Harkness—often just shortened to Hark—opened in 1950 as a women’s dorm, and in September of 1967, Harkness became the fourth Oberlin housing and dining co-op. Harkness’s intense and often lengthy discussions have led to diverse and unique policies, some more successful than others. In 1979, Harkness became the first Oberlin co-op to use consensus, a decision process that soon spread throughout OSCA. The very next year, Harkness voted for the first time to use anarchy as its system of government, a decidedly less successful venture. Also in 1979, Harkness created the Contraceptive Co-op, which eventually morphed into today’s Sexual Information Center. In the mid-90’s, Harkness became the first OSCA co-op to have an elected head cook system.
The most centrally located co-op on campus (along with TWC), Harkness shares a lawn with two dorms, TWC and the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Science and is just across the street from Dascomb Hall and King Building. Because of Hark’s location, many members of the co-op, both housing and dining, can be found in the building at all times of day, including the few 3 AM studiers. With a ramp and elevator, Hark is also one of the most accessible co-ops on campus.
Now, as for the past many years, Harkness is a vegetarian co-op with vegan options at every meal, though the meals quite frequently are completely vegan. Harkness has a total of about 35 dining-only members. In the past, Harkness has relied on mobbing tables at meal times in an exciting, not altogether enjoyable system of serving food. However, in recent semesters, the membership has decided to adopt a buffet line method to allow for greater accessibility when getting food. Unlike many other co-ops, Harkies stand in mini-lines to serve themselves each food item (spread throughout the eating-space) before meals, rather than forming one large line. Between the dining hall in the basement, the common room, the porch and the lawn on Hark Bowl in front of the building, there are a number of places for people to eat their meals, which gives people many options, but sometimes makes discussions difficult.
Harkness also houses 66 people. Despite the sometimes unpleasant reputation Harkness has gained in the past, the house has been working with great effort to change that reputation over the past few years. As the largest housing co-ops, Harkness is home to many informal events, from concerts of Oberlin and touring bands alike to post-Pizza Night dance parties. Harkness has traditionally been a space for radical discussion of ideas, arts, and music. Music is a common presence in the lounge, be it someone banging on the piano, a klezmer band practicing, or an ad-hoc dance party. On sunny days, many members eat meals out in “Hark Bowl” (the lawn in front of Harkness), when not participating in discussions. Harkness’s special meals tend to be more extravagant and wackier-themed than other co-ops’, with a strong dress-up tradition. Harkness also frequently votes to lend its space to performing arts groups, both musical and theatrical. Harkness’ mascot is a shark.While you may hear rumours about Harkness and its past reputation, the best way to truly get to know Harkness is by actually spending time with the incredibly caring and committed members of the co-op.
— Janet Ackerman and Jym Sandberg, Charlie Thompson ‘19 and Maia Ross Trupin ‘18