Oberlin Student Cooperative Association
|Type||Housing cooperative, Food cooperative|
|Founded||1952, Incorporated 1962|
Katherine Pardue, PresidentIris Hunt, Financial Manager , Rachel Beiser, Food Safety Advisor
|Focus(es)||Affordable student dining and housing, sustainability|
|Website||The OSCA Homepage|
The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a $2.7 million non-profit corporation that feeds 615 and houses 174 Oberlin College students. It is located in the town of Oberlin, Ohio, and is independent from but closely tied to Oberlin College. OSCA is the second-largest student cooperative in North America. It has the largest per-capita of any student co-op, considering that Oberlin College has approximately 2900 students.
The first Oberlin co-op, Pyle Inn, opened in 1930 but due to poor funding, only existed sporadically. By 1949, however, students dissatisfied with the college's dining system chose to revive the concept of a cooperative food system. The Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC) was founded in conjunction between Pyle and the newly opened Grey Gables, with a mission to serve as an educational and social committee. By 1962, with the inception of Keep, the ICC became the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association. With three nodes in their network, OSCA became the largest student-run cooperative in American history.
OSCA flourished for another twenty years, until it underwent a critical financial crisis in 1982. OSCA was audited by the IRS and nearly lost its tax-exempt status. This setback caused a rift in the community and instigated the start of several major changes to the cooperative structure.
By 1989, the organization committed to practices of sustainability and environmentalism, purchasing local foods and cooking with more environmentally-friendly practices. In the spring of 2002, OSCA created the institution of COPAO, the Committee on Privilege and Oppression, which explores racial and socio-economic inequality within the cooperative system.
Former member co-ops
Kosher Halal Co-op (KHC), as a part of OSCA, provided at-cost Kosher and Halal food to roughly 30 members every year, as well as an expanded membership for major holidays such as Passover and Eid Al-Adha. Priority was given to students who follow these dietary laws, but all were welcome to join. KHC also prepared a Friday night meal that was open to the larger Oberlin College community. The College’s Rabbi served as a religious advisor to the co-op and was an integral member of the community.
OSCA pays rent to the College for use of its buildings. In exchange, it operates almost completely autonomously. Student members vote by OSCA's consensus process on all rules, both for the system as a whole and its individual housing and dining coops. Members also implement and enforce virtually all decisions.
OSCA employs four employees: a Business Coordinator, a Financial Manager, a Food Safety Advisor, and an Office Assistant. OSCA members fill all other positions within the co-ops. For example, the President of OSCA, Education Coordinator, head cook, and kitchen prep are all positions filled by Oberlin student members of OSCA. Members of OSCA do all of the cooking, cleanup, food buying, composting, and other tasks within their individual co-ops. Each co-op decides at the beginning of each semester how much time members need to put in (usually about five hours a week). For those who hold jobs outside of the co-op, most co-ops will offer “time aid” to significantly reduce the number of co-op hours required. Every member of OSCA must clean up after one meal a week.
Every spring, OSCA members vote for the corporation's officers for the next year. Excluding the Chair of the Board, these officers, along with the two Operations Managers, the two Cleanliness and Maintenance Coordinators, one of two Education Coordinators, the Financial Manager, the Business Coordinator, the Office Assistant, the Food Safety Advisor and the OSCA/Oberlin College Liaison make up the General Management Team, or the GMT. The GMT deals with the day-to-day operations of the co-ops. The Board of Directors is made up of two representatives from every co-op as well as the Chair of the Board. These members then elect which staff positions should also sit on the Board.
There are no meal cards or cafeteria trays in co-ops. Communal meals are prepared at least for lunch at 12:20 pm and dinner at 6:20 pm, and the kitchens are open 24/7. Guest policies are set by members so they can bring friends and professors to meals. Many co-ops are vegetarian and vegan-friendly, and allergy awareness among the membership is always a priority.
- The principles which guide modern cooperative organizations including OSCA were formulated in 1844 by a group of textile workers in Rochdale, England who were fed up with the exploitative nature of the market during the British Industrial Revolution. They decided to pool their money and open a small retail store which operated on principles which have become the foundation of modern co-ops.  The principles laid down by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers have since been adapted to fit the modern cooperative context. In 1995, the International Cooperative Alliance adopted a revised list of the cooperative principles, which OSCA uses today. 
The Cooperative Principles as Followed By OSCA
- Voluntary and Open Membership – Voluntary membership without artificial restriction. This includes restrictions against any race, sexual orientation, religious, or political belief, gender or social position.
- Democratic Member Control – Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. Members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).
- Members Economic Participation – Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control the capital of the cooperative. Members allocate surplus capital for any or all of the following purposes: Developing the cooperative – possibly setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
- Autonomy and Independence – Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their membership and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
- Education, Training and Information – Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. They inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives –Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, regional, national and international structures.
- Concern for Community – While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.
OSCA operates four coops with housing and dining facilities: Keep, Tank, Old Barrows, and Harkness. It also has four dining-only co-ops: Fairchild Co-op, Pyle Inn Co-op, Third World Co-op, and the Brown Bag Co-op. All of these coops are located inside of Oberlin College-owned buildings.
Brown Bag Co-op
Brown Bag Co-op (BBC) is the only grocery-style co-op in OSCA. Because of its unique set-up, BBC is only available to upperclassmen who have off-campus housing.
Fairchild: More colloquially known as “Fairkid,” this co-op is located in the basement of the Fairchild residence hall. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, Fairchild members are very passionate about their food politics, and strive to serve primarily vegan food that incorporates as many local and fair-trade elements as possible. Bananas have been banned on the premises since 1983 due to difficulty of finding fair trade providers that work against maltreatment of workers, and it is also very unlikely to encounter cane sugar in the co-op.
Harkness opened in 1950 as a women’s dorm, and in September of 1967, Harkness became the fourth Oberlin housing and dining co-op. In 1979, Harkness became the first Oberlin co-op to use consensus, a decision process that soon spread throughout OSCA. Also in 1979, Harkness created the Contraceptive Co-op, which eventually transformed into today’s Sexual Information Center. For many years, Harkness was also home to the Good Food Co-op, a consumer cooperative that was run and used by both Oberlin College students and Oberlin community members. In the mid-90’s, Harkness became the first OSCA co-op to have an elected head cook system.
Centrally located on campus, Harkness houses 64 members, dines 109 and is traditionally vegetarian with vegan options. Harkness has a reputation for being a hub of student activism on campus. Harkness is host of OSCA’s tofu making operation during the academic year. It is also home to the recently revitalized Oberlin Book Coop.
Main article: Keep Cottage
Keep is known as one of the more energetic and youthful co-ops in OSCA, with one of the largest populations of freshmen members (or 'Keeple') in one co-op. It is also one of the most musical co-ops, with many a night filled with the sounds of banjo strumming wafting from the sprawling front porch. In addition, Keep is the home of the Bike Co-op, Oberlin’s co-op-run bicycle repair shop. Keep’s dining policies are vegetarian with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.
Old Barrows Co-op
As one of the oldest co-ops in OSCA, “Old B” has cultivated a dynamic and gourmet food policy. Their meals are known to be some of the finest in OSCA, and Old Barrows has also been known to have an in-house ice cream and yogurt maker. OSCA’s smallest housing co-op, Old B houses a quiet community of upperclassmen who have the option of determining the co-op as a safe space for women and/or transgender students.
Located on the bottom floor of Asia House and comprising over 100 members, Pyle is conveniently located in the middle of campus and serves primarily vegetarian food with some meat as well, depending on who’s cooking. Members of Pyle are also known for their lively mealtime discussions and their weekly theme meals.
Third World Co-op
Third World Co-op (TWC) is a co-op that emerged from the Third World Liberation Front of the 90s. TWC is a safe space for students of color, low-income students, international students, and first-generation college students. It is a community that promotes coalition building through work and dialogue among people of different socioeconomic, cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Its mélange of different cultural foods and styles of cooking has earned it a reputation of having some of the best food on campus. It is the only co-op with a programming budget, which is used to bring speakers and plan activities relating to marginalized groups. Membership is by application.
Main article: Tank House
Tank’s membership, known affectionately as “Tankers,” is approximately 82 people, with a rather high proportion of older co-opers. Members of Tank enjoy a primarily vegetarian diet, with some meat. It’s common to see Tankers congregating on the porch and the lawn when the weather is nice. Tank also hosts an annual pig roast in the Spring, a tradition that brings many OSCA members to enjoy good times and good company.
- Batdorff, Lee. Locally grown food on Oberlin's menu; College's co-op wants short paths from farm to plate. Crain's Cleveland Business. 13 May 2002. Archived 19 May 2011 at WebCite
- "OSCA Owners Manual 2013". Retrieved 15 April 2013.
- eds. Emma Blose, Rachel Marcus, Seitan, pg 26. OSCA Publications, November 2003.
- OSCA, "Introduction to OSCA"
- http://osca.wilder.oberlin.edu/needs/dietary.html%7Caccessdate=May 2, 2010 Archived 19 May 2011 at WebCite
- OSCA, "The Co-ops"[dead link]