Bikes, kombucha and social justice: the co-op on frat row

The Students’ Alliance for Cooperative Living has been on the University of Minnesota campus for approximately 80 years.

The Students Alliance for Cooperative Living, an 80-year-old student co-op house on University Avenue SE, is seen on Wednesday, April 24 in Minneapolis.

Image by Ellen Schmidt

The Students’ Alliance for Cooperative Living, an 80-year-old student co-op house on University Avenue SE, is seen on Wednesday, April 24 in Minneapolis.

by Norah Kleven

Keith Killian was walking down University Avenue when a member of the Students’ Alliance for Cooperative Living caught his eye in 2014. The University of Minnesota student said he’s always been — and dressed as — an expressive person, and knew he found his place when he met members of the cooperative.

Students’ Alliance for Cooperative Living, a group on the University of Minnesota campus that’s been around for approximately 80 years, has long been a vocal advocate for social and environmental justice issues. By holding advocacy and social events, the co-op’s 26 members aim to provide a safe and supportive space for the residents of the house and for the University community. On Friday, the co-op will host a benefit to educate people about police brutality. 

Inside the house, rows of bikes greet visitors, inviting them into one of the house’s living rooms. The walls are adorned with various murals, all painted by residents of the cooperative over its years. 

Cooperative living is built on the idea that when people come together to share resources, knowledge and labor, everyone benefits more than when living in a more traditional setting. 

According to Liam DelMain, an officer and resident of the co-op, cooperative living holds different meanings for different people. In addition, residents are considered “owners” of the house.

Nan Feldis is a member of the cooperative and enjoys living at the co-op because Feldis pays dues rather than rent each month. These dues have a diverse use and cover expenditures to live in the house as well as the cost of food and other organization activities.

“We have a responsibility to each other [and this space] to take our collective possibility and make sure that we’re doing something for the community,” Feldis said. 

In addition to organizing against police brutality, the cooperative has been active about other issues, including preventing sexual assault, advocating for housing equality and speaking against capitalism.

“I think the relationships you form here are something pretty special,” said Aidan Sponheim, a member and officer in the co-op. “For me, I feel like I have grown in the past year and a half more than I have in my entire life … because it’s very unique from any other living situation, especially in college.” 

Killian is the plant steward of the house, caring for the community gardens and the plethora of plants living inside the house. Each member has a position in the house, which rotates throughout the year and helps maintain democracy among members. 

Members often tackle tasks together, such as making kombucha or preparing Sunday dinners. 

Sponheim said his personal and interpersonal growth achieved in the cooperative would have been difficult to obtain outside of the alternative living space. 

To find new members, the cooperative largely relies on word of mouth and events hosted by the group. Potential members submit applications that are voted on by members in the house.  Applicants are not required to be University students to live in the house. 

“For the most part, I think it really lifts me up,” Killian said of the cooperative. “It really is a place where you can be yourself and not feel judgement.”