very cathartic, as it's productive but not homework. That's pretty wonderful, actually.

So, there you have it. Hark blood runs true in my veins, and the OSCA crest sits highly on my Oberlin flag. As I've said to many a prospie, OSCA was one of the most defining parts of my Oberlin experience, passed on to me by my father, and hopefully passed on from me to my brother now (he'll be in Old B for a second year in a row this coming fall!).

Similar Blog Entries


March 4, 2024

Thorin Finch

An eclectic collection of poetic musings on the everyday experiences of Oberlin students.
Thorin Finch