Although upperclassmen may not miss the finicky showers, fluorescent lighting and twin-sized beds of Baylor’s dorms, the communal style of living fosters connectivity many of us lack in our latter college years. Residence halls cultivate relationships with fellow students through shared resources, community events, collective spaces and common goals.
While upperclassmen who choose to move off campus often do so in search of more separation between school and personal life as well as more affordable housing, they forgo opportunities to live in supportive, community environments. Baylor should offer cooperative housing to upperclassmen so they can maintain close-knit community life off campus.
In cooperative housing, residents would have the opportunity to have meals with their housemates, share when they have extra of something, organize ride-shares for students without cars and plan events for the community to connect.
Many other universities offer this type of housing, including University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and Purdue University, to name a few. These communities promote team building while also allowing students to enrich their independence. They are student-run, often using a democratic governing system to allocate resources and maintain the property as residents see fit. For example, at the College Houses in Austin, residents” elect officers to coordinate and manage day-to-day operations, and decisions are made democratically at house meetings,” according to the organization’s website. In this way, students learn to work together to problem solve and think critically about how to make decisions that benefit the whole group. These types of governing systems can also help mediate conflicts between residents.
Furthermore, cooperative housing often requires residents to give a few hours per week of labor in areas such as maintenance, cooking, cleaning or even offering events/classes for fellow members of the community. This helps keep costs of living down and provides residents with a sense of pride and responsibility for their home. The co-op at UCLA provides 19 meals weekly to residents as part of a fee included in room and board and has a staff that helps maintain properties. However, co-op members still dedicate four hours each week to helping keep their home beautiful and functioning well.
In the cases of College Houses in Austin and the University Cooperative Housing Association at UCLA, cooperative housing is run by a nonprofit rather than the universities themselves. However, Purdue provides a model for university-sponsored cooperative housing. Purdue has five cooperative houses for men and seven for women, founded as a type of “leadership, scholarship, philanthropic, and social organizations,” according to its website. The process for entering co-ops is similar to that of sororities and fraternities. In the spring semester, interested students undergo recruitment in which “potential new members will visit all of the houses in order to be eligible to continue on in the recruitment process. After formal recruitment, students will receive invitations from individual houses to their informal recruitment the following weekend.” At Purdue, each cooperative house has its own goals, philanthropies and governing styles. However, they are all connected by their emphasis on social responsibility and communal living.
Baylor should implement a hybrid of these models by converting a small, affordable off-campus apartment into cooperative housing. In following with Purdue’s model, the university should use an application and recruitment process to find students to live in the co-op. An application process should ensure that potential residents understand and respect the responsibilities of communal-style living. An application process would also help identify students with diverse goals, backgrounds and skill sets who could contribute to the success of the community. For example, having students from different majors could help foster a beneficial mutual tutoring system.
In addition, Baylor should outline a governing system for residents to follow so they can successfully maintain the property and the cooperative’s operations. We recommend the university create a board of student-leaders who would function similarly to residence hall community leaders in that they would hold more responsibility for planning and organizing the facility. However, each resident and member of the co-op should get one vote, and the co-op should practice democratic voting through weekly house meetings.
Cooperative housing would provide upperclassmen with the opportunity to find affordable off-campus residence as well as community with their fellow students. Community is vitally important to upperclassmen as they work to transition into adulthood after leaving Baylor. Communal living at Baylor for upperclassmen would encourage students to enrich their independence as they worked to meet collective goals. It would also provide a supportive environment for residents to make new connections and forge lasting relationships.