Spaces at Olin

We, as Olin students, are afforded countless luxuries in the form of communal spaces,; the Library workspaces and machine shops being the most obvious examples. Less obvious, however, are places like the Wellness Room in the Campus Center, or Parcel B just behind the dorms. In addition to simply having access to these things, we also have nearly unrestricted access to them. It’s not typical for a college to give their students 24/7 access to spaces like a kitchen, or bike room – both things that I think most of us tend to take for granted.

All of these luxuries exist in the way that they do because of one thing: trust. Trust that comes from a social contract between the stewards who build, maintain, and care for these spaces, and the students who use them. This contract is a simple give-and-take, really. Someone puts their time, energy, and money into making a space the best it can be. In return, they trust that we will respect their hard work. For a while, I thought that this give-and-take worked great at Olin. 

Having recently been hired to help steward a space in the Olin Shop, I have now seen the other side of this social contract. In a very short amount of time, I’ve experienced what must be a fraction of the frustration and confusion that a full-time steward feels when tools disappear, or when a huge mess appears overnight without as much as a note. 

I can now see how continuing to care can become difficult when every day, someone intentionally puts their self-interest above the social contract of trust that we have all implicitly signed. 

The cause of this issue could be explained by the “Tragedy of the Commons” framing. For example, one person decides it’s in their best interest to take a tool back to their dorm. As a result, some tools become scarce for others, instead of a common resource, which leads others to follow suit. 

None of this is to say that every student at Olin treats communal spaces horribly. Overall, we tend to do a good job of respecting rules and guidelines. If we didn’t, places like the Shop or the Library would stop trusting us to collectively respect their spaces. 

This article is my plea to you to hold up your end of the social contract of trust. The next time you need to mill something for a project or do some cooking, think about how you interact with those resources. Think of how you can serve the space, rather than how the space can serve you. Take the extra time to fix a problem or clean a mess, even if it’s not strictly your responsibility. 

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