Community, Not Class

Can you subtract by four? Could you switch out a single word from your daily discourse? Then you, my friend, are capable of making a language shift that will both change Olin’s culture and better reflect who we are. I’m talking about “Community Identification.”
What is this change? Easy. Stop identifying by graduating year, and instead identify by the year you started being a part of the Olin community. For example, instead of saying that the current first-years are the “Class of 2019,” we would say that they’re “Community 2015.”
Why would we want to do this? Firstly, it breaks the barriers between students and alumni in a way that reflects our Olin community. Graduating class identification separates students and alumni in a very simple way: current students have a date in the future, and alumni have a date in the past. The latter implies that alumni have left Olin completely. But just because somebody has graduated doesn’t imply that they are no longer a part of our family; once an Oliner, always an Oliner. Under Community Identification, were recognize how long alumni have been a part of our larger community.
Second, community identification egitimizes alternative student experiences, such as LOAs and withdrawals. For example, I took a semester off, and no longer will graduate in 2016. Although I will technically receive a degree in 2017, I will stop attending Olin next December. To say that I’m a part of the class of 2017 is socially wrong, but to say I am a part of the class of 2016 is just factually incorrect. Most LOAers resolve this by calling themselves “Class of X.5,” but that separates them from their entering community in a weird way. No longer will delayed graduation cause such a class identify crisis. I’m simply a part of the Community of 2012, and when I graduate doesn’t matter nearly as much as that fact.
Thirdly (and I’m sure some people will find this contentious), it can recognize faculty and staff as Oliners. These people, employees of the college, are also part of our community. Students and faculty/staff who enter Olin in the same year have some shared experience, and that should be recognized in our language.
(Some people have pointed out to me that the linguistic difference between faculty and students is useful. I agree! I’m not proposing that we do away with the faculty/staff/student (or even alumni!) community names, just that we adopt them as a part of the larger Olin community. One could identify as “Staff, community 2010” or “Faculty, community 2006.” Or, in the case of students who work here later, they could say “Alumni and Staff, communities 2008 and 2014, it’s complicated.”)
You may wonder what community identification does to traditional class names, like Senior, Sophomore, etc. I’m not saying that we should necessarily do away with these names altogether, but we could, in time, use community identification to replace them. So when people ask you ” what year are you?” you could simply respond with “Community 2013” instead of “a Junior” and people would know how long you’ve been here (which is way more useful that knowing how much longer you have). The terms would probably co-exist, in practice.
This isn’t a perfect proposal. But it’s totally better than Class Identification. It’s unifying language: it recognizes all of us as Oliners. And although it may be awkward at first, switching our language as a community would speak a lot about what Olin is. We’re not just a college, we’re a collection of people that grow every year and interact in new ways all the time.
So let’s stop measuring by endings (that are honestly pretty arbitrary) and instead by beginnings. Try it for a month, see how you like it. Give me feedback on what it’s like for you to use it, and we can modify this approach to fit us more as a community. This can be a living, growing effort, just like Olin itself.
/Thanks to Greg Marra and Marco Morales, who introduced this idea to me last year at SLACfest./

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