Co-op should take place of new fraternity

The administration deserves quite a bit of credit for the 20-year Master Plan for the University. There is a tangible sense of improvement; it is evident in the new buildings, admission statistics, and in the overall quality of the student experience.

A campus in transition has opportunities to establish new institutions.  One of these is the former Sigma Nu fraternity house. I think that instead of establishing a new fraternity, however, the University should establish a sustainable living co-operative.

What exactly is a co-operative? Simply, a living arrangement in which people share responsibilities as a way to reduce their economic strain and environmental impact.

Co-operative student housing is not uncommon at American colleges – schools such as U.C. Berkeley and Oberlin College offer it. By establishing our own, Puget Sound could place itself on a list of schools with progressive values and diverse housing options. It would be an excellent recruiting tool for attracting students who want to live sustainably.

Recently the school has been catching a lot of flak for “greenwashing” – advertising itself as sustainable but making only superficial, advertorial reductions in its environmental impact. Those compostable coffee cups are changing nothing but the degree of guilt you feel when you throw them away. Creating a sustainable co-op would help defuse some of that criticism, and more significantly reduce the school’s overall carbon footprint.

A co-operative is also less costly to live in and to operate than other living arrangements.  Students would be able to pay less tuition in exchange for contributing to the upkeep and duties of the house. Less staffing is required, and students would come up with ways to reduce utility usage. A co-operative would provide low-cost living and save the school money in the process; it is essentially a new, free source of financial aid.

Diversity of housing options is preferable. There is a strong Greek system already at the school, amply accommodating the percentage of Puget Sound students who want a fraternity or sorority experience. We should broaden the menu. A co-operative would have the advantage of being co-educational as well.

The greatest benefit of a living co-operative, however, is intangible. Living in a co-operative house instead of an anonymous dorm fosters a spirit of community involvement and concern for one’s fellow persons.

We have all witnessed the tragedy of the commons that takes place in dorm kitchens; it embodies the “not my mess” mentality that is at the root of environmental destruction. To live in a co-op is to make a statement of defiance against a cultural status quo that seems increasingly profit-driven and self-interested.

The resources exist to set up a co-operative at Puget Sound. If you are interested, look up the North American Students of Cooperation, and talk to your student government representatives. We should take advantage of this unique opportunity to leave a sustainable legacy on campus.