Sitting on the Couch

Excerpts from a chat about co-ops at Cornell

By Nate Coderre and Aurora Rojer


Nate: I’m not sure what the format is going to end up being. Do we keep it a dialogue? Or an interview with pointed questions?

Aurora: I’m not sure it matters. As long as we hit all of the points. How did you find out about the Co-ops?

Nate: I guess… Hmmm…. So my second half of freshman year, my friendship group got kind of splintered. So I was worried, and I didn’t know what my living situation was going to be like. Me and two friends just sort of happened on a sheet in Appel that had info about Mosey. We were somewhat lukewarm about it until it started, but it was pretty obvious how special this place was.  I honestly think I might have considered transferring out later on if I hadn’t Moseyed.

I had it narrowed down to Watermargin, 660, and Von Cramm. I only got into Von Cramm. There was this awesome Mosey event that was supposed to be about board games, but it devolved into strip never-have-I-ever and then a shower party. That would never would have happened this year, for whatever reason. The people who left the year I came in were kind of crazy people.

There was also a big event at Watermargin one of the last nights of Mosey. It was great because I’d met about 40 to 50 new people during Mosey, and they were all together in one room. They were all together and impossibly friendly. It was an entirely new social life for me. My friend Jaeda and I met this girl Martie on the first day of Mosey and we never stopped hanging out. Look at that, we’re all great friends. The whole Mosey process was awesome and lifechanging. And you?

Von Cramm

Aurora: I knew about Co-ops because my sister was in a Co-op at another school, so I had an idea that I wanted to be in one. Freshman year, I realized I didn’t want to be in the dorms. I couldn’t cook, I felt like a bit of a child. I made like one good friend. Then I went to a party at one of the Co-ops. It was an Odyssey party, and it was so much more fun than any other party I’d been to. There was a live band and dancing, and not the creepy frat-party type of dancing — actual dancing. It was so fun and free. The kitchen was so cool. I looked online and figured out when Mosey was.

Now, how about we talk about how Co-ops are run?

Nate: Sure. So as the name suggests, Co-ops are cooperatively run on-campus houses. We’re officially part of the school’s housing, which can be both good and bad. We get to call them any time there is a problem, but we also have to follow their rules. That being said, we have no faculty or staff living in our house, and we get to dictate how our house is run in a more general sense.

At Von Cramm, we have group of seven house officers; one president, two house managers, two stewards, a treasurer, and a secretary. The president is in charge of the people, the house managers are in charge of the building, and the stewards are in charge of the meal plan. What’s it like at Watermargin?


Aurora: We have a president, VP, treasurer, two house managers, two kitchen stewards, two education chairs, and two social chairs. Kind of a lot of positions, now that I’m listing them. But yeah basically the same division of labor. We have house meetings once a month to talk/argue about whatever people have to say, whether it’s begging people to do their dishes or planning a party. How about we expand on the meal-plan now?

Nate: The most important part. Because independence and collective-living are emphasized, we cook and clean completely for ourselves. The stewards organize us into “cook groups” and plan meals. You wouldn’t expect the food to be much of anything, but our dinners are sooo good. Have you ever had our chana masala? It might be my favorite meal now. The stewards use recipes that housemembers over the decades have left us with, so we have an amazing variety of foods.

Aurora: Our meal-plan works similarly. We have house dinner Sunday-Thursday and everyone is on a cook team one night per week. Half the team cooks, the other half cleans. We also stock enough food that we can make our own breakfast, lunch, midnight snack, etc.

I think that your comment about how recipes start to add up brings up an important point about why living in a co-op is so great. The house is filled with memories of old housemembers. We recently met the guy who built our porch swing! He lived here like 35 years ago! It was cool to be able to connect a face to something that’s been in our house for so long.

Nate: I love that kind of stuff. The Cramm has kept some pretty good albums of old house photos, so we can see how the house and the people have changed. And also how they’ve stayed the same.

Aurora: That’s pretty cool. I was talking to one of my friends the other day about how older Watermarginals use stories for this sort of social conditioning. They tell Watermargin lore. There’s totally a mythos, a morality. The upperclassmen share tales of long gone house members to show us what living here is supposed to be like and what values someone who lives here should have.

Nate: You know what that reminds me of? As part of a push to find more Crammie stories, we’ve actually been getting a lot of emails from old Crammies, telling us about how the house was built, why it turned into a Co-op, and all sorts of other great stuff. We got an email from an alumnus who joined in 1961, and we actually pulled out a quote, and are going to use it on a t-shirt. It’s something about throwing in our lots with a bunch of scruffy beatniks. Apparently his father couldn’t quite appreciate how awesome we are.

Aurora: So what makes Von Cramm so awesome? Not all Co-ops are the same, after all.

Nate: Good point. How Von Cramm is special? We’re the coop with the most international students. We have some sort of special relationship with this civil engineering program in Spain. Every year, we get a couple of residents from there, and their friends from the program that don’t get in still end up hanging around the house. So we basically get to cheat and have a couple of extra Crammies that don’t actually live with us. They hang out in our living room until like one in the morning. Spaniards are all amazing because they bring energy to everything. They want to talk your ear off, especially about how their American college experience is different from their expectations. Apparently, the example they use is still American Pie. Von Cramm is quite a bit different than American Pie…

We  also currently have students from Sweden, Singapore, a bunch of people from Italy, and a South African law student. The amount of time that they stay here varies, but we get a chance to get to know all of them. Now you should talk about why Watermargin is so cool.

Aurora: We have a pretty big activist tradition…  we were founded 1947 by a group of World War II veterans who were pissed off that they could fight and die alongside black peers, but couldn’t live with them in a house when they got back to school after the war. Our motto is “all folks are family,” and I feel like we all take that pretty seriously. We have a bunch of education events, and in the past have had some crazy-awesome speakers, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X (in a debate with James Farmer over segregation), and Howard Zinn.

Nate: Wait, what? That’s crazy. Von Cramm has some catching up to do…

Aurora: Get on it, man! And last week we had a tango lesson. Professors attended. Basically, we rule.

Nate: How do we position ourselves in relation to Frats? I hate comparing ourselves to them (it can get judgmental fast) but we sort of have to, because that’s the social living arrangement that everyone thinks of.

Aurora: From what I can tell, when you join Greek life, you’re joining a club that’s people who live in a house. It’s not as much of a home. In Co-ops people care so much about each other and about the house. We’re cooking and cleaning for each other and our friendship is very much grounded in the space.

Nate: I completely agree. Although I do sometimes still have trouble getting people to do their chores. I also think that we rely on individual contributions to the community more so than the organizational structure. Frats have a pretty well fleshed out schedule of events. We have three or four major things per semester, but otherwise we rely on people being passionate about the house to painting murals or building porch swings or baking bread for their housemates.

Aurora: Man, I wish all of the Co-ops hung out more. Our intercoopular relations are weak.

Nate: Yea, I think it’s hard to have good intercoopular relations, because so many of us are so wrapped up in our own houses and also somewhat scatterbrained. There’s no great way to organize things. We just sort of have to rely on the personalities that we have instead of organizational structure.

Aurora: Yeah, but that’s good, because fuck organizational structure. Another cool thing about Co-ops is that  our Mosey processes are random (or partially random, in Watermargin and Whitby’s cases) meaning that we really do get a diverse spread of people. I talked to this guy in a frat once who was telling me how during Rush, you have to pick your “little” because you need someone to hold the exact role that you hold now. I think his exact words were “someone to pay your rent when you’re gone.” That was his version of diversity. But like ew. That is not diversity.

Nate: Nooooooo, that is not. I love that the culture of the house changes every year. Some recent graduates might say we’re pretty tame now, but I think we’re closer. There’s much less drama now. We’re more of a family.

Aurora: Yeah. I think that family is really the only way to describe Co-ops.  

Nate: Uh huh. We bake, give pep talks, help out with homework, whatever we can to help each other out. I don’t think there’s another place like it at Cornell.

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