OSCA Effectively Prepares Students for Post-Grad Life, Supports College’s Mission

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 I am a 2006 Oberlin graduate and an alumnus member of Kosher Halal Co-op — formerly a part of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association. I also served as the archivist and librarian for OSCA during the 2005–2006 academic year, and took a seat on the OSCA board as part of that role. For three-and-a-half out of my four years at Oberlin, I planned, cleaned, cooked, sang, budgeted, laughed, and worked with my peers to make not only food for our members, but also a deeply entwined interfaith community. All of my most indelible memories of Oberlin took place in that small kitchen in Talcott Hall.

Like most liberal arts institutions, Oberlin is experiencing a period of financial uncertainty. It is my understanding that, through the context of the Academic and Administrative Program Review and One Oberlin plan, the administration views OSCA as a $1.9 million liability to the College. In my view, nothing could be farther from the truth. OSCA is something that sets Oberlin apart from other small liberal arts colleges, and is one of the first things I mention when telling my students that they should consider applying to Oberlin. 

OSCA has led the way on sustainability and diversity efforts for the College as well. During my time in OSCA, we thought about and worked on the ethics of food consumption, local food purchasing, racist food packaging, providing safe spaces for marginalized populations, talking openly about privilege and oppression, and negotiating between competing interests in the co-op system.

OSCA prepared me for my adult life in many more tangible ways as well. When I decided that I wanted to live not just as roommates, but as a cooperative community with the people renting alongside me, my OSCA experience made that possible. I was surprised by how many practical skills my housemates lacked that I had learned in OSCA, from mopping to cooking for a crowd to creating a food budget. My experience as an OSCA archivist–librarian served me well when I worked on my master’s degree in Library Science. 

In the 13 years since I graduated from Oberlin, my experience on the OSCA board prepared me to serve on a couple of nonprofit boards where I was the youngest member as other people my age lacked the experience to participate. I learned so much about the beauty and difficulty of doing interfaith work through being a member of Kosher Halal Co-op in particular, and I am still devastated that it has had to part ways with OSCA.

OSCA is one of the largest per-capita student cooperative systems in the country. This is as much a fundamental part of what makes Oberlin different from other liberal arts institutions as the Conservatory. OSCA embodies the Oberlin motto of “Learning and Labor” better than any other institution on campus; we work together, eat together, learn together, and learn from each other. We work at the basics of life and learn the dignity of manual labor, we work to feed ourselves and learn the ethics involved in our choices, we work to meet our loftier needs and learn how to do so responsibly in a diverse community.

The answer to Oberlin’s temporary economic issues cannot come at the expense of what makes Oberlin unique. Becoming more like other colleges will not save us; supporting what makes us different can. It is my fervent hope that instead of seeing OSCA’s interests as opposed to the College’s, the administration will come to understand how OSCA supports Oberlin’s mission and the value it adds to an Oberlin education.

In cooperation and solidarity.