*Trigger Warning

Hi team,

Inevitably, graduation is upon us and another group of Oliners will be ushered out and on their heels a new group, hopeful and eager, will be welcomed in. I feel so lucky that I’ve had the chance to get to know you all, and the three classes that graduated before me during my stint as a student here. I am fortunate to have had a family that accepted the fact I called infrequently, randomly, and on “college time” instead of normal time. I am grateful to the number of hours spent in camaraderie, finishing projects in the AC, Library, or Dorms. The levity that my friends brought to each day won’t soon be forgotten. The opportunity to NINJA a variety of classes was extremely impactful for me too.

As I prepare to leave, however, I’m asked often about whether I have any regrets – anything that I wished I had done while a student, or perhaps, that I wished I hadn’t done as a student.

Oh absolutely.

The sheer volume of late-night snacks is a bit embarrassing. The number of allnighters was a bit more than I like to admit. I really wish I had studied away, or taken a leave of absence – for all the reasons you might expect (taking a break from Olin, seeing some of the world, learning a new language, getting more specialized technical depth in something, etc). I also wish I could have done more things – different clubs, different hobbies, different campuses, more traveling, etc. These are all mostly wistful thoughts though. Alternatively, I wish that I could have put more energy into the things that I did do.

But above all, I regret not being an outspoken advocate for the things I care most about. On sustainability, I wish I could have been involved with GrOW more, that I went to more talks, that I pursued the information I hungered for, that I was brave enough to have an opinion and express it openly.

On diversity, I wish that I could have made more people care and that I could have become a better amplifier for movements like BlackLivesMatter, for persons of color on our campus seeking to hold cultural conversations, and for the plethora of social events that happened outside our bubble across the United States during our time at Olin.

On sexual respect there is so much more that needs to be done at Olin that I wish I could have spent time doing. I wish I had the confidence to be a better bystander in light conversation that turns sexually inappropriate. I wish I had the audacity to demand more in terms of the response of the College to our Title IX procedures. I wish that I knew how to be a survivor because I’ve been struggling with victimhood since well before arriving to Olin. I wish I knew how to better support my sibling as their identity struggles to flourish in fear-soaked soil hundreds of miles away from me.

On mental health, I wish I had taken the time to encourage conversation about it on campus, and develop it for myself. I felt, and often still feel, that my time is best spent on others and not myself. Though I know logically that no sleep, that infrequent meals, that my sometimes crushing depression does not make me a better engineer – engineering is the only thing I know how to do. Imposter syndrome is rooted in my mind and I only allow it to flower. Times in which I consoled friends and peers with fears similar to my own and suggested they seek help, brought forward the hypocrite inside of me which is suspicious of those with even the best of intentions. Wavering in the gray zone of passively suicidal in the early years of my Olin career, I sought often to be alone and to pour every ounce of my strength into being busy. When people laugh about not seeing folks around campus too much, I wonder if those folks are intentionally hiding behind their work, like me. Though today I stand taller and I think happier, I regret not learning to love myself sooner.

As I prepare to graduate, I want to make sure that people know that we need, as a community, to take notice of our collective well-being. Mental health is not something that can be read off of a person’s face, but can only be felt through active compassion. That sexual respect can only become the norm if we accept that it happens here and that we can do something about it. That diversity at Olin starts with checking our own privilege. That sustainability at Olin can only happen if we care enough about it to impact our lifestyles.

I certainly leave with regrets, but I will have the rest of my life to work towards fulfillment, as I define it – and so will you.

My advice, though, for those still asking how to get through Olin without regrets: Don’t be afraid to offend, if you’re ready to receive criticism. Be open to reflecting with others. Take advantage of the opportunities to shape your own learning. Strive to take care of yourself and take pride in your hours of sleep, the number of meals you’ve eaten, and the hobbies that you spend time enjoying. Feel free to leave the campus for a semester, or two. Be yourself. And know that everyone wants you to succeed — and that you will.

Looking forward,
Victoria

Beyond Title IX: Examining Sexual Misconduct at Olin

The last few years have seen an enormous change in how sexual misconduct is perceived and addressed at colleges and universities across the country, and Olin is no exception. Our college’s culture has drastically shifted from “it can’t happen here” to “shit, it does”. Kate Maschan ’15 created and published the results of a survey showing that in the sample (482 responses, drawing from the student body in 2013-2014 and alums), rates of sexual misconduct at Olin were easily on par with those of many colleges in the US (around 1 in 5 cisgender women and 1 in 20 cisgender men reported being sexually assaulted during their time at Olin). This led to the creation of the Peer Advocates for Sexual Respect and the first rumblings of discussion about consent culture at Olin.

High-profile cases nationwide pointed toward intimidating reporting processes and poor accountability in punishing these crimes on the part of colleges. This led to an enormous, government-driven legal scaffolding of handling reports of sexual misconduct on campus. This falls legally under Title IX (check out knowyourIX.org), a law geared toward ensuring no student is denied an equal opportunity for education because of sex-based discrimination. Title IX and the Campus SaVE Act now give colleges both guidelines and requirements for interacting with reporters of sexual misconduct and investigating their cases.

In light of the national stage in which this conversation is unfolding, we have to turn attention to Olin. The Sexual Respect Team (SRT) comprised of representatives from several on-campus organizations have been working to research Title IX, the Campus SaVE Act, Olin College policies, and more. We, as this small group, hope with this knowledge to engage all of us, as the Olin community, to reflect and through actionable conversation improve upon the support the college provides. The team is Austin Greene ‘17 (R2), Ellie Funkhouser ‘17 (CORe), Gabrielle Ewall ‘17 (Peer Advocate), Jessica Diller ‘16 (Peer Advocate), and Victoria Preston ‘16 (Honor Board); our community is every student, faculty, staff, and administration member.

Given the huge expanse of topics to discuss yielded by research, we need to determine what questions we want to ask as a community. In a particular example, we could examine how Olin treats reporters – what are their rights, when are they informed of these, and what pressures act on them? Are they pushed to report to StAR but not the police or Babo? Are they ever pushed to not report at all? What timelines are they given, and what support? What procedures need to be set in stone, or should all be at the discretion of StAR?

The dynamics around keeping our campus safe can be thorny, complicated, and intimidating in such a tight bubble. This stuff can be tough to engage in (especially considering the layers of law and precedent that coat it all) and a lot is still up in the air.
Olin is still figuring this stuff out, and we are in a position to shape our future policies and campus culture..

The SRT will be hosting a huge campus-wide brainstorming session in November around Olin’s policies, particularly to determine that they align with what students (and faculty and staff) feel is crucial and fair. Look forward also to several October events: bystander training with BARCC, a Title IX and Campus SaVE overview with MIT’s Title IX coordinator, and Honor Board hearing panel pool training.

As ever, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, anything – the R2s and PAs are happy to listen and provide information or advice as desired, the HB is always happy to answer questions about fairness and policy, and CORe wants to represent your interests to the administration.

We Could Be Great

Every year at Olin, a group of 80 people sign a document that is hung by the Wooden Waterfall. And every year at Olin there is at least one Town Hall to talk about what’s on that piece of paper. And, inevitably, every year at Olin what is written is used as a means to address concerns or wrongs that occur on campus – and very seldom used to point out what is right.

Can a list of five values really capture what we want this community to be, and should they be used to frame or limit what can be talked about on campus? Some argue that yes, we absolutely need an Honor Code. It gives us a common language to talk about our community, it can reflect perhaps not who we are now but who we want to be, and it sets an expectation – as a member of Olin College, I will be great. But ‘greatness’ has such a wide variety of meanings to the students at Olin. If my definition of greatness doesn’t align with the Honor Code’s, am I wrong?

There is no safe venue for students to actively choose not to sign the Honor Code. There is no reaffirming ceremony, the Town Hall vote has slipped into symbolism, and when the question of whether or not the Honor Code should be kept comes up there are still those of us that laugh when the few votes of dissent trickle in. Why are you laughing?

Often, the alternative to the Honor Code is cited to be a rule-based system. A list of conduct, rather than a to-your-interpretation set of values. I propose a thought experiment: what if the values were replaced with….nothing? What would happen if suddenly there were no more values, but the Honor Board Hearing Panel Process was still in place? Perhaps campus would erupt in chaos… I tend to believe that things would likely continue the way they were.

From the Honor Board’s perspective, having the values is a neat and tidy way of handling cases and administering a report procedure. But there have been times in history where a report doesn’t necessarily fit into a tidy value – its more messy than that, just as real life always is. By having a listed set of values, perhaps we are limiting what we see as ‘honor-board-able’ actions thus leading to this perpetual state of minimal mediation through the procedure process.

Simply signing a piece of paper does not hold us accountable to ‘follow the Honor Code,’ though it is supposed to lend an air of promise to try to ‘be great.’ Voting to keep the Honor Code at every Town Hall doesn’t necessarily make us reflect on why we feel that way. Simply instituting an Honor Code does not fix or regulate our campus climate, but perhaps that isn’t the point of the Honor Code. Perhaps the focus on using it as a governing, behavior-controlling document isn’t how we should be thinking about it. Rather, perhaps it is a platform for discussing our campus climate. To reflect on personal values, on personal definitions of ‘greatness.’ To share with our community what makes us ‘great.’

The Honor Code is not the end-all be-all. We have the power to change, shape it, demolish it, ignore it, live it. What is the right thing to do?

‘Do Something’ in Practice

We’re all familiar with the ‘Do Something’ mantra at Olin. Ask the person down the hall, the studier in the lounge, or the person sitting next to you to name the values of the Honor Code, and you can be sure that they will at least name Do Something. We see it in the title of emails and the closing sentiments in recruitment propaganda. We hear it in praise of starting awesome activities, sarcastically called out when no one volunteers to take on improvements, and as advice to the first year frustrated with a class or club at Olin. The Honor Board is just as guilty of throwing around Do Something as other organizations and individuals.

These are the actual words to the Do Something value in the Honor Code: “I will strive to better myself and my community and take responsibility for my own behavior. When I become aware of a violation of the Honor Code or an issue within the community, I will take action towards resolution of the situation. I expect others to do the same.”

If we were to summarize, this is basically a call to arms – it’s certainly about addressing personal behavior and actions that have broader impacts, but it is also a call to engage in actively promoting the Honor Code. Furthermore, it is open to interpretation – what does it mean to ‘strive to better my community’ or to ‘expect others to do the same’? If we aren’t actively striving to do these things, perhaps we are all in violation of the Honor Code.

Historically, there have been very few Honor Board cases that have been seen purely as a violation of Do Something. Some of this has to do with the ambiguity and broadness of the clause, and some has to do with the pain of determining whether or not someone was ‘striving’ enough. However, Do Something is called out almost daily. As a congratulations of good deeds, as a broad solution to any problem, as a guilt tactic to recruit the few volunteers we need to run all of the various organizations and events on campus…

Why? As a community, do we really need to be reminded to Do Something (anything) so often? Is there perhaps a reason why we aren’t doing anything?

We’re stretched thin right now. There are, oft claimed fondly, “more clubs than students.” We’re a community that prides itself on the independence and ability of the students to be involved in every aspect of life here: academic, service, social. We take it upon ourselves to load our plates with activities because we think we need to, because they’re ‘good for us’, because they’re ‘good for others’, or because no one else would do them.

We need to stop. As is so treasured at Olin, maybe its time for us to reflect as a community on what it is we ACTUALLY value. The Honor Code is supposed to be a tool to reflect the position of the Olin student body at this moment. The way in which we use Do Something doesn’t necessarily gel with the verbiage right now. Should it?

We all ‘pledge’ to Do Something when we sign the honor code, as written. We’re not signing to have Do Something held over our heads every time an email is sent out. We’re not signing to have to participate in every aspect of Olin culture. However, we are signing to ‘do the right thing’ as the community deems fit. Whatever that might be – participating in student government, meeting with professors to improve a class, helping out peers who have fallen on hard times.

Next time we are asked to Do Something, perhaps we should start asking “Why do we have to?” Is there a good reason that this is being asked? Is this going to better us as a whole? Are we as individuals currently ‘Doing Something’ at the moment?
And next time we tell or ask someone to Do Something, perhaps we should start asking “Why can’t I and why should they?”