Moving away from home to attend school is intimidating, even if you take the road more traveled and spend freshman year living in on-campus student housing. But what happens if the idea of the dorms doesn’t work for you? For example, what if you’re queer or have a disability, or what if, like me, you’re simply an older student, returning after a few years out of school, who doesn’t find the idea of sharing a tiny room with someone four years younger appealing? It would seem this difficult situation calls for a radical solution.
After searching the usual places, unsuccessfully, for a like minded off-campus roommate, I stumbled across the website of GlobalServe Co-Op. GlobalServe Co-Op is an intentional community in Hyde Park structured around a dedication to social justice and volunteer work. I was intrigued.
I began talking to Le Anne Clausen, one of the co-founders of GlobalServe, to find out a little about its mission and history. Clausen cited her desire to create a community welcoming of all different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds. An area of particular concern to her is ensuring that the co-op was safe and comfortable for LGBT members, who make up about 50% of the GlobalServe membership. “A lot of other group living situations aren’t very welcoming to the queer community,” she explained.
While GlobalServe’s membership is diverse, the initiative to consolidate and lower costs seems to especially appeal to volunteer workers, students, and recent college graduates. About half those in the “Motherhouse” are involved with City Year, a year long program that puts young people in volunteer positions at schools around the country. Laura Leach, age 17, says she joined GlobalServe because she had “only a very small stipend through City Year and was looking for an apartment [she] could actually afford.” Leach added, “Co-ops offer a good living situation for when you are newly away from home. You immediately meet people and you get a chance to live together like a family while still being on your own enough to feel empowered.”
Natalia Fisher, a web designer at the University of Chicago, agreed. “It was affordable and I wanted to live with roommates but I didn’t know anyone in Chicago. I just graduated from college where I lived in a dorm and ate dinners with my friends every night, so I was looking for a similar sense of community. Sharing cooking duty was appealing too. I like cooking, but doing it every night by myself is time consuming and kind of depressing.”
GlobalServe can also be positive for those with disabilities or other issues who may find it difficult to fit in elsewhere. Ileia Brashear, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism that impedes her ability to pick up on social cues, cited her positive experiences living in a community dedicated to tolerance and acceptance. “I get to be weird and just act like myself, and people rarely fuss about it.”
Fischer added, “It has surprised me how well we get along given none of us knew each other before. We all come from different states and, unlike with a college dorm, we’re all pursuing different opportunities in the city.”
GlobalServe has experienced a recent surge in membership and is expanding accordingly. A year ago, Clausen and five other people moved into a six-bedroom apartment near the lake. Today, GlobalServe has expanded to two other buildings and additional apartments in the original house. From six community members, the “Motherhouse” at 54th and Lake Park now hosts a dozen. GlobalServe #2 at 60th and Woodlawn may soon obtain a second apartment. And the Maryland building, at Maryland and 54th, consists of a newly renovated property with the capacity to house 30 people.
“One thing that makes us different from the other co-ops in the area is that they own their buildings,” Clausen explained. “They have a limited number of spaces available, so they are usually full. Because we rent, we can always find new spaces for anybody who is interested in joining.”
All in all, my experience has been a positive one. Living here I’ve made many friends from volunteer workers to seminarians. GlobalServe offers all the benefits of dorm life but also connects its members to a wider community than the SAIC undergraduate student body. I admire the dedication of my house-mates to improving the community and world, and can’t wait to see how the co-op expands, develops, and evolves.