Sharon O'Leary Talks Wellbeing and Bold Action

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Sharon O'Leary is the college coordinator at Lovett College. She is the first person students meet at orientation week and from that initial meeting, it is clear that she cares truly and deeply about each individual student. For the rest of their time at Rice, students can count on Sharon to be supportive and friendly and know, seemingly by magic, everything that's going on in their life. In interviewing Sharon, I hoped to find out what in her background and worldview led her to become the accepting, nurturing, and intelligent person that she is.

Sharon credits her mom as a huge influence on her worldview. Before Sharon was born, her mom worked as an X-ray technician. At this job, she filled several other positions; essentially, any task that needed to be done, she would do it. When her employers hired a man to take over one of these jobs, Sharon's mom found out that they were paying him more than they were paying her. She then threw her typewriter out the window and they gave her a raise.

After she had kids, Sharon's mom stopped working to stay at home with them. She did not, however, stop fighting against injustice. She was very involved in the anti-war movement and took a young Sharon to protests. Sharon recalls one such protest in Austin where, while the crowd was chanting "one, two, three, four, we don't want your fucking war," a reporter from the national news asked her mom how she, as a mother with small children, felt about the crass language. Sharon's mom replied, "I don't like it very much, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than gunfire." The idea of prioritizing wellbeing above all else rubbed off on Sharon.

As a freshman, Sharon attended a school with very controlling rules that she disagreed with fundamentally. Without anyone's help or permission, Sharon registered herself as a student at the local public school. As she puts it, "there was a whole world going on and they were not part of it. And I wanted to be a part of the world going on." Sharon's transfer sparked a rebellion among the students of St. Agnes; before long, other students were transferring to Lamar without permission.

To this day, Sharon prioritizes caring for yourself and others over doing what is expected. She believes that for young adults, the pressure associated with things like sexuality and grades is unhealthy. She says, "we have to be careful with ourselves and really make sure that we're paying attention to what our needs are and make sure that we don't do something because someone else wants to do something and that it's really what we want to do." Sharon hopes to create an environment on campus where students can feel safe and comfortable acting on their own needs. She does this one student at a time—supporting them and talking openly about issues that she has faced and seen others face. In this way, she shapes the culture of Lovett and of Rice towards a more inclusive and healthy environment.

Editor's Note

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