Trans Rights at Olin: A Call to Action

Please note: this article has been collaboratively written and has no primary author. The “we” statements contained each only apply to some of us, and some authors are unnamed due to fear of retaliation.

Over the course of the past year, many transgender students at Olin have been actively threatened and harassed. When this was brought to the attention of Olin’s administration, those students were ignored. As trans students, alumni, and allies, we can no longer trust that the Olin administration will stand by us and keep us safe, so we write to discuss what needs to change in order for trans people to exist in this community. We hope this article leads to productive, honest communication and meaningful action to protect those of us who are trans. We came here to learn, and we are deeply disappointed that Olin has failed to prevent multiple forms of violence against us that have obstructed our education, in some cases to the point of impasse. We truly love this institution, and we want to be safe here. We are ending our long silence because we urgently need action.

Over the past ten months, several trans students have been targets of harassment. This article is not about those actions, and we will not discuss anyone involved. For everyone’s safety and confidentiality, we are exclusively discussing our own experiences and feelings about Olin’s response to what happened, or lack thereof. We are carefully avoiding giving any information that could identify anyone involved, and we implore you not to identify or retaliate against anyone in any way. This article is about Olin’s mishandling of our case, not about any person involved or the details of any case.

Over six months ago, several of us reported harassment to Olin through R2s, professors, Student Affairs, and the former Title IX coordinator. After many mediated conversations failed to stop ongoing harassment, we attempted to find resolution through the Honor Board. Under the Honor Board policy, “Absent extraordinary circumstances, a Hearing shall be held within sixty business days of a Report being submitted.” Olin’s administration chose to halt our honor board process without holding a hearing or providing written explanation because the case escalated “above the Honor Board.” They then failed to provide us with any alternate process until months later. During that time, we continued to experience and report increasing harassment.

Transphobia takes many forms, but our experiences specifically involve targeted, persistent harassment from a TERF. For those who may not be familiar with that term, we want to outline the principles of this ideology and why it is so actively harmful to the Olin community. TERF is an acronym that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical “Feminist,” who occasionally refer to themselves as “gender critical,” “radfems” or “radical feminists.” The core belief of this group is that transgender people (those of us whose genders do not match the sexes we were assigned at birth) are somehow going against feminist values by simply existing.

This is a radical and hateful ideology. It aims to blame institutionalized misogyny on groups like nonbinary people and trans women who in fact suffer from extreme forms of that same gender discrimination, in addition to other transphobic violence. The narrative that the trans community is somehow misogynistic simply by existing has been fabricated by far-right hate groups to attempt to pit marginalized people against each other, and hearing that lie repeated on this campus by students and administrators shocks us to our core. The history of the trans rights movement, like the feminist movement, has always been rooted in dismantling the same restrictive gender norms that hurt all people. Radicalized TERFs focus their anger towards trans people, often leading to widespread misinformation and violence. Through their common desire to prevent trans people from existing safely and comfortably, they have amassed a surprising amount of institutional power from far-right hate groups and transphobic philosophy researchers. Other marginalized groups like asexual and bisexual people have also been targeted by TERFs. Olin’s failure to stand up against TERF ideology exists in the context of a larger failure by the academic community to recognize and dismantle institutionalized transphobia.

Often radicalized ideology is not immediately recognizable. It can be packaged as activism; it can be subtly integrated into humor (like jokes comparing trans people to objects); it can be spoon-fed to unsuspecting people, starting with a single experience (“this is how I feel”) and then slowly built into an ideology (“this is how the world is”).  We have begun to hear people repeating elements of TERF ideology on this campus, and it is horrifying that the same arguments used to target us are spreading to others. Trans men are male, trans women are female, and nonbinary people are nonbinary. We refuse to be vilified on this campus or anywhere else.

After a series of continuing incidents, some of us were able to receive very limited protective measures. We were told that any violations of those measures could lead to disciplinary action. Those measures were violated repeatedly, which we reported. Olin repeatedly modified the protective measures we received to retroactively allow the forms of harassment we experienced, even when that harassment escalated. By making these changes, Olin actively gave permission for our harassment. This continued over the summer for some of us who were on campus.

Throughout our meetings with the Interim Title IX Coordinator, Rae-Anne Butera, we requested a clear process to submit a single Title IX report from multiple complainants, and still have not received an explanation of how that process would work (except that Olin would prefer we keep our reports separate, and that eventually, some process might exist). Months later, we know of no such process, and most of us would no longer be comfortable submitting a report after such an extended period of retaliation. Even in writing this letter, we fear that Olin may retaliate against us again. We regularly requested stronger protection measures as situations escalated dangerously close to physical violence against us, and were denied every single measure we requested. We frequently reported ongoing harassment, and the incidents we reported were trivialized. We were told that we “[did] not need to feel physically unsafe,” while we were actively being threatened and while Olin was doing nothing to prevent this. 

Worse, the Interim Title IX Coordinator repeated the same transphobic language our harasser used. In one finding, she seemed to deny that transgender women are female, which is inaccurate and offensive, and found it was a violation of Title IX and referred an investigation against a transgender woman to external investigators for stating otherwise. We have observed and reported a pattern of harassment that makes us feel unsafe—by the very administrators who should be protecting us. Our reports regarding these incidents have been ignored, and some of us have been treated as suspects for referring to our harasser’s behavior as “transphobic.”

The Title IX process forced us to relive our trauma repeatedly. Our harasser continued violating protective measures and we reported those violations. Each time we asked for an investigation into these violations, we were denied a clear response. We are curious what the point of a protective measure is without any enforcement, let alone any process to determine if such a measure has been violated. Each time we reported these violations, we were asked to describe each incident in extreme detail again, reliving every moment, and then denied any changes to make us safer.

Olin is currently ignoring reports of ongoing incidents, ignoring reports of retaliation by our harasser, and ignoring reports of retaliation by Olin administrators. Not only is that a complete abdication of Olin’s responsibility to protect students from existential threats, it is in direct violation of Title IX.

While all of this was happening, some of us sought support through Colony Care. We are incredibly grateful to have access to therapy, which is a crucial resource. Unfortunately, many of the therapists at Colony Care had no training or background in working with LGBTQ students. One therapist made some of us feel incredibly invalidated. She compared instances of hostile harassment to a minor disagreement among friends, and repeated the same TERF rhetoric we were harassed with at Olin. She eventually made clear that she was seeing people who were being harassed, in addition to someone who was harassing those people. Sharing information about other patients can violate medical ethics standards and patient privacy laws. We are deeply grateful for Director of Wellness Beth Gramptero’s response when we raised this issue. In particular, we appreciate Olin’s new partnership with a provider from The Meeting Point, which has extensive experience working with trans students. We hope that Olin continues to raise expectations with other providers and demands accountability for situations like this.

We were incorrectly told that, under Olin’s policies and student privacy laws, we were not allowed to discuss our experiences of this. Throughout this process, we were all repeatedly retraumatized and required to recount the precise details of our harassment countless times, while being pressured not to talk about any of it to anyone outside of the group of people being harassed. The process was needlessly exhausting, and became traumatic on its own. Over the past year, we have had to drop classes and clubs for this, and our grades and relationships have suffered. We have been denied a regular college experience. The crushing weight of dealing with this situation has prevented us from having access to an equal education at Olin.

The pain and burden of the Title IX process has been almost as bad as the original harassment, and it has hurt more because we trusted Olin as a community to do right by us. We still want to believe in Olin as an institution to take steps to correct this, but at this point, we will need drastic measures to right the wrongs and let us begin to heal. We desperately need to be safe so we can focus on the courses, clubs, robots, and people we love here.

We care deeply about Olin as an institution, and we think it’s important that trans students are able to exist here. We have been chased out of similar institutions before. We could just leave. Yet the opportunities afforded to us have been integral to our development, as engineers and as people. In order to pursue an education at a school that boasts such prestige, we are forced to bear our burdens alone. No person should have to feel like this. Olin has always been structured in a way where students should come first, and has succeeded at that goal in many ways. We appreciate the fact that we even have the freedom to say this, but we are demanding change. Olin has given us so much, but the fact that we have to constantly live in a state of anxiety about something that has nothing to do with why we came here is heartbreaking. We hope the community will support and stand with us, because that’s the only way we can keep going.

This article is a call to action. Olin’s administration needs to hold itself accountable and create policies and meaningful action to stop harming trans students. This letter is specifically about trans people, but there are many other marginalized groups being neglected as well.  Currently, our administration is not delivering on its promise to the student body to do their jobs fully, quickly, and compassionately, and to Do Something—a promise that we, as students, agree to in the honor code. Our school has no formal harassment policy to process hate speech, intimidation, or harassment that targets marginalized people. It has happened here, it still happens here, and it is currently happening here.

While the administration is trying to rehire a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator, that is not enough. Olin needs to hire a Title IX Coordinator who is independent from the institution as a whole. Giving StAR control of the Title IX process is a severe conflict of interest. As students, we expect the Title IX process to be taken seriously. The goal should be to hold those responsible for any Title IX incident accountable, even to the possible detriment of Olin’s reputation, which, by definition, conflicts with a majority of the responsibilities that StAR takes on. We have watched this conflict of interests lead administrators to manipulate us, deny us relevant information, minimize our safety, and avoid taking any meaningful action. This necessitates two separate positions held by different people: a Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion who is a StAR employee, and a separate Title IX Coordinator. It’s also crucial that Olin hire a Deputy Title IX Coordinator, so Title IX can remain fully independent of Student Affairs regardless of job changes. We demand safety and accountability as a minimum baseline (as does the law).

We also need recurring sensitivity trainings for faculty and staff, including trainings on how to spot hate and “Do Something” to keep students safe. We need comprehensive, up-to-date education about gender diversity and inclusion, every semester, for both the student body and faculty/administration. Students who threaten physical or emotional violence towards trans or other marginalized students should be expelled. Olin is small and tight-knit. Our people are our culture. Every single individual here defines that culture, which means that any radically violent person can sour the culture that is so precious to us. Without accountability, we cannot preserve the special trust we enjoy as a community. Neglecting to remove these people, and turning a blind eye to the hatred they foster, will cause their violence to create new standards for day-to-day life at our school. Especially in the present political climate, it is of the utmost importance that Olin publicly condemns transphobes, including trans-exclusionary radical “feminists,” and other radicalized hate groups, and makes clear that hate has no home here.

 

For you, the students, we ask that you maintain alertness and look for ways to support the trans students around you. Challenge notions that seem transphobic and have deeper discussions with those around you. Educate yourself by reading online sources or watching videos from trans people—or talk to a PA; they’re a fantastic and deeply knowledgeable resource. Be aware that there is misinformation online, in books, and even on campus, so it’s crucial to compare multiple viewpoints and think critically. And if you can, please attend and share protests or direct calls to action from trans people. You can also follow up by asking your friends who are trans to share their experiences—just remember to check in beforehand, and try searching online first. Many of us are willing to help you learn more if you ask for consent and make your intentions clear.

We are incredibly grateful for the work certain key faculty and staff have done to try to improve our community for us, but it isn’t enough. Your voice matters here. Thank you for continuing the crucial, never-ending work of making Olin the place that it should be, even when it means challenging the way things are. We hope you will join us in calling on Olin to change. We expect the administration to follow up promptly and begin taking the following steps, which represent the minimum necessary for our safety:

  1. Create an accountable Title IX process that can withstand changes in administration.
  2. Initiate fully independent investigations into what has transpired so far, including into violence against trans students and the mishandling of our case.
  3. Begin providing comprehensive education that prevents future harassment.
  4. Make clear statements of values. Our College must take a stand on transphobic violence on campus.
  5. Take steps to make significant improvements to daily life for transgender students, so we can begin to heal.
  6. Respond promptly to these demands. We also expect complete cessation of retaliation against us for submitting reports or describing our experiences. We ask for a substantive response within two weeks.

Olin’s administration should deliver quick and thorough responses to student concerns about their safety, and student demands for a better Olin. To see our proposed methods for achieving the changes we demand or express support, please visit https://olin.repair/. Our list of demands is not comprehensive, but it is urgent.

If even a single student feels comfortable sharing a worldview where transgender people are inherently liars, predators, manipulators—people who should not exist—the entire student body suffers. Olin’s refusal to act has allowed just a single student harboring this line of thought, consistently disregarding all barriers erected by students and the school alike, to push this toxic ideology to Olin’s most vulnerable populations, making over 10% of a current class at Olin suffer emotionally, physically, and academically. For Olin’s administration to see a sizable portion of its student body targeted, receive reports from such a large group, and not treat it as a matter of urgency enables this hate to spread. The Olin administration’s unpreparedness to protect our community from hate is not just an oversight, it is neglect. If action is not taken soon, we reserve the right to bring this conversation outside the walls of our campus.

In this current political climate, believing transgender people to be anything other than normal people who deserve to exist and be treated with equal merit is literally life-threatening. Being dehumanized is an existential threat. At a societal level, transphobic ideology shuts us out from shelters, leaves us to die on the streets, and denies us access to bathrooms and healthcare. It makes us targets of physical and sexual violence for having the audacity to ask to be seen, loved and respected as our true selves. To treat transphobic ideology as a harmless opinion, in practice, is to believe that your transgender students do not deserve a safe and fulfilling future. And what is the point of our innovative, cutting-edge college if not to give us a future we can all look forward to?

Sincerely,

Case Zito, Lou Merzenich, Gail Romer, Bo Bowen, Austin Veseliza, Micah Reid, Maeve Stites, Sam Daitzman, Celina Bekins, Alex Hindelang, Mika Notermann, Louise Nielsen

The El Paso Shooting and Home

While it took the white supremacist who aimed to kill the “growing Hispanic Population” 10-11 hours to get to El Paso, he could’ve easily have gone to my hometown of Laredo, which is only eight hours away from Allen, the suburb off of diverse Dallas. If you remember my story slam piece, I’m from Texas. Specifically, I was born in Laredo and now live in San Antonio. Except I kinda live in New England these days as I’ve been at Olin and have worked here over the summers for two years now. 

Sometimes leaving makes me feel like I’m guilty of a crime. When I was in highschool, I left Laredo for San Antonio because my mom got married. He had a job; my mom had just lost hers. It made sense. We didn’t choose San Antonio because it was safer. When I left San Antonio for college, I left to escape “events I can’t speak of sober” that happened at home. Not because Texas was unsafe. I mean it was, for me, but not because I was a documented Mexican-American. 

But the truth is, I went to a safer place for brown immigrants. People are more likely to be massacred at a highly Hispanic city, like the ones I left, than a small white college no one knows about. “Is my city going to be the next location of another domestic terrorist attack?”  is a thought I share with friends and family, even other Oliners. I should feel safe knowing that I’m not in those cities anymore, but leaving the violence feels wrong. I left, I did. But I didn’t bring my family with me. I left them to the coyotes.

They are people leaving violence, seeking asylum and dying doing so. If they don’t die along the way, they are put in concentration camps. They’re being starved, denied health care, left to die, and being sexually abused, again. But don’t forget why they’re seeking asylum. These people (families, children, or whatever you want to call them, just don’t forget they’re humans) are seeking a better place than the ones they’re leaving. I’m not going to detail what they’re leaving or what they’re experiencing because those articles just make me hurt all over. IWhat those who are crossing and those being detained are facing, whether they’re wrong or not, is inhumane.
Maybe the right word for what I’m feeling isn’t guilt. Maybe it’s shame. I feel ashamed for not suffering with everyone else like me. Maybe it’s fear. I’m waiting for the next attack to be closer. Maybe it’s disgust. I’m complaining about American Cheese while so many inexplicable horrors are happening.
I left my neighborhood, but I didn’t leave the violence on the news. I didn’t leave my worry behind. I didn’t leave the desire to be at home. A home currently targeted by white supremacy and over run with fear. Because even as El Pasoans are buying self defense weapons, they’re still afraid.Why would they need to defend themselves if they weren’t? My friends are all sharing posts warning of the next attack even if they’re false because we are all afraid. We don’t even know what to say about this fear, except the same thing over and over again: “It could’ve been us. It could be us.”
I have wanted my family. All this time, I’ve struggled to feel comfortable at this college and at my summer jobs. I was just one of the few like me. I was brown, but apologetic. I’ve struggled between knowing I should be worried about all the things happening in the border but being unable to cope if I was. Maybe if things were bad at college like at home, I’d feel like I found the right place. Maybe if instead of going to therapy to cope with the past, facing my nightmares would feel familiar enough that I could feign comfort.

I have dealt with terrible things often in my life, but my mom has helped me get through them. At college though, I’m alone in processing what events like the El Paso shooting mean. I’m isolated from my family in a time where I want them around me for safety. No matter how many times I video call my mom, that will not change. No matter how good our wi-fi connections are, our phones are incapable of sharing the warmth and hope my mother radiates. 

Last year, when the children crossing the border started being separated from their parents, I could not drag myself out of bed. I could not stop crying. I couldn’t show up to work. During that period, I went to therapy and was talking to my mom. My therapist talked about how maybe my obsession with the safety of these children was because I almost lost my mom several times, but that did not make me feel better. It was only when my mom lied to me that I had a sense of relief. She told me it was going to end soon. Here we are a year later. I knew that it was a lie. I was still able to tell people my mother lied to me and yet feel comfort me as it was the truth. My mom’s lie felt like a prayer. I didn’t ask her to, but maybe she knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it together without her trying to make me feel better.
So here I am, finding myself seeking lies, feeling guilty, ashamed, disgusted, and afraid. I’m not sure if I’m losing myself or growing a thicker skin. I’m just trying to get through college, like you are. I’m not trying to focus on the news and crumble instead of getting a degree. I’m trying to focus on the new problem set and grow, just like you are.
I want to thank everyone who has donated their time by protesting or volunteering with those affected or donating money to charities. Thank you for being public about it and calling those around you to help as well. Doing that makes Olin feel a little bit safer to call home.

Transphobia at Olin

Content Warning: Contains vague narrative descriptions of transphobic violence at Olin.

I don’t talk very openly about my gender on campus. I’m here for the same reasons you are: to learn, be close to people, and plan for a career. My gender and my body’s position in the bimodal distribution often simplified as “biological sex” shouldn’t be relevant to any of that. I’m speaking up because I saw a disturbing pattern on campus last semester, and I’m calling on our community to change. This letter is especially relevant for people who had never met a trans person before me. I want to focus on eigenvalues and spline curves, on core dumps and Parcel B walks and the people I love, but my lived reality last semester kept me from bringing my full attention to any of that. I want that to change.

First, the background: I’m a transgender person. When I was born, a doctor checked “male” on a sheet of paper. Assigning “biological sex” as exclusively male or female is not only a statistically inaccurate abstraction for transgender and intersex people—it makes healthcare worse for everyone. It hurts patients because it encourages doctors to make assumptions rather than think critically about individuals, and it leads to spurious research conclusions. Humans display a wide natural variation in sex characteristics, but doctors and researchers often operate based on assigned sex, which cannot be accurately classified as male or female for as many as 2% of people at birth. Physical bodies are different from gender, which is internal, but variations in both occur frequently and are often hidden.

“Male” inaccurately describes my gender, so I found more accurate language. I’m still figuring out what words best describe me, but I prefer being referred to with the pronouns “she/her/hers” or “they/them/theirs.” So you could say: “Sam is writing an article about their gender” or “Sam really appreciates that you are bringing an open mind to her lived experiences.”

In many ways, Olin has been incredibly welcoming. For most of my first semester, my gender identity was not something I had to think about every day. Many professors asked for pronouns, which was affirming and is a great way to be an ally to trans people. At the same time, I heard a few disturbing categories of jokes that mock trans people in coded ways. I know most of the people making these jokes don’t intend harm, but they make Olin a more hostile place for trans students and that matters more than the intent.

I first noticed a common joke trope: the Man In Dress. I have lost count the times I’ve heard Oliners joke about men wearing dresses. It’s often casual, sometimes in reference to specific comedians’ jokes about trans women. Let’s be clear: trans women are female, and men can wear dresses. If the idea of a man wearing a dress feels wrong, awkward, or amusing to you, it’s because our society normalizes strictly gendered clothing. Think about it rationally: there’s nothing intrinsically “male” or “female” about a cut of cloth. Portraying “men in dresses” as humorous or depraved is not just alienating, social scientists have shown that it provides a cognitive permission structure for violence against trans people. In short, it dehumanizes. In the Americas, trans women have a life expectancy of 30-35 years on average because of the violence against us. In 45 states, the “trans panic” defense is still legal, so arguing that a trans woman is responsible for her own murder (by not conforming to gender expectations) is a valid legal defense. Joking about and mocking gender-nonconformity enables and normalizes the hate that often leads to violence. It doesn’t just make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, it makes the world meaningfully less safe for people like me. It’s also the same language strangers have used before assaulting me in public for my identity, and it hurts to hear that in a place I love.

I also heard more subtle jokes that target trans people for our identities. The thread of jokes about “identifying as a _______,” like identifying as an Apache Attack Helicopter, are specifically intended to mock non-binary identities. Choosing a label for your own gender experience is a historic process that has existed in diverse cultures for thousands of years. For example, Navajo culture recognizes some individuals as both men and women, and reveres those individuals as nádleehí. Genders that are both male and female, neither, or a distinct category were recognized throughout pre-colonization societies in the places we know as Argentina, Australia, India, Italy, Massachusetts, Mexico, and more. Jokes that arbitrarily identify people with objects ridicule the process of choosing a gender label, which has existed for most of recorded history. Language is socially constructed, and you can use whatever gender label most accurately describes your lived gender experience. Jokes about gender “not existing” undermine the validity of all gender identities. All genders are real, valid, and not determined by physical characteristics.

Most concerningly, I noticed a pattern of more direct harassment and inappropriate questions. I’ve been laughed at, mocked, misgendered, and asked what I “am.” I’ve also been asked about my genitals in public spaces at Olin. The summer housing survey implicitly asked inappropriate and irrelevant questions about the medical history and bodies of transgender students. I am very grateful that Seth corrected that survey at the request of myself and many other students. At several public Olin events, I was misgendered directly both by Oliners and visitors. In one case, another student’s family member pointed at my “she/her or they/them” pronoun sticker, read it, and then continued to point and laugh while walking away.

Last semester, an Oliner made a series of public blog posts that explicitly misgendered another student on campus. The posts even accused them of changing identities to somehow avoid “male guilt” and were shared alongside accusations that people choose gender identity labels to pressure others into sex. In a few specific instances, other transgender students and I were directly intimidated for our attempts to argue back against those ideas—we were targeted for arguing for our own existences. I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions. I know of several students still having nightmares because of fear for their safety.  I found that Olin simply does not have an official harassment or bias response policy to cope with situations like this.

It’s not all bad. I’m profoundly grateful for this community’s openness to change and the deeply empathetic support I have experienced from almost everyone here. I’ve heard so many open-minded questions from other Oliners who wanted to understand more about people like me, and I love you all for caring enough to hear more. Thank you.

Please think honestly and critically about the jokes and content you share. You don’t have to police your speech, just ask who you’re targeting and why. We are designing the future of our community and society at all times. When you hear another Oliner making fun of gender identity, ask them to be more respectful. When you hear someone reinforcing unified biological sex as a valid scientific construct, challenge them! You are the designers of Olin’s future culture. Include gender acceptance. However awkward it may feel, speaking up is infinitely safer for people who aren’t transgender than for those who are—and it can be more powerful. If you are not transgender, you can use your privilege to help make space for trans people to exist. We need your help. I welcome any  This is our community to build, so let’s make it inclusive and give every single Oliner the space to question their own identity and feel welcome.

Where Does the GOP Go?

Hello! If you’re a first year, or were gone last semester, this is a continuation of a series focusing on the effects of demographic change on the future of American politics. Check out franklyspeakingnews.com to read previous articles on asymmetric politics and the future of the Democratic Party. 

Today we’ll be looking at the future of the Republican Party in America. Republicans now have more political power than at almost any time in recent history. 

But being in power has a way of revealing and widening political fault lines. You don’t have to look far to find articles prophesizing the downfall of the Republican Party due to their failure to capture the growing number of minorities. 

While this will eventually be a problem for the party, those predicting an impending doomsday are wrong. The mere political presence of ethnic minorities consistently pushes other voters to the right. This action will largely counteract any political power Republicans lose because of an increasing number of non-white voters. 

Instead I want to highlight a specific division in the Republican Party; one that has become increasingly prominent during the Trump era: The divide between social conservatives and the business wing of the GOP. These two groups form the core of the GOP coalition. 

Initially, the shared enemy of communism created their alliance. The Soviet Union, with its state run economy and avowed godlessness was the worst enemy of the religious social conservatives and free-market, small government libertarians. 

The shared enemy allowed them to ignore that their world views were fundamentally incompatible. Is the role of government to ensure individual freedoms through low taxes and deregulation as the business wing believes? Or is it to create a ‘moral’ society by any means necessary. We can look to a classic issue in American politics: pornography. For social conservatives this is something that needs to be contained and banned; a harm to society. For a libertarian this would be unnecessary government regulation; people have a right to make their own decisions. At the extremes, this is an argument about liberal democracy itself. What is more important: freedom or morality?

This division is most clearly seen among political elites and conservative intellectuals. The most recent and dramatic rift has been between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. Armari published a piece online titled “Against David French-ism”. 

He claims to be inspired by seeing a poster for a children’s drag queen reading hour at public library in Sacramento and by the ‘mistreatment’ of Brett Kavanaugh by the left. 

He writes that in the “culture war” the ultimate goal is “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good”. He continues that David French, who represents the libertarian wing of the party, is simply too nice to win this war. By rolling over and allowing, even if not agreeing with, things such as gay marriage, libertarians are failing conservatism. 

A confluence of factors has led to this rift gaining prominence in recent years. The shared enemy of communism died with the cold war. 

The election of Donald Trump has given Republicans a massive amount of political power. However, at the same time, society has continued to shift further and further to the left, deepening the fears of social conservatives. Compounding this fear are two other societal shifts: Diminishing numbers of Americans identifying as Christian, and white Americans continuing to make up a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. 

How will the Republican party react to a browning America? For the business wing this is business as usual. Tax cuts are (theoretically) race neutral; the size of government (theoretically) affects all people equally. But for social conservatives this is a crisis. Looking at more recent year

s, it’s hard not to say that social conservatives are winning out. Donald Trump, while not himself a die-hard social conservative, represents that group. He has shown a personal disregard for the small government principles of the libertarian wing. Instead he has appealed to the growing anti-immigrant, socially conservative sentiment I have previously discussed. 

The biggest sign of this shift in Republican ideology is the story of Representative Justin Amash. Amash is a founding member of the Tea Party: the ultra-conservative republican group that emerged in opposition to Obama’s policies. Amash made headlines recently when he called for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

His opposition to Trump comes from his disagreements over executive power and limits of government. These are the principles on which the Tea Party was founded on, and these are the principles Amash cites. But the rest of the Tea Party turned on him. He was roundly denounced and ultimately, he left the Republican Party. Amash is not a moderate in any sense of the word; he turned on Trump because he saw him as betraying libertarian and conservative values.

In the broader American political context, this is a risky move. By doubling down on social conservatism, especially regarding race and immigration, Republicans have positioned themselves to take full advantage of the backlash to a browning America. 

This is a powerful force that is not to be underestimated.The risk is not losing support from people of color, they never really supported Republicans in the first place. Instead it is white, moderate, voters that present the most active threat. In 2018, droves of white suburban voters (especially women) abandoned the Republican party and handed Democrats a massive victory, even in traditionally Republican areas like Orange County. 

We’ve examined the people, and the parties on their own, but next month we will look at how they interact in the penultimate article of this series. See you then!

A Better Voting Alternative

“Vote for only one.” It’s written on most ballots, on most races, between the name of the race and the names of the candidates. But why is a ballot with multiple filled bubbles void? And what is this “excellence” thing people do at Olin?

To start, the system used by the U.S. and most other national governments is plurality voting, a.k.a. “first-past-the-post”. In this nearly ubiquitous winner-take-all electoral system, each person gets one vote, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Critics of plurality cite various negative mathematical and historical consequences of elections carried out in this fashion and generally hold up instant-runoff voting, a.k.a. “transferable voting”, as a fairer single-winner electoral system that is more conducive to healthy democracy—“the alternative vote”.

But is instant-runoff really better than plurality? Well, yes. But is instant-runoff really the best alternative to plurality? By most metrics, not really no.

Despite the fact that instant-runoff receives by far the most attention and discussion of all alternative electoral systems, there are numerous systems that are far better suited to choose our elected officials than either plurality or instant-runoff. 

To aid in comparisons, let us distance ourselves from real politics and consider a vote for the new state capital of Texas. The five candidates are Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. In this scenario, geographical location is an analogue for political alignment. That is, voters, distributed according to the real population distribution of Texas, will vote for the cities that are physically closest to them.

Figure 0. The map of Texas that will serve as the basis of this discussion.

It’s not immediately clear from looking at it which city is best to lead, so let’s hold an election.

With plurality, it’s straightforward. 23% of Texans vote for Dallas, 17% for Fort Worth, 23% for San Antonio, 10% for Austin, and 28% for Houston. Houston has the most votes, so it wins!

But wait. Is Houston really the best choice here? I mean, for one thing, 72% of Texans voted against it, among them the nontrivial western vote that sees this as the worst option.

For another, Dallas and Fort Worth are practically one city, and if they ran together, their combined voter base would be 40% of the population, enough to handily beat out Houston. 

This is the spoiler effect: when two similar candidates run separately in a plurality election, split the vote, and lose where either of them could have won. The spoiler effect is the most commonly-cited flaw of plurality voting, and there are two common Band-Aid® solutions to it.

In the U.S., we have primaries. That means that similar candidates organize into parties, which then each choose a single nominee to run on behalf of all of them. In our example, Dallas and Fort Worth can team up as a single Northern Party. Taking the western vote, Fort Worth wins the nomination and goes on to the final.

Figure 1. The hypothetical party line with which our primaries operate.

However, in practice (as you may have noticed), such systems typically come to be dominated by exactly two parties. San Antonio, Austin, and Houston also team up as an opposing Southern Party. The South primary nominates Houston by the same pluralistic mechanisms as before. Then, Houston collects a 52–48% lead over Dallas and wins again.

This is kind of an improvement. At least now that we’ve seen the direct showdown between Fort Worth and Houston, we know why Dallas–Fort Worth didn’t win: given the choice between them and Houston, voters chose Houston.

It still wasn’t a very enfranchising election for western voters, though. Those in El Paso didn’t see anyone in the final election that they liked at all.

Beyond that, primaries are problematic for other reasons. They require voters to go to the polls twice each cycle—a biɡ ask for some—and they give immense power over our democracy to political parties, which it’s easy to forget are private organizations.

The other common solution is runoffs, a.k.a. “the two-round system”. An election governed by runoff voting starts off as an ordinary plurality election, but if no candidate earns a majority of the votes (or some other threshold), all but the top two candidates are removed and the ballot is run again (this is called the “runoff election”).

In our first scenario, the two top winners were Houston and, by a slim margin, San Antonio. In the runoff, San Antonio picks up western voters but, unable to win over Dallas and with a smaller core base, loses to Houston 58–42%. The final candidates were different, but the results were the same.

Western voters at least felt more enfranchised in the final election this time. That combined with the fact that runoff systems don’t automatically let political parties choose who ends up on the ballot makes runoffs solidly better than primaries. It still requires of voters multiple trips to the polls, though, and the result was still an eastern extremist.

Both of these issues are corrected by instant-runoff voting. Instant-runoff, as you might have guessed, is an expansion of the runoff system. It allows many runoffs to be virtually held while only requiring voters to ever go to the polls once per election. It does this through a ranked-choice ballot.

First, every voter ranks the candidates from best to worst. Then, a plurality election is held, with each voter’s vote taken as their top choice. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote (or, again, some different threshold), then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes that went to that candidate then go to the candidate that those voters ranked second. This repeats until one candidate has a majority of the votes.

Let’s return to Texas, and assume that each voter ranks the candidates from nearest to furthest. The first vote is the same as our plurality vote, then. The most votes one candidate has is Houston’s 28%, while the candidate with the fewest is Austin with 10%. Since Houston has no majority, Austin is eliminated.

Austin voters are divided four ways on whom they would choose next, with most turning to San Antonio. The new tallies come out to 23% for Dallas, 19% for Fort Worth, 30% for San Antonio, and 28% for Houston. Still no majority, so Fort Worth drops out next.

Unsurprisingly, Fort Worth voters mostly favor Dallas next, bringing it up to 40%. San Antonio’s number rises to 31%, and Houston remains at 28%. Having fallen behind, Houston becomes the final elimination.

Now this is the final showdown voters wanted to see. The two contenders represent a broad spectrum of geography, so while not everyone is completely satisfied, pretty much everyone has someone they at least like a little. Those who had voted for Houston are split, but most of them prefer San Antonio, handing it a 55–45% victory over Dallas.

The process is a clear improvement on plurality and its cousins. The spoiler effect is practically eliminated, as one of a pair of similar candidates will always be eliminated before the other. Because every voter is effectively consulted on every elimination (without requiring them to turn out multiple times), voters should feel more enfranchised, and the resulting candidate should better represent the whole of the population.

It’s still not the best answer, though. What if I told you that Austin, prior to its early elimination, had 49% of second choice votes? Or that San Antonio is actually farther from the average Texan than Houston? While instant-runoff is intuitive and spoiler-free, it’s far from mathematically sound.

A more advanced ranked-choice system is Condorcet voting. This is technically a family of electoral systems that includes Schultze, Ranked-pairs, Kemeny–Young, and others.

In a Condorcet election, the winner is the candidate who would beat every other candidate in a one-on-one election, if such a candidate exists. In the uncommon event that it doesn’t, the winner depends on which Condorcet algorithm is used.

Final tallies in Condorcet voting take the form of matrices: for each candidate i and for each candidate j, how many voters prefer candidate i over candidate j, or equivalently, by how many votes would candidate i beat candidate j? The answer is

i, j D. F. W. S. A. A. H.
D. 0% +2% -9% -20% -5%
F. W. -2% 0% -12% -19% -4%
S. A. +9% +12% 0% -54% -17%
A. +20% +19% +54% 0% +33%
H. +5% +4% +17% -33% 0%

The only city with no negatives in its row is Austin, so this time, Austin wins! At last, we have the one true capital of Texas. I didn’t want to spoil it earlier, but Austin is actually closer to the average Texan than any of the other contenders, so this is the best choice in my opinion.

So does this mean that Condorcet is the better “alternative vote” for which we’ve been looking?

Well, it still has its issues. Most importantly, it’s on the complicated side. It didn’t take as long for me to explain as instant-runoff, but expressing the final tallies did require tabular formatting.

Plus, there’s the question of what to do when there is no Condorcet winner. It’s very uncommon—I didn’t see it in any of the 51 simulations I ran—but it does happen. As I said, each algorithm has a way to select a candidate in that situation, but they’re all different, and most of them are themselves pretty complicated.

Then there’s Arrow’s theorem, which basically states that no ranked voting system can be both fair and logical, but that’s a whole discrete analysis rabbit hole I don’t want to fall into.

What if I told you that there was a third alternative about which almost no one talks that consistently achieves the same results as Condorcet, brings back the simplicity of plurality, and always has an unambiguous winner?

This is score voting, a.k.a. “range voting”, “point voting”, “evaluative voting”, “utilitarian voting”, “libertarian voting”, or “capitalism voting”. Score voting is simple and intuitive: each candidate is rated, say, from 0 to 10, and the candidate with the highest average score wins.

Running the Texas election again, we now assume each voter rates the candidates linearly by distance, normalized so that each voter gives at least one 0 and one 10. We now see Dallas get a 4.5/10, Fort Worth 4.4/10, San Antonio 3.8/10, Austin 5.5/10, and Houston 4.3/10. Austin wins again. Even though next to no one would place Austin as their first choice, it’s the one city that everyone can agree is a little bit better than average.

Despite the fact that score is way simpler than Condorcet, they usually get the same answer. In my simulations, whenever they disagreed, it was because score chose a smaller, slightly more central city. That results from the fact that score takes magnitude of voter preference into account while Condorcet knows only polarity.

Score is, in many ways, the ultimate electoral system. Still, there’s one last alternative about which I would like to talk: the special case of score voting where the fineness of the ratings is reduced to two levels, 0 and 1.

This is approval voting, or as we call it at Olin, excellence voting. Approval can be described as plurality with the one alteration that voters are free to vote for as many candidates as they like. The candidate with the most votes (the highest predicted approval rating) wins.

The points in approval’s favor are very different from those in score’s. In approval voting, voters can no longer express the magnitude with which they like or dislike candidates; only whether they approve or not. This reduction in information often leads to worse results.

In the case of Austin, its distance from the other major population centers is such that a handful of people like it a lot, and a lot of people dislike it a little bit. That’s what enabled it to rise above 5/10 last time. In approval, those preferences become pure likes and dislikes, pulling Austin down to 43% approval. The other cities, which polarized more evenly, fare similarly to as they did with score: Dallas gets 46%, For Worth 46%, San Antonio 34%, and Houston 39%. This time, Fort Worth wins by 0.1% over Dallas.

As I’ve stated before, Austin was, mathematically speaking, the best choice. It was preferred by voters over every other candidate when compared directly, and it was closer to the center of population than any other candidate.

But does it really matter? Fort Worth is actually only 7% farther from the average Texan than Austin, and, looking at the map, it’s not obvious that one is significantly better as a capital than the other.

I ran this simulation with all fifty states plus Washington D. C. (that one was pretty unexciting), and Texas was the only one that gave me four different results for seven different electoral systems. Most of them got the same capital no matter what was used.

That’s why, in spite of score voting’s mathematical superiority, I think that approval is the electoral system voting reformists should pursue. It’s a good enough improvement over plurality that can easily be expanded into full score voting later if public opinion favors it. Its similarity to plurality makes it more likely to catch on than instant-runoff or score, and it requires no modification to existing polling procedures beyond the removal of “Vote for only one” from the ballots.

But then again, there’s always [strong Arrow’s theorem](xkcd.com/1844).

In any case, happy voting this upcoming cycle, and remember: the other party is not the enemy. The Annunaki are.

Thanks to the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the International Center of Tropical Agriculture for the population data I used.

Welcome!

Welcome back, and to all you fresh faces, welcome to this year’s first issue of Frankly Speaking!

For all you fresh people, Frankly Speaking is Olin’s student unofficial student-run newspaper, which means we publish almost anything and we do it for free.

A big thank you to our returning editor Kai Loewenstein and a big welcome to new editors Erika Serna and Duncan Hall. We’re here to add commas and help your articles be the best they can be.

Finally, let me introduce myself, Editor-in-Chief, Sophia Nielsen. For those of you that don’t know me. I’m a senior and recently-converted MechE. I have a deep love for Gilmore Girls the reality TV show Survivor.

If you would like to join our staff, shoot me an email at snielsen@olin.edu.

We can always use help editing, posting articles to our website, doing layouts, and distributing, and since this is my last year, I need all the help I get from non-seniors to keep the paper alive.

As always, we depend on contributions from Olin students, faculty, and staff to fill it with content. So if you have any opinions, inspirations, or printable talents, consider submitting them to your favorite unofficial student-run newspaper.

For more information (and submission guidelines that make my life significantly easier) go to franklyspeakingnews.com. 

Horoscopes From a Sober Contributor

Welcome back to Olin! I hope you all had wonderful summers despite the Mercury retrograde that brought chaos (primarily in the realms of technology and communication) for almost the entire month of July. Hopefully the past few weeks of Mercury’s post-shadow period has brought some calm and organization, which will surely prove key as another academic year begins.

 

Looking forward to the next few weeks, there are a few events of astrological significance worth considering. Each of these will have slightly different impacts on each of the signs (most notably, Libra and Virgo), but their overarching effects are fairly general.

 

While both the sun and Mercury will be in Virgo for the first half of the month, Mercury will enter Libra on September 14th, nine days earlier than the sun. While any negative effects during the period where the two planets are not conjunct should not be strong, expect strong thinking and communication from the 23rd on. Sending out that when2meet you forgot about until three weeks into the semester might not be as much of a nightmare as you expect. 

 

As with each month, there will be a full moon. This month’s full moon is in Pisces, which means that emotions may run strong towards the middle of the month as well – maybe save that radically honest teaming feedback session for the second half of the month when everything is a little more relaxed. It is also possible that the full moon will be in constellation Phoenix, so maybe Olin was the right decision all along, or maybe not. I’m not good enough at math to tell you for sure.

 

In general, September brings forward a period of transition – as the sun moves from Virgo to Libra with the Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere) on Monday, September 23rd, we celebrate the start of another semester and yet another opportunity not to get into our co-curricular of choice while bracing for longer nights and forthcoming problem sets, team projects, and all-nighters. 

 

Furthermore, each individual sign has concerns they ought to keep in mind in the following month – these are just a few general notes. For more detailed suggestions, I suggest you generate your natal chart. 

 

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): Aries, your ruling planet is Mars. While Mars is in direct motion this month, it will fall conjunct with the sun on September 2nd. Even though its effects may feel subtle, welcome changes in your thinking and identity as you start the new school year, even if the impacts of the decisions you make feel distant. This is the semester to take that experimental class after all. 

Gemini (May 21–June 21): Mercury rules both you and Virgo. While Virgo will feel stronger impacts from the sun this month, note that the variety of Mercury transits this month will impact both of you, but Gemini will likely feel them more strongly. While this might feel chaotic at first, enjoy the novelty of a relatively benign yet varied experience this month. After all, the bubble would be a lot more boring if we did not try to shake things up sometimes.

Cancer (June 22–July 22): The moon rules you, and it will be full in Pisces on September 14th and a New Moon in Libra on September 28th. While this shift from emotional and ever-changing stimuli to a more balanced and static way of thinking might feel jarring and make you restless at first, enjoy the opportunity to relax and remain productive at the same time. Just because you are suffering more does not necessarily mean you are achieving more.

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22): After an eventful summer, this might be a quieter month for you. Your ruler is the sun, so take advantage of when it is in Virgo for the first half of the month to reorder and re-prioritize. You have a busy (and exciting!) semester ahead of you, so you might want to finish unpacking your belongings before it is time to start packing them up again. 

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22): The sun starts the month in Virgo, promising you a powerful beginning to the month. Channel this energy into getting organized for the beginning of the semester, but don’t be afraid to be bold with how you go about this. It is time to consider reimaging your laptop (but back up your data first!) or joining (or dropping!) another club or team. 

Libra (Sept. 23–Oct. 23): Libra season starts towards the end of the month. If you were born in September, the positive impacts on your thinking and identity will take effect sooner – those who are on the cusp of Scorpio may feel restless in anticipation. This will pass. the second half of the month should go smoothly for you, consider that both the sun and Mercury are in your sign and Venus, your ruling planet, is in direct motion. No need to worry if the semester starts off slowly – there is plenty of time and energy left for you.

Scorpio (Oct. 24–Nov. 21): Scorpio, your (modern) ruling planet is Pluto. Pluto, the planet of the underworld and personal transformation, is in its final month of retrograde in Capricorn, which is a serious sign. Pluto is generally in retrograde for five months out of the year, and it’s winding down reminds us that there is still plenty of opportunity for serious self-reflection and to make a plan of action for the next chapter. Keep your learning goals ambitious and your schedule realistic. 

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): Your ruling planet is Jupiter, which has been in Sagittarius for almost a year now, bringing you confidence and opportunities for personal growth. While there are still a few more months where this is the case, Jupiter will square Neptune on September 21st, so you may be more easily mislead during this time. Trust your instincts; confidence is not always competence. Don’t join that random Babson student’s startup, especially if they will only pay you in equity.

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): Saturn, your ruling planet, has been and will remain in Capricorn until 2020. While this long-standing transit has likely shaped your personal sense of duty and belonging over the past few years, the past few months of Saturn retrograde gave you a chance to break away from reality. On September 18th, Saturn will go direct again, so note that you will need to confront some difficult truths and get back to what actually matters. You can drop a class/club/job if it feels like the right thing to do, and call home once in a while.

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18): Your ruling planet, Uranus, has been in retrograde and will be for a while. The most notable point of concern for you is that Mercury will be trine with Uranus on September 1st. While all signs will feel the effects of this transit, you likely will have the strongest response when this report brings you exciting news and/or the opportunities to make new friends. Your intuition is powerful right now, and your energy will help you reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): Most notably, this month’s full moon falls in Pisces. While all of the signs may experience more intense emotions at this time, the effects may linger for longer for you, especially as your ruling planet, Neptune, remains in retrograde. This does not need to be stressful – take advantage of this opportunity to engage with creative opportunities, but make sure to wear safety glasses.