Monday, May 25

Students learn to cultivate community through cooperative housing

Fourth-year mathematics student Andrew Kenner (left) and fourth-year political science student Scott Mulligan (right) both live in the Co-op, a student housing cooperative in Westwood. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)

When Scott Mulligan and two other UCLA students moved into their room, they noticed the room’s window was surprisingly dirty.

“When we got to our room, the window was super dirty, and then (Andrew), Jared and I just cleaned … and then it was super clean by the end of it,” said Mulligan, a fourth-year political science student.

The group cleaning exercise became emblematic of Mulligan and his roommates’ experience at the University Cooperative Housing Association, also known as the Co-op. For them, the Co-op has been a place where group cooperation compensates for the shortcomings of a housing facility that aims only to serve its residents’ most practical needs, said fourth-year mathematics student Andrew Kenner.

“It was a very rewarding couple of hours we spent cleaning our room when we moved in,” Kenner said.

The Co-op is a student housing cooperative on Landfair Avenue, which includes three buildings that house around 400 students total. Residence is open to any college student. In return for reduced rent, students must work a four-hour shift every week in an assigned area, such as the kitchen, the facilities or the mailroom.

Justin Downing, a fourth-year political science student, moved into the Co-op this fall. Residents in their first quarter are obligated to work either in the facilities or the kitchen, which serves 19 meals a week.

“I have a 6 a.m. shift in the kitchen,” Downing said. “It’s OK, you know? You cook a lot of eggs.”

Mulligan searched for an affordable apartment in Westwood for months before applying to the Co-op and counts it as his saving grace. Like most Co-op residents, Kenner was drawn to the reduced rent, but the larger appeal for him came from the idea of self-sufficient living.

“I like co-ops as an idea. People pitch in to make things better the division of labor makes things better … I think because everyone has to pitch in in some way … you wash the dishes well because you know at some point you’re going to eat off that plate too,” Kenner said. “There’s camaraderie to it, and the atmosphere encourages that.”

Former Co-op resident Alexander Prisadsky was a classmate of musician Jim Morrison during his time as a film student at UCLA in the 1960s. The Co-op ultimately became the perfect stage for his class film.

“After each (UCLA basketball) win, a crowd of students from the Co-op dorm I was living in and nearby fraternities formed in the street, building a bonfire in the middle,” Prisadsky said. “Since my new script was going to be about crowds, I arranged to have a camera Friday night the 19th … the fire sequence became the focus of the film.”

Many residents said the greatest benefit of living at the Co-op is the cheap price tag, while the greatest drawback is the sometimes subpar cleanliness.

Andrea Moreno, an exchange student from Spain attending her first year at the UCLA School of Law, said the large community of exchange students at the Co-op made it easier to get to know people far away from home. However, the lack of cleanliness made an intimidating first impression.

“At the beginning, you might say, ‘Oh, it’s not that fancy, not that well taken care of,’” Moreno said. “It’s run by students, so not everything is perfect, not everything is super clean.”

Mulligan added the Co-op’s imperfections are what make its environment more engaging.

“The Co-op is the best kind of weird possible … it’s a little strange, but it’s a good kind of strange,” said Mulligan.

For students like Kenner and Mulligan, the Co-op has also nurtured their sense of personal responsibility through tasks such as dishwashing and taking care of the slug that lives in their bathroom.

Mulligan said he personally named the slug Mr. Slug. Mulligan and Kenner believe the Co-op residents who encounter Mr. Slug feel a responsibility to respect his space.

“He’s a fellow Co-oper, as far as I’m concerned,” Kenner said.

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