Oberlin Student Cooperative Association

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Oberlin Student Cooperative Association
Oberlin OSCA Logo.svg
Founded 1952, Incorporated 1962
Type Housing cooperative, Food cooperative
Focus Affordable student dining and housing, sustainability
Key people

Evan Cameron, President

Zo Paul, Membership Director

Sarah Johnson, Treasurer

Sonrisa Alter, Chair of the Board

Iris Hunt, Financial Manager

Rachel Beiser, Food Safety Advisor

Kevin Gilfether, Business Coordinator
Website The OSCA Homepage

The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a non-profit corporation that feeds 594 and houses 174 Oberlin College students.[1] It is located in the town of Oberlin, Ohio, and is independent from but closely tied to Oberlin College, which has an enrollment of approximately 2900 students. OSCA is the second-largest student cooperative in North America, with the largest per-capita of any student co-op.


Tank Cooperative, one of OSCA's housing co-ops.

The first Oberlin co-op, Pyle Inn, opened in 1930 but due to poor funding existed only intermittently. By 1949, however, students dissatisfied with the college's dining system chose to revive the 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, the largest student-run cooperative in American history.

OSCA flourished for another twenty years,but underwent a critical financial crisis in 1982. OSCA was audited by the IRS and nearly lost its tax-exempt status.[2] 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.[3]

Former member co-ops[edit]

Kosher Halal Co-op (KHC), as a part of OSCA, provided at-cost Kosher and Halal food.


OSCA pays rent to the College for use of its buildings but operates almost completely autonomously. Student members vote by OSCA's consensus process on all rules and implement decisions.

OSCA employs a Business Coordinator, a Financial Manager, a Food Safety Advisor, and an Office Assistant. OSCA members fill other positions within the co-ops, such as OSCA President, Education Coordinator, head cook, and kitchen prep. 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 must contribute. 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.[4]

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.[5]


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.[6] 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 in a modified form. In 2014, the membership ratified substantial changes to the cooperative principles.[7]

The Cooperative Principles as Followed By OSCA

  1. Open Membership – OSCA offers membership without artificial restriction to Oberlin College students. This includes restrictions against any race, sexual orientation, religious or political belief, gender, or social position. OSCA strives to be accessible to all of our members. However, we recognize that lived experiences of Oberlin College students are diverse and that this may limit OSCA's ability to accomplish this goal.
  2. Democratic Member Control – OSCA is a democratic organization controlled by our members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Elected representatives are accountable to the membership. We acknowledge that the use of consensus has a long history, and that records exist from as early as the 12th century CE of the Haudenosaunee Nation, or the Five Nations, making decisions through a consensus model, and other groups have developed their own forms of consensus decision-making throughout history. Although not required, in the past OSCA has used different forms of consensus to make decisions. OSCA strives to provide the structure and means for our members to grow and empower themselves through active community participation.
  3. Members Economic Participation – OSCA 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 OSCA, benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with OSCA, and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
  4. Autonomy and Independence – OSCA is an autonomous organization controlled by our members. If we enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, we do so on terms that ensure democratic control by our membership and maintain our cooperative autonomy. We attempt to be a self-reliant organization and whenever possible use our own resources to solve problems before we look for outside help.
  5. Education, Training and Information – OSCA provides education and training for our members, elected representatives, staff, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of our community. Besides teaching the skills necessary for OSCA to function, we work to educate ourselves about systems of oppression that exist in the world and how they affect us as members of OSCA. We also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives – OSCA serves our members most effectively and strengthens the cooperative movement by collaborating with local, regional, national, and international networks of cooperatives.
  7. Concern for Community – While focusing on member needs, OSCA works for the sustainable development of communities in Oberlin through policies accepted by our members. We aim to make a positive impact in the neighborhoods of which we are a part.
  8. Sustainability - OSCA strives to provide sustainable housing & dining by using resources efficiently and wisely, reducing or eliminating as much waste as possible, taking steps toward self-sufficiency, and contributing to our community by supporting local business and agriculture. We pledge to look continuously for ways to build sustainable communities and lead by example. As our co-ops benefit both current and future members, it is our job to be careful stewards of our assets so that OSCA will be here for many members to come.
  9. Individual Responsibility - OSCA recognizes that our members contribute to the organization in different ways and we believe that everyone in our community can and should contribute to OSCA to the best of their ability.


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.[8]

Brown Bag Co-op[edit]

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 or village housing.

Fairchild Co-op[edit]

Co-opers cooking at Fairchild.

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 Co-op[edit]

Harkness opened in 1950 as a women’s dorm, and in September 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Keep Co-op[edit]

Main article: Keep Cottage
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 usually vegetarian with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Old Barrows Co-op[edit]

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. Old B is OSCA’s smallest housing co-op and beginning in the 2015-2016 academic year, it will serve as a safe space for women and/or transgender students.

Pyle Co-op[edit]

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[edit]

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. Membership is by application.

Tank Co-op[edit]

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.


External links[edit]