‘Live, laugh, learn” is the tag line Purdue Cooperative Housing uses on its Web site to describe the university’s alternative to residence halls and Greek fraternities and sororities. Co-op housing students live and grow close to one another like family in the 12 various co-op houses. They enjoy free time socializing together and competing in intramural sports with each other. All the while, they study hard together and learn life and leadership skills as they maintain their houses and run the co-op program themselves.
If a fourth word was added to their slogan, it would have to be “share.” That’s what co-ops are all about.
Students share in the responsibilities and pride of fixing meals and maintaining their houses that become their homes. They share in the joys of developing lifelong friendships, and in the benefits of lower-cost housing.
Purdue Cooperative Housing is the least expensive form of housing on the West Lafayette campus. In fact, at $3,000 a year — which includes meals, laundry, Internet … basically everything — co-op housing is about half the cost of Greek housing and $4,500 a year less than dorm living. For the 500-some co-operative housing students at Purdue, that’s a cumulative savings of $2.25 million a year they and their families can pocket or spend on academics or other needs.
“It’s better to have housing costs fit into a budget — with all the college expenses you have,” said Brittainy Chaffee, a junior who is the executive director of marketing for the housing co-ops and a member of the Glenwood co-op.
The cooperative housing program, which is recognized and overseen by the university, offers five houses for men and seven for women. The size of each varies from 15 to 60 residents.
“Each house is different. Each has its own identity, its own core values and beliefs,” Chaffee said. “There’s a lot of house loyalty.”
But she noted the students are supportive of the entire cooperative housing system.
In fact, word-of-mouth is how most students become cooperative members. Students hear about it from other students or relatives who are or have been members. Then, much like the Greek system of pledging, interested students attend open houses and select the co-op house that best fits their interests and personality.
First-year members are required go through a pledgeship, a period of eight to 10 weeks in which they bond with other new members and learn how the house functions. This includes attending regular study tables and meetings on time-management, alcohol awareness and more.
To make the co-op system work, members take turns teaming up in crews to share in all the house duties: cooking the meals for everyone, cleaning and other household chores. Meal planning and purchasing are all roles filled by students. By the time co-op students graduate with their degree, they also know about cooking, home maintenance and how to run a home.
“One of the goals of the houses is to teach the life skills,” Chaffee added.
Students can expect to spend an hour or so a week sharing in these cooperative duties.
“We do everything ourselves,” said Samantha DeWitt, also a junior, president of the cooperative housing council, and a member of the Maclure co-op. “Most houses do their own taxes.”
The time co-op students do spend working for the house doesn’t seem to interfere with studies and meeting Purdue’s rigorous academic standards. Co-op students have the highest grades among the three residential groups.
Co-op houses vary, but most have an upstairs sleeping room, called a “cold air dorm,” where all the beds are in one large open area. Windows are kept open year-round to prevent the spread of germs (thus the name — “cold air” — in winter). Students then share private quarters with several other students where they keep their clothes, desks and other personal items. The housing co-ops, which started on campus in 1933, also have large dining areas and sitting rooms for the members to gather and study.
All the Purdue cooperative houses belong to the Purdue Student Housing Corporation, a university-recognized student organization. The PSHC board is composed of one student representative from each house and four faculty advisors from Purdue Research Foundation and the Office of the Dean of Students.
Because the houses are relatively small and not affiliated with any national groups, as the Greek houses are, co-op members say they become closer to their housemates, almost like family. “You get really close with the girls you live with. It’s a smaller network of people,” said Chaffee. “You have a community within a larger community.”
One evening last month, for instance, 11 of the 13 pledges to Maclure, one of the women’s co-op houses, made posters for a fundraiser to help repaint the house’s kitchen and replace countertops. They also worked on their skit for the annual “Serenades,” where the co-op housing pledge classes perform routines for one another and compete for a traveling trophy. The women gathered on sofas and sat on the floor picking out a song and dance moves, sharing stories about themselves and laughing.
“When you put your blood, sweat and tears in what you’re working on, it’s something that brings you together and brings you into the house,” DeWitt said. “The house becomes part of you. It’s something to make the cooperative system yours.
“We want them to realize that this isn’t just something that you do. It’s a great way to gain leadership in your house, and then the PCC [Purdue Cooperative Council], and then into the university. It’s a stepping stone” DeWitt said. “I love it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here for three years.”
Those shared cooperative experiences of living, laughing and learning together during those special college years, make friendships and memories that last a lifetime.
To learn more about Purdue Cooperative Housing, go to www.purduecooperatives.org.