OPINION: Shanahan wall highlights need for Harvey Mudd admin to improve communication

A photo of a large, black board wall outside with messages written on it by college students. Some of the messages include “DO BETTER,” “HMC’s neoliberalism directly undermines the mission statement,” “Bragging about ROI [return on investment] demonstrates our unfailing commitment to amoral wealth.”
A Harvey Mudd College student wrote on a wall on campus “Do Better” in response to concerning changes in HMC’s residential life policies. (Kyle Grace • The Student Life)
“TELL ADMIN: STUDENT WELLBEING ABOVE LIABILITY CONCERNS.”

The words glared out at me from a large chalkboard along one staircase of Harvey Mudd College’s Shanahan Center late in the afternoon on Sept. 23. The building, commonly known as Shan, is where the HMC Office of Admissions, Office of Financial Aid, Office of the President, Department of Mathematics and many classrooms are located.

As I walked past the chalkboard, I felt extremely unsettled. 

Though I had only been on campus for a few weeks, I had already heard about the intense workload at HMC and the numerous jokes about students’ work-life balance, or more accurately, lack thereof.

A few days later, I noticed that students had added comments in response to each other and also brought up a multitude of other topics.

“DO BETTER”

“HMC’s neoliberalism directly undermines the mission statement”

“What neoliberalism? Why are you angry? I’m here bc of financial aid.”

“Bragging about ROI [return on investment] demonstrates our unfailing commitment to amoral wealth”

“# OF WOMEN IN CS [computer science] ≠ SOCIAL CHANGE”

“ALCOHOL EXISTS”

“DON’T STRIP OUR CULTURE”

I was shaken. The students who had written these words were clearly upset about many on-campus issues, ranging from the way administration has been handling student wellbeing to HMC’s mission statement, and were voicing their concerns to administration and the rest of the community through one of the only means they found accessible: the Shan wall.

After seeing the wall for the first time, I expected HMC administration to send a simple email to the student body stating that it had noticed the writing on the wall and describing how it was going to approach the issues highlighted.

But almost two weeks have passed since the first words were written on the wall. The weekend of Sept. 27 to 29, the HMC Board of Trustees was on campus and most likely saw the wall since it has such a prominent position on campus. 

In the past few weeks, other students have added more phrases to the chalkboard. It seems like every day, there are more opinions brought up on the wall.

Still, HMC administration has stayed silent. And that’s appalling.

Topics like student wellbeing are difficult to address, but that doesn’t mean that administration can just sweep them under a rug.

For me, especially as a first-year, it’s been frightening to see such a lack of communication from administration when I know so little about the school. The lack of transparency makes me wonder about what else I don’t know and what I’m really getting myself into for the next four years. I want to attend a school where I know I will be supported, mentally and emotionally.

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Though it’s true that students have been voicing conflicting opinions on the wall and that the reasons behind these comments are not completely clear, HMC has had many problems with student wellbeing in the past.

In particular, the Wabash Report conducted in November 2015 on the impact of HMC’s curriculum, workload and Honor Code on students was leaked to TSL in March 2017. It revealed that HMC’s “workload was challenging and, more importantly, unending.” Upon release of the leaked report, students held protests and classes were canceled for two days.

In fall 2017, HMC conducted a Workload and Health at Mudd study, which revealed that “assuming a full course load — which represents between five to seven courses, depending on class year — respondents are spending more time on their studies (45.5 hours per week) than they might at a full-time job,” according to the executive summary. 

In the years following the release of the Wabash Report, administration and faculty have been working on a review of the HMC Core Curriculum, which was identified to be one of the sources of the over-the-top workload at HMC.

And in light of the events of spring 2017, HMC president Maria Klawe told NPR, “One of the things we heard from some of our more vocal student critics was: You’re not engaging us in the dialogue about trying to find solutions. So we’re having a number of meetings over dinner and over lunch [to discuss] mental health, work-life balance and diversity and inclusion.”

So, there’s no excuse for the silence on administration’s part on the topic of the Shan wall.

I’m frustrated. I wish someone would say something — anything. HMC administration needs to reprioritize and put students (who are the entire reason why HMC even exists) at the top of the list, and the first thing it needs to improve is communication. 

Ask for student input, actually listen to what we have to say and tell us about the changes and initiatives that have been made. Don’t keep us in the dark.

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is from San Jose, California. As one of the HMC Class of 2023 Presidents and someone who often finds herself under lots of stress, she is genuinely concerned about student wellbeing at HMC.

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