Alma Matter and the Meaning of Community

I have the privilege of sitting in an office on the second floor of Milas Hall, looking out on the parking lot which is currently framed by beautiful trees in full foliage. As I sat at my desk looking out the window one day, I got to witness people seeing and embracing those they love and have not seen in a while. I was sharing, at a distance, special reunions that are all part of Family Weekend at Olin, something that was not recorded, was not viewed by others and that everyone gets to experience sometime

As we all know, family has many different elements, and kindness starts in the home. Well, when people are away at college, the campus is their home. 

I worked at the Holy Cross College main library for a couple of years. As a part-time employee, I was invited on a campus tour (that happened to be given by my 5th grade teacher’s son!). During the tour the campus guide, Tommy, mentioned that Alma Mater means “other mother.” I truly never knew this information. Per Google – “Your alma mater is your old school, college or university. It’s generally used as a positive term, implying reverence and loyalty for the nurturing qualities of the institution. Alma mater comes from two Latin words meaning “nourishing or bountiful mother.” 

When I walk around campus and see students I try to smile and say hello, remembering this is their home away from home. We want them to feel welcome and embraced while here—no matter their differences. 

In looking outside, seeing sweet embraces of people reconnecting, I hope that feeling at Olin, along with simple kindness, can flow back into an intimate, interesting, hopefully, welcoming community for everyone

Penny for your Thought

Welcome back to Penny for your Thought. Last month’s edition talked gently about the climate change march and had other exciting thoughts. This month’s edition was organized around two topics (with the ability to ignore the topics) that were Book/Movie Recommendations and What You Are Thankful For. 

If you are interested in submitting something for the next iteration of Penny for your Thought, December’s Topics will be: Small Reflection on This Semester and What you are looking forward to next semester. Again, topics are only suggestions and different thoughts are welcomed.
Form can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/FSPennyforyourThought

Book and Movie Recommendations:

“The documentary Avicii: True Stories is the masterpiece of the eon.” – Anonymous, Third Year Student

“The Overstory, by Richard Powers, really is magical. If you’re feeling apocalyptic about climate change and needing to gather some perspective, this is your text. The deep wonder of trees is the book’s real subject, told through a dozen characters in interrelated stories. The best books reframe the world so we see it with new eyes, and this is one of those.” – Sara Hendren, Faculty

“Jupiter Ascending may not have been a particularly intellectual movie, but it was fun and campy. I rewatched it recently on Netflix, remembering very little about it beyond the fact that it was bad, and found myself genuinely enjoying it. The pad scene and the “I love dogs; I’ve always loved dogs” will never not be funny. Plus, it was directed by the Wachowski sisters. “ – Anonymous

“Sneakers (1992 Film)” – Steve Matsumoto, Faculty

“I read Educated by Tara Westover and it was an incredible memoir of self-discovery that’s at times horrific, unbelievable, and beautiful. (TW: physical abuse, violence, hateful language, religious extremism). The author grew up in a Mormon fundamentalist family that idolized anti-government extremists and put her to work scrapping metal in a junkyard when she should’ve been (but wasn’t) in 7th grade. She endures physical abuse at the hands of her loved ones which turns more psychic when she starts to put distance between her old life and the new one she’s clawing together for herself in college, then grad school and beyond. Tara’s perseverance, even in the face of hardships that will scar her forever, is a remarkable thing to bear witness to. This was one of the most powerful books I’ve read in some time.” – Callan, Staff

“The Power, by Naomi Alderman, is a very powerful book. It made me rethink my role as a feminist and the role of revolution in society. Highly recommend.” – Emma Pan, Third Year Student

“Borne or Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer are both weird dystophians that explore technology and environments. Borne is more heavy with biotech with Annihilation being a look at climate change (in a non global warming sense). Borne and Annihilation are often under $5 as ebooks.” – Erika A. Serna, Third Year Student

What You Are Thankful For:
“I’m thankful for my friends walking through nourishing conversations with me” – David Freeman, Third Year Student

“Thankful for: Modern medicine.” – Rick Osterberg, Staff

“I’m grateful for the black comfier chairs at the tables in the library” – Anonymous, Fourth Year Student

“I’m thankful for getting feedback that actually makes me reflect on why I interact with people the way I do and what I may be able to change to be a more effective communicator” -Anonymous

Other:

“Three men check into a hotel. They each pay $10 for a total of $30. Later, the manager realizes that the room only cost $25 and gives the bellhop $5 to return to the guests. Along the way, the bellhop decides that $5 is hard to split between 3 people and pockets $2. He returns $3. Now the men paid $30 initially, with $10 each. They each got $1 back, totaling $9 each for $27. The bellhop has $2 totaling $29. Where is the remaining $1?” – Anonymous

“We’re just the stories we tell about ourselves.” – Anonymous

“you’re doing a great job :)” – Anonymous

“Strong magnets are reverse hammers.” – Zack Davenport, Fourth Year Student

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

Coming Soon: Innovative New BOW Play

You need to meet Jenny Chow. She’ll be visiting in late October and you’re going to love her.

She’s a robot and she’s amazing.

Jenny was created by Jennifer Marcus, the lead character in the play I’m directing this fall as part of a BOW initiative. You’ll like Jennifer too, or at least you’ll recognize her, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see some of yourself in her. Jennifer is a 22-year-old California girl with astounding engineering skills. She was basically an academic rock star in high school. As she says in the play, “I got a job reengineering obsolete missile components after I lost my job at the mall.” 

But in the past few years, things have started to go downhill. Jennifer has obsessive-compulsive disorder and that makes it hard to leave her house. It’s put a ton of strain on her family and she’s in constant struggle with her parents. She’s recently become consumed with meeting her birth mother in China, but since she can’t leave the house, she creates Jenny to fly across the Pacific and find her. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in this play.

Jenny is a lot like Jennifer. She’s kind of Jennifer’s idealized version of herself. And that means she’s not the hypersexualized, glossy, white-and-chrome robot from so many movies and TV shows – the ones predominantly designed by and for middle-aged white dudes. What would a robot look like if it were designed today by a 22-year-old Asian-American woman to represent herself? 

Come find out!

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow will have four performances on the Sorenson mainstage over at Babson (an easy walk from Olin): Thursday, October 24 at 7pm, Friday, October 25 at 2pm and 7pm, and Saturday, October 26 at 7pm. You can get tickets here: https://www.babson.edu/student-life/babsonarts/theater/ (Student tix are $5, but if this poses a hardship for any reason, please let Jon know and he will make sure that finances do not stand between you and this play!) It’s likely that some of the performances will sell out, so we’re strongly recommending you get your tickets in advance.

The cast and crew includes students from both Olin and Babson. Our very own Emma Pan is playing Jenny. Jonah Spicher plays her Dad.  We’ve also got an amazing team of Oliners (including Eamon O’Brien, Peter Seger, Lacie Fradet, Katie Thai-Tang, and Jasper Katzban) working on creating the technical world of this play.  The students are supported by an all-star team of professional designers who have created Jennifer’s two-story house and have a ton of theater magic up their sleeves to surprise and delight you.

In addition to major funding from BabsonArts, and The Empty Space Theater, the production is supported by a BOW Presidential Innovation Grant, and the three college Provosts said they hope it will be “a common text across the three colleges.” There are somewhere between 10-15 courses across the BOW colleges requiring the play as a class assignment, everything from Machine Learning (Olin), to Intro to Acting (Babson), to Cross-Cultural Psychology (Wellesley), to Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (Babson). 

We will have a brief (15 min) curated conversations after each performance to talk about the many ideas the play provokes. I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about what it means for me to be at the helm of the team telling this story and I’d love to talk with you about that. It’s going to be awesome.

This play is hilarious and sad. It’s intense and quirky and challenging and fun. It gives us so much to talk about.

We hope you’ll join us!

(And, don’t forget to join FWOP in November for their hilarious, campy romp through the ABBA-fueled world of Mamma Mia! Two big plays on campus in one semester – could we be any luckier?!)

Maintaining Relationships at Olin

The purpose of this piece is as an auxiliary to the relationship panel. It answers some of the more important questions I remember hearing last year. The three questions that I will address here relate to familial and romantic relationships. The opinions expressed herein are based on my own experiences, and I know that other people are in very different situations. Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best.

How can I stay close with my family?

My family and I send each other letters. You know, those things that take a week or more to get from Massachusetts to South Texas and vice versa. The idea behind this is that when I receive a letter, I’d know the happenings at home without stressing about replying quickly.

When I get a letter, I already know that everything that’s written is dated. I read it and laugh knowing that much of what was written has already happened. I’d always know how the chickens were doing one week ago. I’d know that my brother was going to a chess tournament or that my other brother broke a toe, but by the time I knew the tournament would have already happened or the toe would have already been in a cast for days.

I’m also still in my family’s group chat. They did offer to make one without me so that I don’t receive all their superfluous messages, but I opted to stay. It’s a good way to still be present with them despite being so far away. I get the messages from my parents and brothers that say “headed home” from work or school. I get messages that ask, “Do we need anything
from the grocery store?” And I like to reply, “Yes, eggs.”

We also video chat. Not every day or every weekend, but just whenever we want to see each other. I use my laptop and they crowd around my father’s phone at the dinner table. We exchange funny stories and update each other on the more immediate happenings, short term plans, and general thoughts. I also get to see my younger brothers and how they’re growing and they get to see me descend into madness as the semester progresses.

Will my family miss me when I get back?

I’d say, probably. My two youngest brothers are in the 6th and 9th grades. When I first went off to college, they were excited that I was going somewhere far away. When I returned home for winter vacation, they saw me as more of an adult. I had experiences that they could only imagine. They wanted me to tell them what snow felt like and what the people over here were like.

My parents also treated me more like an adult. They began to ask me questions about the changing social aspects of Boston and the rest of the U.S. At some point, my father heard the term “whitewashing,” on the news and asked me what it meant. I defined it for him and asked if he’d never heard it before. He replied that it meant something different when he was younger. Being away from them for so long also meant that I noticed their oddities more so than before. After spending the day working with my father, I asked my mother, “has he gotten weirder, or am I just noticing it?”

Will my long distance relation-
ship fail?

Heck if I know. If you’re carrying over a relationship from college, the most important thing to know is that it will be different. The amount of time that you can dedicate to each other will diminish proportional to the intensity of the curriculums that you and they pursue.

In my case, I was an engineer and she was an architect. We weren’t able to talk until late at night, and even then sparsely. We both had deadlines that made it hard to maintain the same level of communication that we had in high school. Despite that, we tried our best to send messages throughout the day. We’d share what we ate, the cool things we’d see, and more so that we’d still feel present in each other’s lives. We’d wish each other happy birthday and she enjoyed getting letters from me. And, of course, we cherished the times we got to see each other during the vacations.

But, maintaining a relationship that is not close by takes effort. We’d both lose sleep because we didn’t want to stop sending text messages. I didn’t actively pursue a friend group because I felt secure with having her. I didn’t join many clubs because we wanted to set aside time for us. Had the relationship lasted, this may have been fine. I would have invested in a relationship that would have lasted through college and beyond. But that’s not what happened.

She ended the relationship in the Spring. While I only know the “why” that she told me, I think that the burden of the relationship had become too much. I’d like to think that a relationship ends when one of the people in it isn’t getting what they need out of it, whether it be support, attention, affection or something else.

If you take my story to heart you might think that long-distance relationships are destined for failure, but I’m just one data point. I’d like to think that if you’re both mature individuals who understand the ramifications of a long-distance relationship and believe that the relationship you have is good, then I see no problem in putting effort into keeping it alive. And, if that is the path you choose, I wish you the best of luck.

Democracy at Its Limits

Now that we’ve had a look at the key parties and issues of American politics, let’s take a step back and look holistically at the effects of demographic change on the future of American democracy. In particular, I want to discuss constitutional hardball. While this is by no means unique to our time it represents one of the biggest threats to democracy in America today. Cheery stuff I know, but don’t won’t worry, this series won’t be all doom and gloom.

You’ve likely heard a lot about how polarized US politics is today. Not only are politicians less moderate and less likely to reach across the aisle, but voters too are finding less common ground. If you remember my writings on the two political parties, you can probably see how race plays directly into this. Shifting demographics force parties to either try to capitalize on the change itself, or to the backlash, two diametrically opposed sides. Politically, one of the most dramatic effects of polarization is the increasing frequency of constitutional hardball. Constitutional hardball is a term used to describe actions that are technically legal but that go against norms or historical precedent. 

For an example we can look to the demise of the filibuster over the past decade. The filibuster forced legislators in the Senate to have more than a simple majority (usually 60/100 votes) to pass laws. This can be frustrating for lawmakers who may have a majority, but not a larger supermajority. However, it was generally considered the norm as it (ostensibly) promoted cooperation and compromise between the parties. In an increasingly polarized world this is less appealing, especially since it can be repealed with only 50 votes. Under the Obama administration Democratic lawmakers removed the filibuster for some presidential nominees. Under Trump and the Republican party this trend has accelerated dramatically. Most notably they removed the supermajority requirement for Supreme Court nominees (allowing for the confirmation of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh). And now some Democratic presidential candidates are considering removing the filibuster all together if elected (assuming they had a Senate majority).

While both parties have engaged in constitutional hardball, it is the Republican Party that has been largely responsible for it’s increasing prevalence today. Voter ID laws and gerrymandering get much of the media attention, but the most egregious examples came after the 2018 midterm elections. After a Democratic governor was elected in Wisconsin, the Republican governor and legislature passed a series of bills stripping the governor’s office of power, leaving the new governor unable to make any significant changes to laws. Similar stories played out in Michigan and two years earlier in North Carolina. 

Constitutional hardball is, by definition, technically legal. It nonetheless presents a massive danger to democracy. It prevents the government from accurately reflecting voters by suppressing turnout or lowering effective voting power. This erodes trust in the institutions critical to democracy. It also increases polarization, meaning the whole thing is a positive feedback loop. 

All of this presents a challenge to the Democratic party as they battle over the future of the party. Constitutional hardball often takes the form of a power grab. Parties alter the rules to favor themselves in the future. The problem then is that it can be hard to win if you refuse to play too; at the same time, playing only increases the danger to democracy. Beyond the discussion of abolishing the filibuster entirely, Democratic circles have also discussed stacking the supreme court (adding more seats to force a majority) and splitting California into multiple states (to increase Senate representation). These proposals are not without merit, but they are both controversial examples of constitutional hardball. There is no right answer here. Democrats are stuck with two bad options: try and maintain norms and risk losing political power indefinitely, or fight fire with fire and risk destroying the foundations of American democracy. 

If it’s any comfort this is not without precedent. Despite what it might feel like, we have gone through more contentious times as a country and emerged intact on the other side. The 1970’s saw politically motivated bombings occur nearly every week. The specter of fascism nearly took hold on the years in preceding WWII. We had a bloody Civil War that killed nearly as many Americans as all other wars combined. These may seem like dark times, and in many ways they are, but this is not apocalyptic. American democracy is the oldest in the modern world; it will not be destroyed without a fight. 

Through all of this though let us remember the theme of this series: race and demographic change. Constitutional hardball and polarization is a reaction to changing demographic change in America. It’s easy to see issues as being bigger than or unrelated to race, but the point I am trying to make is that race effects every single aspect of American politics, not just the ones explicitly associated with race. From healthcare to gun control to the filibuster, race drives everything. This is why studying the effects of demographic change is so important. To borrow the words of Ken Burns, I want to see race “not as a politically correct addendum to our national narrative, but at the burning heart of it.”

Next month will be the final article in my series. I’m going to leave the topic a surprise, but I hope it can be a poetic and satisfying end to these articles. I’ll see you then.

How to Change the World as an Engineer

Dear Students,

As engineers, you have a greater ability to affect the future of the planet than almost anyone else.  In particular, the decisions you make as you start your careers will have a disproportionate impact on what the world is like in 2100.

Here are the things you should work on, for the next 80 years, that I think will make the biggest difference:

  • Nuclear energy
  • Desalination
  • Transportation without fossil fuels
  • CO₂ sequestration
  • Alternatives to meat
  • Global education
  • Global child welfare
  • Infrastructure for migration
  • Geoengineering

Let me explain where that list comes from.

First and most importantly, we need carbon-free energy, a lot of it, and soon.  With abundant energy, almost every other problem is solvable, including food and desalinated water.  Without it, almost every other problem is impossible.

Solar, wind, and hydropower will help, but nuclear energy is the only technology that can scale up enough, soon enough, to substantially reduce carbon emissions while meeting growing global demand.

With large scale deployment of nuclear power, it is feasible for global electricity production to be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.  And most energy use, including heat, agriculture, industry, and transportation, could be electrified by that time. Long-range shipping and air transport will probably still require fossil fuels, which is why we also need to develop carbon capture and sequestration.

Global production of meat is a major consumer of energy, food, and water, and a major emitter of greenhouse gasses.  Developing alternatives to meat can have a huge impact on climate, especially if they are widely available before meat consumption increases in large developing countries.

World population is expected to peak in 2100 at 9 to 11 billion people.  If the peak is closer to 9 than 11, all of our problems will be 20% easier.  Fortunately, there are things we can do to help that happen, and even more fortunately, they are good things.

The difference between 9 and 11 depends mostly on what happens in Africa during the next 30 years.  Most of the rest of the world has already made the “demographic transition”, that is, the transition from high fertility (5 or more children per woman) to low fertility (at or below replacement rate).

The primary factor that drives the demographic transition is childhood survival; increasing childhood survival leads to lower fertility.  Counterintuitively, the best way to limit global population is to protect children from malnutrition, disease, and violence. Other factors that contribute to lower fertility are education and economic opportunity, especially for women.

Regardless of what we do in the next 50 years, we will have to deal with the effects of climate change, and a substantial part of that work will be good old fashioned civil engineering.  In particular, we need infrastructure like sea walls to protect people and property from natural disasters. And we need a new infrastructure of migration, including the ability to relocate large numbers of people in the short term, after an emergency, and in the long term, when current population centers are no longer viable.

Finally, and maybe most controversially, I think we will need geoengineering.  This is a terrible and dangerous idea for a lot of reasons, but I think it is unavoidable, not least because many countries will have the capability to act unilaterally.  It is wise to start experiments now to learn as much as we can, as long as possible before any single actor takes the initiative.

When we think about climate change, we gravitate to individual behavior and political activism.  These activities are appealing because they provide opportunities for immediate action and a feeling of control.  But they are not the best tools you have.

Reducing your carbon footprint is a great idea, but if that’s all you do, it will have negligible effect.

And political activism is great: you should vote, make sure your representatives know what you think, and take to the streets if you have to.  But these activities have diminishing returns. Writing 100 letters to your representative is not much better than one, and you can’t be on strike all the time.

If you focus on activism and your personal footprint, you are neglecting what I think is your greatest tool for impact: choosing how you spend 40 hours a week for the next 80 years of your life.

As an early-career engineer, you have more ability than almost anyone else to change the world.  If you use that power well, you will help us get through the 21st Century with a habitable planet and a high quality of life for the people on it.

How to Read for Fun

Do you want to read?  Have no idea where to obtain the books you want to read? Have no idea what to read? Never have time to do it? Don’t have any of those problems but want to kill some time?

I gotchu. 

“I have no idea where to find the books I want to read.”

Libraries are perhaps one of the greatest things that exist.

Our school library has a collection of fiction books that I happen to love very much (East of Eden by John Steinbeck, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy are just a few of my favorites that are on the shelf). If you’ve read through the entire fiction section of the school library I believe that you will feel a deep sense of inner peace in your heart. DISCLAIMER: I haven’t done this and thus cannot confirm the truth of that but I just…feel it in my bones. Anyhow, feel free to prove me wrong (this would require reading through the entire selection of fiction).

BUT if none of those titles interest you particularly or you’re looking for a specific book that the library doesn’t have, we are within reasonable walking distance of not just one but two (2) free public libraries! The Wellesley Public Library and Needham Public Library are capital F Free to borrow books from, and all it takes is a library card! I cannot endorse getting a library card enough, in part because both libraries are part of the Minuteman Library Network. What’s the benefit of this? Minuteman Library Network has an Overdrive library, which is to say that they have an online catalog from which you can read books ONLINE. IN YOUR BROWSER. DOWNLOADED AS A PDF. SENT TO YOUR E-READER. You don’t even have to return the book; Overdrive will automatically remove your loan after your time is up, so you won’t incur any late fees. But wait! there’s MORE!! The Minuteman Library Network has partnered with several other library networks in the Greater Boston Area/Eastern Massachusetts, so not only do you have access to the MLN Overdrive Library, but like, 10 other network’s libraries as well. This gives you online, free, legal access to basically any book you wish to read (If it’s not there, you can request they obtain it).

“Okay, now I know where to find the books, but I have no idea what to read.”

I have a few recommendations, but I’m only recommending ones that I’ve read or reread within the past 6 months (so you know, we can discuss if you have feelings about them). There are so many others, but I need to start somewhere. Also: I personally really enjoyed these books. If you don’t end up enjoying them there will be no refunds or take backsies, you’re just gonna have to live with it. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, if not my favorite. He makes the land come alive, and his stories always strike something deep within me that makes me feel like more of a Human Being. This is my favorite work of his. 5 of 5 stars.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A story of resilience, hope, displacement, family, the land and the people of the United States of America, and how we sustain ourselves and one another, among other things. 5 of 5 stars.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The novel debut of the author, one of my favorite journalists and profile writers. A modern novel (just came out this summer!) about marriage, divorce, love. The writing is sarcastic, observant, critical, and compassionate. Thoroughly enjoyable to read (and maybe more accessible than the books I’ve already mentioned). 4 of 5 stars.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I was in China this summer and spent 8 hours in a café reading this book. I skipped lunch. I cried in public like 4 times. I laughed to myself with total disregard for embarrassment. Another modern novel about marriage, divorce, love, family. This book made me appreciate my mom a lot more. Probably my favorite book I’ve read this year. 5 of 5 stars.

Severance by Ling Ma

Another modern novel, but this time not about marriage or divorce. Somewhat sci-fi apocalyptic in premise. A bildungsroman. Yeah, I cried to this one, too. 4 of 5 stars.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

A non-fiction book! Had me thinking about SO much stuff I’d never considered before, and if that’s not the mark of a good book, what is? I learned a lot. Structured well and written in a very accessible way. Good/5 stars.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Another non-fiction book, which was the Olin summer reading book the year before this one. I’m not supposed to give my opinion (lol) but I think it’s got a lot of great content that everyone at Olin should be aware of and have floating in the back of their heads, or in the front. Also Good/5 stars.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I think about this book all the time. A classic for good reason. It’s good, really good. 5 of 5.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

If you’ve ever wanted to read a like, 5 season TV drama as a book, this book is like that. Entertaining to read, and the embodiment of a dish served cold. 3 of 5 stars.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I finally got around to reading this one and it wasn’t at all what I expected. If you like flirtatious banter in 1800’s British aristocratic society, this is the book for you. If TCoMC is a drama, this one is a RomCom. 3 of 5 stars.

Additionally, here are books that I am reading or plan on reading Soon™:

  • Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima 
  • Range by David Epstein
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Okay, yeah alright, that’s all well and good but I don’t even SLEEP these days and you must be delusional to think I have time to slog through a 700+ page book like Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment or literally anything that will take me longer than 15 minutes to finish.”

That’s fair, we’re all busy people. If reading and finishing a book is something you want to accomplish, make it a goal to read 5 pages a day during a meal or on the toilet (maybe don’t do this one with library books). Maybe before you sleep, in which case, you’ll either fall asleep to the book or you’ll read exactly 5 pages or you’ll get engrossed in the book. There’s no losing scenario I can conceive of (but I’d be happy to learn about your losing scenarios).

If reading and finishing a book isn’t something that interests you, but you still enjoy reading, there are some very talented journalists and short-form writers (ok I don’t know if this is the correct terminology but I’m gonna roll with it) out there that put out some thought-provoking, moving, or just plain enjoyable to read articles and/or short-form pieces. These take generally 5-20 minutes to read, and are much easier to consume in one sitting. Here are some pieces I thought were Good for some reason or another and journalists I look forward to reading on a semi-regular basis: 

Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote Fleishman is in Trouble, and is one of my favorite celebrity profile writers. What’s a celebrity profile? It’s a partially biographical piece written usually after a 2-3 day interview, and when done well, makes me feel like I’ve learned more about myself, as well as about the person in question. Here are two of the ones written by Brodesser-Akner, and another one that isn’t:

I always look forward to what Jia Tolentino writes for The New Yorker (and she has a new book out that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet that’s in the school library!). Here are some of her recent articles that I’ve enjoyed:

Two recent articles in The Economist that I valued reading:

If you got here, dang bro. That’s a lot of reading you just did. Hopefully this was helpful. Send me your book and article recommendations. I’ll send you more if you want them.

Sober Horoscopes

I hope that you all had a great September (or at least you were prepared for how September treated you). After a month spent carefully computing the locations of the planets and pretending that reading niche astrology books count as having a hobby, here are some general and sign-specific notes for the upcoming month. 

There are a few major astrological events of note this month that will affect all of the signs. On October 13th, there will be a full moon in Aries – this can create a deep feeling of uncertainty. You can see this as a risk (and then practice the associated avoidance strategies), or you can take it as an opportunity to take a stand. On October 23rd, the sun will leave Libra and enter Scorpio, so be aware that the balanced lifestyle you may enjoy for the first half of the month might quickly intensify. 

Lastly, on October 31st, Mercury will enter retrograde in Scorpio – while Halloween itself might be spooky, this is terrifying. Mercury retrogrades bring issues with technology and communication, and a retrograde in Scorpio brings deep tension and conflict in all aspects of life. Spend this month preparing for the retrograde, and keep in mind that you will find deeper truths on the other end of it.

Here are some sign-specific notes for you all. Remember that just judging by your sun sign is not a very holistic way to read your horoscope. For some more insights, also consider your moon sign (which rules your emotions and inner self) and your rising sign (which rules the way you present to other people). If you don’t know what your moon and rising signs are, you can use an online calculator, assuming you can first find out the time you were born at. 

Aries (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): 

Aries, your ruling planet is Mars. Mars is not doing anything particularly interesting this month, but worry not – this month’s full moon (on October 13th) is in Aries! Use this opportunity to reflect on who you truly are and what motivates you, and then make sure that you think about how you can carry those learnings forward, regardless of whether you are thinking about what to eat in the dining hall or where to work next summer.

Taurus (April 20-May 20): 

Taurus, your ruling planet is Venus. While Venus is not having too eventful a month, it will be sextile to Pluto on both October 20th and October 25th – note that this is happening both in Libra and in Scorpio. Because interactions between Venus and Pluto brings some intensity to your personal relationships, make sure you stay level-headed and pragmatic even when it is exciting to obsess over the details. 

Gemini (May 21–June 21): 

Gemini, you are ruled by Mercury. While Mercury is interestingly positioned in relation to several planets over the course of the month, most of the impacts you will feel are linked to the looming retrograde. While the Mercury retrograde is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, there is sometimes a place for just trying to manage the chaos and reflecting on the other side – we practice that all of the time at Olin. Just do not forget to eventually do a plus/delta session and come up with a measurable kaizen afterwards!

Cancer (June 22–July 22):

Your ruling celestial object is the moon. This month, there will be a full moon in Aries on October 13th and a new moon in Scorpio on October 27th. Both of these signs are fairly individualistic, so let this be a chance for you to channel your own conviction into meaningful action. While how small Olin is can feel suffocating sometimes, it can also be empowering, and this month is your chance to leverage the environment you are in. 

Leo (July 23–Aug. 22): 

Leo, your ruler is the sun. As the sun moves from Libra to Scorpio this month, you will have many opportunities to experiment with your ability to pursue your lofty ambitions while maintaining a realistic and balanced life. Note that pushing yourself to be the best you can and living a reasonable lifestyle is a balance in and of itself, and no one except for you can find how that translates to your day-to-day life. 

Virgo (Aug. 23–Sept. 22): 

Virgo, like Gemini, you are ruled by Mercury. Mercury is going through several different changes in position this month, and while you are more likely to feel them than Gemini is, remember that these are only minor setbacks in face of the looming retrograde in Scorpio. Learn everything you can for the beginning of the month, and remember that the following period will likely not be as bad as you envision it to be. 

Libra (Sept. 23–Oct. 23): 

Enjoy the end of Libra season! This opportunity for clear thinking literally only comes one time every year, so take advantage of this time to make a plan for the near (and distant). Your ruling planet, Venus, will be sextile to Pluto on October 20th and October 25th this month (both when the sun is and is not in Libra) – this event usually brings some gravity to your personal relationships, so be ready to stay grounded even when you feel like you have every right not to be. 

Scorpio (Oct. 24–Nov. 21):

The coming two months are chaotic for you. Your ruling planet, Pluto, exits a five-month retrograde on October 3rd – as it goes direct, take some time to turn your self-reflection into actionable goals, as you will need them to recenter. The sun enters Scorpio on October 24th, which will positively impact your thinking and identity, but the Mercury retrograde in Scorpio starting on October 31st will bring miscommunication to your closest relationships, regardless of whether that be with the people around you or the technology you use. You are allowed to feel okay even when your world suggests you should not. 

Sagittarius (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): 

Saggirtarius, your ruling sign is Jupiter. On October 13th, the sun will be sextile to Jupiter, which should empower you to work towards your personal goals. As this is also the day of a full moon in Aries, you can feel free to ask yourself deeper questions about your personal conviction and how that connects to your day-to-day actions. Extra points if it also helps you on your job interviews/grad school applications.

Capricorn (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): 

Saturn, your ruling planet, is back in direct this month, which provides you an exciting opportunity to get to work after a less grounded time in your life. Maintaining that personal drive will be really important this month, especially on October 7th when the sun will be square to Saturn. This event can potentially bring some personal struggle and conflict around the beginning of the month, but things will cool off quickly. A walk around Parcel B can fix more problems than you think it can, but please use bug spray.

Aquarius (Jan. 20–Feb. 18):

Aquarius, your ruling planet is Uranus. On October 7th, Mercury will be opposite Uranus, and this will probably make the early half of the month fairly hectic for you. While the middle of the month will be a lot calmer, make sure to stay grounded. On October 28th, the Sun will be opposite Uranus, which will bring additional uncertainty. Note that this energy is not necessarily a bad thing, and while you might initially feel overwhelmed it might bring additional clarity in the future. 

Pisces (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): 

Your ruling planet, Neptune, is not very active this month. However, a few small events – including that it will be trine with Venus on October 21st and sextile with Mercury on October 15th, will cause an increase in your own capacity for personal reflection and creativity. This is a great time to start a new art project or revisit ones you might have forgotten about. 

Penny For Your Thoughts

Random thoughts of the Olin population.

 

Olin’s development into a more protest-literate culture could be really constructive move for us to participate in global climate discourse

-Anonymous

 

I went to the Boston Climate Strike on Friday. I walked there, if that makes a difference. The walk over was pleasant, the commitment to going was a relief, like I was reordering my priorities. Personally, that’s what this was for me: a reordering of priorities, things to consider for my future. When I got to the gathering in front of Government Center, I teared up a little seeing the people gathered there, proudly displaying their posters.   In some ways, it was a little disappointing. Climate change is an issue that reaches every part of our global society, and is closely related to a large array of systemic issues and injustices. So it’s easy to redirect the conversation about climate change towards these other issues. But this can make the message unfocused, which makes it a lot harder to get the point across. People need to be on the same page, otherwise we find ourselves confused and lost as to what we are trying to achieve, particularly if we’re trying to achieve many things all at once (I saw a non-trivial number of “down with capitalism” posters. Maybe it’s consumerism that hurts us more? Or are the two inseparably linked? who knows. anyway,) Many things need to change, that’s for sure. But the task (in this case, legislation to curb climate change) gets monumentally harder to do in a focused manner the more we tack on to it.    And ultimately, meaningful change doesn’t happen through brute force and spiteful shaming and silencing of the people we disagree with. So maybe less of the vitriol towards people who haven’t gotten on board with the message, yeah? We need to rock the vote. We need to strengthen and broaden our communities. We can’t just go to these gatherings and post pictures on social media with our clever signs and call it a day. If the climate strike made you want to do more, good. If you feel like you’ve already done your part, it’s just the beginning. If you didn’t go, I encourage attending another event in the future. Even if you don’t like crowds, even if you don’t see a point, even if you don’t care, it’s something to experience, and we have the privilege and position to be a part of it.

-Miranda

 

The John Wick trilogy takes advantage of its simple plot structure to explore the motivations and intentions of its characters, as well as nuanced themes of good and evil, with a depth that is belied by its status as an “action-forward violent movie.”

-Connor Novak 

 

Single Ladies, but bluegrass.

-Anonymous