Students at Scripps College in Claremont wait for their drink orders at The Motley coffee house. The Motley has been student run for 40 years. (Will Lester/Staff Photographer)

The Importance of Student-Run Businesses


Riley Harmon ’22
Staff Writer
March 12, 2020

Beyond the seven dining hall options at the 5C’s, students can also choose to dine at several student run cafes and coffeehouses on the Claremont campuses. While the Coop Fountain and the Motley are currently two student-run facilities that offer beverages and food to students, the Coop Fountain may soon lose its student-run status.

The Coop Fountain, the cafe on Pomona’ campus, offers a variety of food and drink options. It is currently funded by ASPC, the student government of Pomona, and managed by students. It is run alongside the Coop Store. The business model is designed so that while the Coop Fountain does not make a profit over the course of the year, the Coop Store located nearby is meant to balance out the Coop Fountain’s losses.

However, a report conducted by the ASPC Director of Operation found out how significant the losses were in the past ten years. The Coop Fountain and Coop Store combined have only profited twice since the 2008-09 school year. Thus, there has been discussion between ASPC and Pomona dining services about a transition from the Coop Fountain being owned by ASPC to it being owned by the Pomona Dining Services.

The managers at the Coop found out about this proposal in an email from their boss, a non-student supervisor, on Feb. 10. It informed them about the proposed transition, saying that it could happen in as soon as 6 months and that there was to be a meeting between the managers and the ASPC president and vice president to discuss it.

“That was the first I had ever heard about it, that was the first time that anybody had heard anything concrete about it.” India Whatley ‘’20, a manager at Coop Fountain said.
“Plenty of people had heard that that was a possibility or that was something that was occasionally being discussed but it wasn’t a real possibility, so it was kind of like out of the blue.”

Whatley and other managers’ biggest concern about the proposed transition is that student jobs may be taken away.

There are currently around 30 students employed at the Coop Fountain, a majority of whom are first generation and low-income students according to Whatley.

“A lot of my co-workers really depend on this job to buy things like textbooks, to put gas in their car,” Whatley said. “It is not a good sign that dining services want to get rid of at least a few of those jobs, especially when they are really important to the people that work there.”

The importance of on-campus jobs is echoed by employees at the Motley.

“The Motley is super important for me socially and overall in improving my quality of living and well-being. It has brought me a whole other community,” Camila Mejia ’22 said, a barista who began working at the Motley this year. “The Motley has brought me a lot more friendships and connections that I didn’t have last year.”

The Motley, the non-profit coffeehouse on Scripps’ campus, provides delicious drinks and pastries entirely through student work – similarly to the Coop Fountain. It is run by ten managers and sustained by the 50 baristas it employs. Each manager has a management focus having to do with the Motley’s function. Communication between managers and baristas is sustained through bi-weekly meetings.

The sole connection the Motley has to the Scripps administration is a weekly meeting between three designated Executive Motley managers and Associate Dean of Students and Interim Title IX Coordinator Adriana di Bartolo for guidance in the executive and financial realm.

Motley staff say that there is a power that lies in the Motley being student run.

“It is a really empowering experience for students to be able to learn how businesses run,” Uma Nagarajan ’22 said, the personnel manager and Executive 2 at the Motley.

Beyond its employees, the Motley is important to the Scripps community. However, Nagarajan recognized that the Motley is not flawless in striving to live up to its mission which is, according to their website, to be a “intersectional, political, and feminist cofeehouse.” Najagaran recognized that the Motley could do more work to support identities that institutionally face hardships at Scripps.

“I don’t want to portray the Motley as a perfect institution because I recognize that it has a lot of flaws and a lot of shortcomings,” said Nagarajan. “With that being said, I do think that it is a really important space on campus for CLORGS and students and open mics.”

Whatley echoed a similar sentiment about the Coop Fountain.

“[The Coop Fountain] is an important part of the campus environment,” Whatley said.

To provide that atmosphere, the Coop Fountain’s employees create a community as well.

“Because everyone works together, everyone has to pitch in on the grill during a really busy shift, we all sort of have a much more emotional stake in it,” Whatley said.

Employees place emphasis on the student aspect of student-run business at the 5Cs.

“We are all still students and the fact that we have this opportunity to work together and learn together really creates community,” Nagarajan said.

To continue to foster this kind of community at the Coop and avoid a transition to a Dining Services run Coop Fountain, Whatley proposed that ASPC bring in a financial advisor to analyze the situation.

“It seems like ASPC is just trying to off-load this issue onto the dining services,” Whatley said.

The employees at the Coop remain hopeful.

“There are other ways we can deal with [the financial situation,]” said Whatley.

Image Credit: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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