When you imagine the stereotypical co-op kid, a few traits might pop into your mind: vegan, Phish lover, dubious standards of hygiene, space case, organic food enthusiast, environmental advocate, pie-the-sky idealist, etc.
I would like to take this opportunity to dispel the typecast and offer up a more accurate and realistic image of what the typical co-oper looks like. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that any of the above aforementioned traits are at all negative, but when everyone who is a member of the MSU Student Housing Cooperative (SHC) is portrayed in this way, any traits that deviate from the “norm” are overlooked and the differences that make us individuals are often ignored. Of course, when you take this into consideration, there arises a problem: there is no typical co-oper.
The co-ops are inhabited by dynamic individuals with diverse interests and backgrounds. For instance, in my house we have people with majors ranging from English and international relations to urban planning and engineering. We are bookworms and party animals, outdoorsmen and couch potatoes, politically active and generally apathetic. Sure, there are those of us who eat vegan, who enjoy the groovy sounds of Phish, who believe in conserving water and recycling anything and everything. But just as many of us (maybe more) have an unhealthy obsession with bacon (and every other meat product for that matter), think Taylor Swift is mighty keen (it’s like a choir of angels), find joy in the 30-minute shower (although we’re working on shortening it), and have never seen (or smelled) a compost bucket in our entire lives.
Now obviously I can really only write about my own personal experience because undoubtedly everyone’s is different. And that is what I think is the strongest quality of the SHC; your experience within the co-ops is based upon what you put into it. You can be incredibly involved and find a family with your “hausmates” or you can treat it as a cheap place to live and nothing more.
There is, I believe, one overarching thing that unites all members of the co-ops, and that is a sense of community. When you join the system, you become a member-owner of the organization and thus have a say in the way the SHC (with its 15 houses and more than 200 members) is run. Moreover, as member-owners we are mainly responsible for upkeep and repair of the houses, an investment of time and energy that further strengthens our feeling of connection to the organization as a whole.
I actually ended up living in a co-op by happenstance. While making summer plans at the end of my sophomore year, a friend of mine who lived in the system suggested that I stay in East Lansing to work facilities with him and that one of his “hausmates” was looking for someone to sublease his room. I had never heard of the co-ops before that conversation but jumped at the opportunity, mainly because I didn’t want to go home for the summer, not to mention the cheap price. Looking back, it was one of the best split-second decisions that I have ever made. Never before or since have I felt so instantly accepted into a new community. What followed was the best summer of my life up to that point, and moving out in August was an emotional and difficult process. But I had already signed a lease for a house with some friends, and it was time to move on. When it came time to sign for housing for the coming year, I knew that the co-ops would be my future home.
Aside from the feeling of connection to a larger community that you don’t have when you live in a regular off-campus house, the co-ops are a significantly cheaper option. The rent that I paid in my house was astronomically high compared to the rent of the co-ops, and utilities weren’t even included. The rent is cheaper in co-ops because every member of the SHC is also an owner so, as it says on the SHC website, there is not a landlord making a profit.
Throughout the past year, I have found a family in my “Haus.” Late nights spent debating trivial matters while we should have been studying and group trips to Woody’s on Thursdays have solidified our friendship that I have no doubt will last long after we have all moved on in our respective post-grad adventures. Like family, we don’t always agree or get along, and we all have our own quirks and mannerisms, but also like family, we look out for one another. If you’re looking for a sense of belonging, for a connection to a community unlike any other, then I implore you to tour a few houses and experience firsthand what the SHC has to offer.
Tyler Berg is a comparative cultures and politics senior and resident of Beal Haus. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.