This past spring, I applied to—and was rejected from—a Stanford social organization. Nor was I alone: over 200 students vied for just 50 spots. This social organization was not a sorority (the more obvious exclusive social club) but a co-op. There are 7 co-op houses at Stanford where duties (from cooking to cleaning to finances) are managed by students, with a traditionally left-wing bent. Specifically, I was rejected from Enchanted Broccoli Forest. With this rejection, and the futile end of “rushing” EBF, came the realization that Stanford’s co-ops are all too similar to the Greek Life organizations that co-ops deride. While attempting to provide an alternative social and living environment based on principles of counterculturalism, many co-ops recreate the social pressures of Greek Life through a flimsy veneer of counterculturalism.
Named after a vegetarian cookbook (though the real broccoli metaphor is glaringly obvious to anyone who uses their nose in the house), EBF is known as a hub for creativity and its Wednesday night parties that its residents often DJ. Once a quarter, inhabitants are expected to participate in “Creation Day” in which art projects are completed and murals are painted.
Last spring quarter’s Creation Day was an event for potential residents to get acquainted with the house culture and current residents, though it was a sign of a more insidious culture. While EBF alums told me about the community of the house, I was struck by how similar this supposedly-casual recruitment event was to rushing. This Creation Day had multiple events that demanded hoop-jumping from potential residents: if one didn’t show up to these trials, they were considered not serious enough to live in the house. A spreadsheet allowing applicants to sign up for cooking slots was quickly filled; many of my friends who spent hours cooking for the EBF community were rejected. Similar events were held at all of the co-ops, where applicants scrambled to chat with (and impress) RAs.
Unlike Greek life, where active members vote on who is let into each organization, co-ops concentrate these decisions into a small group: the next year’s RAs. If a girl wants to join a sorority, she has about a hundred girls in each chapter to use as potential connections. If a student wants to live in a co-op, their best plan of attack is having a friend who is on staff. Otherwise, students must labor on a written application—extremely similar to those students rushing sororities must submit—that only the RAs will read and evaluate. As some co-ops have over 200 applications, it is unlikely that all applications are given equal care and consideration. There are no mechanisms in place to prevent RAs from only accepting their friends into co-ops. At least the “rush” for Greek life has several rounds of mandatory interviews that give students without connections the opportunity to forge them!
Though co-ops may seek to provide an escape from the classic Barstool-Sports-style culture of fraternities and sororities, a similar substance-obsessed environment prevails. While the substance of choice may differ from Sigma Nu (alcohol) to Synergy (acid), both Greek Life and co-ops have a similar focus around substances, or, in co-op speak, “altered states of consciousness.” While I do not think Stanford should crack down on drug use among its students, I find it suspicious that only Greek Life has a reputation of having a community based around alcohol and drugs. The drug culture of co-op culture is well-known and well-documented.
Though co-ops may lack some of the high-profile cases defining the Greek rulebook at Stanford, such as the expulsion of TDX after a student died of a fentanyl overdose, I would estimate that there is a similar sobriety rate within Greek houses and co-ops. However, Greek Life is penalized for drug use at a higher frequency than co-ops despite fraternities being all but mandated by the university to host sober events. Not only does the regulation of Greek Life push the social burden onto co-ops to host parties for the masses (with less regulation than those hosted by Greek organizations), it increases the demand to live in co-ops. This increase in demand to live in a social environment, exacerbated post-pandemic, leads to greater exclusivity and cliqueness—leaving aside my doubt that being high can help create a collaborative living community.
I do not think we should abolish Greek Life nor the co-ops: let them exist in peace, lest we disturb someone’s acid trip (or beer bender). However, the idea that co-ops are utopias rests on an extremely surface-level definition of what is countercultural. Instead, co-ops present a space to safely pretend to be countercultural, while forging a living community with people who are just like them, preventing the expression of true difference and diversity. If co-ops seek to hold onto the legacy of the 60s and 70s that birthed these houses, they must reckon with the fact that they are currently co-ed Greek Houses in a crochet sweater.