Popping Olin’s [Social] Bubbles

A lot has changed since I first arrived at Olin in the fall of 2009. There are so many things to celebrate and remember fondly. I actually couldn’t even begin to list them, because I’d run out of pages before I ran out of memories and that’s not the point I want to make with this article (though it would be nice). No, I want to say this: I have just one more semester at Olin, and I want to use it to help make this place better for us all.

Before I say anything further, I’d like to recognize the many outstanding examples of closeness, camaraderie, and understanding between students, faculty, and staff. For instance, last week, I played SpaceTeam with my SCOPE advisor, there are a staggering number of co-curriculars this semester, Build Day is a cool thing that happens in May… and I’m only scratching the surface.

But, more generally, the social spheres of students, faculty, and staff no longer intersect as much as they used to. Through no particular fault of our own (I could list a half dozen theories as to why), we have developed routines that are distinctly independent from one another. We stay in our own buildings, plan our own events, and sit at our own tables. While we work well together on academic and administrative levels, we’ve grown uncomfortable in each other’s spaces. It’s uncommon for students to socialize in offices and very rare to see faculty or staff in the dorms. We’re hesitant to reach out to one another, as well. I find this strange; not too long ago, we were comfortable dressing in drag around each other, sharing the stage at Express-O, relieving stress with bouncy castles, having Big Conversations, and much more besides.

Granted, we’re all busy people, but I know there’s a comfortable middle ground that we can all appreciate. Imagine a quiet knock on the door followed by a short but earnest conversation towards the end of the work day. Imagine sitting down with two or three new friends over lunch to chat, to construct something from a kit, to learn or share a simple skill, or to do some arts and crafts. Imagine heading out as a group – students, staff, and faculty all together – to play lawn games, to take over the Babson ice rink for an hour, or to sing karaoke at a nearby establishment.

I know that everyone has different levels of interest, investment, and comfort. Whatever they are, I promise to do my best, in my position as student activities chair, to cater to you. This past week, I spoke with a dozen members of the faculty and staff. Every single one expressed an interest in getting to know students better and engaging in enriching social time with us. One mentioned, “There are a lot of staff members on campus who never get to interact with students, and that makes me sad, because that’s the highlight of my job!” A friend of mine from the third floor of Milas Hall (whom I met last year during my campaigns for Build Day and various SAC events – I’m lucky to have had so many excuses to stop into people’s offices in the past) immediately lit up when I mentioned my ideas for different types of interactions. Everyone gave me enthusiastic responses, their own recommendations, and some sage counsel.

It made me wonder why we aren’t able to enjoy the kind of connection we might wish for right now. Then I had a perplexing experience in a faculty member’s office. She asked me if I thought students would be at all interested in hearing about an event that she helps organize every year. She worried that we wouldn’t want to go. I couldn’t help but smile, because I knew that her fears were unfounded.

Let me say to her and to all faculty and all staff now: “The social spheres of students, faculty, and staff no longer intersect as much as they used to.”

We would LOVE to be invited to your events. We would LOVE to have you at our events. We respect you. We value the time you choose to spend with us. We spend a lot of our time trying to be as good at things as you already are at them. We want to get to know you better, to learn from you outside of classes, and to find ways to contribute to your lives in a positive way.

As we know, the restaurant kick-outs always fill up immediately, and the students clamor for more. Build Day’s “Candid Conversations” was the first opportunity for many students to peek behind the curtain of professionalism that faculty and staff normally maintain. We ran out of seats for that activity and had to run more sessions! We pack into your co-curriculars and cheer for you wholeheartedly when you participate in our events. Please don’t doubt that you are welcome at our events or that we would want to come to yours. Ok? Ok. Now we just need to arrange the details.

From my conversations, I learned that it will be impossible to please everyone, but that won’t stop me from trying. SAC will be hosting weekly events that rotate through the days of the week backwards (F, Th, W, Tu, M, F), with two sessions of that week’s activity per day- one at 12:30 and the other at 4. Our first activity will be the Cheese Club event, on Friday. The week after will feature a crafting activity on Thursday. After that, who knows! There’s so much we might do. Please let me know if you have ideas! Always feel free to write to SAC@lists.olin.edu with any feedback or suggestions.

I hope I can use my position on SAC to help foster a stronger Olin community with accessible and rewarding weekly events. However, I can’t help but think about a host of other intriguing opportunities for other groups with different interests: What if we had a blended singing group or an open-to-all intramural sports team? Couldn’t we regularly bake alongside one another in the dorms or ideate about various aspects of Olin culture? Students could invite staff members to lunch at a mutually agreed-upon time and treat them using a guest pass. A few small efforts can have large payoffs.

I’m excited for this semester and the progress to come. I believe that by doing things we enjoy with people we appreciate, we will be creating a stronger community that we will all benefit from. Let’s make it happen, together.