Filed Under Student Spaces

How Korouva Milk Bar Became a Place

The Korouva Milk Bar was an exclusively student-run café and organization that opened in 1994 and closed its doors in 2020 as part of the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. As of this writing, in May 2023, it has not re-opened, though plans are in motion to resurrect it in a different location on the east side of campus in the near future.

For a short period of time, Korouva was first located in the now demolished West Gymnasium, on the same site where the F.W. Olin building was built in 1996. But for the majority of its existence, Korouva was located in the Field House in a building it shared with the Southwestern Police Department on the west side of campus, at 1005 Maple Street. Interestingly, the Field House itself was moved to the Maple Street location from a location in the center of campus in the spring of 1940; the house has a twin with the same design at 1202 E 15th St. in Georgetown.

In the fall of 1994, Korouva Milk Bar held a pre-opening event which featured a performance from a local student band by the name of Smudge, and an art exhibition which featured drawings, paintings, and other art created by students. This pre-opening event set the artistic, creative, and often chaotic but fun tone for the future of the café and the identity it would sustain. The large-scale student collaboration on the opening also illustrated the cultural significance Korouva had on the Southwestern campus.

Korouva offered a unique environment that encouraged student creativity and fostered a sense of belonging and self-expression. The students who worked there encouraged student interaction by providing board games and different scale seating areas as well as hosting events like open mic nights and providing space for other student organizations to meet. Many student testimonials about Korouva have a similar theme, which remained consistent throughout the Milk Bar’s 20+ years of operation. Students claimed that the space allowed them to relax, study, connect with others, and get away from the stresses of the rest of campus (despite technically being on campus itself).

Korouva was highly involved in art since it first opened, from hosting art competitions and hosting art exhibits where Southwestern’s art students could showcase their works to allowing students to draw and write on the walls and ceilings. Because the space was not only operated but also curated by students instead of faculty or administrators, it created an environment that was by students for students. In terms of collective memory, the art covering the interior also contributed to a certain level of intimacy and continuity between current and former students. Seeing the words and drawings of former students people may have never met provided a view of life and campus culture over the years. It was a sort of living documentation of the self-identity of Southwestern students.

During the fall of 2006, Korouva was closed for a short period of time because it needed extensive repairs. Reflecting on missing Korouva being open, one student stated that when they go to the Cove to study, they often feel self-conscious. When they went to Korouva to study, however, they could show up in their underwear and nobody would care. This student testimonial accentuates the sort of “informal” and unique environment that could not be found anywhere else on campus. Also in the same issue of The Megaphone, Korouva was described as being a middle ground between a fraternity house and the Smith library. Many students who are not involved in greek life are excluded from fraternity houses, which greatly limits the amount of informal spaces where they can relax, be themselves, and simply hang out. On the other hand, the library can be too formal of a space for relaxation or socialization. Korouva functioned as a middle ground.

Korouva also functioned as a place of inclusivity. Because it was a place which emphasized that anyone and everyone was welcome, the Milkbar often worked with campus organizations to raise awareness for social issues that affected minority groups, especially the LGBTQ community. One example of this occurred in December of 2005. Korouva hosted an event alongside Southwestern Allies on national AIDS awareness day. T-shirts with personalized messages such as fatality statistics were created by students at Korouva using art supplies like spray paint, markers, and stencils. The shirts were then worn by students around campus the next day.

The inclusive environment of Korouva and the sense of safety students felt there is somewhat contradictory given the basis of its name. Korouva’s name originates from Anthony Burgess’ 1962 satirical dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, which was made into a cult-classic film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Within the novel and film, the Korova Milkbar is a place associated with violence, exploitation, and the sexual assault of women. This fictional place also served milk laced with LSD. Because of this association, in the winter of 1996, a Southwestern Board member decided to change Korouva’s name to “Café Java''. According to an interview with the board member in The Megaphone in January 1996, the decision to change the name was discussed for years with discourse beginning around the time Korouva first opened. Most trustees agreed with this decision, stating that it was necessary given the violent associations in the novel.

However, the vast majority of students resisted the change. In response, one student claimed that the name should not have been changed because none of the things that happen in the book happen at Southwestern’s Korouva. Another student’s response to this was that the name should stay Korouva because A Clockwork Orange is a great piece of literature which should be honored by Southwestern. Either way, the name Café Java did not last long, as The Megaphone refers to the café as Korouva in a publication just a few months later. I never did find any information regarding when the name was changed back. However, I would assume that students continued to refer to the café as Korouva and the Board realized that people would only remember it by that name due to the student's collective memory associating the café with its original name.

Rowan Via, a 2023 Southwestern graduate, took the photos accredited to them in this entry while Korouva was still in operation just before the pandemic. They and I took a course together in the fall of 2022. An assignment we had was to create a presentation about an on-campus location of personally meaningful memory. Their project was on Korouva Milk Bar and the experiences and memories they had made there with friends. While they were presenting, I learned what Korouva was for the first time. It occurred to me that Rowan’s graduating class was truly the last to experience Korouva as the Korouva in the Field House while attending Southwestern. I remember feeling a sadness and a sense of loss for something truly special to Southwestern despite never experiencing it personally.

Images

Korouva door Creator: Rowan Via '23 Date: 2019
Korouva Wood Carving Relic Creator: Max Colley'24 Date: 2023
Korouva Bathroom Mirror Selfie Creator: Rowan Via '23 Date: 2019
Korouva Back Wall Creator: Rowan Via '23 Date: 2019
Be Gay, Do Crime Wall Painting Creator: Max Colley '24 Date: 2023
Korouva Gay Rights Ceiling Painting Creator: Max Colley '24 Date: 2023

Location

Metadata

Max Colley '24, “How Korouva Milk Bar Became a Place,” Placing Memory, accessed July 24, 2024, https://placingmemory.southwestern.edu/items/show/4.