Oberlin Student Cooperative Association

The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a non-profit corporation that feeds and houses 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 housing cooperative in North America, with the largest per-capita of any student co-op.

Oberlin Student Cooperative Association
Oberlin OSCA Logo.svg
Founded1952, Incorporated 1962
TypeHousing cooperative, Food cooperative
FocusAffordable student dining and housing, sustainability
Key people
Philip Swigon, President

Mia Fox, Membership Secretary

Derek Liemohn, Treasurer

Pearl Puzak, Chair of the Board

Linda Doan, Financial Manager

Barbara Thompson, Food Safety Advisor

Sundance, Business Coordinator

Arlene Muir, Office Assistant
WebsiteThe OSCA Homepage


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-opsEdit

Kosher Halal Co-op (KHC), as a part of OSCA, provides at-cost Kosher and Halal food. As of 2013 it is co-managed by Oberlin College's Housing and Dining Office and the campus Hillel chapter.


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.


All-OSCA StaffEdit

All members of OSCA equally own and participate in running OSCA. However, there are certain individual leadership roles that function on an all-OSCA level (rather than on an individual co-op level) in order to allow OSCA to function as the large organization that it is. These jobs include four "officer" positions, and a number of All-OSCA student staff positions. Students in these roles oversee different aspects of OSCA. Most positions are elected annually.

OSCA Officer PositionsEdit

  • President
  • Treasurer
  • Membership Secretary
  • Chair of the Board

All-OSCA Staff PositionsEdit

  • Accessibility Committee Coordinator (x2)
  • Cleanliness & Maintenance Coordinator (x2)
  • Education & History Coordinator
  • Education & Training Coordinator
  • Environmental Concerns Coordinator
  • Food Coordinator (x2)
  • Housing Coordinator
  • Operations Manager (x2)
  • Sexual Harm Information Liaison (x3)
  • Nicaragua Sister Partnership Coordinator
  • OSCA-College Liaison
  • Rent Contract Negotiator At-Large


OSCA employs four non-student staff members in full-time management and oversight positions.

  • Financial Manager
  • Business Manager
  • Food Safety Advisor
  • Office Assistant

Jobs in Individual CoopsEdit

Coop Management TeamEdit

Each co-op has a Coop Management Team, consisting of members elected to do the behind-the-scenes jobs that help co-ops run smoothly. Many of these positions receive more hours of credit per week than other co-op jobs. Most CMT positions require two people.

  • DLEC (Dining and Loose Ends Coordinator)
  • Food Safety Coordinator
  • Kitchen Coordinator
  • Membership Coordinator
  • Workchart Coordinator
  • Food Buyer
  • Accessibility Coordinator
  • Nutrition Coordinator (only in select coops)
  • Treasurer

Member RolesEdit

Members can fulfill required hours by doing many varied co-op jobs. There is a fair amount of consistency in jobs across the co-ops. However, some co-ops differ in this area.

These jobs include:

  • Head Cook
  • First or Second Hour Cook (Help head cook prepare meals during one or both of the hours of a cook shift)
  • Board Representative
  • Education Committee Representative
  • Nicaragua Sister Partnership Committee Representative
  • Environmental Concerns Committee Representative
  • Historian
  • Cheese-Cutter or Dairy Queen
  • Granola Maker
  • Tasty-Things Maker
  • Pizza Cook


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]

Fairchild Co-opEdit

Fairchild, known on campus and by its members as "Fairkid," is a dining-only co-op that opened in 1977 in the basement of Fairchild Hall. Members are referred to as "Fairkids." Fairchild Hall is a dorm on South Campus and is not affiliated with the co-op. A student survey determined that students were interested in a healthier dining option, so Fairchild opened as an "all-natural" co-op.[9] Its legacy continued as such with a strict food policy that eliminated food such as meat, bananas, and coffee for socio-political reasons reaffirmed by its socially conscious membership each semester.[10] Its membership began a tumblr called The Justice Goats in Spring 2012 in an effort to preserve its history.[11] In Spring 2015 the membership voted to rebuild Fairchild's food policy from the ground up, and as of Spring 2016 discussions are underway regarding a new, less restrictive food policy. Until Spring of 2017, the co-op shared its space with Brown Bag Co-op, a grocery-store style co-op for students living in village or off-campus housing.[12]

Harkness Co-opEdit

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.[13] 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.[14] In the mid-90s, 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.[13] Harkness has a reputation for being a hub of student activism on campus. Harkness is home to the recently revitalized Oberlin Book Coop.[15]

Keep Co-opEdit

Keep Cottage

Keep is known as one of the more energetic and youthful co-ops in OSCA, with one of the largest populations of first-year student members 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 BarrowsEdit

Old Barrows, affectionately called "Old B" by Oberlin students, is the southernmost co-op on campus. The building's living space is a safe space for women and trans students, and the dining is open to all. Old B houses 15 residents. In 1993 Old Barrows was closed by the college due to structural issues, and the dining services reopened in 1994. Old B will close as a dining co-op starting in fall of 2017, but will remain open as safe space housing for women & trans members of OSCA. Students must apply to live in Old B. As of Fall 2017, the formerly Old B kitchen will be used by Brown Bag Co-op (BBC).

Tank Co-opEdit

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.

Pyle Co-opEdit

Pyle is Oberlin's largest food cooperative. Nestled on North Campus, in Asia House's brick walls, Pyle offers hungry Obies a large but cozy space to eat and chat. Pyle provides meat more often than any other co-op (though of course has vegan and vegetarian options). With long wooden tables and chairs, Pyle has been described as having a "hogwarts" feel. When weather permits, Pyle members often enjoy the weather and choose to eat outside in the Asia House courtyard.

Pyle members represent a good cross section of Obies, including a larger number of athletes due to its location, and smaller number of required hours (four instead of five). Pyle is known for its legendary pizza nights, and relaxed food-policy. It is also known for fun traditions, such as pub-night, and singing members their song of choice on birthdays.

Pyle, preceded by "Pyle Inn," is Oberlin's oldest Co-op. Before Stevenson was built, Pyle served as one of Oberlin's many cafeterias.

Third World Co-op (TWC)Edit

Third World Co-op is the smallest co-op, and members are admitted by application only. TWC serves as a safe space for people of color and low income students.

Brown Bag Co-op (BBC)Edit

The newest co-op, The Brown Bag Co-op (referred to as BBC) was opened in 2003. BBC was created for students living off-campus or in village housing who have limited time to devote to a traditional co-op. BBC works in a similar fashion to a cooperative grocery store, where members are allotted a certain allowance with which to "purchase" food from the Co-op. The remaining amount of the allowance is recorded for each member after their "purchase." Members then prepare their own meals at home. BBC members currently contribute one hour of work to the Co-op per week (unlike all other co-ops which require four or five hours of work, and eat meals and clean in the Co-op space). As a part of OSCA, and in order for members to fulfill their hour of work each week, BBC has jobs common to other co-ops.

Prior to the 2017-2018 school year, BBC shared a space with Fairchild Co-op. Starting in the fall of 2017, BBC will be located in Old Barrows.

Unique TraditionsEdit

Weekly TraditionsEdit

Pizza NightEdit

Each Friday individual coops host Pizza Night, a meal specifically devoted to pizza, run by a specific "Pizza Cook" who is elected at the start of the semester.

Special MealEdit

Every Saturday night coops host Special Meal! A "Special Meal" is a themed meal, voluntarily "head-cooked" by one or two coop members. Special Meal cooking shifts are an hour longer than normal cooking shifts (normal shifts ranging 2–3 hours depending on the coop). The extra time allows cooks to make special extravagant dishes. Favorite Special Meals have included "Harry Potter Special Meal," "Carnival Night," "Hanukah Special Meal" and "Holiday Special Meal," (which included gift exchanges and candle lighting), and Fairkid's annual "Halloween Special Meal" (which includes a costume contest).

Special EventsEdit

Iron ChefEdit

Iron Chef is an annual OSCA-wide cooking competition. Teams of students from each participating coop prepare their best meal, which must surround a specially chosen ingredient. After cooking, each coop transports their food to a main room where all OSCAns can come and try every dish. A panel of chosen judges tastes and announces a winning coop at the end of the evening.

OSCA PromEdit

Each Spring OSCA hosts "OSCA Prom." OSCA's 2016 prom theme was "cats." Student bands often play, as OSCAns dance the night away.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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 May 20, 2011, at WebCite
  2. ^ "OSCA Owners Manual 2013" (PDF). Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  3. ^ eds. Emma Blose, Rachel Marcus, Seitan, pg 26. OSCA Publications, November 2003.
  4. ^ OSCA, "Introduction to OSCA"
  5. ^ http://osca.wilder.oberlin.edu/needs/dietary.html%7Caccessdate=May 2, 2010 Archived May 20, 2011, at WebCite
  6. ^ "The Rochdale Principles - Rochdale Pioneers Museum". Rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop. 2013-11-21. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  7. ^ "International Cooperative Alliance: Principles for Coops | Paul B Hartzog". Cooperationcommons.com. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  8. ^ OSCA, "The Co-ops" Archived April 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-04. Retrieved 2016-02-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-07. Retrieved 2016-02-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "The Fairkid Blog: Justice Goats!". Justicegoats.tumblr.com. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-07-21. Retrieved 2016-02-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2013-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "The Good Food Co-op". Oberlin.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  15. ^ "SWAP: The Oberlin Book Co-op". Bookcoop.org. 2015-12-11. Retrieved 2018-02-12.