Now is a Good Time to Join OSCA

Many of us recall flipping through glossy admissions catalogs sent from Oberlin during our senior year of high school. The catalogs boasted a school brimming with democratic environments and tight-knit communities, with Oberlin’s Student Cooperative Association prominent among them. Co-ops set us apart from the abundance of other liberal arts colleges. They bring people to this community; they bring communities together; and for many students alumni, co-ops are home to their fondest Oberlin memories. Coming out of the upheaval caused by COVID-19, this is a critical moment to preserve a communal tradition that is at the very heart of our school.   

Shortly before finals week last semester, OSCA leadership concluded its contract negotiations with the College. OSCA renegotiates its rent contract with the College every five years, but this year’s negotiation was complicated by Oberlin’s continued structural budget deficit and the changes that the One Oberlin plan recommended to make OSCA less of a financial burden to the College. 

We won’t bore you with the details but the cliff notes of the new agreement are this: Fairchild co-op will permanently close in order to house the College-run Umami Dining Hall; OSCA will need to buy “housing and dining exemptions” from the College for each of its members, forcing OSCA to charge its members more; and, in the event that fewer students sign up for the OSCA lottery, the College now reserves the right to operate any spaces that aren’t in full use by OSCA. The Kosher-Halal co-op, which is unaffiliated with OSCA, will also discontinue. 

The ability for the College to temporarily repossess co-op locations in the event that not enough students sign up for OSCA is an especially concerning change. This new uncertainty hangs over all future generations of Obies participating in OSCA, and further complicates a year in which the institutional memory of the organization has already been disrupted by the pandemic. Because co-ops have been closed during this academic year due to COVID-19 safety concerns, current first-years have never experienced a communal cook shift or cozy OSCA meal, and current second-years who were in OSCA before the pandemic only had one full semester of the experience. Fourth-years are graduating, so that leaves just the third-years to carry through the memory to decide how OSCA will operate next fall. While we hope that Obies will be just as excited about the co-op system as they always have been pre-pandemic, this year is an especially troubling time to put pressure on OSCA admission.

To some extent, we understand where these changes are coming from. The 2019 Academic and Administrative Program Review found that OSCA was a financial drain to the College. But when it comes to OSCA, to look at the financials only would be a mistake. OSCA helps to facilitate a unique form of friendship and community on campus. In the past, College and Conservatory students of all class years cooked elaborate special meals, celebrated Harkness’ famous jellyfish parades, danced and sang their way through hours of kitchen cleaning, learned new ways of dialoguing, and built homes that were critical to their Oberlin experiences. 

But even if you have no interest in trying out OSCA during your four years here, you probably benefit from OSCA’s presence on campus. There are the obvious advantages of being able to visit a co-op to enjoy a home-cooked meal and a homey atmosphere. But there are also other ways that co-op culture brings value to the entirety of the College community — the dialogue and active listening skills that students bring to their classes, extracurriculars, and friendships. The pervasiveness of the ‘co-op knock’ or checking ‘general feelings’ are defining parts of the day-to-day Oberlin experience. Students’ experience with consensus-based decision making heavily influences the way student orgs are run on this campus, making our broader Oberlin community more inclusive and democratic. 

Not to mention the precious memories of co-op pizza nights, birthday songs, ‘tasty-things’ emails, and the collective dread of super commando at the end of the semester. 

Oberlin isn’t Oberlin without OSCA — for anyone. The College realizes this, consistently highlighting OSCA in admissions advertising and communications materials. Prospective students have committed to Oberlin on the basis of how excited they are about joining a co-op. Really, the inescapable truth the administration needs to confront is that future, present, and past Obies wouldn’t love this college the way they do without OSCA.

The OSCA lottery is open until Feb 17 — apply for it. Maybe you’re on the fence, or maybe you’ve thought you’ll join a co-op “at some point” during your college career. This editorial board believes that this is the year that you should try it out. Show the College that you’re excited about OSCA. Share your experiences, and use your memories to inspire others to care about co-ops. Continue the long tradition of fighting for the environments that make our community what it is.