It's not the COOP, and it's not Dudley House. No, it's that much-caricatured and myth-surrounded place 15 minutes from the Yard--the Dudley Co-op (and its associate, the Jordan Co-op). The Unoffical Guide to Harvard's description warrants some fact-checking. Can it really be fairly compared to a "hippie commune" not cleaned "since the last time Jerry Garcia came through?" Or is it merely a unique, homey alternative to Harvard housing?
There are certainly elements of Haight-Ashbury at these two quaint Victorian houses off Mass. Ave. One front porch hosts tapestry-print pillows scattered on porch seats and a conspicuous sign that reads "Center for High Energy Metaphysics." Fish live in a large bathtub in the window of the common room, with "Happiness is Now" painted on the side panel of their rather green mini-pond. A suspicious salt-shaker containing "oregano" graces the kitchen cabinet, and the refrigerator holds only rows of organic milk. Further inspection reveals a compost bin, a new vegetable garden and walls covered with Communist propaganda and posters of the politically active. One in particular is crammed with "Workers of the world, unite!" in at least 30 languages, crowned by pictures of Karl Marx, Mao Zedong and, yes, Captain Picard. The residents have a lighthearted sense of humor about their hippie legacy and its accoutrements, which is a testament to the open-mindedness of most Coop members. As resident Thomas C. Munro '99 explains with a quirky smile, "As long as in one way or another you're on the pink side of the line, you're accepted here."
So pinkness assumed, Co-op community offers open arms, as well as a comfortably mellow living environment. Upstairs in 1705 Mass. Ave one finds the "Lounge," an opium den-style lounge christened by an initial misspelling. Nothing like blue lights, Oriental rugs and the right music to set the mood. Amidst rumbles of reggae, folk and rap, the self-proclaimed "official music of the Co-op" is not the Dead, but pure funk. The Lounge also has its own band, whose members happen to be away for the semester. Several of the rooms house guitars and other instruments, and a variety of art decorates the walls of the building: modern paintings, a bright totem pole, even a questionable headless cupid or two. But residents don't consider themselves a particularly artistic crowd, though that obviously changes from year to year.
In many ways, the place is a successful, student-created home away from home. Residents eat home-cooked meals and fresh bread every night at 6:30 p.m. around a single wooden table. Chores are distributed by a simple point system and food comes in the form of bulk shipments from a commercial food cooperative, as well as shareholder dividends from a nearby farm. Casimira F. Walker '98 handles the food ordering each week and estimates that weekly supplies cost $800 or so. The only problem, it appears, is that the farm dividends allow no preferences for type of produce. Residents admitted that brussel sprouts have indeed been sent in bulk (uggh.) But there are compensations. "There's a communal Simpson thing," according to co-president Rosslyn Wuchinich '98. And they have Munro for entertainment, a self-proclaimed "mascot for those who don't want to do work, except during reading period." And of course, there are the lovable cats, Iri and Suzanne, who are enough to make any place feel (and smell) just like home. The two grad student tutors also seem to have particularly good relationships with the students. As one member explains, "This is the only time I've talked to a tutor without being in trouble."
That home-like feeling is probably the Co-op's number-one advantage. As Ana Morrel-Samuels '00 remarked wryly, "there are no people in uniforms running around and wiping up." She comments also that "it gets rid of a lot of the social fluff that goes on in Houses and can make you feel really lonely." The small kitchen table is certainly a far cry from the melee of house dining halls, which few residents seem to miss. For the most part, they consider themselves dissatisfied with Harvard in one way or another, feeling like the administration focuses far more on money than ethics or rights. Katharina A. Gibson `99 describes the majority of the student population as "self-absorbed pre-professionals." She and Morrel-Samuels are equally disgusted at what they see as Harvard's blatant preparation of students for a life of leisure. Most kids can't even use a sponge, Morrel-Samuels laughs.
Ordinary House-dwellers seem to have only a limited conception of what the Dudley Co-op is really like. When asked his opinion of the Unofficial Guide's description of his home as a possible "den of militant lesbians" or "drugged-out long-haired Red subversives," Marcus Wohlsen '98 simply shrugs, "It's mostly indicative of how different the ethos here is than the typical Harvard ethos--a certain lack of subtlety and sensitivity that shows how out of touch Harvard is with anything vaguely counter-cultural."
That may be so, but for those who are in touch, the Dudley Co-op is the place to be. For a mere $5,200 a year, room, board and a built-in community are for the taking. Extra benefits for members include Friday Happy Hours, the yearly lingerie study session in Lamont, and even their own "COOP." A film-making student a few years ago built an elaborate backyard henhouse for a movie he was making, but fellow co-op residents, concerned about the animals, allowed them all to escape. The chickens and VES concentrator may be gone, but the graying wooden structure remains as an amusing testament to a very different and oft-unappreciated type of Harvard life.