Friday Service Time: A Lie

This isn’t just another article about Friday Service. This is more than just an attempt to get people involved. This is an article about change and experiments. This is an article about fixing things.

I’ve spent the last two years on the SERV board, first as a Friday Service coordinator and then as the Chair, and in these two years we’ve tried various different ways to bring the service culture back to Olin. The problem is that the community is no longer engaging in service activities, even when SERV offers them.

When we give tours to outside guests and prospective students, we stop at the top of the wooden waterfall and we talk about what makes Olin unique, and without fail we mention the importance of service to the college and the community. We talk about how we have a dedicated time on Friday afternoons where no one has classes so that everyone can focus on community service.

Well, guess what? We’re lying.

This is not to say that people don’t do community service at Olin. In fact, there is a large subset of people who do engage in various activities that give back to the school and to our surrounding towns. But we no longer have a unified culture surrounding service, and we definitely don’t have weekly Friday Service activities.

It’s been a long time coming. The SERV board puts in a tremendous amount of effort trying to come up with events and activities for Friday Service times, and that effort goes to waste because most of the community is uninterested or unaware despite the board’s best efforts. We understand that we may not be offering meaningful activities that people feel will make a real impact. We understand that everyone has a different opinion about what they think is a productive use of their time. We have tried to meet these needs, but the cycle had to start somewhere. At some point, people stopped coming to our events, and with the unreliable turnout we stopped being able to commit to meaningful organizations. As a result, people saw less value in what we were trying to accomplish, and that led more people to stop doing service. We want to fix this. We want to start making a real difference, and we want to help you do that too.

Clearly, “Friday Service time” is not working. We, as a community, need to rebrand the Friday afternoon time. That’s right – I didn’t say we needed to fix Friday Service. I said we needed to rethink and repurpose our time on Friday afternoons. This is bigger than just the SERV board. This is Olin as a community.

We are starting a conversation. Come join us on Build Day – for five minutes, or for an hour. We want your opinions because this change will affect you. We will be exploring several alternatives to the Friday Service system we have in place now. Just to throw some examples out there, we could start scheduling classes for Friday afternoons. We could re-emphasize the importance of community service and prevent all faculty, staff and students from scheduling anything during the service block (as has been done in the past). We could rename the time to focus on something different, whether thatis project time, community time, or something else we have yet to discover. Regardless, we are going to make drastic changes to Friday Service as we know it so that we can stop wasting time and start actually doing meaningful (service) work.

We will be changing something that has been established at Olin for many years, and we will be improving the culture and the awareness of service around campus. We cannot be afraid to discard things when they stop working, and right now Friday Service is not working. We want to experiment with new ideas in order to improve Olin’s culture around community service and accurately reflect the values of the student body.

Please come join us in the dining hall between 9-11am and 1:30-3:30pm on Build Day, or send us an email at serv@olin.edu if you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to share. Come help fix community service at Olin.