Foodscape Map: Student Cooperatives

The Berkeley Student Cooperative is an independent 501c3 nonprofit housing cooperative that provides room and board to approximately 1230 UC Berkeley students. They are known for their affordability, affability, and accessibility. Through our research, we found that food plays a central role to the living experience of a co-op. It acts as a source of togetherness, of teamwork, and of diplomacy. To collect data on the food experience in the BSC, we conducted two surveys in spring 2018: one for co-op members and one for co-op kitchen managers, who are in charge of ordering food. We received 160 member responses, which accounts for ~13% of Berkeley Student Cooperatives residents. Overall, survey respondents reported a very high level of satisfaction with their co-op’s food system, from decision-making to quality of food to the cooking and eating environment. Many members commented that they eat healthier since joining the co-ops, particularly eating more fruit and vegetables. Members indicated that kitchen managers are responsive to requests and feedback, so they feel a great sense of agency over what is ordered and prepared for the house. Of note, many respondents commented on the unsanitary conditions in their kitchens. The co-ops boast a diverse demographic of the student population, particularly of LGBT+ students and students with disabilities. This inclusivity is inherent to the nature of the co-ops, as they were born out of an idea to provide low-cost housing, thereby giving an educational opportunity to people who might not otherwise be able to afford a university education. It is important to note, however, that members were critical of their houses’ attitudes towards diversity and inclusion. Several respondents reported feelings that the co-ops are increasingly being filled with white, wealthier students who could afford to live elsewhere, and instead choose to live in the co-ops because of their strong sense of community and culture. Although it is an enticing environment to live, no matter what, the Berkeley Student Cooperative initial mission must be maintained to serve students who struggle to find affordable housing in the increasingly expensive city of Berkeley.

See survey results here. Note all demographic and identifying data related to specific co-ops has been removed. See summary charts of demographic data below.

Data collection by Samantha Barney, Justin Loew, Shannon Prendergast, Julia Scheinman, and Garrett Seno. Visualization by Boyue Xu. Pie charts by Samantha Barney, Rosalie Z. Fanshel, and Shannon Prendergast.

Notes on Data Collection

While our survey contained questions about ethnicity/racial identification, we had to negate this data, as we had particularly high many response rates from multi-cultural- and African American-specific co-ops. Therefore, our results wouldn’t have been representative of the co-ops as a whole. Furthermore, our data on food insecurity among coop members was inconclusive. We asked if survey participants had ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food both before and during UC Berkeley attendance. 29.4% of survey respondents said they had skipped meals prior to attending Berkeley, compared to 50% who said they had skipped while in college. However, we did not include a question about whether or not respondents had skipped meals since joining the co-op, and therefore we cannot properly determine the effect coops have on students’ food security. We hope this question will be answered in future studies.

Policy Recommendaitons

  • Require Co-ops to collect demographic information about their members so as to create a baseline for evaluating diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Increase the campus-wide visibility of the Berkeley Student Cooperative as a system that supports first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students by making it abundantly clear that Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students receive preferential room and board, deposit reduction, and access to need-based scholarships:
    • On the front page of the Berkeley Student Collective website (currently the information is buried).
    • Add information on the BSC to each of the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence 15 program websites (Disabled Students Program Transfer Student Center, Berkeley Underground Scholars, Undocumented Students Program, Re-entry Student Program, etc.)
    • Train all EOP and other Center for Educational Equity and Excellence staff on co-op resources.
    • Regularly remind EOP students of BSC through an email blast near the end of each semester and fliers in program offices.
  • Address the issue of co-op food skewing toward specific cultural backgrounds and lifestyle choices by requiring Kitchen Manager to attend workshops on the intersections of diet with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Include discussions of food allergies. Also require a condensed version of the workshop for house workshift cooks.
  • Address the issue of unsanitary conditions in co-op kitchens through more frequent health inspections and better member training. Use incentive-based awards as necessary for “cleanest co-op.”