“Institutional Memory” Keeps a Student Co-op Relevant for their Community

NASCO is the acronym for the North American Students of Cooperation.   The organization serves student cooperatives, primarily those providing housing and dining options on college campuses.

Their monthly newsletter presents stories about their members.  This month’s edition linked to an article in The Oberlin Review, the student newspaper published on October 8th.

It opened as follows: After temporarily closing its doors during the pandemic, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) has resumed housing and dining operations.  Harkness House member Tal Clower says, “It’s so important that we make first-and second-year students aware of OSCA because it gives people a sense of place-a special community that makes you feel like you belong.”

The full article is here.  

I found several points insightful as an example of the appeal of cooperative solutions.

  • It is a student-owned, nonprofit organization that offers housing and dining services to almost a quarter of Oberlin’s students.
  • An OSCA member since 2018, a senior, said the co-op experience provides an intimate, close-knit community, and has given her skills she feels will inform the rest of her life.
  • Preserving co-op traditions is the most important way to attract returning students now. In house meetings, older students are presenting Harkness House’s “personality” to potential members.
  • So vital is preserving OSCA’s historical role, that campus co-ops such as Harkness and Tank (another dining option), have created “institutional memory” positions. These story collectors document newsworthy events, take pictures, record oral histories, write articles, and tell the co-op’s role as OSCA reintegrates into daily life on campus.

What Credit Unions Can Take Away

While this story is location and business specific, the re-introduction of the coop option to a new generation is an ongoing challenge no matter the service provided.

Re-presenting your organization after a partial or full closure due to Covid is a universal challenge.   How do you restore the “sense of place” where members feel they own and belong?   Do you have a process to document your institutional memory?   What kinds of creativity will be necessary to reintroduce yourself into member’s lives, especially as they have become more proficient in on-line search options?

How might a credit union partner with these student led coops to broaden their experience with other coop services?  NASCO has a list of these campus-based student owned housing efforts.  This feels like a win-win situation for a credit union seeking the next generation of members.

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