Living by Olin’s Core Values

In case you haven’t heard, Olin is ten years old now. With that, there has been a lot of self-reflection and discussion about where the institution has been, where it’s going, and how it’s going to get there. A few effects of that shift can already be seen with new faculty, a new dean of student life, new partnerships with outside institutions, and a push to redefine the E! curriculum.

Most of these effects, however, have been top-down. Even though students have had advising roles with some of the changes, in each case the initial push has come from the administration. Students outnumber administrators ten to one. This raises the question: “What are we, the students, doing in a bottom-up fashion to improve Olin in the years to come?”

The Honor Code is arguably the most influential student document we possess. Let’s begin the discussion here. This year, the HCRC enabled every student to discuss the core values that we share and present to the world. The process was messy at times, but last week, we voted to ratify the largest slate of changes that the Honor Code has ever seen.

Collectively, they can be taken as a statement of how we, as a community, want operate as we move forward. Let’s look at how we can use the five new clauses to drive the discussion about where we want to go.

We’ll start with the ‘Integrity’ clause. This clause seems like a no-brainer, but its mandate to represent one’s self “accurately and completely” can be challenging to fulfill. For example, in a heated debate over controversial matters such as allocation of resources on campus, some students may not offer contrary opinions in order to avoid conflict. While every student has the right to decide when it’s worth speaking up, this clause can help in this decision.

Once public resources are allocated, it is up to the community to look after those resources. This idea of stewardship is directly addressed in the ‘Respect for Others’ clause. It is easy to cite examples of how this system breaks down, and we often chalk it up to the tragedy of the commons. However, this is a mistaken comparison. At Olin, we are not “individuals, acting independently” in a shared space but rather, a unified group of people who have ratified a document that directs us to act cooperatively. Let’s employ the new ‘Respect for Others’ clause to start combating our so-called tragedy of the commons.

‘Passion for the Welfare of Olin’ is an interesting clause, since it appears to deal exclusively with life outside the bubble. However, we don’t just represent Olin when we leave campus. I2E2, campus tours, and SERV are all groups that were stablished specifically for this purpose. In the years to come, we can represent Olin throughout the academic year by getting involved with these groups or through any of a number of other important channels for promoting the welfare of the college.

Then comes ‘Openness to Change’, which was modified heavily this year to reflect not only the desire to accept change, but to actively seek positive change. This is a very practical clause. The promotion of change is best served by community engagement. Build Day, for instance, is a great start down this path. But there’s plenty an individual can do as well to generate the changes they want to see. Yes, it’s hard and yes, we’re all busy. Maybe we should consider advocating lower credit loads, so that people can have more time for personal and community improvement.

I’ve interpreted each of these clauses through the lens of the ‘Do Something’ clause. At Olin, we are impelled to take action and do our utmost. This document is both a statement of values and a call to action.

The Honor Code means so much for our community. We began a conversation at the town hall last week that will grow and impact our lives. We’ve talked about how we can improve our behavior. Now, we need to make these changes happen.