Different?

Maybe it’s just me, but if you’ve ever studied in the West Hall 2 antelounge after midnight, sometimes you hear a certain tapping. It’s not a faint ticking, but rather a loud, consistent beating that goes on for hours. It’s happening right now as I write these words. 83 beats per minute. You can tune it out, but it’s still mildly alarming – like someone’s stuck outside where it’s cold and snowing, slowly freezing stiff, waiting for you to prove something or go to sleep.

Tap tap tap or go to bed. To be clear – I’m not here to complain about Olin’s work culture. Work is honestly the last thing on my mind right now. I’m talking about the relentless restlessness of Olin – to prove, to socialize, to care. I still really really love the college and the people and community. But therein lies the problem. Tap tap tap or go to bed. 

Last semester, I wanted to write an article criticizing the criticism at Olin. The lack of empathy, the blatant disregard for one’s own privilege, the excitement of being in a cushion community where students listen when you yell. It all disgusted me. When I saw Olin staff and faculty have emotional breakdowns in the face of disrespectful student criticism, it made me so so angry. 

But I never found the time. Winter Break happened, and my position completely flipped. I was now angry at the administration. I was frustrated with how clubs were being asked to create safe spaces at Olin; spaces that Olin loves to advertise but should be created by the institution in the first place. About how Olin’s administration needs to rebuild fractured trust among students with more leadership, openness, and professionalism.

But the reality is both. We’re a baby school with big dreams striving relentlessly to prove ourselves. An insecure college with small grounds but wide-open skies. A little colony of people trying to establish themselves and softening under the protection of a pressure-cooker community. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

The phrase that makes me shudder the most at Olin is, “Everybody here is -”. So much has been appended to that. Liberal, privileged, burnt-out, anti-capitalist, an engineer, well-intentioned. And the truth is – at least MY truth is – that’s never the case. It’s one thing to have a shared culture, and another to assume unwavering conformity to it. The vibe I feel running through campus runs through us all, but it doesn’t mean we all interact with it in the same way.

I’m not making a revolutionary point here – we’re all different. Period… or not, for your take on this may be different from mine. And a lot more can be accomplished at Olin if this simple fact is culturally recognized.

Some examples:

There is mistrust between students and Olin’s administration. Trust that needs to be rebuilt. And the key insight lies in recognizing that not all students mistrust the administration. Unfortunately, the students with the least faith in Olin’s administration, in a twist of cruel irony, are also the students who need the support of the administration the most. But acknowledging that not everyone has this attitude reduces frustration among students who feel privileged to be at Olin in the first place! Much more importantly, an administration that recognizes this nuance can use it to improve their approach – reducing the burden of advocacy on struggling students, creating structures to proactively be a resource for students, stepping in to break the self-destructive cycle of “Need Information (/assistance/health support/accommodations) Now? Just Ask” – because for many there’s never a “just” to asking.

Or the assumption that everyone at Olin has the best intentions. This is a tricky one, because all the way back from OFYI we’re taught to “assume best intentions”. And that’s definitely a huge part of Olin, an intrinsic piece of our culture. But again, it’s naive to assume this is always true, certainly not in the world, but even at Olin. I have been in situations where people have definitely NOT acted with good intentions in mind, and I have struggled to find ways to deal with those situations simply because I don’t know how to. 

There is a danger to the mindset of “we’re a close-knit community of nice people and we look out for each other”. ‘Cause while a lot of us agree with that, it really sucks for those who don’t. Olin becomes a 4-year long summer camp of trying to fit into your niches, finding your Olin brand, and having a happy, productive time overall. Good vibes only, cause we’ve created something special here in this little innovative school. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

To reiterate: I love this college. I love the people who run it, I love being able to say hi to people I walk by and (mostly) getting a response, and I just feel so gosh darn lucky to be here. Yet, on the days that I’m exhausted and pissed and don’t want to say hi to the people I walk by, I don’t feel like Olin’s got my back. And that would be okay – except I feel pushed from the front by the sheer Olin-ness of things. What do you mean you’re not going to join the laughter in the dining hall but sulk in the mezz of introversion, privacy, and tight friend groups? 

I want to emphasize one last thing before I go to bed. Don’t take this scrappily-written article as the only perspective. My complaints about Olin are by no means important: something that everyone – students, staff, and faculty – need to recognize. The students who this college is harshest on don’t write  articles, buzzing with middle-school energy. The folks who need to be heard the most are the ones who don’t feel empowered to speak up. Listen to what they have to say, be honest and gentle, and create that space. It’s okay to be uncomfortably different. Or disagree with me and tell me about it!