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.

Vote Early, Vote Once

Tl;dr: Deadlines for voter registration and absentee ballot requests are fast approaching. If you are not registered to vote by October 4th or if you do not request a ballot by October 13th, it may be too late.  

Excited to participate in the upcoming election cycle, but not sure how to start? Confused about if you are currently registered to vote, or how you can vote without having to travel back to your polling place? We can help you, but the deadlines are sooner than you think. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Register to Vote

The easiest way to register to vote or check if you are registered to vote is by using vote.org. If you are not registered to vote, this website can help you register online (if your state supports that) or by mail. Depending on your state, you will need either a driver’s license or a social security number to register.

While it’s up to you to determine whether it makes the most sense to register to vote in your home state rather than using your Olin address, consider the impact that your vote would have in your home community (school board, state senate, etc.). Policy in your hometown will likely have a more direct impact on you and your family than legislation in Needham will. 

  1. Get Access to a Ballot

If you are currently located in the town or city in which you are registered to vote, you may have the opportunity to vote in person. Many states allow for in-person early voting and are implementing COVID specific procedures to make day-of voting safe. 

If you are voting by mail, you will need to request a ballot from your local election office. If you are currently residing anywhere that is not your home address, you will need to send in an absentee ballot request form. You can use the absentee ballot request form on vote.org: https://www.vote.org/absentee-ballot/. It will provide state-specific instructions, and in many cases you will need to mail the absentee ballot to your home city or town. You can then follow up with your town or city clerk to ensure that they are sending you an official ballot.

  1. Return that Absentee Ballot

This step only applies to you if you are voting by mail.  

Once you have received your absentee ballot in the mail, fill it out according to the instructions provided. Pay special attention to where to sign your ballot and sign as closely to the signature on your ID as possible. Also double-check what postage you need and be sure to mail it in on time. Note some states (such as Arkansas) require you to send in a copy of your ID alongside your ballot, so check to see if you need to take any extra steps.

We’ll be holding office hours over the next few weeks and are also available by email. We would love to help you with any of these steps and/or help answer any general voting-related questions. 

Meet President Gilda Barabino!

Welcome to the September issue, and the first, of the 2020-2021 academic school year! I hope you all have had a chance to settle into your new places for the fall semester.

This article comes from a collaboration with the Marketing and Communications department, who reached out to me about interviewing President Barabino, who became president of Olin College on July 1, 2020. I want to thank President Barabino for taking the time to meet with me, as well as Anne-Marie from MarCom for guiding me through the process and polishing the questions and interview with me.

Thank you as well to the students who submitted questions for this interview (and also told me what you want from FS this fall) and to my wonderful editors, Anusha Datar and Dianna Sims (and also to Mark Goldwater, who’s a consultant)!

This interview happened through Zoom on a Monday, August 17, morning at 9 a.m. Thankfully, the call was recorded and transcribed. This interview has been edited for length and in some cases clarity. Let’s get started!

Serna: How has this stay-at-home period been like for you? What’s something positive that’s come with it?

President Barabino: Staying at home has actually meant a lot of Zoom meetings. But the one thing that I think has been a benefit of [having] Zoom meetings [is that] it enables you to bring a broad range of participants from different locations who may not have otherwise been able to gather at the same time.

One exciting opportunity was the Ask Me Anything [AMA] evening. We were all spread out in remote locations; we would not have been able to gather that way ordinarily since we weren’t able to be on campus. Zoom allowed us to do that, and it was a great opportunity to get to know members of the community and for members of the community to get to know me.

Serna: What’s something you are looking forward to this semester?

President Barabino: What I’m looking forward to the most is actually the start of the new academic year. There’s been so much anticipation of taking on the presidency and being the academic leader, and there’s something about the excitement of the fall, the newness of the academic year and the new semester. There’s an excitement around renewal that you just can’t escape. That’s the most exciting thing for me, and [also] to get to know more of the community in a deeper way.

 Has the assigned reading been shared with everyone?

Serna: I believe it’s The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom.

President Barabino: Yes, I picked it! I’m excited for us to have something that we as a community can read together and discuss together, as just an additional way to get to know each other.

Serna: How exciting is it going to be? How would you convince others to read this?

President Barabino: To me, there’s something we can learn about people, the people who we know or would like to get to know better, if there’s something we can learn about one another by having a shared reading experience. I think the fun is in the sharing and learning. We’ll see, when we actually get an opportunity to talk about it.

Serna: We’re planning a convocation, and I don’t know if you know, but we’re planning on having you talk during this. And I think knowing what you have to say about it will make reading the book worth it.

President Barabino: People want to know one another as one individual to another. They want to know about your life, about your experiences. It turns out, usually, there’s something about someone’s experience that you can tap into: “That happened to me too.” Even if it’s not the same thing, there are similarities that people bond over. Humans like to connect; that’s why we want to be on campus together. That’s why we want to connect even if it has to be on Zoom.

Serna: No one would be Zooming if we didn’t care.

President Barabino: That’s right.

Serna: Tell us more about being a tempered radical. I saw your interview with WGBH where you said, “One who is radical and trying to be a change and has an understanding of working in the system. Creating change within.”

President Barabino: So, part of what that concept means in addition to that: If you think about “tempered” in the sense of a metal becoming tougher from alternately being heated up and cooled down – if you’re a tempered radical, maybe in a certain setting you increase the heat, you push harder, you put on more pressure. There could be, in certain situations, certain contexts [where] it makes sense to cool down, back off a bit — having a sense of when and how to be more forceful or not, to speak up more or not. It’s the tempering that allows you, hopefully, to be more effective, because different situations call for different kinds of reactions. If you want to be effective, it may be that one time is a time for screaming loudly and other times not so much because you wouldn’t be heard.

Knowing when and how to use that voice, knowing when and how to have agency — I think that’s the broader concept of being a tempered radical. And to do that, you have to be in a system. How can you stand on the outside looking in and have an impact? You have to be a part of the system you are trying to change.

Serna: Do you want to share an experience?

President Barabino: Part of my experience is, when going into a new environment, and and observing or experiencing things that are unfair, being able to call it out. If I didn’t call it out, I’d lose the opportunity to make a difference, because it would go unseen. [It’s about] knowing when and how to do that.

So [here’s] one of the things I have done in the past: If I’m in a situation and I’m the only woman or woman of color, and I know there are reasons why women or women of color are not being afforded the same opportunities as others, then I will call that out and say, “Here’s the reason why you are not having more people who come from certain backgrounds participating.” Drawing attention to it will, hopefully, give people an opportunity to come up with some strategies that can make a difference.

I’ll give you a concrete example. I was an associate chair for graduate studies in the biomedical department at Georgia Tech, and the graduate student population did not have a lot of diversity in terms of underrepresented minorities or even women. So when I became an associate chair, I looked at the data. I looked at where we were recruiting. I looked at how we were actually carrying out our selection process, and asked questions about what we could change so that we would actually yield a more diverse population in [both] the applications and those that we accepted. So it’s really being there in that system and actually calling it out when you see it. After I got involved, the very next class that came in was the most diverse class that the department had ever accepted.

Serna: What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in your career that almost made you give up, but you pushed through and realized what you could have missed? [question submitted by Dianna Simms]

President Barabino: I don’t think that there is any one thing. I would point to something that is a long-standing obstacle: persistent and ingrained biases. They are persistent within people, within organizations, within institutions, [and they] tend to — when acted upon by people —advantage some and disadvantage others. It’s even harder because it’s harder to see it, name it, call it out, and act on it, but it is there. So these biases that are ingrained become part of people’s thinking — people who are in power and set rules and practices that advantage some and disadvantage others. 

That, I think, is the kind of obstacle that is the worst, because it is persistent and it is ingrained. And it can hold talent back; it can hold certain people back. Part of what I’ve done is to really stand for what is equitable and fair, so that opportunities are equitably distributed.

Serna: I really appreciate your response and I totally see where it’s coming from. Like … [Makes a fist.]

President Barabino: And people don’t usually talk about it. People don’t typically talk about more deeply rooted biases that effect access to opportunities.

Serna: A part of that … I think it took me a solid two to three years of college to be like, “Wait, wait a second, what is happening here?” Once you figure it out, who do you tell? You just have to — at least for me, as I feel like my mom has been trying to tell me my whole life — you have to slowly swallow it and know you are swimming against the current, even though I never accepted that until I was actually pushed back by the water. Then I was like, “Oh gosh, my mom was right.”

President Barabino: See, it’s true, and the important thing is to know it, understand it — do not internalize it, and don’t let it keep you down. Because I think a lot of it is our mindset and how we look at things, like if you let people tell you [that you] are lesser than and then believe it. I’m not letting anyone tell me that.

Serna: I mean, it’s hard when the entire room is telling you, at least in my experience.

President Barabino: I think knowing that it exists is helpful. What I did, knowing that, [is] I started researching organizational behavior, personal and organizational dynamics, because I thought, “Okay, wait, so people act a certain way, and what I need to do is understand how people act in what context so that I can be in a position to navigate those situations, because it’s all about people in the end and how one human interacts with another human.” I thought, “Huh, I need to better understand how this works. So that when I see a particular type of  behavior, I am in a better position to protect myself from biases or speak up on the biases, a better position to handle it, and not let it derail me.” Because it’s easy to get derailed. So I don’t let other people’s expectations [take over]. If someone’s saying, “I don’t think you can do this because you’re a Black woman,” well, I’m not going to buy that. That’s ridiculous. So I think if we understand that and understand what’s motivating sometimes — when someone is driven to put a person down, because they’re trying to push themselves up — we can overcome that and in fact we can all pull one another up. That makes more sense to me.

Serna: I’m going to be bold and assume you’ve made mistakes that make you cringe. A step you shouldn’t have taken or a step you did. How did (or do) you cope with the feeling of knowing you’ve been wrong and can’t change it?

President Barabino: The older we get, the more we learn to handle mistakes, because we’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to have mishaps; we’re going to say something the wrong way; we’re going to do something we wish we hadn’t done. For me, the ones that I usually worry about the most, honestly, because I’m really a people person, [are] how I made someone else feel or how I helped someone else or not. That really bothers me — if I wasn’t at my best to help someone else be at their best.

So if I said something that I could’ve said better, or maybe I shouldn’t have said it at all. I really do rethink those things. What I try to do is learn from it. I make a note, I really do, a note to self: “That didn’t go so well. You could’ve handled that differently.” I think about if the situation presents itself again, how can I better try and understand the other person. When people are having interactions and it’s not going so well, we’re very quick as human beings to say, “It’s your fault, not mine. I’m not doing anything wrong.” I have tried to own my piece of the situation — that has sort of helped me through the cringe moments.

Because I’ll own up. I’ll tell somebody I made a mistake. I think we have to be willing to admit to our mistakes and then try to do better the next time.

That was a good question.

Serna: In case you didn’t have a good response, I was thinking about the story that you had lost your test tubes and months of research, when you were on the subway and someone bumped into you.

President Barabino: It was depressing. It was like, I was like, “Okay. Start over.” It was crushing. [She laughs for a long time.]

Serna: I laugh a little at your optimism, looking back at it and being like, “It was so depressing and crushing, but okay, start over,” with a big smile on your face. That’s so good.

President Barabino: I think that has been my attitude for everything: “Alright, pick yourself up.” What are you going to do? Wallow in self-pity? It doesn’t fix anything.

Serna: But it feels so good.

President Barabino: [She laughs again for a while.] Right? You can allow yourself a certain amount of it, but not too much of it.

Serna: You get to treat yourself a little.

President Barabino: That’s so right. So I actually try to remind myself that every mistake, literally, you can learn from it. You might not see it right away, but eventually you may see how you can learn from that previous experience. Like it’s all bringing us toward some greater good later, even if we don’t see it right away.

Serna: Okay. I will take that to heart. 

Given your long history with biomedical engineering, do you plan to change or revive Olin’s bio-engineering program? In my opinion, it is a degree that hasn’t really been developed nearly as much as the others, and I wonder how it might change in the future. [question submitted by a student]

President Barabino: Yeah, I think that’s an easy one for me. It’s part of my passion. It’s part of what I’ve done my entire career. I look forward to enhancing what we do here in that space. And I will work with people, with students, with faculty, with outside potential partners like companies, to say, okay, what is it we can do at Olin to enhance our capacity, our learning, our teaching, and our contribution in the biomedical engineering space? And it will be fun! [Big smile.] There’s plenty to do. Yes, I plan on working on that. 

Serna: Do you have words of advice for those who feel lonely?

President Barabino: It’s important to identify if those feelings of loneliness suggest something bigger and more serious, perhaps the first signs of depression, in which case I encourage anyone in that situation to seek professional guidance and counseling. But if you’re asking about the kind of loneliness that can occur when a students is away from home for the first time then I would say look at ways to not be isolated and to focus on something positive. Things like reaching out to another person, or thinking about something that makes you feel happy and that makes you feel energized. It could be exercise. It can be really just thinking about how to use some alone time productively, just to get in sync with good thoughts. Think about the good things that have happened. Think about good things that [you] have contributed or things that [you want] to do.

I like music. I think music is a good pick-me-up. And reading or just doing … something. Sometimes if you get too isolated, too lost in thoughts, the act of moving, dancing, exercising or all of the above can serve as a oick me up. Of course, it’s always helpful if one person can find another person to connect with.

And let’s not forget the power of laughter which is therapeutic in its own right.

Serna: Do you have any words of advice or hope for people living off campus? As you might know, this is the first time that a majority of Oliners are living off campus.

President Barabino: My advice is, no matter what situation they find themselves in, to make the most of it. What [can] you do in that environment that makes the most of that environment? How do you connect with one another in that environment? How do you take it seriously? … Listen to science and be connected to each other. We’re Oliners; we think creatively. We can figure out how to do those things that keep everyone safe and help everyone feel connected. That would be my advice. But again, make the most of whatever situation you find yourself in. 

Serna: What about people living on campus?

President Barabino: In the same vein, like that way of “Here’s the environment I’m in — how do I best use this particular setting and take advantage of it while being mindful and serious and following the science and what we know. Just being smart about how we behave. Be smart about our interactions and our decisions in thinking not just about ourselves but [about] other people as well. So I think that whether you’re on campus or not, those are some really important things that people should be thinking about. 

Serna: Why did you choose to do the research you’ve done?

President Barabino: I was very purposeful in the research that I chose to pursue. I was interested in applying engineering to medical applications, and I was interested specifically in investigating a disease that impacts underserved communities, underrepresented communities, and health disparity populations (or those who don’t have the same level of access). I picked sickle cell disease because it disproportionately affects African Americans and I wanted to make a difference, in a way that makes people’s lives better by treating a medical condition. That was my real motivation to use engineering to study and solve medical problems. And I’m still active in that work to this day.

Serna: Do you plan to carry it over to Olin?

President Barabino: I won’t have a research lab at Olin, but I will be collaborating with others who are still doing this type of work.

Serna: So it would be external?

President Barabino: Yes, I would continue the work through external collaborations.

Serna: Would you want your own lab space at Olin?

President Barabino: At some point. I won’t necessarily want a dedicated space just for me, but I would love to participate and collaborate in spaces that already exist here by working with others. One of the things that’s fun for me is the ability to work with faculty and students on education and research on all sorts of topics. I’m looking to expand the areas that I’m working in. It’s rich here. There’s so much to pick from.

Serna: What’s your favorite type of ice cream? [question submitted by a student]

President Barabino: Chocolate.

Serna: What’s your favorite type of dessert? Cake, pie, ice cream? [She got really excited about dining hall ice cream when I mentioned the different flavors.]

President Barabino: I like all of them. Cake and pie with ice cream. If I had to pick one, I would choose ice cream.

Serna: What’s a question you wish I asked?

President Barabino: I saw that question, and I don’t know. I thought the questions were so wide-ranging and pretty thorough. I don’t know what else you could have asked right now. I thought it was pretty good. And it was fun! You’re a pretty good interviewer. Most times, interviewers don’t always know how to make their interviewees feel comfortable.

We should do more interviews. So that we all get to know one another. I just love getting to know students in particular because I learn so much from students. I see myself as a lifelong learner. Part of why I went into education, higher education in particular, is that I wanted to be in an environment where I was surrounded by youth and people who were excited to learn — people who bring new ideas to the table and fresh energy. That kind of energy helps energize those of us who’ve been at it for a while. New students bring the new energy we all need. The start of the academic year brings that.

We’re off into the new year. Come along for the journey!

May Compliments Corner

We have such an awesome community and I’m so glad that these compliments can highlight and celebrate that. Hope you enjoy! 

Hi Evan! Thank you for being such a wonderful person to lean on when I need someone to talk to. Thank you for always being supportive of me and letting me bounce my thoughts off of you. You’re such a good soul. I know you’ll go far :)

Hannah is a magical human who manages to cheer me up whenever I see her! This is true both in the everyday, and especially when I’m sad and need a shoulder to lean on. Thank you, Hannah.

Diego Alvarez is the first Oliner I ever met, and he made me feel, and still makes me feel, welcome and accepted at Olin. He can also spin fire like no tomorrow, and I will always aspire to that level of awesome.

Kyle Combes is such a gentle soul. He makes me feel loved and listened to, and continues to bring me joy whenever I see his face, even if it is over video chat and not in person.

Evan New-Schmidt is one of my favorite people. I think he really embodies what it means to be an Oliner: He is a very capable engineer, but also cares deeply about the community, always seems to have time for the wacky shenanigans that just scream ‘Olin’. He’s a super genuine and kind person and I find him very inspiring

Lucky is probably the strongest person that I know. He is the embodiment of work hard, play hard, and whenever things get tough, Lucky always steps up to the plate and doesn’t give up until the job is done, and I respect that so much

Rachel Won is a people person, and she’s just so passionate about… everything. Truly inspiring.

Kian, I cherish every REEEEEEEEE you’ve shared with me

Anna has such a great energy to her! Also 10/10 good barber

To my partner in all sorts of things: thank you for being you. You are incredible.

Anil is super hard-working, technically experienced, patient, and has been a great mentor and role model for me. Thanks for all you’ve done for me and the formula team <3

Has there ever been as smart and perceptive an Oliner as Ava?  I doubt it.

I cannot fathom how Caitrin does all the things she does, and at such a high level.  I want to be Caitrin when I grow up.

Mark Somerville is The Real Deal.  Seriously, people, I cannot fathom an Olin without him.  We are so, so lucky for his leadership.  (Never leave us, Mark!)

WAY TO GO Presidential Search team!  You ROCK!

Sharon Breitbart is the most unsung hero of Olin.  No one here appreciates her enough, but I DO!  Thank you for your amazingness, Sharon!

ERD?  Best of the best.

Carlos, thank you for being a fantastic friend, I appreciate you so much

No one knows what Lauren Taaffe does, but the whole college would fall apart without her.  Thank you, Lauren!!!

Sarah Spence Adams totally gets it.  All of it.

Thank you to Jon Adler for totally having our backs through all this messiness.  What would Olin be without you?!

Libby is a goddess nerd.

Rob and Jean – you have been so supportive of students during this time while still providing engaging class time. I always look forward to six microbes class <3

Prisha Sadhwani is such a kind-hearted and warm human, who’s always looking out for her friends, even mid-pandemic :)

Carlos, thank you for stepping up so hard when the class of ’22 needed you. I know you had all your own personal stresses to, and everything you did was way beyond the scope of the position you signed up for, but your energy never faltered, and you worked so selflessly hard, which I appreciate endlessly.

Erhardt, you inspire me every day. I think you’ve helped me find purpose and guidance and I’m so immensely grateful to you. I hope that I can be even a little bit like you!

William Derksen is very cute

Meg Ku – you impress me with all the crazy amazing things you accomplish, keep it up girl!

Micah has the best hair, always

Sam Daitzman, you bring me so much joy. Thanks for being my frienddd <3

Sam Young is an absolute legend

Who can? Emma Pan

Kristin I miss u so much <3 love you, even (and especially when) you’re being sassy

Jordan, thank you for all the free hug Fridays. You give the best hugs!

Dylan — your thoughtfulness and amazing ability to listen always makes me feel at home around you

Blake: you have a great sense of humor, and you always make me feel comfortable being who I am

Emma W, you’re such a wholesome kind of crazy!

Dhara: you have such a big heart I love you

AT, I’m so lucky that you are in my life!! I love how wacky you keep things and I love vegetable charades and worm-y karaoke! Can’t wait until we are back together in person!

Thank you to Olin administration for caring about everyone’s mental health as well as physical

Emily T. has been amazing as a MechSolids professor and I appreciate her daughter’s guest lectures

Katie Goldstein is such a bright and radiant person

I miss hanging out and laughing with George

Skye’s zoom backgrounds always make me laugh

Shreya. That’s it that’s the compliment no explanation needed

Jasmine never fails to make me laugh

Anusha absolutely killed it as SG president and we all love and have so much appreciation for her

I’m always so happy to see when Kristtiya sends a video to the class groupchat

Maya A. is a kind and passionate soul that inspires me

Anil is a dope MechSolids NINJA that I really appreciate

Shirin is a caring and loving person

Reid is a pun god

Anya is always super cheerful and makes me happy to be around

Meg Ku you’re such an amazing and kind hearted person! I’m so happy and honored to be your friend

Nathan W – your determination and hard work inspires me all of the time!

Elias you never fail to make others smile!

Lynn Stein – thank you for being such a guiding light for me and so many people in our community. I appreciate you endlessly!

Reid you’re such a wonderful soul, always caring for everyone with infinite patience 

annie chu – you’re honestly such a badass and an incredibly hard worker

Maal! You’re such a endlessly sweet person, and also just have such an amazing aesthetic please teach me

Thank you to everyone who wrote kind words to me about this and in the form. I appreciate you so much and my heart is so happy!! Thank you thank you thank you!

            — Maia