E-Haus: Enduring Ideals
The housing cooperative marks its 25th anniversary on campus as a place where residents can live their commitment to the environment.
As the world prepared for the 20th celebration of Earth Day in 1990, a group of activists at Haverford started a housing cooperative that would allow them to practice their environmentalist ideals every day. This new home was called Environmental House. Later it would become E-House, then E-Haus. Over the years, the co-op's members have prepared vegetarian and vegan meals for thousands of Haverford community members, hosted speakers on environmental and social issues, created a networking hub for other student activists, and actively supported all of the College's major moves toward sustainability—including the creation of the Committee for Environmental Responsibility, the launch of the Tri-College Environmental Studies minor, and the development of the Haverford College Farm. This year marks E-Haus' 25th anniversary.
"It was fun to be an explorer, a pioneer on campus," says Marlise Fratinardo BMC '93, one of the founders of E-Haus, and now an urban planner who specializes in cultural heritage and environmental planning. "I loved living in line with my commitments. I have thought about it now and again, how radical it was. How amazing that something I was involved with when I was 18 is still going strong."
Approved for a trial run in 1990, the co-op had 11 students in its first cohort: six women and five men, most of whom were active in the Bi-Co group Environmental Action/E-Passion. Given the second floor of Apartment 23 in what's now the Haverford College Apartments (HCA), members each contributed $350 per semester for food and supply costs and rotated household chores. At least five nights a week, they collaborated to cook a vegetarian or vegan communal dinner. Referencing Quaker tradition, they began dinners with a moment of silence and made decisions by consensus. The co-op's activism included weekly letter-writing to congressional representatives, mobilizing students to fix their leaky faucets, and publicizing an energy audit of the apartments.
"All we needed was a place where we could all live together, and we were able to take care of the rest,"says Shalom Ormsby '93, one of the original E-Haus residents, and now a designer and 3D artist at Autodesk.
"We were making it up as we went along," remembers Emily Zeamer '92, another E-Haus pioneer, who is now an anthropology lecturer at the University of Southern California. "It was an arrangement that yielded many opportunities for personal discovery."
"I learned about community building, and deep trust, and that the environmental movement takes all kinds—the harder political activists and the listeners and food-makers,” says Evan Manvel '93, another co-founder, who went on to work with the conservation group 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
A few months into their first semester together, the group attracted the attention of The Philadelphia Inquirer and was featured in its Nov. 5, 1990, issue. The story detailed the co-op’s domestic habits (a shared dinner of tofu and brown rice, eaten on the floor while "sitting cross-legged on a hodgepodge of floor pillows"); their community outreach (making posters about water conservation that provided space for students to sign if they had dripping faucets); and their décor (a colorfully decorated brown paper banner in the stairway greeting visitors with the query "Want to Help Save the Earth?").
"The purpose is to present an alternative lifestyle," co-op resident Kate Bobrow '93 told The Inquirer. "It shows that Haverford supports people having a consistency between their beliefs and their actions."
(The other founding members of E-Haus were Jackie Cefola '92 and, from the Class of 1993, Patrick Boyce, Peter Furia, Isa Leshko, Emily Scott, and Alex Sugerman-Brozan.)
The co-op's trial period was a success, and the group went on to secure a permanent place in HCA 15. The number of residents has fluctuated from semester to semester, sometimes swelling to more than 20, until 2007, when a minimum of 11 and maximum of 12 was set. Suffice it to say the venture endured growing pains.
"Community meetings could be tough when they would run over three hours," remembers Matt Smith '96. "Coming to consensus is a glorious pain."
There were less glorious pains as well—for instance, the batch of potato soup that broke a blender and stuck to the ceiling. But such mishaps were outnumbered by the house’s successful experiments.
Diane Gentry BMC '98, known as the house "mom”" for her cooking and conflict-resolution skills, recalls that the house's recipes for biscuits, chili, Indian red lentils, and Moroccan carrots were especially beloved. Gentry, now associate director of prospect development at Bryn Mawr, still has the recipe cards. "The chili is definitely the dirtiest, yellowest, most stained card in the metal box of recipes that survived E-Haus,”" she says.
Members occasionally referred to the co-op as "E-Haus" early on, but the name change became more or less official around 1995. (Hyphenation and capitalization still vary according to personal preference.) The shift from E-House had less to do with a new outlook than with necessity. One member had acquired a collection of metal letters once used on a marquee outside a high school—a collection that was missing some crucial vowels. When the group constructed its own marquee, the house became a haus.
Newly christened, the co-op went on to host a series of naked dinners. Though the meals were legendary around campus, members recall them as rather small, mundane affairs. Smith, now a stay-at-home dad in San Diego, says the dinners were "exciting in the short term. It was wonderfully startling to find my neighbors unclad." But as the meals went on, he says, the guests became "just my friends and neighbors again, sharing food and trying to avoid setting hot plates on sensitive areas."
Such experiences helped to cement a strong community, and Kate Stephenson '00, now executive director of the environmentally conscious Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont, was motivated to organize the group's 10-year reunion on campus before she graduated. "We had about 20 people show up for parts of the weekend," Stephenson recalls, "with tents set up on the lawn at HCA 15, a 'hootenanny' sing-along, and a big dinner." In later years, she hosted a number of annual "mini-reunions" with her partner and fellow Hausmate, Glen Coburn Hutcheson '01, at their family lake house in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. These reunions ended as alums became parents.
E-Haus’ vegetarian and vegan community dinners steadily evolved from monthly to weekly—or more frequent—affairs. During a period in the early 2000s, the Haus scheduled a series of alternating Friday dinners with Batten House, Bryn Mawr’s own environmentalist co-op. The group's once energetic environmental activism, however, had petered out.
"Honestly," says Byron Drury '08, "we had become rather complacent with our state."
This complacency was not lost on Haverford’s Housing Committee. In 2004, E-Haus lost its permanent spot in HCA 15 when it was required to apply as a group for one of the newly created spaces in "program housing" (now called "community housing"). The spaces, which at the time included Yarnall and both floors of HCA 15, were meant for groups of students who required shared quarters to perform a service to the community. E-Haus' inclusion in this category reflected the concerns of the Housing Committee and its belief that the Haus—despite its history—needed to be reevaluated in a competitive system.
Though E-Haus gained acceptance the first two years it applied, in 2006 its application was rejected, with the Housing Committee declaring a lack of evidence that the applicants "were particularly devoted to their purpose." Its members mustered support from President Tom Tritton and circulated a petition with 450 signatures, but the Housing Committee held fast on its decision. During room draw, members of E-Haus were scattered across campus.
This new arrangement prompted the group to organize infrequent—but massive—community events, which were punctuated by a series of comically large vegan desserts: 12 cubic feet of flame-spouting vegan cake, enough pudding to fill a kiddie pool, and a thousand vegan cookies. The events attracted a much larger population than past community dinners, particularly mobilizing freshmen. "In retrospect, I think that the crisis we faced in 2006 spurred E-Haus to make a lot of changes for the better," says Drury, who is now finishing his Ph.D. in physics at MIT.
By the time Haus members submitted their application for the following year, they had already laid the groundwork with the Dining Center, Facilities Management, and the Office of Residential Life. They were a shoo-in. Director of Residential Life Marianne "Smitty" Smith recommended that they take the inaugural HCA open floor plan in Apartment 15, which included a double kitchen and common space.
As Smith says, "They haven’t looked back." After reclaiming their home turf, Haus members started a garden behind their building, hosted talks by labor, energy, and animal-rights activists, and distributed water-saving showerheads, faucet aerators, and energy-saving lightbulbs in the apartments. Individual members also pursued projects of their own. Tim Richards '10, with help from the campus group EarthQuakers and the College's Committee for Environmental Responsibility, proposed a resolution for the college to buy 100% wind power. It passed. Since 2009, the College has purchased wind-energy renewable electricity attributes equal to 100% of its electrical usage.
The original E-Haus garden has continually expanded, with help from generations of Haus members and the first graduating class of Tri-College Environmental Studies minors, which included Class of 2014 E-Haus alums Siena Mann, David Robinson, and Nell Durfee. The garden is now a part of the Haverford College Farm, which includes a large plot next to the College's community gardens. Last year, long-time E-Haus member Alanna Matteson '15 further developed plans for a greenhouse and environmental studies center adjacent to the farm, helped hire a farm consultant and full-time farm manager, and worked with other students to create a farm-based physical education course, the Beekeeping Club, and an internship program to maintain the farm and distribute its produce.
Perhaps one of the most fruitful E-Haus events last year was a community conversation about fossil-fuel divestment facilitated by resident Eve Gutman '15. The conversation included then-President Dan Weiss, Vice President for Finance and Administration Dick Wynn, Deans Martha Denney and Steve Watter, Chief Investment Officer Mike Casel, Investment Analyst Andrew Dinger, and two dozen students. The gathering took place in the E-Haus living room, and the space allowed for a comfortable yet elevated dialogue about a polarizing issue, attendees say. "For me and other students,”" Gutman says, "it opened up the possibility of how students could influence the terms of important conversations on campus."
One of the less fruitful activities at E-Haus last year was an utterly humane battle waged against mice. Debates over whether or not to kill the rodents spanned multiple meetings and were never resolved. Instead, residents devised elaborate live traps and let loose a deluge of peppermint oil. "It was a good exercise in learning to be more considerate and taking seriously other people’s opinions—even if they’re the opposite of your own," recalls Katy Frank '17, who wanted the mice dead. Eventually the rodents moved on. Maybe it was the peppermint oil.
Today, daily life in E-Haus is similar in many ways to what it was in the early '90s—though the residents have cut their food costs by about two-thirds, adjusting for inflation. Students pay a measly $325 per semester for the co-op's meal plan, which almost exclusively consists of bulk, organic, local, in-season foods. (Contrary to popular misconception, there have always been members who eat meat, though all communal meals are vegetarian and/or vegan.) Decisions are still made through consensus. The group's primary new project this year is to address an old problem, a lack of diversity in the house, by polling the Haverford community about its interests in programming and hosting joint dinners with other student organizations. Prospective members now fill out an application that is reviewed by current residents, who then submit a community housing application as a group. Though the Haus does not technically have a permanent spot, the group's application has been accepted every year since 2007. Well-attended community meals are now held on Thursdays.
Most importantly, E-Haus remains a springboard for the same kind of personal and collective growth that its founding members experienced so deeply. Adriana Cvitkovic '16, who has lived in the Haus since her sophomore year, recalls a moment when this cross-generational impact was especially clear. In her fall 2014 "Case Studies in Environmental Issues" class, Haus alums Fay Strongin '10 and Sarah Turkus '10, who run Sidewalk Ends Farm with two partners in Providence, R.I., gave a presentation on urban farming. When they were asked what they'd learned in college that helped them the most after graduation, they both referred to the skills they developed while living in E-Haus. "I was like, 'Wow, that’s pretty amazing. I think that might be true for myself,'" Cvitkovic remembers.
-Sam Fox '14