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Synergy History

A Short History of Synergy

edited by Bryn Williams for Living in Syn 2003, revised by Daniel Steinbock, April 2006. Feel free to edit as new historical information comes to light.

For the larger history of cooperatives at Stanford University, see Synergy Pre-History.

There is no single "Synergy history," only different experience that people have had as they lived, worked, and played, in this community. Some of the things in this booklet are true, some are half-true, and some are false; but "the facts" (if indeed there are any) should never get in the way of a good story. Much of this history was plagiarized from the 1988 edition of "Living in Syn" (thanks to Lee Altenberg) which can be found with the old journals in the Synergy library. I also stole parts of this guide from "Smooth Sailing through Chateau," a Berkeley co-op handbook.

The Sigma Nu days

It all started with a fraternity called Sigma Nu?. Sigma Nu had long been a traditional fraternity? with all that entails, but in 1959 one of the brothers was tragically run over by a car and killed after passing out in the driveway. The university didn't take too kindly to this incident and put the fraternity on probation. This incident combined with the restrictive probation scared a lot of people away from the frat, and a large number of vacancies opened up. The next year a group of 17 Wilbur Hall? freshmen, the "Future Leader of America" types, decided to pledge the frat en masse, demanding that Sigma Nu take all of them. The frat had little choice but to accept.

By the time 1962 came around, the Stanford chapter of Sigma Nu had become one of the most progressive chapters in the country and, together with the Brown University chapter, tried to pass an amendment eliminating the racial exclusionary policies of the national fraternity. This amendment was crushed at the national level. When they returned to Stanford the fraternity voted unanimously to cut all ties with the Sigma Nu national fraternity, and became the Beta Chi? independent fraternity.

In 1966 the Beta Chi? brothers decided to open membership to "any member of the Stanford community" including women, faculty, grad students, administrators, and others. In response to this "open door policy," another frat stole Beta Chi's door. The first women joined as eating associates in 1967 and moved into the frat in 1969. That year Beta Chi had the distinction of being the first campus residence to have a drug bust. The frat also decided to become the "performing arts theme house." They became well known for their plays, film series, artsy newspaper, and their yearly Halloween Party? which had bowls full of LSD punch?.

By 1972 the "frat" had gotten a bit too dirty and crazy for the alumni, who decided to sell the house to Stanford University? for $11,000.

Synergy Begins

In 1972 Synergy grew out of a student initiated course series (SWOPSI). It was titled "New Vocations and New Life Styles." Project Synergy was the action portion of that course, their goal was to create a counseling and resource center on new ways to live and work.

The university allowed Synergy to move into the old Beta Chi house, and the students quickly begin shaping their new community. They started right out with many of the practices that Columbae had adopted including vegetarian? cooking, consensus decision making, co-ed bathrooms, and gardening?. In addition Synergy had a "guest in residence" program where students allowed people from outside the community to stay and teach community members about alternative lifestyles?. One of the first major debates of the house was whether to continue the Beta Chi Halloween party. The students decided to keep the party, but to move the acid punch to the attic in order to encourage more responsible behavior.

The Synergy garden? flourished, with a grey water? system and a large greenhouse. The community members kept chickens, and were involved in political actions. Other co-ops opened up on campus in the 70s including Hammarskjold?, Terra?, and Chi Theta Chi?, as well as a number of houses that are now defunct: Jordan House, Whitman (a co-op dedicated to "intellectual culture"), and Androgyny House (a co-op dedicated to "transcending sex roles").

But in the late 70s Synergy started running into trouble. First the university took away the "theme house" designation of the co-ops and replaced androgyny house with Haus Mitt. Many residents of Androgyny house relocated to Synergy. In 1978 Synergy had three vacancies. The University put Synergy on probation and a review was made of the program. If Synergy did not fill the 1979 draw they were told that they would face termination. The house mounted a huge public relations campaign to interest students in the house and they filled it up the next year.

In 1982 the spring draw came in. It was a disaster. Synergy had 19 vacancies, Terra and Columbae both had 12. The co-ops didn't know what had hit them. The draw meant that 19 people would be moving into Synergy who hadn't wanted to live there. What would this mean? The 19 "006's" (the draw code for "assign anywhere") who moved in showed a mixture of fear, discomfort, and aggression. They demanded that meat be served at least 3 times a week. The pro-vegetarian members of the house realized that they had to give up or there would be a mutiny. This perhaps gained the respect of the 006 people, because they took on the duities of the co-ops very dependably. Most moved out after Fall quarter, but the house filled up due to an outreach campaign.

Synergy, Columbae, and Terra pulled together and put on "Co-op Week" in the Spring as a joint outreach effort, and it worked. All of the houses were filled. Res Ed helped out a bit, by acting on Synergy's 1981 proposal to have grad students in the house.

Synergy had other difficult draws. At one point the university actually terminated Synergy because of the vacancies, but another student led campaign managed to keep the community open.

In 1989 the Loma Prieta Earthquake? damaged Synergy house beyond repair. The students at Synergy were dispersed across campus, and the university considered shutting down the co-op, but the students at Synergy organized and formed a student initiated class which they used to lobby the university to restore Synergy house. From 1991-1994, Synergy occupied the Grove houses for a couple years as "Syn" and "Ergy," and then was reunified in Durand house. Although alumni worked long and hard to convince the University save the earthquake damaged Synergy house, their efforts were in vain. However, a revived Synergy community vowed to find a permanent home. Synergy proposed that Cooksey House? be renovated with a cooperative community in mind, and successfully lobbied to occupy that house when earthquake renovations were complete, in the fall of 1994. Many details of the house (particularly in the kitchen) were designed with Synergy residents in mind, including the big butcher block counter for multiple cooks.

The Cooksey House

The Cooksey family were friends of the Stanfords. They built their house on land given to them by Jane Stanford. Shortly after the house was built, Mrs. Cooksey passed away and her husband donated the house to the University in hope that it would become a student infirmary. Jane Stanford decided that she didn't like the image of 'hospital on a hill' at Stanford. After Jane's death in 1905, the trustees sold the house to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

The Phi Psi fraternity went co-ed in 1972. The national chapter reluctantly accepted this decision, but when a representative was sent in 1976 he saw that Phi Psi was not "behaving like a fraternity" and repremanded the fraternity. Following this, the University ceased to recognize the house as a fraternity.

The newly formed Phi Psi co-op lived in the Cooksey house until the Loma Prieta earthquake and was famous for its mellow friendliness, its drugs, and its wild parties. The residents of the house painted large murals including a version of the Sistine Chapel in the large stairway.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, two of the house's five chimneys collapsed and Phi Psi students were evacuated just like Synergy House. The Phi Psi community was moved around campus and eventually changed their name to "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest."

Since 1994, Synergy has lived happily in the Cooksey house, and has thrived as a community. Residents have made a number of significant changes to the house; for example, what is now an enormous organic garden used to be a parking lot (as you can tell if you dig very deeply in some areas).

Synners, Synergites and Synergists of times past have had amazing adventures here over the last few decades. Go out, have fun, and make some history of your own.

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