ARC Tips

This semester has asked a lot of us already and it’s hard to know these days when it’s better to take a break from our challenges or when it’s better to act.  In truth, each of those things, action and rest, are self-reinforcing.  While rest can come in many forms, the decision to act can be a challenge in and of itself because the path forward may be unclear.  You want to do something, but you don’t know where to begin.  This is where the ARCs come in!

We aren’t going to list here all the reasons each of us has to be stressed and anxious right now. But we are going to acknowledge that there are a lot. Amidst everything though, we are also all students, meaning we have classes, and homework, and projects to think about — and that is exactly what we write to talk to you about today.

Now that we are in the 2nd half of the semester, it is a good time to evaluate how virtual learning is going for you and if there is anything you want to change.  To help with that, the ARCs have collected the following tips and tricks!   The following recommendations are from others Oliners for what is helping them navigate learning during this period of virtual school.  

Task Management / Calendar

  • Post-it notes 📝: A simple physical post-it note on your laptop or near your desk is an easy access way to track tasks and it is super satisfying to cross things out. 
  • Todo list examples ☑️: If you are looking for a Todo list that is electronic and simple to set up, consider a custom google sheets template!
    • Option 1: This option features a column for each class and a column for the random tasks like email with a due date and a checkbox to tick off tasks as you complete them
    • Option 2: This option is set up for a planning out your work week and assigning different academic/personal tasks to each day of week 
  • Schedule it! 🗓️: In addition to adding classes and meeting to your personal calendar, try scheduling “do not disturb time” to get focused work done. 
  • Track Canvas assignments: Try adding canvas deadlines to your email!  Here are tutorials for adding your canvas calendar feed to outlook and gmail

Getting into a Workflow

  • Create a Commute – Before you hop on the computer for class or team meetings take a walk around the block 🌳, go for a run, or an activity that helps you to create space between school life and personal life.  
  • Bookmarks 💻 – When you sit down to get working, try bookmarking things like calendar, class websites, and other commonly visited websites.  Having these links on hand means you can get to work quickly and not get distracted while trying to find the link to the zoom room!
  • Find where work is happening – If you are living with other students, doing work together is a great way to build momentum towards getting things done while adding a little friendly accountability.  
  • Focused Work? This time technique comes highly recommended by a number of Oliners! The Pomodoro method involves 25 minutes of focused work with 5 minute breaks.  This is a great way to build-in breaks while still being able to focus.
  • Hide your Phone ☎️ – Notifications on phones were designed to distract so moving your phone away from your work area or even out of the room helps to limit distractions.  This tip can also be great when trying to get to bed on time! **Also try flora for a little extra motivation to stay off your phone!

If you find yourself wanting help implementing any of these strategies, or needing more options, feel free to reach out to Adva (adva.waranyuwat@olin.edu) to get connected with an ARC. For various reasons, getting work done right now can be challenging, but the ARCs are here to help you figure out how to get through these barriers as much as possible! 

We hope the second half of the semester is as engaging, well-focused, organized, and restful as possible!  You are not alone! 

Love,

The ARCs 

Abby Fry, Grace Montagnino, Jocelyn Jimenez, Mark Goldwater, Reid Bowen, Riya Aggarwal, Sabrina Pereira, Colin Takeda

The B

Content Warning: This article mentions predatory behavior.

Mrs. Waffle was perhaps the weirdest teacher I ever had. Her daughter was in her class. One time she made a joke about her daughter’s boyfriend moving to Oregon which made her daughter cry. You could say she really had a “hand-on” teaching style. Once when she wanted to talk to me, she massaged my shoulders while she talked. Another time when we were working on a computer thing, she was interested in something I was talking about, so to use my computer, instead of sliding it over to her, she just slipped her arm between mine and basically hugged my arm and it was super awkward. And she basically does that for everyone.

Over December: My teacher Mrs. Waffle didn’t really grade much of anything. We only had like 8 or so graded assignments. But nonetheless I had a 94.28%, a 66/70. I had never gotten an A in English before at all. My school only recorded the overall semester for college. So I hadn’t even gotten an A in any individual quarter, all Bs. So I was proud that this would be my first A.

Thursday, January 5th: The first day of school after winter break. At night I checked my grades again to see if any of them had been locked in. When they get locked in, it just shows the letter and no percentage. I got a C on the exam, so no chance of getting an A for the semester. When I looked, it displayed B [%]. When I clicked on the grade, there were no additional assignments added. I checked multiple times, adding up repeated; maybe my math was wrong. But no matter how many times I looked it over, I always ended up with 66/70 – a 94.29%. So I decided to talk to Mrs. Waffle tomorrow.

Friday, January 6th: At the beginning of class, I went to talk to Mrs. Waffle about the grade. I told her that my grade displayed a B, but I calculated an A based on the assignments. I asked if it just didn’t show some assignments, or if there was some mistake. She then held both my hands together as she talked to me, which is just so… ugh, feels so weird. She said she was sorry and would look into it and change it.

Thursday, January 12th: I had been checking my grade all week, disappointing more and more as it didn’t change. I decided to talk to her again tomorrow.

Friday, January 13th: No change. Again I talked to her before class. I told her my grade still hadn’t changed and asked why that was. She immediately held my hands again saying she forgot. Then she wrote some gibberish on a post it note and put it on her bulletin board to help her remember.

Monday, January 16th: No change. My grade still hadn’t changed. So once again I went to talk to her. As I started to walk toward her, she clearly knew what I was going to ask. I didn’t say a word as she held my hand and started to explain. She said her uncle had died over the weekend and she couldn’t bring herself to do anything. It was a real “not like this” moment, y’know? Because it’s like I wanted to be mad at her, but just couldn’t bring myself to be mad. So I said I’m sorry, I understand.

Tuesday, January 17th: No change. I think that Tuesday was a day we didn’t have English because of an assembly or something, and I didn’t want to bother her that soon anyway.

Wednesday, January 18th: No change. Pretty normal day. I went to her, told her my grade still hadn’t changed. She held my hands as she apologized again, and said she would take care of it. Nothing new.

Thursday, January 19th: No change. She was busy at the beginning of class, so I didn’t talk to her then. At class my friend next to me was cold, so I let her borrow my jacket for the class. At the end of the class, she gave it back and I had to put it back on again. So as I walked up to her I was putting my jacket on, so my hands were not available. When I started to talk to her, she went right for my hands, but haha! They were busy, can’t hold them. Without skipping a beat, she put her hand on my shoulders. She kept apologizing, saying she was sorry. Then she said “It’s not anything to do with you, I love you, I’ll try to fix it”. As she said “I love you”, she transitioned her hands from my shoulders to CUPPING MY FACE. It was so incredibly awkward, so I got out of there as fast as I could. 

Friday, January 20th: No change. I was still too weirded out to want to talk to Mrs. Waffle. I took my chance and asked her while I was behind my desk with her on the other side. Once again, she apologized a lot and held my hands. But after yesterday, I was more than fine with holding hands. She wrote my name or something on her arm to help her remember.

Of course, throughout this whole thing, I’d been telling this story to a lot of my friends. After talking to my friend Gerry, I came up with a poorly thought-out but great idea. So today, I took it into action.

At about 7 p.m., I sent her an email. The subject was “My Grade Still hasn’t Changed”, with the body simply this:

Image result for spongebob time cards

She got back to me fast – within a couple of hours. She replied “I’m not sure where you are looking or that it will.” Oh, no. I’m in trouble. The message is a little confusing, but my interpretation of it is: “I don’t know what you’re looking at, and I’m not sure it will change” -> “I’m not gonna change it because you were rude.” I sent this poorly thought out email and now she hates me. So I spent the weekend thinking through things and asking friends and family for opinions on what to do.

Sunday, January 22nd: I decided to go with the apologetic and informative approach. I drafted this long email, explaining the whole situation, linking a picture to my grade and assignments, including my calculations and everything. I even ended the email with “Love, Nathan” in hopes of appealing to the side of her that’s infatuated with me. She got back to me within an hour or two again, with the reply: 

“Trust that I have the best in mind for you <3”

What???? What does this even mean? Is it like, “trust that I have the best in mind for you, but I’m just a forgetful idiot”? Or is it more of a “trust that I have the best in mind for you, but I’m not changing your grade because you don’t deserve it”? Heck if I know.

Monday, January 23rd: No change. After consulting with others who were equally as confused as I, I emailed her back: “Does that mean that you will change it?” I expected her to get back within a couple of hours like before, but no response.

Tuesday, January 24th: No change. I went to talk to her again. I asked about the email and if she was going to change it. She said that there was something wrong with the system and that it was already finalized in one place that she couldn’t change and had been trying. But there was another place that she could change it, and that she had, but it might not show up on the website. So I left, thinking: this reassures me basically not at all. But I gotta wait for the report card to know for sure.

Tuesday, January 31st: I have a friend named Kevin who I have known since 1st grade, and know really well. But this semester, we didn’t have any classes together. But we did have one thing, we passed each other when walking from our lunch bell to 6th bell. We would meet up, walk with each other and talk for about two minutes, probably less, each day. For the past couple weeks, I had been telling this story two minutes at a time, picking up where I left off the previous day without any refresher. Today I finally finished the story thus far, explaining that I was now waiting for my report card to come. Confused, Kevin asked “it came last week, you didn’t get it?”

So when I got home, at dinner, I asked my parents if my report card came, and my mom was like “oh yeah it came last week, I didn’t think you cared.” Any other semester, she was totally right. She pulled it out of the filing cabinet. I took a look, scanning for the second quarter. English: B. The time for patience had long passed. I emailed my counselor asking to talk to him after school one day.

Wednesday, February 1st: I went in to talk to my counselor after school. I explained to him that my grade was not what it was supposed to be. I told him I had been asking my teacher to change it for the last few weeks and she still hasn’t changed it. He logged on to his thingy, and found my name. He took out a calculator and typed in the numbers. He said Nathan it’s an 85%, that’s a B. For a moment I lost all color, and feared the worst. Had I really been wrong? After all this time? No way. I had checked this over so many times. My math isn’t wrong. I told him it’s definitely a 94.29% and please check again. He typed the numbers on the calculator again. “Oh yeah, you’re right, it’s a 94%.” I guess that’s why he’s a counselor and not a math teacher (don’t take offense to this, counselors are perfectly smart people and Mr. Sweeney was great, he just made a simple mistake). He told me he’d change it now and get a new report card to me sometime soon.

Tuesday, February 7th: No word from Mr. Sweeney. So I feared the worst. He’s just like Mrs. Waffle. He’s never gonna change it. I’ll have to go farther up the chain. I went in to talk to him after school. I walked in and asked about my grade. He said, “Ah, Nathan, I’ve been meaning to email you. Here’s your report card”. I took a look, scanning the second quarter. English: A. Finally, change.

Assumptions

I wake up to the sound of my rock n’ roll inspired alarm blaring out the tunes that get my day started. Rolling out of bed, I begin to make myself look presentable for the many zoom calls and trips to the dining hall that I will be taking today.

As I open the door to head out for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast, I , by force of habit, check my pockets to make sure I have everything. “Key, wallet, phone- what am I missing….” tends to happen often. Nowadays, I can’t forget to grab a mask and have it on properly until I gladly consume my entire container of home fries and eggs. Leaving with my fish-patterned mask, I head downstairs and out of West Hall seeing the same people that I encounter daily. With a “Hi” and an air wave, I let them know of my intention to greet them and receiving a similar gesture, I assume with the same ecstatic feeling.

Inside the CC, I swipe my ID, ask for some of the day’s food specials, and try to engage in small talk with some of my favorite dining staffers. I assume their reactions and facial expressions to our conversations and wish them the best as I head to my every-morning spot. Sitting, I remove my mask and expose my excitedness to my fellow household members as I take in the view of my meal. They, way more than any others, get to see and understand my almost consistent facial reactions. I wish I could share them with more people. I wish more people could share theirs with me.

Still, if you see me around- whether it be over zoom or on campus- there is no need to assume what I’m thinking. I’m excited to be here. Everyday as I wake up, hearing that same alarm sound, I grow exponentially happier at the thought of where I am. I look forward to holding the door open for someone and love watching people do incredibly cool things outside. I love everything about out school. I love Olin.

More than ever, I think its important to express yourself outwardly because it is so hard to assume what someone else is trying to convey behind their mask. Make it known how much you love your project team meetings! Exclaim why you cannot do without the garlic knots in the dining hall! Project how much you love having access to unlimited Zoom meetings! People need to know how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and how you’re doing. So let’s stop assuming that others assume you’re “doing well today.” Let them know.

Revisiting American History: Origins of Racism

Warning: The following article wrestles with a difficult topic in American history, and that topic contains some horrid depictions of human suffering.

This article is a continuation of the Revisiting American History Series, where every month, I revisit a section of American history with a critical eye for the different groups of people involved in that history, telling stories not of America as a collective group pursuing a national interest shared by all of its individuals, but as a variety of groups all with competing interests. While this series typically does not delve deeply into current events, I hope that it does help put a lot of conflict rampant in America today into context. I’m mainly following along with A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, rereading, annotating, and distilling the content into quick summaries for you here. Remember, any story from history contains bias. Howard Zinn is not exempt from that bias and neither am I. Also, if you ever want more information or perspective, I highly recommend reading the book for yourself!

This article focuses on an exploration of the different groups involved in the institutionalization of racism through human trafficking (slavery) in America’s early colonial period. I purposely use the words “human trafficking” and “slavery” interchangeably, as I’ve become a little too used to talking about “slavery” as just a fact of history, rather than a disgusting treatment of human beings. By using the wording of “human trafficking”, I hope to return to the people abused by this system some of their humanity, and myself a reminder that these were, in fact, humans, just as you and I.

A Black American writer from the 1900s, J. Saunders Redding, describes the arrival of a ship in North America in the year 1619:

Sails furled, flag drooping at her rounded stern, she rode the tide in from the sea… The flag she flew was Dutch; her crew a motley. Her port of call, an English settlement, Jamestown, in the colony of Virginia. She came, she traded, and shortly afterwards, she was gone. Probably no ship in modern history has carried a more portentous freight. Her cargo? Twenty slaves.

We can trace the origins of human trafficking in America back to this first ship. Racism has been embedded into America’s history since its infancy. While some historians think the first black people to arrive in Virginia were considered servants, like the white indentured servants from Europe, the strong probability is that even if they were listed as “servants”, they were seen differently, treated differently, and ultimately, were slaves.

To understand why the American colonists were so open to human trafficking as a means of acquiring labor, we have to understand the conditions in which they made that decision. The first white settlers of Virginia were utterly unprepared for the harsh challenges associated with making a new life for themselves in America.

Many Virginians had suffered through the “starving time” from 1609-1610. By 1609, the population had grown to five hundred colonists from the original one hundred founders. At that point, the colony could no longer support its massive population. Colonists went from eating one small ladle of barley per meal to roaming the woods for nuts and berries, and eating the corpses of those less fortunate. As the Journals of the Burgesses of Virginia, a document from 1619, recounts the story:

… driven thru insufferable hunger to eat those things which nature most abhorred, the flesh and excrements of man as well as of our own nation as of an Indian, digged by some out of his grave after he had lain buried three days and wholly devoured him… one among them slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salted her and fed upon her till he had clean devoured all parts of her head…

By the end of that “starving time”, starvation had reduced five hundred colonists to sixty.

After enduring that traumatic experience, the Virginians were ready for a way out. They needed labor to grow corn for their own subsistence, and tobacco for export. They had just sent out the first batch of tobacco out in 1617, and found it quite profitable. They needed food, and they needed money.

These colonists were searching desperately for a source of cheap labor. There weren’t enough white servants to do the work, and they came with a massive downside. Once their contract expired after a few years, they would have paid off their debts for the voyage to the New World. At that point, a servant was no longer a source of free labor, but just another mouth to feed. The free white settlers in the colony were primarily skilled craftsmen, with a few even being “men of leisure”, who were not so inclined to work for John Smith, who had to organize them into work gangs and force them into the fields for their survival.

In their search for gold in the Carribean, the Spaniards slaughtered and enslaved the Arawaks. Why didn’t the American colonists do the same to the Native Americans in their search for cheap labor? The fact of the matter is that the desperate and starving American colonists were no match for the resourceful Native Americans defending their home. 

Edmund Morgan, writer of American Slavery, American Freedom, a book from 1975, focuses on the frustration and dissonance these colonists must have faced, enraged that even though they had superior firepower, and a supposedly superior way of life, they just couldn’t win against the natives. As Morgan writes:

If you were a colonist, you knew that your technology was superior to the Indians [Native Americans]. You knew that you were civilized, and they were savages… The Indians [Native Americans], keeping to themselves, laughed at your superior methods and lived from the land more abundantly and with less labor than you did… And when your own people started deserting in order to live with them, it was too much… So you killed the Indians [Native Americans], tortured them, burned their villages, burned their cornfields… But you still did not grow much corn…

For all of their pain, suffering, and violence, the colonists gained nothing. Their aggression against the natives resulted only in more of their own suffering. The colonists’ own hubris and arrogance made enemies of the natives who were knowledgeable in survival and might have otherwise helped the colonists survive. Unfortunately, this relationship only grows more strained as America’s history marches forward.

At this point, the colonists were focused on survival, and they needed labor. Unable to get the necessary labor out of the servants and freeman among them, or the natives nearby, they turned to the human trafficking of African peoples.

Even if the institution of slavery had not been regularized and legalized in the colonies at this point, it would be difficult to presume that those first black people forcibly taken to Jamestown and sold to colonists as objects, were anything but slaves. By 1619, a million black people had already been brought from Africa to South America and the Carribean, the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, to work as slaves. Europeans had branded African people as slave labor for a hundred years by this point.

Since slavery had existed in the African states, Europeans sometimes tried to use it as a means of justifying their own slave trade. However, that’s not quite a fair comparison, as the “slaves” of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe. According to Basil Davidson, author of The African Slave Trade, points out that while African slavery was a harsh servitude, the humans enslaved were “altogether different from the human cattle of the slave ships and the American plantations.” One observer from the Ashanti Kingdom of West Africa noted that “a slave might marry; own property; himself own a slave, swear an oath; be a competent witness and ultimately become heir to his master… An Ashanti slave, nine cases out of ten, possibly became an adopted member of the family, and in time his descendants so merged and intermarried with the owner’s kinsmen that only a few would know their origin.”

While African slavery isn’t something to be praised, it is altogether far different from American slavery, which was lifelong, morally crippling, desctructive of family ties, without hope for a future. What made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history was the combination of the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture, and reduction of the slaves to less than human status, where white was master, and black was slave.

These African people who had been ripped from their land and culture were in an especially vulnerable position in America. The colonists were in their own European culture, and the Native Americans were in their own land and culture. The African people had to fight with sheer extraordinary persistence just to hold onto whatever they could of their heritage of language, dress, custom, and family relations.

Oftentimes, these African people were kidnapped in the interior of Africa, forced to march to the coast, sold, shoved into pens with people from various African tribes, and shipped off to be sold in the European mainlands or one of its colonies. These marches were death marches, sometimes reaching one thousand miles. The enslaved people were shackled around the neck, and marched under whip and gun. Two of every five of them died during these marches. John Barbot, at the end of the seventeenth century, described the cages on the Gold Coast.

As the slaves come down to Fida from the inland country, they are put into a booth or prison… near the beach, and when the Europeans are to receive them, they are brought out onto a large plain, where the ship’s surgeons examine every part of everyone of them, to the smallest member, men and women being stark naked… Such as are allowed good and sounds are set on one side… marked on the breast with a red-hot iron… The branded slaves after this are returned to their former booths where they await shipment, sometimes 10-15 days…

Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745-1797 , an African man who survived through the slave trade and escaped in 1766, describes his experience seeing a slave ship for the first time in his autobiography. 

The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror when I was carried aboard. I was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me… Indeed such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.

Given the opportunity, many of these people chose to jump overboard and drown themselves rather than continue their suffering. Olaudah Equiano describes one such incident as follows.

One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together (I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea: immediately another quite dejected fellow, who, on account of his illness, was suffered to be out of irons, also followed their example; and I believe many more would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship’s crew… two of the wretches were drowned, but they [the slavers] got the other, and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery.

One of every three African slaves died overseas. Despite the horrific nature of human trafficking, the huge profits, oftentimes double the investment made on one trip, justified the act in the eyes of the slavers. 

By 1800, ten to fifteen million Africans had been forcibly transported to the Americas as slaves, representing perhaps a third of those kidnapped from Africa. As Zinn puts it:

It is roughly estimated that Africa lost fifty million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.

And thus, the stage was set for the history around race in America. Remember that when we talk about racism and our modern day understandings of race in America, this was where it started. I don’t believe this to be the roots of racism across the world, but it’s certainly the roots of racism in American culture. This article helps illustrate why human trafficking based on race become so integral to American history from its roots, and begins to explore what this actually meant for the African humans caught in the midst of this system.

Next month, I plan to focus on the history surrounding African American resistance to slavery, and the instutionalization of racism as a means of suppressing class conflicts. As the institution of slavery spread thoughout the colonies, so did resistance to the oppression of the black and white lower classes alike. Fearing widespread civil unrest, the landowning elite of America found means of suppressing both while giving up as little as possible in return.

Sources:

  1.  A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn

I’m citing this source again because of how extensively I’ve used it to write this article. Many pieces of this article are either direct quotes or paraphrased paragraphs from Zinn that aren’t explicitly called out. Part of this is due to his unique style of writing I hope to capture in this article, how well he articulates certain ideas, so that I can be certain I’m not misrepresenting any facts presented by Zinn, and to not disrupt the flow of the writing.

  1. The Interesting Narrative Of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written By Himself.

This was an incredible autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745-1797, an African man who survived and escaped from slavery. He wrote his autobiography specifically to advocate for the abolition of slavery in Britian, and he recounts his journey across various parts of the world and his experience as an African slave.

  1. American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund S. Morgan

I mainly checked the date the book was published to provide more context to Zinn’s quotation from the book.

Library Strategic Plan Progress & Updates

During the Fall 2019 semester, the library began work on a 2.5-year strategic plan to help guide our priorities and activities. The Olin community has given us tons of feedback and ideas to steer this process, and we hope that you’ll keep it coming. With your needs at the center of our process, we think we’ve made a “P4” (pretty pandemic-proof plan). You can see the plan at http://library.olin.edu/strategic-plan.html, or read the Frankly Speaking article from March about it: franklyspeakingnews.com/2020/03/library-changes-with-callan/

Part of the strategic plan framework we’ve adopted is creating yearly action plans. These are useful because they give us specific tasks to focus on each year and make our values and mission more tangible. As we’re getting close to the end of the time period covered by our first action plan (January-December 2020), we wanted to share an update on the progress our team has made.

I’d also like to give a huge personal thanks to Maggie, Mckenzie, and all of our student workers past and present for making all of this possible. Never hesitate to reach out to our team if we can help in any way.

How have we been honoring our commitments and values?

As always, we’re providing free, confidential access to information to everyone with no strings attached and encourage information literacy, democracy skills, and critical thinking. We’re making resources–course reserves in particular–available for those who can’t afford them, and are providing ebook access or print upon request for visual and cognitive accommodations. Our approach to acquisitions and collection development continues to be community-driven with an emphasis on diverse authors. We’ve provided cultural heritage displays, workshops, and other forms of community engagement. All of us are also striving to be transparent and constructively critical about the library profession’s failures and lack of diversity.

What have we been doing?

After we conducted community surveys and focus groups about the library in the fall of 2019, we organized our plan into three main themes: Culture & Serendipity, Studying & Gathering, and Research & Access.

Strategic Plan Theme: Culture & Serendipity

Last year, we created the new Community Engagement Librarian position and hired Mckenzie Mullen. We began offering workshops and regular events, such as the Fall 2020 intergroup dialog workshop series, weekly creative/crafting time, and unstructured hangouts. As soon as Stephanie Milton joined us as Director of Diversity and Inclusion & Title IX Coordinator, we worked with her on events, reading lists, read-outs, and resource lists. We improved our book displays and tried some totally new things, like our pop-up library in the dining hall. Rather than sticking to the “traditional” model of ordering books recommended by other librarians and in our trade publications, we’ve focused on continuing with patron-driven acquisitions (i.e., we buy the things you ask us to buy) and are conducting a diversity audit of our collection. When COVID struck, we started an asynchronous library hangout space on Slack for everything from pet and bread pics to reading and listening recommendations, and we would love to see you there <olinlibraryhangout.slack.com>.

In response to how frequently the upper floor of the library is used for community events, we have tried to make the layout as flexible as possible with our current furniture. We eliminated most of the shelving up there except for five units to store course reserves, fiction, graphic novels, poetry, and DVDs. With the help of our amazing student workers, we shifted the entire photography collection to the Quiet Reading Room and moved all of the art and design books downstairs. To increase findability and make it easier to check things out, we relabeled DVDs, cameras, and tools. For the first time in the history of the library, we weeded our collection, meaning we removed thousands of books, CDs, and DVDs; they were donated to local libraries and to a global book redistribution service called Better World Books.

Strategic Plan Theme: Studying & Gathering

Most library policies were updated and rewritten in Spring and Summer 2020: <http://library.olin.edu/policies.html>. Before COVID days, we began a new system of encouraging stewardship throughout the library, including cleaning out the workroom in the summer of 2019 and creating a new process for removing and labeling projects.

Respondents to our surveys identified the lower level of the library as a space in need of some major rethinking. We removed many of the large rolling chairs from the lower level and bought new tables and chairs to increase flexibility of the space. The sewing area also needed attention, so we repurposed old newspaper racks as sewing storage and will soon expand the sewing area to where the 3D printer area was, providing more work surfaces and storage. (Note: We worked with The Shop to move the library’s 3D printers to the MAC to simplify access–and because we don’t have the greatest lighting or ventilation on the library’s lower level.)

Strategic Plan Theme: Research & Access

The Olin College Library officially joined the Minuteman Library Network on July 1, 2020, giving our community access to over six million items at 40+ area libraries, increased support for our staff, and other resources, including a user-friendly ebook collection. We subscribed to a new service in early 2020 to facilitate off-campus access to our subscription database products (who knew how much that would come in handy, now that we’re mostly off-campus these days!). To enhance accessibility and make it easier for us to create high-quality documents for course use, we obtained a professional-quality book scanner from the Boston Public Library.

Throughout the year, we’ve been trying out new processes for collecting database usage information and tracking current subscriptions using Google Sheets and Pinboard. This sounds boring, but has helped us make informed decisions about products to keep or get rid of this year when there was added pressure to reduce spending (budget adjustments/freezes; accommodating ebook spending).

With the help of Jack Greenberg ‘23, we have been working on rebuilding our digital archive using an open source solution created by library professionals. The live site is here: <http://ec2-184-73-148-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com/node>. It still needs much more work, but it’s searchable and browseable now.

We’ve been trying out new ways of helping people get in touch with us and utilize the library, especially now that we’re in a remote setting. Last semester, we tested office hours on Zoom in Spring 2020, but are going to be shifting to an appointment-scheduling model using Calendly. We started using a service called Niche Academy for video tutorials: https://my.nicheacademy.com/olin

Library staff have been continuing our own professional development, and we’ve all attended a number of training, conferences, and workshops this year. We’ve utilized what we’re learning in our instruction sessions, collection development practices, and more. Callan presented at eight library conferences this year and wrote a book for ALA Editions, Responding to Rapid Change: A User Experience Approach <https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/responding-rapid-change-libraries-user-experience-approach?_zs=pbaiW1&_zl=PDc97>. We began meeting routinely with the directors of the Wellesley and Babson libraries and have been working with Wellesley Free Library to batch-enroll Wellesley and Babson College students in Minuteman (this will streamline getting library access to cross-registered students).

If you have any questions or comments, want to tell us what we’re doing right (or wrong–don’t worry, you really won’t hurt our feelings), just want to say “hey,” or get some great pet pics, reach out to us at library@olin.edu. Remember: The library isn’t closed, it’s just somewhere else right now.

What To Watch in Quarantine

We polled our community*. This is their story. *Not endorsed by Frankly Speaking. Please fill form out the form here https://forms.gle/ig93k8S7CUPxDb7y7

TV Show Recommendations

One Day At a Time because it is easy feel good with humor and representation. Leverage because it’s about fighting back against people with undue power, and found family.

Married at First Sight. If you’re feeling that reality tv show itch, this is a good one to indulge in because all the advice from the marriage counselors are actually pretty legit.

The Tick, specifically the 2016 remake although the original cartoon is also very fun. It’s a comedic spin/satire of the superhero genre and it kept me giggling the whole way through.

Hannibal is a pretty cool crime thriller with lots of mind antics

Dark. One of the best sci-fi/drama to come out in a long while. It’s a pretty hard show to explain (much less fully understand), but I think it’s fair to say that it involves a fair bit of time travel, and is not for the light of heart. It is a an EXTREMELY well acted, filmed, and written show. All three seasons are available on Netflix.

Lovecraft Country – this show tackles America’s history of racism in the 50s through the lens of sci fi and fantasy troupes. The show is fun, campy, scary and informative

Gordon Ramsey Uncharted – available on Disney+. I think it’s worth watching because it features culinary dishes from around the world, and Gordon Ramsey has to eat ants and stuff every now and then. Also the episode in New Zealand features a famous Maori and bisexual chef who recently released an awesome book! She is such a bad-ass. She makes Gordon Ramsey look like an idiot sandwich.

Anime Recommendations

Beastars. It’s incredible plot and social commentary makes up for its sin of being a furry anime.

Don’t do it its awful.

The Promised Neverland. Just recently came out onto Netflix, and is an absolutely fantastic anime. It follows a group of orphans as they attempt to break out of their orphanage. I stress that despite its seemingly childish premise, it is not a children’s story. It is a remarkably dark and tragic story. Just watch until the end of the first episode and you will see what I mean.

Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.

Mob Psycho 100: 25 total episodes with more incoming. A beautifully animated and colorful adaptation of a subversive, hilarious, and emotional™ manga. A super-powerful middle school psychic trying to deal with everything that entails. Not your typical power-hungry shounen.

Movie Recommendations

Yesterday. It’s a film full of Beatles music in an alternative universe where the Beatles didn’t exist. Drama and tension along the way, but a satisfying ending.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Extended edition marathon is the only way to go, baby.

Why you should watch it: The Lord of the Rings novels were the granddaddy of modern day high fantasy— you see inspiration from the novels everywhere, from Harry Potter to Bone to Dungeons and Dragons. The movies themselves are so fun to watch— even though they were made 20 years ago, the CGI still holds up today. Plus the soundtrack is awesome.

Knives Out is highkey a very clever and incredibly fun movie with a cool mystery and lots of suspense.

Spring Breakers

Pans Labyrinth. A fairy tale set five years after the Spanish civil war, at the beginning of the Francois period in Spain. Pans Labyrinth is a dreamy story about a young girl dealing with the trauma of the world around her while navigating a magical underworld called Pan’s Labyrinth, filled with mythical beings. Also on Netflix.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl – An anime movie from the same director as Kaiba. An easygoing girl and the man who wants to ask her out have the longest night of their lives. Very funny, very magical-realist surreal. A lot of alcohol, strange pornography and paraphilias mentioned but not made especially explicit as I recall. If you like it, you may enjoy the 11-episode anime The Tatami Galaxy, set in the same universe.

Extremely Scientific Horoscopes

Welcome back! I hope you all were able to find some kind of joy in your summers despite the state of current affairs and the Mercury retrograde that transpired from mid-June to mid-July. For those who aren’t familiar with this column, I am an amateur astrologist, and I enjoy calculating the locations and signs of celestial bodies and sharing some interpretations of those cosmic events. That being said, I’m an amateur, and while I’m happy to share how I learned about all of this, I probably got some stuff wrong. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any concerns.

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 September 23rd, you’ll see an influx of balance and harmony, especially in your closest relationships. Those roommate/housemate conflicts should resolve themselves, and you’ll soon figure out how often you should be calling your loved ones you are physically distanced from.

As with each month, there will be a full moon. This month’s full moon is in Pisces on September 2nd. Full moons in Pisces often correspond to periods of strong emotion – so if the last week or two has felt especially intense, you have reason to hope they will cool down soon. At the same time, these emotions should generally lead to productive discussion, so if you’re seeking some closure on past conflict or want to bring up concerns to your pandemic podmates, you can feel empowered to do that early and often. There will also be a new moon; this month’s will be on September 17th and will be in Virgo. New moons in Virgo present an opportunity for fresh starts. Kick off that initiative, club, or project around this month’s new moon, and you should be able to maintain a detail-oriented and productive trajectory going forward.

While your sun sign only reveals a small portion of your astrological story, there are specific astrological events especially relevant to each sign. 

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): Mars, your ruling planet, will enter retrograde in Aries on September 9th. This will invert your usual productivity-oriented mindset and challenge you to question your projects and working strategies. This does not have to be a bad thing; sometimes pivoting can lead to better outcomes, and experimenting thoughtfully can help you find better practices.

Taurus (April 20-May 20): Your ruling planet, Venus, will enter Leo on September 6th. Take this opportunity to make confident choices when interacting with other people – volunteer to take on difficult assignments for your projects, and catch up with that old friend.

Gemini (May 21–June 21): Mercury rules both you and Virgo. Mercury enters Libra on September 5th, and brings calmness and a chance to make new friends as well as catch up with old ones. Later, on September 27th, Mercury will enter Scorpio, and you can expect to need to be more strategic with your communications.

Cancer (June 22–July 22): The moon is your primary ruler. As such, you will feel the effects of the September 2nd full moon in Pisces and the September 17th new moon in Virgo. While this shift from emotional and ever-changing stimuli to a more planned and straightforward way of thinking might feel jarring and make you feel restless at first, enjoy the opportunity to relax and remain productive at the same time. Working hard can be fun! 

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22): The sun rules you, so embrace Virgo’s detail-oriented, put-together spirit for the first half of the month before shifting towards more balance in Libra season. In short, be sure to unpack your belongings, but don’t worry too much about deciding where everything should go.

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22): The sun starts the month in Virgo, promising you a powerful beginning to the month, which is especially useful in this time of transition. Channel this energy into taking steps to stay organized – reimage your laptop, file every piece of paper you own, and make the most aesthetically pleasing zoom background you can. Your future self will thank you!

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. Your ruling planet, Venus, enters Leo on September 6th, so you can feel empowered to act boldly, especially in the context of interpersonal relations (but please practice social distancing…). 

Scorpio (Oct. 24–Nov. 21): You have a mostly quiet month ahead. However, on September 27th, Mercury will enter Scorpio. This will likely lead to a need for strategic thinking in the realms of technology and communication. If you have too much information, try not to get bogged down in the details. If you have too little information, think before asking clarifying questions.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): Your ruling planet, Jupiter, goes direct in Capricorn on September 12th. This should lead to a general increase in your luck, especially in the context of new ventures or projects you are pursuing. Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it seems scary or your professor tells you it might be “overscoped” or “not aligned with the laws of physics.”

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): Saturn, your ruling planet, has been in retrograde since July 1st. This will change when Saturn goes direct in Capricorn on September 28th. This shift in career-minded Saturn signals a transition in your learning and work experiences; while the last few months may have felt like working hard within the constraints of a given system, you now have an opportunity to carve your own path. 

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18): Your ruling planet, Uranus, entered retrograde in Taurus on August 15th and will stay in retrograde for a while. This is an opportunity to stay grounded by reevaluating your community and the issues that affect it and taking action accordingly – this is a great time to phone bank for a candidate or issue you care about or join an advocacy organization to fight for what you believe in. 

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): Most notably, this month’s full moon falls in Pisces – expect your intense emotions to persist through the beginning of the month before fading in its latter half. Also, your ruling planet, Neptune, will be opposite the sun (in Virgo) on September 11th, which may lead you to feel dazed and disorganized; this will pass, but take extra care to keep track of those first homework assignments.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this guidance serves you well over the next month. If you would like to discuss astrology or learn more, please feel free to reach out! 

Revisiting American History

Warning: The following article wrestles with a difficult topic in American history, and that topic contains depictions of violence. To be clear, it doesn’t contain over-the-top, graphic depictions of violence, but does depict a few scenes and paint an overall picture that may not go well with your morning breakfast.

We are our history, and whether you were born in the United States or arrived as an immigrant, if you’ve chosen to settle here, then you have also inherited America’s history. If you’re merely visiting, then know it has been inherited by those around you. I’m not sure my education fully explored that history in a way that helps to make sense of present-day America and all of its conflicts.  It seems like my classes managed to skip over all of the horrible parts of American history. This includes the human trafficking, the racism, the gender inequality, the warmongering, and all the other parts of American history that my textbooks seemed to vaguely justify and quickly move away from, saying, “Well yes, [fill in the blank] happened, but it was necessary for…. [fill in the blank]”. 

I’ve decided it’s time for me to revisit some of this history, in an effort to better understand the present day. As it turns out, when we take a closer look at all of the people involved in America’s history, not as a collective group pursuing a shared national interest, but as a variety of groups all with competing interests, all of the conflict rampant in America today begins to make a whole lot of sense.

I invite you to revisit this history with me and learn more about topics such as why racism became institutionalized, who the American Revolution truly benefitted, how women resisted the oppressive idea of the “women’s sphere”, and much more in this monthly history series. I’ll primarily be following A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, reading, rereading, and annotating as I go along, and distilling the content into a quick summary for you here. Be aware that any story from history contains some bias, both in what parts the storyteller chooses to tell and in how they tell it. Howard Zinn is not exempt from that bias and neither am I. 

If you ever find yourself wanting more information or perspective, I highly recommend reading the book for yourself and looking into other sources. Before we get ourselves too deep into the weeds of United States history, let’s revisit the first interactions between the Europeans and the Native Americans to see how the world stage was first set.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He was a skilled Portuguese sailor, and he had convinced the Spanish Queen to finance his voyage to the West of Europe in search of a new passage from Europe to the Indies and Asia. They knew the world was round and hoped to reach the Far East by sailing west. This could bring untold fortunes of wealth to the Spanish crown. Instead, he and his crew stumbled upon an island in the Bahamas inhabited by unfamiliar people. They were the Arawak Native Americans.

As the Spanish ships approached the island, the Arawaks ran out to greet them, full of wonder. They brought these odd newcomers food, water, and gifts. The Arawaks lived in sophisticated villages, subsiding off corn, yams, and cassava. The Arawaks did not bear arms, nor have any iron, horses, or work animals. However, they did wear tiny gold ornaments in their ears.

Desperate to pay off his debts to the Spanish crown and to make a profit off his expedition, Columbus took some of these Arawak natives as prisoners and insisted that they guide him to the source of gold. He then sailed to Cuba and Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic), where bits of gold in the rivers and a gold mask presented by a local Native American chief led Columbus to have wild visions of goldfields.

On Hispaniola, Columbus built the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He took more Native American prisoners and put them on his ships. When the Spaniards demanded that some natives trade them more than two bows, the natives tried to grab them, and the Spaniards ran swords through two of the natives as the rest fled.

Upon returning to Madrid, Columbus claimed that he had reached Asia and an island off the coast of China. He said:

“Hispaniola is a miracle… the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold… There are many spices and great mines of gold and other metals…”

With this report, Columbus managed to secure funding for a second trip, this time with seventeen ships instead of three. He led several expeditions across the various islands of the Caribbean, never finding any of his imagined goldfields, but eventually finding empty villages of natives who had fled when they learned the Spaniards were coming, such was the terror they brought.

Columbus had promised to bring back untold fortunes of gold, but so far had found quite little. As is the nature of debt, he needed to pay his off somehow. In 1495, Columbus and his crew raided Arawak villages for slaves, rounding up, in total, fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, and put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs. They sent five hundred of them back to Spain to be sold as slaves. Two hundred died along the way.

Three hundred Arawak slaves were not enough to pay off his debt. Columbus had promised gold and needed to make good on that promise. To that end, Columbus ordered the natives in the province of Cicao in Haiti, where he believed there to exist huge goldfields, to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When a native brought the gold, they were given copper tokens to hang around their neck. If a Spaniard found a native without a copper token, he would cut their hands off and let them bleed to death. There were no goldfields in Cicao, only small bits of gold in the rivers, so the natives fled, and the Spaniards hunted them with dogs and slaughtered them.

The Arawaks began resisting the Spaniards but had no horses, iron, or gunpowder. They also had no immunity to European diseases brought by the Spanish, like smallpox. When the Spaniards took prisoners, they either hanged them or burned them alive. Arawaks began killing themselves and their children in mass suicides through cassava poison. Mothers killed their infants to save them from the Spaniards. Within two years, half of the 250,000 native people in Haiti were dead.

As it became increasingly clear that there was no gold to be found, the Spaniards decided to take the native people as slaves for huge estates. The total control of the natives by the Spaniards led to the Spaniards growing more and more conceited. They would ride on the backs of natives if they were in a hurry, or were instead carried by natives on hammocks, with large leaves shading them from the sun and goose wings fanning them to keep them cool. This conceited behavior was accompanied by disgusting cruelty, as the Spaniards thought nothing of cutting slices off tens and twenties of natives to test the sharpness of their blades. The Spaniards forced the natives to strip mountains from top to bottom, to dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers. Those who were forced to wash gold would stay in the rivers all day, backs bent until they broke, and when the mines flooded, they would arduously dry them by scooping water out by the pan full.

This story is true, and as such has no happy ending. There are no saviors who will come from the clouds to save our Arawak brethren, but instead, merciless Spaniards who will continue to suck them dry until there are none. By the year 1515, 23 years since Columbus first set foot in the Caribbean, two hundred and fifty thousand natives had dwindled to a mere fifty thousand. By 1550, five hundred natives were left. By 1650, none of the original Arawaks nor their descendants were left on the island.

Oftentimes, history is told to us from the perspective of the victors of history, and we don’t stop to think about the other side of the story. In this case, when we look at the discovery of the New World from the perspective of the Arawaks, we see something very different. We see something depressing, something we have no reason as a collective humanity to ever feel proud of. Las Casas, a priest who traveled with Columbus, witnessed these cruelties firsthand and wrote:

“Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eye witness can hardly believe it…”

Las Casas’ transcriptions of the cruelty inflicted on the Arawaks are nothing new, and in fact, were written soon after the original Spanish conquest of the Caribbean, but somehow, his words didn’t end up on my history textbooks when I learned about the glorious discovery and conquest of the new world. 

We have to remember that history is often told by its victors, and not by those who paid the price of conquest and progress. In telling this side of history, I hope we begin to think more critically about history: who’s telling it, why are they telling it, and who stands to benefit from you seeing that side of history?

Further Sources used for Cross-Referencing:

  1. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/100.html

This is an overview of Arawak culture, and their downfall. It was written from a collection of several sources by Bob Corbett, an instructor of an online course on the history of Haiti at Webster University. I used it for additional context surrounding the Arawak people and their demise.

  1. https://www.latinamericanstudies.org/columbus/Columbus-Journal.pdf 

This is a direct English translation of Columbus’s journal where he recounts his first journey to the Americas. I used it to verify some of the first interactions between Columbus and the Arawaks.

A Fresh Man Amidst COVID

When I left Candidate’s Weekend, I knew that I had found my new home and that I wanted to return this fall. I dreamt of working next to my roommate, disassembling our entire room, and building a penthouse in our hotel room of a dorm. The aroma of the top-notch food coming out of Rebecca’s Cafe followed me around as I sat at my high school’s cafeteria. I envisioned all of the custom parts I was going to create in the shop to put on my car that I had planned on driving to campus. Campus is Oz and I am young Dorothy on the yellow brick road that leads up to the Oval in the middle of Needham. The difference between my dream and hers is that my Wizard of Oz isn’t a person; instead, it is the changes that the global pandemic instituted.

My hopes and wishes for my previous dreams to come true will have to wait as now I, with my peers, have to enter into uncertainty. The uncertainty of a school year unlike any other, where things change quite literally every day leaves room for a lot of doubt, confusion, anxiety, and questions that cannot always be answered. Throw on top the fact that I’m a first-generation college student and now you have the Wicked Witch of the West’s cauldron of “Not knowing what to do” stew. Still, as much as COVID has changed the course of this year negatively, at least for me, it has radically changed me for the better too.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that this pandemic has created a lot of change from the routine lives we have all been living. My entire junior and senior years of high school were nothing but routines and conformity to the path of least resistance outside of the classroom.I had always been told that I should take the hardest classes I could and be involved with clubs in school. In order to avoid any unnecessary stress, outside of class I kept doing everything that I thought was helping me, regardless of how detrimental it actually was. I would get home, eat dinner, do homework, shower, do even more homework, and then go to sleep everyday at the same exact times. I was in the same relationship for the entirety of those two years and never even questioned why I was in it in the first place. I ate the same junk food that kept me full of energy and allowed me to grind hard all day. Clearly the grind worked because I’m here now.

Yet, as things got increasingly harder and more stressful, I relied more on the aforementioned routines than before. I ate more junk food, slowly pushed sleep back as homework took more time, and slowly distanced myself from the relationship I was in. The life I had grown accustomed to served its purpose. But, unbeknownst to me, I was no longer the same guy that entered his junior year with aspirations to go to engineering school. When, COVID hit California hard and I had to take classes from our dining table, I recall opening the portal to see I had been accepted into Olin. I had now reached my lifelong goal but had no-one around to celebrate with besides my immediate family. Where was the yelling and partying that all of the television shows I had watched growing up told me I needed to do with that news? Seemingly, the hugs and praises from my family were not enough as I felt the result deserved more of a reaction. The “friends” and “relationship” I thought I had were only useful when the grind was on but no longer there. Now that I’m telling everyone that I got into this small engineering school that MIT ranked number 1, no one cared. The food I thought had given me the world’s energy, had really only gave me a belly that I hadn’t noticed. Much like the world around me, I now had to change.

I learned that Olin has “core personal values” that it expects Oliners to strive towards during their 4 years. The fifth one, Openness to change, states that continually improving requires change even if that may lead to failure or more change. I was already committing myself to changing my entire life by accepting my offer of admission to Olin. I knew I was going to move across the country, leave my family back in California, and have to adapt to a new culture and climate on the east coast. How much harder was it going to be to try and lose some weight in the process, focus in on the people who actually care about me, and to try and return to my once ambitious self? In my head, if I was already doing that much to change my life, it couldn’t hurt to take it a step forward (almost like when you’re at the buffet and ask yourself should I get another plate, yes you always should). So, much like I had done before, I grinded all summer to accomplish my goals that I set on that revolutionary day that I got into Olin. Now as I arrive to campus, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds and gained back strong bonds with my family and those who cared for me when I had lost self-care. 

Conformity is dangerous as it can lead to a blindness to what may lead on the side of risk. As we all begin our journey towards becoming the greatest engineers in the world we should consistently look towards innovating and improving in all aspects of our lives and work as the greatest changes happen when one takes risks.