Honor in an Avocado Pit

My senior year of high school, self-righteous granola cruncher that I was, I only deigned to submit applications to colleges that were bonkers about “community.” Retrospectively, this makes no fucking sense. What did I think went on at schools that didn’t talk about community on their brochures? Did I imagine automatons strolling to class each morning in a bubble, pushing all the other little robots down on their way? And what did I think made the schools that talked about community so communal? Would they would mirror my 80-student alternative high school, where I attended a slumber party with the whole senior class?

There was something, though, about community as I envisioned it, that pulled me in to places like Kenyon, Goucher, Davidson, and, ultimately, Reed. When I got here I noticed that the senior class does not have a yearly sleepover in Jason Lundi’s basement. Here everyone is a little bit anxious all the time and is always a few pages behind on the reading. Here there is rain and you are always late for class and there is never quite enough time to do everything. But then, community looks different in different places. Here there are rocking couches, and people who make them for everybody else to sit on. There are free bagels, and Night Owls to make sure that everyone gets home safe on Saturday night. Here there are days when you just finished a 20 page research paper and only have three minutes to print it out and get to American Autobiographies, but there are also people who will hand you their umbrella to cover your stack of notes as you run from the Library to the PAB.

When the proverbial rain is falling on someone’s proverbial extremely-important-papers, Reedies are often pretty killer at handing off an umbrella. One group that masters this technique and inspires others to follow suit is the Night Owls. These kind Reedies serve the community by trolling campus on weekend evenings, armed with snacks, water, and a wealth of information about alcohol and drug safety. “I think our program is very much in line with the maxim, ‘Reedies Take Care of Reedies.’ We are one embodiment of the community value that we care about and want to look out for each other,” said Night Owl Coordinator Emma Williams-Baron ’15. Aside from directly offering aid to Reedies in trouble, the Owls hope to “encourage people to take care of each other by visibly demonstrating that we as a community value harm reduction, and we can keep people safer through our direct bystander intervention,” said Williams-Baron. Though the Owls are honorable by profession, regular Reedies are not precluded from engaging with their fellow students in this way. “We're also modeling. . . behavior.  We want our message to be that although we do have training, we aren't doing something that any Reedie couldn't do,” she said.

A key feature of honor and community at Reed is the way people go out of their way to look out for each other in hard times, but equally important are the little ways Reedies push to improve the community every day. The Defenders of the Universe (DxOxTxUx) have an honorable hand in this process, and have a pretty excellent time doing it. This group, that engages with the community by building wild and weird structures to be placed on campus, exemplifies the zany, community-minded spirit that is the core of honor. “We’d like to think that we keep Reed a bit weirder, and that we make campus a more fun place to hang out by having weird stuff around,” said DxOxTxUx contributor Evan Peairs ’16. “Also, having an open club gives people a chance to learn new skills and try building fun things.” DxOxTxUx embodies the highly honorable, and genius, new life philosophy I have adopted as inspired by a recent episode of Parks and Rec (don’t worry, no spoilers). Andy Dwyre’s alter-ego Johnny Karate dictates that each day one should “make something, learn something, try something new (even if it’s scary to you), and be nice to someone.” DxOxTxUx gives Reedies the opportunity to make something, learn something, and try something new, while providing everyone in the community with objects to congregate around while being nice to each other. Not too shabby for a Sunday afternoon of welding.

Williams-Baron agrees that honor can function in unexpected ways. “There are as many definitions of honor as there are Reedies. . . . It's constantly in flux,” she said. But no matter the moment, “keeping an eye out for other people is honorable; the way that it manifests, walking someone home, listening to them rant about their thesis, calling for help if you're worried about their safety, going for a walk in the canyon to de-stress, changes depending on what other people, and you, need.” She has seen this form of honor manifest itself before her very eyes while on the job. “I was Night Owling with a partner one night, and we came upon a group of three people sitting on the side of a path. One of the people was very intoxicated; the other two were their friends. We helped walk the person back to their room. . . . The two friends were planning to stay with the person until morning.  I thought it was very honorable for the friends to take care of the person, and make sure they had the resources. . . to do that properly.”

Opportunities like these abound for Reedies to look out for one another, in big and small ways. Jade Iseri-Ramos ’16 recalls an instance that she learned about honor through experience early in her Reed career. “When I was a freshman, I took intro Latin and really struggled. I spent upwards of 3 hours a day studying vocab, and still ended up with a C- at the end of the year. I remember vividly one night when I was studying at my friend Haley's thesis desk and she asked me what I was studying for. I told her I had a Latin quiz the next day. She responded genuinely, ‘wow, that must be hard.’ I remember thinking, ‘Haley is a second-semester senior, she's in the process of finishing her thesis, and she is still sympathetic to my struggles.’ Haley showed me a type of honor that I rarely see at Reed, honor that recognizes that everyone's hardships are relative to themselves,” she said.

Reedies are Reedies because they are able to recognize honor on campus in even the most lighthearted moments. Vania Wang ’15 recounts a moment when acceptance from a friend left her feeling grateful. “One time my friend Emily Agan ’15, was eating an avocado, and threw out the pit. I didn’t recognize what it was and asked, ‘what did you just throw out,’ and she just told me it was an avocado pit and didn’t even laugh!” said Wang. The definition of honor may sometimes seem elusive, but the evidence of its pervasive existence is apparent in small moments of suppressed giggles.

The concept of honor has a lot of lofty connotations, and rightly so. It is the academic ‘code’ of conduct that denounces dishonesty and the socio-moral one that mandates a call to the CSOs when a person is in a precarious position. Amidst this, though, it is crucial that we don’t lose sight of the other side of honor. The side that exists in the absence of crisis. We would be remiss to forget, or fail to notice, that honor exists in the silly moments when people go out of their way for each other every day. Honor is present in actions deemed quirky, a cup full of Richard Nixon/John Kroger buttons placed on the steps of the library, and those considered inconsequential, such as a knowing glance passed between friends. It encompasses all the small things that we do for one another, even though we don’t have to, just to be nice.

Anyway, what does all of this all mean for you, reader? Well, I recently encountered a psychology study that tested the effects of exposing participants to information about the altruistic acts of others on their own prosocial behavior. The conclusion read: “As illustrated by mass-media accounts of heroic efforts by first responders following the September 11th terrorist attacks, it is relatively easy to publicize acts of moral excellence. Our findings suggest that. . . even brief exposure to other individuals’ prosocial behavior motivates altruism, thus potentially providing an avenue for increasing the general level of prosociality in society.” So guess what dummies, you just got duped! Put down this newsmagazine, go jog to class in the rain and flip through a PDF on your iPad while you run. There is nothing you can do about it now; you will give someone your umbrella.