You’ve Run Out of Free Articles This Month

tl;dr: Publishers are crushing the life out of libraries. They’re undermining libraries’ efforts to democratize access to information and advance learning. You can push back by refusing to be a part of this broken system and deciding to make your own scholarly work more accessible to all.

A few weeks ago, officials in Citrus County, Florida denied a local library’s request for funding its subscription to The New York Times.

“I’m going to be a ‘no’ for this. Fake news. I agree with President Trump,” one of the county commissioners said as he explained his position. “I will not vote for this. I do not want The New York Times in this county.” The commissioners laughed at the thought of paying for the paper, especially digital access to it. One asked, “Why the heck would we spend money on something like that?”

Librarians around the country, including the three of us here at Olin, are alarmed by the implications of this. Should an official’s political views be grounds for deciding what content a library can make available? How about a publisher’s profit margins?

At the beginning of November, Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers in the U.S., declared they’re instating embargos on all libraries looking to obtain multiple copies of new ebooks until eight weeks after their release date, in order to boost paper book sales. 

Imagine there were 20 Olin students who wanted to borrow an ebook copy of Edward Snowden’s new memoir Permanent Record back when it was first released in September. Under Macmillan’s rules, our library could have purchased one e-copy of Permanent Record on its release date, waited eight weeks, then purchased additional e-copies. If, after those eight weeks, we bought three additional e-copies and loaned each of them out for two weeks apiece, this would have cost us $210 (vs. $120 for four paper copies) and there’d still be borrowers waiting to be able to read a digital copy of Permanent Record. If you had to wait three or four months to read something, would you just go buy it, or maybe just not read it at all? (The library does own one paper copy of the book, by the way.)

In the words of the American Library Association, this “limit[s] libraries’ ability to provide access to information for all. It particularly harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues. [Ebooks] can become large-print books with only a few clicks, and most ebook readers offer fonts and line spacing that make reading easier for people who have dyslexia or other visual challenges.” As a librarian wrote in an editorial for Publisher’s Weekly, “[W]hile Macmillan’s ebook embargo aims to squeeze a few more sales out of frustrated library users, it unfairly disadvantages ebook readers who use the library out of need. Equal access to information regardless of ability to pay is foundational to a democratic society and is why public libraries exist.” It may not be as blatantly censorious as what the Citrus County commissioners are up to, but the embargo prevents people from being able to read what they want to read when and how they want to read it.

Macmillan and its ebook policy present a problem to libraries that amounts to censorship by a thousand cuts–or maybe a thousand invoices. By pricing libraries out or denying them access altogether, companies are limiting what people can read and, in the process, creating a user experience so frustrating that many people give up on it. Streaming media platforms are another challenge. There is next to no conversation happening about how libraries can provide institutional access to services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. When librarians try to engage in agreements with these companies, they tend to hear nothing back. We’re so far out of their line of sight because we aren’t profitable. After all, our business model is essentially “take very small amounts of money from people through taxes or tuition and translate it back into lots of free stuff for those same people to use.” Theirs is “charge lots of people quite a bit of money for just enough access to things they like that they keep autopaying their subscriptions.” Doesn’t mesh well.

This is bad because at some point in the near future, the physical media libraries can easily provide access to in the form of DVDs will cease to be a viable option for many borrowers. In early 2019, Samsung announced it was going to stop manufacturing DVD players. We’ve seen Oliners experience the joy of running around trying to find external DVD drives on campus, and we’ve talked to faculty flummoxed by how to provide access to documentaries they’d hoped to show in class. Libraries are already contending with certain exclusive streaming shows and movies never being sold as physical copies. This is only the beginning as we move to an era where DVDs become a thing of the past and theatrical releases go straight to streaming, again creating a division of access based on who has or doesn’t have the $9.99/month for a Netflix account (and the $9.99/month for a Hulu account, and the $6.99/month for a Disney+ account, and the cable subscription for an HBO GO account, etc.).

The bloodiest battle between libraries and publishers of all, and the one that’s closest to home for us at Olin’s library, is happening in access to academic research. Olin pays for access to ebooks and other electronic content, such as databases of scholarly research and online periodical subscriptions. We do not pay a small amount of money for these things to begin with, but virtually all publishers try to tack on an increase when it’s time to renew our subscriptions–not just once every few years, but every year. The percentage growth in academic and corporate libraries’ expenditures on these resources was 673% between 1986 and 2015. That’s not missing a decimal point. Olin didn’t exist in 1986, but if we did, you can bet your buns that our budget wouldn’t have gone up by nearly 700% in the thirty-odd years between then and now.

In the early months of 2019, the academic library world was rocked by the news that the University of California system ended negotiations with publishing megagiant RELX (you may know them as Elsevier) for a new journal subscription contract. This was huge; as a piece from Inside Higher Ed put it, “no [institutions that have tried negotiating] in the U.S. have the financial and scholarly clout of the UC system — which accounts for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s publishing output.” In a decision that took hundreds of opinions and dozens of departments unified in their mission to fight back against the debilitating costs of accessing research and reliable sources, UC brought widespread attention to the matter of price gouging and the importance of open access publishing.

That leads us right into why we should care and what can we do. 

Open access publishing means making research freely available, as opposed to lurking behind paywalls. If you’ve ever maxed out on free stories on a news website or searched our library resources, you’ve ran into these nasty things, tempting you with the contents of an article or ebook only to find it’s in a database we don’t subscribe to because it’s prohibitively expensive for us. To give some context here, Elsevier’s profits in 2017 – profit rooted in the publication of others’ scientific work – were an obscene $1,170,000,000, a profit of 37% over their operating budget. As a response to this extortion, open access takes shape as a commitment made at the college or university level to ensure that faculty or student research is accessible internally for free or in open access journals, or both.

How does this impact your education? Open access furthers research and innovation in all fields, and engineering is no exception. Even if you aren’t doing much research or writing right now, you will if you go to grad school, if you choose to teach, or when you file patents, author white papers, or do other fact-finding projects at work. Unfortunately, we’re very far away from a purely open access world. The prestige of publishing in certain journals combined with the greedy, powerful vendors–can’t live with ‘em (pay through the nose) or without ‘em (kill access to research)–keeps access exclusive and profit margins high.

Any library’s ability to sustainably and easily provide access to quality resources is vitally important to its existence and relevance to its community, but because publishers are so fixated on profits, it’s increasingly becoming impossible. Circling back to ebooks and streaming media, even if you haven’t set foot in a public library in years, think about the good they add to this world. They aspire to offer equal access to information that many individual patrons might not be able to afford, whether it’s in the form of a New York Times subscription, an electronic copy of a hit bestseller, or a handful of DVDs to watch with family over a holiday break. But because libraries can’t foot publishers’ bills, the public is effectively being divided into information haves and have-nots, undoing the work that public libraries have done to democratize access in the past century and a half.

Here at Olin, and at institutions throughout the world, our ability to continue providing access to reputable academic resources is at stake. Would you want to see engineering, computer science, or any other field base its research conclusions solely on what you can find on page one of Google search results? (Be real, no one ever goes past page one.) If subscription costs go up another 673%, that very well could be the future we’ll be living in 30 years from now.

There are things we can do at Olin; we are tiny but mighty and we can set a new example for how to approach this problem. First, we need a refreshed discussion about the importance of open access. Your librarians feel it is our duty to make trusted, reliable content available to our students and faculty. By following an open access policy, we can ensure together that the Olin community, now or in the future, won’t pay for the research generated by its own scholars.

The library also needs community input so we can think strategically and proactively about how to provide the content and resources you need. We need to critically evaluate what we’re paying for now and find alternatives. Over time, our model might look a lot different than what we’re doing today–it might be more time curating open educational resources and less time (and money) spent on managing subscription packages–but librarians can’t make those big decisions or push back against the broken publishing system alone. When you’re ready to join this conversation, we’re ready to listen.

In the meantime, you can help libraries today by signing these two petitions:

Peppermint-Chip Cookies

Recipe modified from https://lilluna.com/peppermint-chocolate-chip-cookies/ 

Makes 36-40 cookies. 

Ingredients:

1.5 sticks softened butter, 3 tbsp warm water, 1 c sugar, 1 c brown sugar

2 eggs, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp almond (optional), 1 tsp peppermint extract (optional)

3 c AP flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and your chocolate (8 oz Peppermint Kisses is good)

Instructions:

1) Cream butter, water, and sugars.

2) Beat in eggs

3) Add in the extract(s)

4) Incorporate half of the flour, the baking powder and the baking soda. Then incorporate the rest of the flour.

5) Fold in your chocolate (in this case peppermint flavored). 

6) Form 1.25″ balls. Cover them in flour. 

7) Set them 1.5 inches apart. Don’t press them down.

8) Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 10 mins.

Eastham Turnip Festival

Editor’s note: Upon request of content from friends with the idea of recipes, Mark Goldwater asked Vienna Scheyer to send him the recipe of the Mashed Turnips they made during their trip to Cape Cod. This story was too good to skimp on, and I asked for more. Prior to making these Mashed Turnips, they had gone to a Turnip Festival. This is their story. 

The Turnip Festival

Tell me more about where it was, when it was, why you attended, and how you all chose to attend this?

As our peers headed home for Thanksgiving break, we decided to embark on a Great American Pilgrimage. This time, though, we elected to break from the storied traditions of our forefathers and head Due East – more specifically, to Eastham, Massachusetts, to the Eastham Turnip Festival hosted by Eastham Public Library at Nauset Regional High School. We expected it to be a small event – we were not sure how many people lived on Cape Cod all season long, and we were even less sure how many of them would spend a beautiful fall afternoon in a high school gymnasium celebrating an underappreciated root vegetable. We quickly had that assumption turned-upside down when saw just how much traffic there was to enter the parking area.

Much like the pilgrims, we arrived at land that clearly was not ours and decided to push forward anyways – we parked on grass a short walk away from the entrance and followed the crowds of fellow turnip enthusiasts into the high school. We were kindly greeted at the door and were handed a schedule and map. Much like the high school itself, the schedule was packed – there were bands playing all day, a juggler performing for literally four hours in the auditorium, a turnip cooking competition in the cafeteria, local vendors, concessions, the “Turn Up Zone For Kids,” turnip games, and probably even more events that we could remember if we had not returned the map and schedule on our way out so the next festival attendees could use it. We started our day by checking out all of these events. At a table among the vendors, we even got to guess the weight of the enormous turnip (note that Google does not provide great results when you try to find the density of a turnip). We are still waiting on the call to confirm that we clearly had the correct value. 

The highlights, however, took place on the center stage (half of the gymnasium) – there we got to experience the blessing of the turnips, the crowning of the turnip king and queen (the library volunteers of the year), and performances from a competition for song parodies with turnip-themed lyrics (hearing a turnip-themed rendition of ‘Wagon Wheel’ was especially painful). There were also opportunities to experience turnip line dancing and a turnip shucking competition. Truly a wonderful day! 

The Turnip Blessing

Please write something here about the experience. Pictures are allowed if you don’t want to write something.

One of the most special parts of the turnip festival happened right at the beginning, with the blessing of a single turnip. A radio host from WGBH took the mic at center stage, held up a turnip with one hand, and with the backdrop of some wonderful instrumental music, freestyle rapped (or recited?) an ode to the humble turnip. We all cried.

Later, when trying to make mashed turnips in our home, we tried to recreate this blessing. While we definitely did not capture the beauty of the blessing we witnessed, we did replicate the emotional depth.

The Mashed Turnips
Recipe taken from The Spruce Eats and can be found by searching on Google, “The Spruce Eats Delicious Mashed Turnips.” Recipe was written by Molly Watson and rewritten by the contributors of this article.

Ingredients:
Blessed turnips, a small amount of butter, and misc. spices.

Instructions:
First, bless the turnips. This is the most important step. We honestly just peeled turnips, cut them into cubes, boiled them for 30 minutes, added a small amount of butter and misc. spices, and then beat the shit out of them with a (washed) nalgene.

@sea_no_dunkin

Like most people who grew up in the greater Boston area, I swear by Dunkin’ Donuts. Drinking coffee anywhere else would not just be fiscally irresponsible and disappointing – it would be an act of betrayal. Being surrounded by Dunkin’ locations was something I took for granted until I decided to take a summer internship in Seattle, where the closest Dunkin’ is in Northern California.

But the Pacific Northwest is famous for its coffee for a reason, and I figured there ought to be a place like Dunkin’ somewhere if I looked hard enough. So I made it my goal to visit as many unique coffee shops as I could afford over the twelve weeks I was in Seattle, and, as you would expect from a smartphone-armed teenager with too much free time, I captured the whole thing on Instagram at instagram.com/sea_no_dunkin (thanks to all of those supportive enough to follow me, and all the wonderful people who dealt with my insistence on always going to a novel coffee shop).

Over the course of the summer, I managed to visit over fifty distinct Seattle-area coffee vendors, which ranged from tiny stands on the sides of roads adjacent to trailheads to massive roasteries that were full of tourists. Of course, the best metric by which to quantify the quality of the coffee I enjoyed was its similarity to Dunkin’ – How similar was the store itself? How closely did the actual drink resemble the iced coffee I grew up drinking? How closely did the customer experience resemble the one I have committed to memory over the years? Of course, no place could actually resemble Dunkin’ perfectly, but different vendors approached Dunkin’ on different axes. Here are a couple of the closest matches:

Aesthetic: Aurora Donuts – As this place was a Dunkin’ location fifteen years ago, it falls squarely into the uncanny valley of DD-like coffee shops. Its vaguely familiar (and mainly empty) shelving and signage made me feel like I was back at home, though I will admit that the hours-old hot coffee with ice cubes in it in a styrofoam cup that I purchased for just over a dollar did not.

Coffee: Espresso Vivace – This sidewalk espresso bar in Capitol Hill was one of the highlights of my search for a coffee-drinking experience most aligned with Dunks. I’m not sure if it was because of the coffee beans themselves or just because of the ice-to-coffee ratio, but I distinctly remember sitting by the Cal Anderson Park reflecting pool, taking a sip of my drink, and genuinely thinking that it was from Dunkin’ Donuts. 

Experience: Cafe Allegro – This historic coffee shop was hidden in an alley behind a bookstore in the University District. I got to make small talk with the barista about the art that lined the exposed brick walls of the store while waiting for my coffee. After that pleasant conversation, I caught some of a hockey game while finishing up on email, returned my glass, and left. A lot of the folks around me seemed to be doing the same – arriving, staying, and leaving with a purpose. 

Most of the coffee shops I visited fell into one of two categories – either it was a place where the in-store experience started with ordering a drink and ended when you walked out of the door with that drink in your hand or it sat a community gathering space that also happened to sell coffee. But Dunkin’ has a distinct atmosphere centered around providing an almost universally palatable middle ground. I don’t think I internalized this until I, with the support of a dear friend, made the pilgrimage to a Dunkin’ Donuts location inside a Walmart in Madera, CA (thanks for everything, Kyle James Emmi) –  even though it was a truly novel Dunkin’ experience, I immediately felt at home and knew exactly what to do and how to feel, and I knew that feeling was truly unique.  

Most Dunkin’ locations have seating and WiFi, but they don’t usually have comfortable couches to spend a whole day in. I’ve seen local groups get together at Dunkin’ to play cards and have casual meetings, but it is unlikely to be the venue for an impromptu poetry slam.  With drive throughs and on-the-go ordering options, they scaffold options for experiences that center around a physical transaction, not human connection, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel empowered to converse with the barista or a friend. The coffee is not made from carefully selected imported beans, but it’s certainly a step up from the vending machine. 

Of course, Dunkin’ is not the perfect brand, and their stores do not provide the perfect user experience. But this summer-long quest to find a place that reminded me of it serves as a reminder of the importance of flexibility and nuance in a world defined by extremes instead of what fills in the gaps between them. Coffee shops can be powerful ‘third places’ to build communities around, but they don’t have to be – they can be places that meet each customer where they are. The road to success may not be orange and pink, but certainly some of the bricks lining the path are. 

On the Morality of Map Projections

I walked into a coffee shop in Cambridge yesterday and saw one of the patrons wearing shoes with toes order a decaf instant coffee. Decaf. I bet they were the kind of person who still pronounces “.doc” with a hard “d” sound. I stormed out. No establishment that indulges that kind of pleb deserves my business.

We need to talk about map projections. “We” as in society, but specifically Olin, since ye’re the ones most likely to listen to me. I’ve tried warning the people of the MIT—I even bouɡht a stupid amount of soap in a wooden box so I would have somethinɡ to stand on—but they wouldn’t hear. Or rather, didn’t want to.

It seems like everyone these days just uses the same tired old portolan charts that were first pushed on us by Western imperialists four hundred years ago. It’s not because they don’t know better; every cartographer knows in their heart that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s just that they don’t care. This new generation of mapmakers—these millennials—can’t be bothered to think about anyone but themselves long enough to learn that their actions have consequences.

Well, I for one don’t intend to watch society morally degrade around us. I intend to stand up for what is right, what is left, and which one is east. To all of ye college students out there, this is yer wake-up call. Ye can save the world! Ye just need to stop worrying about yer foolish entitled normie maps.

Let’s start with the Mercator projection. We all know about Mercator, and how it is a racist construct birthed by imperialist colonizers and how it was designed to espouse a Greenlandic-supremacist ideology. It’s disgusting how often it continues to be used today despite apparent greater awareness on both the Left and Right of how biased it is toward the Top (i.e. Greenland). Is this really the first thing we want visitors to see when they walk into Milas Hall?

The problem is that the most popular alternative projection is also awful. I still can’t believe that Peters supporters have the Gall to sully the word “alternative” with their foul tongues. They say that they’re only interested in fairness, and that they want everyone to be represented equally on their map, but if you dig just a little deeper, you see the roots of their heinous ideology. That’s because the Gall–Peters projection is actually biased against densely settled areas. If everyone is equal, then why does Australia look over twice as large as India when India is, in reality, over 50 times bigger than Australia? The answer becomes clear when you realize that Arno Peters hailed from notoriously sparsely populated Berlin. Way to check your biases, Arno.

A common substitute is the Lambert cylindrical equal-area. Rumor has it that Johann Lambert felt no shame at littering, and did so frequently.

Okay, so maybe you decide to forgo conventional projections and use an azimuthal one. Psh. Anti-vaxxer. All azimuthal projections are inherently rooted in archaic ideas like the Earth being a flat disc ringed by a lip of ice and at rest beneath a disc of light 50 km across and 5 000 km up that circles the North Pole with a radius that oscillates over the course of a year. And now that people are re-realizing that those archaic ideas were right all along, the government has been using azimuthal projections to mock them and try to cast us back into the dark age that Copernicus started. Anyone who uses an azimuthal projection unironically is complicit in the conspiracy.

And don’t even get me started on oblique aspects. People like to throw up oblique azimuthal equidistant projections and act like they’re so enlightened. Unfortunately, attempts to use the oblique azimuthal equidistant projection to change morality have been common. New Age liberals aggressively push it in their attempt to convince people of their theory of moral relativity. First we tell people to question what’s up and what’s down. Then we tell them it’s subjective what’s simultaneous and what’s not. Then they start thinking they can decide what’s moral and what’s immoral. What’s to stop them from becoming gods? In any case, I oppose it.

But the worst projection of all, literally the embodiment of everythinɡ unholy in this universe, is the Waterman butterfly projection. Waterman used to be cool, but ever since Randall Munroe spilled those beans in XKCD #977, the normies have been all over it. None of them know or care about the historical context. Waterman was beautiful because of that. And now it’s ruined. Thanks a lot, Randall. I was eating those beans.

And there ye have it. I hope at least some of ye will take this information to heart, for the good of the world, and of yer own consciences. Stay flat, comrades. And for the love of Amaat, stop using the Winkel Tripel projection. It’s not cool; you just look like you were born in the nineties.

Horoscopes

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19):

Have you found yourself dreaming about your final projects? It’s probably time to take a break. Try dreaming about dreaming about your final projects instead. It’ll be so confusingly meta that your brain just might switch back to dreaming about sheep, or whatever. Your lucky numbers are 7, 45, and 81.

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20):

Code taking a long time to run? Use that time wisely — don’t forget to let your friends know that you appreciate them by challenging them to spontaneous dance battles. Your (sentient, of course) CPU will jack up its processing speed so that the performance will just end already. (Note: this does not apply if you and your friend are good dancers, in which case a dance battle will have the opposite effect.) Your lucky numbers are 32 and 64.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20):

Something goofed during course registration, and you’re now stuck in ENGR6283: Introduction to Time Travel as your only class for spring semester. That’s okay, and you’re valid! Just don’t cause any universe-ending paradoxes… Your lucky number is approximately 3*10^8.

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22):

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT load leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes into the 3-D printers. (This is because mashed potatoes extruded from a 3-D printer’s nozzle are in fact the tastiest potatoes of all, and you absolutely cannot let this secret be known.) Your lucky numbers are 76, 44, and 39.

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): 

Why did the programmer mistakenly wear a Halloween costume to a Christmas party? Because Oct 31 == Dec 25! Ha ha…ha. (It’s actually because they’ve lost all sense of time and reality. Don’t be like this programmer. Can someone please tell me what year it is? That was supposed to be your lucky number…)

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22):

The approaching snow will not hurt you. Probably. Do not pay attention to the grinning teeth appearing around the O. Do not be afraid to build a figure out of snow. (Do not approach Parcel B.) (Do not look at Parcel B.) (Do not think about Parcel B.) Your lucky numbers are 0 and 1.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22):

Yes, post-it notes count as Christmas tree ornaments. But no, constructing a Christmas tree out of obscene quantities of green post-its probably does not count as Taking Olin Home over winter break. Your lucky numbers are 3, 10, and 19.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21):

You must resist the temptation, perhaps amplified by end-of-semester stress, to doubt your capacity to induce happiness in others. Your lucky number is 1/(1 + jωRC), but I forgot the values of ω, R, and C. (If you guess the correct values, you’ll be *really* lucky.)

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21):

Turkey Day is long gone, but consider treating yourself to a nice hamburger (or whichever hamburger-equivalent suits you) during these trying times. Your lucky number is 0xDEADBEEF.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19):

As final projects approach, you may become weary of the unique scent of the woodshop. Be not deterred. Eau de Euca Board (or whatever you’re using) is a surprisingly sought-after scent outside the confines of Olin, and will grant you numerous successes. Your lucky numbers are 1.5, 3.5, and the square root of 2.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18):

I hate to break it to you, but you should really get rid of that long-dead plant that’s been sitting in your room for ages, its beige once-foliage blending in with the décor. It’s never coming back. You should really consider a succulent. Your lucky number is however many hours it took for that plant to die.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20):

In the midst of editing your NaNoWriMo novel from last month, you will realize with a start that all those typos, grammatical errors, and discontinuities are pointing towards *something*. But what? Be determined. Do not give up the fight to interpret yourself. Your lucky number is 40,001.

Penny for a Thought

Welcome back to Penny for your Thought. Topics are overrated, but you are allowed to think about what the thought might be in reference to. Submit a Thought (not a Thot) if you wish. Also, the form was updated, and you can find out how in its description. 

Form can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/

FSPennyforyourThought

“My favorite movie is Big Fish because it is a unique story with amazing cinematography.  It celebrates stories, imagination, love, and seeing things in different ways! It gets me right here (points to heart)!” 

– Adva, Staff

“I’m thankful I have enough time in my life to think deeply about my values” 

– Anonymous, Second Year Student

“No matter where you land on the political spectrum, The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein & Charles Murray is worth a read. It discusses the relationship between socioeconomic status and intelligence, equality of opportunity, and the consequences of large scale migration. If you’re interested, it’s pretty easy to find a free PDF online.” – Anonymous

“Speed Racer” 

– Anonymous, Third Year Student

‘IF THINGS WERE A LITTLE DIFFERENT YOU WOULD DIGEST YOURSELF THROUGH A CUT IN YOUR MOUTH. IT’S A RELIEF TO KNOW THERE ARE PROVISIONS AGAINST THIS.’ – Jenny Holzer” 

– Anonymous, Third Year Student

“The following is an email that I sent to my sister in 2006. She replied to it last week/13 years later. Unrelated second paragraph included for my own on-brand-Librarian time capsule lolz.

‘I have one final left, in two and a half weeks. The rest of that time I plan to spend reading books and seeing blockbusters. We saw Mission Impossible 3 last night and if you do anything in life, it should be to see that movie. It’s all that you could ask for in a movie.  There’s even a scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman beats up another Philip Seymour Hoffman!!!

My new form of procrastination is Wikipedia. They have EVERYTHING on there. Today I won a fight about zorses, in that they do exist. Wikipedia proved it. I LOVE Wikipedia.’

2019 notes: I still all-caps LOVE every Mission Impossible. If you want a truly terrible Mission Impossible movie, just watch Hudson Hawk (but don’t).” 

– Maggie Anderson, Staff

Why I Love America

It is far too easy when discussing politics to get dragged into the dirt. To have your view muddied and dirtied until you see only the negatives. This is not necessarily a bad thing. How else are we to try to improve what is broken? But it is a limiting perspective. The news doesn’t help. We read of tragedies and crises, peril and hatred. This series of articles has been no different; we’ve viewed the future of America through a lens of partisan conflict and thinly disguised bigotry. But that’s not the whole story. So for this, the final article in my series, I want to leave you with something different. I want to tell you why I love America.

Because I do love America. Truly, deeply, and with all my heart. It is my home, from my birth until my death. There is no place else I would rather live; no place else I hold in higher regard. I do not hesitate to say that the United States of America is the greatest country on the face of the earth, and it is with nothing but the utmost pride that I am able to utter the words “I am an American.”

There are many things that make America as amazing as it is. Our devotion to liberty, our history as the world’s oldest and most storied democracy, and our breathtaking national parks. Today, however, I want to focus on one thing in particular, that which this whole series has been about: Diversity. America is perhaps the most diverse nation to ever exist in the history of humanity. We comprise people from around the globe. Within a matter of decades, the third-largest country on earth will be a majority-minority country. This is unprecedented in the history of humanity.

Of course, America is by no means a perfect country, nor would I ever claim it to be so. But as we’ve discussed, so many of these issues can be traced back to our diversity. It is the price we pay, but it is a trade I would take any day. One of my biggest pet peeves is liberals holding up European countries (especially Nordic countries) as examples of superior countries. “Why can’t we have healthcare like Sweden?” they ask. “Why can’t we be more like Norway?” they ask. Certainly, these countries are not bad, and their policies are indeed great, but the implementation of their policies is facilitated by their homogeny. These are not diverse countries, and they would not be the same today if they were. It’s easy not to be racist when there is no one to be racist to. It’s not uncommon in European politics to see far-right parties embrace universal healthcare, but to do so in conjunction with strict immigration policies. The message is clear: universal healthcare, but not for brown people. Do not mistake liberal policies for liberal attitudes. The European migrant crisis of the last decade has laid this all clear. The sudden appearance of millions of people from North Africa and the Middle East was met with a surge of far-right parties and the near implosion of some countries (*cough* UK *cough*). Racism is a problem of exposure to diversity, and no country has experienced as much exposure as the US. 

It can sometimes seem as if the US lags behind the rest of the world, but in reality, the opposite is true. We are pioneering the future. We are creating a truly global and accepting country in a way that no one else ever has. Yes, our policies are often less progressive than other countries, but as I have already mentioned this is due to our diversity. Healthcare, gun control, zoning policies, abortion rights; all of it is deeply mired in our struggle with diversity. 

The path is not an easy one. The election of Donald Trump should make that clear enough, but America has persisted in the past and will continue to do so today. Our history is one defined by progress in the face of hardship and bigotry. I have faith that America will emerge from this episode stronger for it; that we will continue to lead the world. I understand how hard it can be to be hopeful in these times, but I implore you to try. We are moving forward as we always have. We have no national language, no state religion. American is not an ethnicity, only a nationality. One defined by your capacity for freedom and acceptance. The Great American Experiment of our founding lives on but in a new form. No longer is it just about democracy; democracy has proven itself around the world. Instead, it’s about democracy AND diversity. It’s about learning to break down the barriers between peoples and build a nation in the image of a truly global community. 

This is a journey we take together. Not all those who express hatred or bigotry are beyond redemption. Nor should we seek to cast them out or proclaim them as nothing more than ignorant racists. They are folly to the same vices that afflict us all. Jealousy and envy, fear and anger. They are just as American as anyone else, and we should treat them as such. Don’t just lambast them for their disagreements; instead, help them to understand. We all share the same goal: To make America a better place. For all our differences as to what exactly this might mean, we all do so with the same reverence and love for the concept that is America. 

I leave you with this. While diversity might be the source of our hardship, it is also a source of our greatest national beauty. Even when times feel dark and it looks as if we are sliding backwards, I urge you to remain hopeful. The path we walk is treacherous, and we will never emerge unscathed, but I never doubt that it is the correct path. It is with unwavering faith that I can say “I love America.”

My Story: Being Trans at Olin

You have all heard in vague terms about the transphobia present at our school in the form of a list of demands, but I want my personal story to be heard. This article has no agenda and this isn’t a call to action. If you see me around campus do not thank me for writing this or tell me you didn’t realize. I just want to give people a window into how this has affected me as an individual, not me as a co-writer of the call to action, not me as a member of a group. Because this issue is important and it’s personal. First and foremost I have felt unheard, and I refuse to let those feelings consume me.

It all started when someone I considered a close friend began to manipulate me with transphobic beliefs as I was in the process of coming out. I confided in her about my dysphoria, and she shot me down in a way that was framed to be for my own safety but really just taught me that what I felt about my own body couldn’t be trusted. I began to internalize the feeling of not being worth listening to, feeling isolated by my identity because what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I should do, and I became depressed. I went to her because I saw her as someone who would believe me and would speak against the societal norms that told me I couldn’t be who I thought I was. Instead she just increased my feeling of isolation without me even realizing it. I felt a need for her approval and wanted her to like me, despite her showing generally little respect for me. I found other people to talk to about my gender with and came out more publicly, but I still have trouble accepting that my friends are going to believe and listen to me.

After many more incidents with her involving me and my friends, I realized how she had manipulated me. During an appointment with a Colony Care therapist where I attempted to discuss what happened and how I felt because of it, my therapist showed me that the adults in my life would not believe me. She told me that it was a misunderstanding without even asking for my side of the story. When I interrupted her to tell her the very serious things that had happened to me and my friends, she put words in my mouth and said I “suspected” that the harasser was transphobic. She continued on to tell me multiple times that this is the real world, and that we should have more discussions with our harasser. This left me in a state of panic. I felt so small and insignificant, as if my feelings did not matter even within the context of my personal therapy appointment. I then spent the next three months without a regular therapist while dealing with all of this.

At the same time, all summer while working on campus I felt like my voice was being heard just enough to placate me but not enough to change anything. I felt like I was being humored so that I would shut up, and I had to fight to be taken seriously. Nothing was changing no matter how hard I pushed, no matter how unsafe I felt, no matter how much it got in the way of my ability to do my work. My feelings once again did not matter.

These repeated incidents of being unimportant and small have deeply affected my self-esteem. When I am having a hard time (which is frequently), I struggle to feel worthy of help, and I struggle to feel like I can give any valid contributions to conversations. I still struggle to believe that I was harrassed “enough” to warrant feeling as bad as I do. Even as I am writing this article, part of my brain is telling me that I am making this up and that it’s my own fault I feel this way.

I feel like I am simultaneously tiny and taking up too much space. I have nightmares where I am trying to communicate with a close friend but they keep raising their voice and not hearing me, until I am screaming at them and they get upset that I am yelling. There is no balance between feeling unheard and being “too loud.”

I had to drop one of my classes and frequently miss my other three because of the emotional energy it takes to walk out the door or do my work. I sit in my room and take care of myself in the ways I know how to, and I get off campus as much as I can, but in the end I have to continue to be a student here, and I am pissed that my opportunity to learn was taken away from me. All I want to do is dig myself an appropriately deep grave in POE, hang out with my friends, and learn math, and my passion for those things is gone.

Institutionally, things are getting better. But I know that as things change here, as the school continues to listen to their students and do what is right, I will also continue to be traumatized by what has already happened, and these ideas that have become ingrained in me will take a long time to unlearn. It will be a long and hard process to make all of the changes we are hoping for in order to turn Olin into the place we know it can be. Yet even if those changes were instantaneous, I would still be here feeling the real-life effects of being ignored.

Aside from the actions we take, we need to heal as individuals and as a group. Olin is supposed to be a space where we all feel safe and accepted, and it will take work on all of our parts to get there. That comes in the form of showing support for the efforts we are making to change Olin policies and practices, as I have seen so many of you do, but it also means finding ways to allow people space and time to heal while still including them in the broader community. I’m not sure what that means or how to go about doing that, but that is for all of us to figure out.