Olin: An “Alien” Perspective

At Olin College of Unspoken Privilege, we don’t have enough open, honest conversations about the culture that makes you feel out of place for feeling out of place. And a lot of people feel out of place at Olin, a lot of people don’t vibe with the conversations in the dining hall, a lot of people feel awkward, left-behind, lonely – far detached from the caring, close-knit community they were promised at Olin. We need to recognize this, and we need to understand why.

We need to talk. Here’s an international student perspective. 

Over a month ago, I interviewed four international students, each from a different country. Those conversations were some of the most honest and powerful I have had so far in my life, and they made me realize that there are so many powerful stories hidden unexpressed behind these inspiring people, each with rich, unique sociocultural backgrounds. 

I suppose that’s why I’m doing this. To raise awareness that at Olin, there is a small community of students legally labeled as ‘aliens’ by the US government. These students leave behind most of what is familiar to them and fly across the world, and many of them struggle. I’m writing this to help unpack those stories, and to help unpack my story.

I don’t claim to speak for all international students. The opinions in this piece are my personal perspective, with reinforcement from my four interviewees, each of whom come from diverse countries and backgrounds and have vastly different views on America and Olin.

Olin’s work culture for example – coming from the hypercompetitive, scarce work environment in India, Olin initially seemed like a dream to me. People were living their life to the fullest and creating space for hobbies, clubs, project teams – things that brought them joy! But three of my interviewees had the opposite take – they felt that compared to their countries Olin, and in their experience, America in general, has too strong of a workaholic culture. One of them called it ‘internalized capitalism’. Neither viewpoint is incorrect. However, the sharp difference in perspectives was eye-opening, and it made me question my generalizations about my international student experience.

But we, international students, do have many shared experiences. One of the biggest challenges I faced when transitioning into Olin was simply being able to hold conversations. I was not at all prepared for how difficult it would be to engage with people. One of my interviewees spoke about not understanding the references from movies, the conversational contexts, baseball – it all fed into the imposter syndrome, the lingering feeling that they didn’t belong here. It’s often difficult to realize that American insularity exists, especially because of the tiny size of Olin’s international student community. While 28% of Babson’s undergraduate student body is international students, Olin is at around 8%. International students at Olin lack the cultural support communities traditionally available at other, larger colleges, and that can make settling into Olin’s environment significantly more challenging. An interviewee even suggested making an America ‘cheat sheet’ – a list of cultural elements international students need to be aware of before interacting in social settings at Olin. It’s important to recognize that the process of adapting to Olin’s cultural space was, for me and a lot of my interviewees, slow, embarrassing, and occasionally even hurtful. An interviewee shared how hurt they had felt when they got attacked for not knowing what Indigenous Peoples’ Day was – all they wanted to do was understand and clarify. They said, “Give us more slack – assume positive intent. We’re trying to adapt to a new way of life, it’s not always easy.” 

Due to the cultural force of the USA in global media, there’s an assumption in the USA that everyone must be informed of US history, geography, and liberal political contexts. That assumption is simply not fair on international students, who, for example, never learned US history or learned an inaccurate version of it. Moreover, that lack of context can make it difficult to understand prevailing attitudes at Olin.

For example, when I first got to Olin, I was struck by the sheer amount of US-bashing by Americans. “Yeah, America sucks,” was assumed to be the default attitude. Why would anyone like this country, with all of its flaws and inequities? Yet my first reaction was, why would anyone not like this country? There’s so much here – money, resources, jobs, dialogue, freedom of speech.

There’s a very American-centered conversation in the US around empowerment. It recognizes that despite the country’s championing of democracy, a significant number of Americans don’t have access to the aforementioned privileges that dominant groups in the country do. Olin has made some progress in creating a space for this conversation, and I also believe that we have much, much further to go. However, significantly more unrecognized is the fact that many international students come from countries that systemically lack the opportunities available in the US. All that US-bashing can get hurtful – yes, the USA has massive, entrenched problems, but there is so much privilege in being able to complain. And yes, while the criticism should not stop at all costs, it is important to recognize this privilege especially in front of students who have left behind so much – family, familiarity, and a sense of belonging –  to attend college in the USA. There’s so much privilege to be fearless; the last time I expressed significant dissent against India in my high school, I was physically dragged aside and yelled at by two high school teachers in front of my entire school for nearly an hour – an experience that left me disgusted, emotionally exhausted, and terrified. It’s still unbelievable for me to hear people at Olin effortlessly and casually criticize the USA.

Olin, by design, is a privileged space. I recognize that my entire ‘American’ experience has been an Olin experience, and Olin, by any stretch of the imagination, is not representative of the USA. And so I spend a lot of time thinking about privilege at Olin, often through many of the traditional American lenses such as race and gender but also about the privilege of simply being American. All of my interviewees expressed frustration at the lack of recognition of that privilege at Olin – the privilege of being able to return home for Thanksgiving, the privilege of being familiar with Thanksgiving in the first place, the privilege of not being branded as an ‘alien’, the privilege of understanding cultural references, the privilege of not being anxious about your limited time in the USA, the privilege of belonging. And yet I recognize that some American Oliners don’t have these privileges either.

When I first thought of writing this piece, I had initially set out to rant all about how international students feel like they’re left out, in a place of privilege where their time is ticking, unsupported in an unfamiliar culture at Olin by virtue of their background. But a lot of American Oliners feel this way too! People of color, people from low-income families, and many others – and we don’t talk about this enough.

There’s value in making connections, so that diversity and inclusion efforts on campus have another voice. Yet there’s also value in differentiating – international students come from a unique, different place compared to other minority groups at Olin. Supporting the experience of being an international student should be both merged with and distinguished from diversity efforts at Olin. The first step is recognizing that international students should be getting more support.

Thank you to all the faculty, staff, and students – both international and American – who helped me with this piece. You know who you are :)

It’s (Still) Time to Talk About Divestment

The following article2 was published in the May 2016 edition of Frankly Speaking by two Oliners (and now alumni), Aaron Greiner and Izzy Harrison. They were part of a group of students who ultimately presented a proposal for fossil fuel divestment to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 2018. The conversation about divestment, mediated by Patty Gallagher (formerly the CFO), ended with students being told to wait until a new president settled into Olin.

Divesting Olin

By Aaron Greiner and Izzy Harrison on behalf of GROW

So, What is Divestment?

According to Wikipedia, “Divesting is the act of removing stocks from a portfolio based on mainly ethical, non-financial objections to certain business activities of a corporation.” One of the first times that divestment was used as a means to promote a social change was during apartheid, the extreme system of racial segregation, in South Africa. Companies, universities, organizations, local governments,  and individuals took their money out of apartheid-affiliated businesses and are partially credited with helping to dismantle the system.

Today, there is a new divestment movement. Five hundred and seven institutions and 3.4 trillion dollars have been divested from the oil and gas industries. The goal of this movement is to put financial pressure on the largest contributors to climate change and other environmental disasters in an effort to get them to behave in a more socially and environmentally responsible manner.  Sixty-one colleges have already divested in some meaningful way, and we hope Olin will join the movement.

Why Should Olin Divest?

Olin was founded on the principle of making the world a better place. Fossil fuels are unsustainable (they will run out), and are the single greatest contributors to climate change, so we believe it is against Olin’s founding principles to support fossil fuel companies  We believe that continuing to profit from the destruction of the environment through knowingly investing our money in companies that are accelerating the pace of climate change is fundamentally against Olin’s core values.

The scientific consensus is clear and overwhelming; we cannot safely burn even half of global fossil fuel reserves without dangerously warming the planet with disastrous effects1. Furthermore, as the market inevitably shifts towards more renewable energy sources, we believe an innovative institution such as Olin should be on the forefront of this change. 

We believe progressive action towards divestment will be a sound decision for the wellbeing of Olin’s alumni and current and future students. We deserve the opportunity to graduate with a future unimpaired by climate chaos.

What Have We Done so Far?

A little over a year ago, we started meeting with our CFO Patty Gallagher and Chair of the Investment Committee Doug Kahn to explore what it might look like if Olin were to divest. They were incredibly receptive, and we formed a close partnership. Over the past year, we have had many meetings and are making positive progress towards a solution that we can all get behind. In addition, we had a meeting with the investment firm that manages Olin’s money to get a sense from them about what divestment could look like while, of course, keeping the best financial interests of the school in mind. 

We are very fortunate that we are at a place like Olin where we can have meetings like this, and our collaborative approach has had positive results. The Investment Committee has begun to have discussions about the topic of divestment. We will continue to work with Doug and Patty to advance the conversation towards a mutually acceptable resolution.

Before we move forward, we want to be confident that this is something that Faculty, Staff, Board Members, and Students, can all get behind.  We are looking forward to continuing the progress in the fall and hope to keep the community updated.

It has been over four years since the article above was published. Since then, divestment from the 2003 holders of the most carbon reserves has been soundly rejected. Now, the Board is considering incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in our investment strategy. While a step in the right direction, this is essentially the bare minimum and is becoming, or has already become, standard practice4,5. This minimal acknowledgement of social and environmental realities casts them as mere externalities impacting our financial viability. Treating social and environmental issues as distinct and separable from economic issues in this way neglects the interconnectedness of the three. Olin, by continuing to profit on the climate crisis, is abjectly failing in its purported mission “to do good for humankind.” Olin is certainly not a leader among academic institutions in operational sustainability, nor in a holistic view of engineering. It’s time for Olin to recognize the contradiction of espousing leadership in integrating ethics into engineering while failing to take the action that so many of our peers (including Wellesley) already have.

Since the original article was published in 2016, the following U.S. schools have made commitments to divestment:

Interested in continuing Olin’s divestment movement? Questions, comments, or concerns?

Reach out!


Reply to Swing and a Miss: What are you Swinging at?

As I read your article this morning, I looked up and took a glance at several eager interviewees at the career fair this morning. I considered your plight: many of us aspiring engineers were drawn to the field in hopes of mastering powerful tools that will someday allow us to make enormous, tangible positive impacts on the world. Excited and a little disoriented, we took our swing—a first internship—and saw a terrible twist to our original vision. A lot of fellow engineers are working hard and building powerful tools, but many of those tools are ambiguous in impact to the world or perhaps seem detrimental long-term. A swing and a miss!

As engineers, we live to make an impact. This is our heart. Ethics often comes second. Even Leonardo da Vinci made his money by advertising and selling plans for his easy-build bridges to warlords. The distinction for da Vinci was that his bridges weren’t his biggest contributions to the world. After he had secured some money, he trusted his wits and transitioned to designing aspirational flying machines, studying biology, and making art. At the end of the day, many people will make decisions, even pivotal and life-changing ones, depending on how easy that option is to choose for them at the time. Right now, it seems that most engineers are finding it harder to build their future while holding on to their ethics, or perhaps easier to get straight into building their future if they let their ethics go. But that decision isn’t permanent for any of us. It just may be easier. Paradigm shifts happen as a whole society works to make ethical decisions easier for everyone. It is during those times that ethically conscious builders have it easy. They have a wide variety of opportunities to build a change they can be satisfied with in the world. Right now does not feel like a paradigm shift is happening. Nonetheless, we can sacrifice some amount of ease (or perhaps some amount of salary) in the name of good. Today, I also noticed stickers advocating a broader movement for engineers to refuse to build systems that they consider unethical. Refuse to Build may also become a tool for us to stabilize our direction and work towards good as engineers. 

This summer, I skipped my opportunity to work an internship and instead worked with a crew of 10 dedicated, smart people at a backcountry outpost at Philmont, a Scouts BSA camp. The work wasn’t easy and it didn’t pay well, but all of the people I met shared an eagerness to act straight from the heart. Our camp director, Ben, left his job as an engineer at Intel to work at Philmont one more time. He explained that he left because he didn’t feel like managing the 2000-step production process for Intel’s largest FPGA would get him anywhere in life. From 18 months of work, was able to pay off his student loans. He now works as a math and finance teacher. He lives in a souped-up mobile home with ‘bold and brash’ hung over the fireplace. He is a better rock climber than I will ever be, but in a way, he has put down the powerful ‘bat’ that we pick up when we become engineers. He is not the professional builder that can make an enormous impact on the world with his work. As an engineer, you’re still holding the bat. Now what are you going to do with it?

Cool or Good

A favorite pastime for me is to lay on the bare paint-chipped wood of my mom’s back porch and gaze up into the sky. When I stare at birds, planes and clouds as they breeze by, I can’t help but be fascinated by the way they move. And a lot of people feel similarly, which is why a fundamental motivation behind aerospace is that we can unlock such freeing and fascinating methods of movement with our minds. Other things in the pro column are the potential benefits like connecting the world, discovering new technologies, and a bunch of other cool things. But let’s emphasize that these are all cool things, not inherently good things, a distinction that I don’t think is made often enough. And this brings us to the key problem with aerospace: it’s too cool.

Aerospace is so cool that people are willing to ignore the con column for the sake of the pro column, and that makes it both cool and dangerous. We talk about these pleasant sounding pros like they are the main driving force, but in reality the main driving force is to continue consolidating power. The biggest indicator of this is the distribution of aerospace technology around the world. Looking around, we see the same nations that have been gaining influence through imperialism boasting the most success in aerospace and using that success to further their imperialist reach, which is riddled with violence and conflict.  And the nations on the other side of this reach are coincidentally the ones that benefit the least from the technological developments we, as engineers, make in aerospace.

So, if we continue to pretend the biggest pro for aerospace today isn’t the military power it enables but instead the great solutions aerospace could offer humanity, we must at least accept that the only people that will be experiencing the benefit of those solutions are the ones that live in privileged and comfortable countries. Two prime examples are the internet and GPS, two technologies that are born from innovation within the aerospace industry. 

Internet and GPS are incredibly convenient technologies that have made information available to millions almost instantly. I use the internet almost hourly, GPS daily, and both have become a cornerstone of humanity’s technological developments. But does the benefit we have from this small subsection of aerospace really offset all of the oppression that aerospace as an industry has contributed to over the past 80 years? I say no, based solely on the fact that many more people have been hurt or inconvenienced by aerospace, as an extension of the military-industrial complex that drives it, than those that have benefited from the internet and GPS. The internet and GPS are luxuries that can be acquired through a paywall, how can a luxury offset all the oppression?    

And what does it look like to offset this oppression? What’s the conversion rate from civilians killed to Google searches and directions to the nearest open McDonalds? I know that these technologies contribute much more than the mundane, but even considering all of the research and discoveries that the internet enables, how can we begin to quantify offset? Especially when it comes to environmental impact, a field that we could probably quantify if we put time and resources into learning how, or lives lost, where each is invaluable.

So while I stalk the birds as they fly above and jump from perch to perch, I quickly become overwhelmed trying to understand and think about aerospace’s role as a tool for humanity. There have certainly been an unignorable amount of lives lost and oppression due to the aerospace industry that continues even today. And while I agree there is a lot of potential, does that excuse the unignorable? It’s a lot to think about, and I wish that my experience in the classroom helped me think about this stuff but there are only a handful of classes offered that bother to touch on this for at least one class session. Why don’t professors teach us how to think about this stuff? I can count on one hand the number of class sessions I’ve had that covered these critical topics, and my schedule has not allowed me to take either of the two MatSci classes that critically discuss systemic oppression in our engineering supply chains. 

We need to have these conversations and introduce frameworks to think about these real and pervasive problems. As an ECE student, why is there no required class that teaches me about the impact of electrical engineering? That teaches about where our rare earth metals and other materials come from, and whose hands mine them from the ground, and how we contribute to that system. Is it not critical to understand how dirty your PCBs and components are if you are going to try to make something good out of them? This is a specific example, but one exists for every major and every class, regardless of how technical the subject is. If we don’t incorporate these crucial conversations into the classroom, then are we problem solvers or just consumers?


Aries – Never forget to love Feet or kick yourself. xoxo. Your podiatrist is waiting on your call. xoxo. He will purr loudly. xoxo. Keep your paws clean. xoxo. Do not be afraid. xoxo. 🐈

Taurus – Cheetos won’t live forever. But you will live as long as the balance between church and state remains stable. *awkward!* You’re definitely mortal. Keep an eye out for the slippery fish in your life.

Gemini – He (domestic) squeezes with force until there’s no muffins left. Add flour until thiccc. Stir in chocolate to desired chalk. Serve hot with milk and LOVE!!! <3

Cancer – Wipe your shower with your desires. Cleaning spray is not the same. Squeegee the negative energy out of your life. Charge your soap in the moonlight.

Leo – Stay alive with all tables and children upright tonight. Take a left turn, and then a right one. Arrive at Hogwarts. What’s the secret house? We’ll let you decide. Text us your thoughts (LEOs ONLY: TBD)

Virgo – Begin with your vegan chives you pretentious little b****. I love you. Call me back. Dog is mad. Did not like your chives. Get basil. EAT FAST IT”S TIME TO GO

Libra – Think hard. Submerge yourself in the words of your elders. Take a trip. Lying won’t help you, boo. Crying will. Reject her. Sorry it didn’t work out. Better luck next time. I love your smile. 

Scorpio – Keep your dreams hidden from me. Share your startup ideas with the person to your left (yes, that one!). The doctor watches from Olin’s clock tower. Be strong.

Sagittarius – Sit down and relax your beans on the iron. Then be quiet. < laughing crying emoji > You’re being too quiet. Say something. Are you mad at me? Please just tell me what’s wrong. Your beans are burning–

Capricorn – Solution and mind will survive the century. Will you? We hope so. Sit on/at top of the 3rd table in the dining hall. You got this. Mortality relies on simple arithmetic. 2 + 2 = 2 2 tango. Have fun! If you can.

Aquarius – Be brave in long banana boats. The water can’t touch you if you don’t let it. The floor is lava. Oooh! Ouch! You’re burning! Burning hot, that is. Call me! Did you get your flu shot?

Pisces – Grow them until they’re flourishing and then cut ties. Use child-safe scissors. Safety first, when applicable. You will become huge on MySpace. Hey! That’s my space! Scoundrel!

You Can Always Visit the Olin Community Cairn

You can find photos from the event at https://olin.photoshelter.com/galleries/C0000d660DmR3f54/G0000o0uFnBMWcwM/2021-09-10-Cairn-Ceremony-J-Brettle-12-Sep-21

Our community gathered on the gloriously sunny early fall afternoon of September 10th to lay down some of the heaviness each of us has garnered over the past year, building the Olin Community Cairn. Cairns are symbols used in a huge variety of cultures around the world.  They can serve as memorial markers, a way of signifying mourning and grief.  They’re also used as wayfinding tools, markers that help you not get lost, that offer directionality.  We asked every member of the Olin community to return to campus with a stone.  This migration of stones from all over the world was meant to represent the heaviness that each of us has experienced during the pandemic as our community was dispersed.  Importantly, the stones were ones we could travel with – they were literally and metaphorically the heaviness we could get our hands around.  We placed the stones in a container, to both organize the physical structure of the cairn and also to symbolize the ways in which our heaviness can be contained, together.  During the ceremony, students, staff, faculty, and President Barabino all spoke about the importance of pairing action with reflection, recognizing that people drawn to engineering are also people who tend to be drawn towards doing, sometimes at the expense of vital reflection.  The ceremony was fundamentally about reflection, both personal and communal.  It ended with a shared storytelling activity.

A cairn was intentionally chosen as the focal point of our ceremony because, as an artefact in nature, it will remain a fixture on campus while also changing and fading over time. The chalk drawings on some of the stones will slowly wash away, the pile of stones may shift and change, and the container itself will weather over time.  Similarly, our memories, sentiments, and attitudes may stay with us, but they also fade and change with time. Our hope is that the Olin Community Cairn will be a place for continued reflection and support for each of us.  It is both a symbol of our collective heaviness as a community over the past 18 months and also a symbol of how we can come together and move forward, re-emerging as a community. 

Whether you were at the ceremony or not, please know that you can always visit the Olin Community Cairn!  It’s at the edge of the woods behind Milas Hall, off to the side of the Great Lawn.  Our deep hope is that it will continue to offer you a space for reflection on the heaviness of the pandemic and new heaviness in the years ahead.  It is a place to remember and also a place to offer you direction if you’re feeling lost.  You can always place a new stone there – the cairn should change over time as we all experience change in our lives.  We are so proud to be a part of the Olin community, where a ceremony like this could take place.  We’re a community that doesn’t need to pretend everything is great all the time.  And we’re a community that doesn’t believe heaviness ought to be a solitary experience – it’s something we can and should all carry together.  Those values won’t change over time.

Swing and a Miss

How many times must you be spun before you completely lose track of the piñata? It’s fun to watch, but foolishness truly is swinging at nothing and convincing yourself you’re close to the target. For me, my target at the end of the day is change and I worry that this whole engineering thing is a big swing at nothing. 

Now this is a bit of an under-exaggeration. Just like societal change is a much larger target than a piñata, engineering is much more consequential than missing a swing. Engineering is a primary driver of negativity in the world. Its outputs are used for violence, consumerism, and to drive an already drastic socio-economic gap in our community. Even most of the “helpful” technologies such as electric vehicles and medical devices aren’t nearly as helpful as they claim to be. 

The reason this is true is also the reason why this doesn’t have to be the case. Engineering today is driven by the oppression of the unseen yet critically important majority of humans. How could engineering be a tool for positive change if a sheer 99% of applications for engineering today are to create a more favorable position for the oppressors? For instance, I spent the past summer in the medical device industry, everyday I felt the whiff of a missed swing against my cheek. 

It was a problem for me that the primary end-user of a lot of the products in the company’s portfolio was the same group that owned the company, which was the same group that filled most of the engineering jobs. And the groups that benefited the least from the medical devices out there were the ones doing the cleaning and in general holding the most underpaid positions. Regardless of the intent to “save lives,” you can’t deny that there is an unbalanced distribution of lives saved in the population which says something for the unequal perceived value of our lives by our community. 

On the input end of things, while this company’s public position involved nice-sounding words like diversity and sustainability, on the ground floor neither were visible with the naked eye. It didn’t stop employees from explaining why they believe in white supremacy and when asking about sustainability to upper management, they had no clue if there was anything more actionable about the company’s practices than them asking manufacturers and vendors if they were sustainable. At all points there is a lot of energy directed into a swing in the wrong direction and with each failed, unrestrained swing discombobulation compounds, gaps widen and people are harmed. 

But this doesn’t need to be the case. We live in a world driven by a very small percentage of the population. As engineers, we have the largest impact on what the output of engineering is, and so, if the output of engineering is widely negative, then that is on our shoulders. 

To take a moment to call out a soon-to-be old lover of mine. Electrical Engineering is a huge and very significant part of this equation. From the beginning of the supply chain to when it ends up in a landfill, the outputs of electrical engineering only perpetuate an unsustainable culture that has been built on the backs of non-white and low-income people. There is more hope in my eyes for organic electronics, but our current and silicon-based technology gets to us, the electrical engineers, filthy with oppression. How can we balance that out? I am not convinced we can turn these filthy components and supplies into a technology that counteracts and supersedes that hurt. And our intentions do not change that hurt.

Our responsibility as engineers does not end with intent, but with impact. We have to accept that responsibility and in doing so decide whether we will continue peddling oppression or whether we will aim towards brighter horizons. Most swings so far have been misses, but if we focus more on the end goal we can definitely start hitting the target. 

Pandemic Art: Dada and Creativity Practicum

Last fall, I took the Olin class Creativity Practicum, a studio class about understanding and finding your own voice in art and design. One of the first assignments has you watch a video titled “I Could Do That” by the YouTube channel The Art Assignment. The video talks about why people who look at art, such as a Pollock painting, and say something along the lines of “that’s not art, I could do that” should really think before they speak, but that’s not relevant to this Frankly Speaking piece–no, I mention the video because for approximately two seconds, a piece of art was splashed across the screen, and it completely changed the way I approach art.

But before we get to that, a little bit about me: I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a crayon. Art-making has been a part of how I express myself, reflect, and tell stories for my entire life. In high school, I made art like this:

Skull & Mirror

Extremely detailed, highly accurate observational work. And I loved it! The process of observational drawing was (and still is) extremely meditative for me, and I’d sometimes become so absorbed in the process that I’d stand for four or five hours straight. However, I didn’t work quickly. A single piece would take me weeks or even months to finish.

Creativity Practicum, on the other hand, pushes you to work fast. There isn’t any emphasis on the quality of work you put out, or even on the idea that you’re “making art” at all. Each week you explore a different idea–sometimes a specific artist’s work, sometimes a more abstract concept–and then on one page of a spread you’d put images you associated with the week’s assignment, and on the other, you’d create a summarizing image and write a half-page reflection. I went about completing the first assignment in the way I usually do, and inevitably didn’t finish, but didn’t think much of it because I didn’t need to have a finished piece. And then I watched the aforementioned YouTube video, which features this collage by Hannah Hoch:

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer  Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany – Smarthistory

The title is Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. Concise… but I was captivated by it. I love how the crowded composition makes your eye dart around the picture, and how carefully cut out and placed each individual part is (such as the man juggling his own head near the center of the image, which, upon closer inspection, seems not to be his own head). I love that it’s disturbing and funny in the same breath. And, ironically, I love that whenever I look at it I think, “Wait a minute–I could do that!”

I was already thinking about the different images that came to mind for each assignment and taking note of them. What if instead of putting all this time and energy into a piece I crafted by hand, I simply took those images and arranged them in concert (or in chaos) with each other? I tried it out:

Untitled Sketchbook Page

Okay, this was cool. Only one problem: the pages of my sketchbook were curling from all the glue. Then I remembered a girl in one of my high school art classes showing off some of the pages she’d made in Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal, an interactive workbook that asks you to–well–I’ll let you figure it out. Her pages were wrinkled and torn and the notebook didn’t even close, but the pages inside were incredible. So I made the conscious decision to actively destroy every single page I worked on.

Throughout the semester, my art improved tenfold. Not only that, but instead of making one piece in four months, I made thirty. Less than half of them are things I’m proud of, and almost none of them are portfolio-worthy, but for the first time, I felt like I was conveying complex ideas and showing my personality through my work.

At home in the pandemic, I was constantly in the company of my childhood pet, Hobbes. His relentless affection was mostly reciprocated, but I sometimes felt he was a bit… needy. One day for fun, I made this:

Resist! (Sketchbook)

Hobbes began to feature prominently in my work. Everyone in the class became familiar with him, and not just because whenever I unmuted they could hear distant meowing. For the class’s final project, a collection of postcards, I decided that each one would feature Hobbes among images from photographs I’d taken. And throughout the whole process, my mind kept returning to the collages of Hannah Hoch.

Hoch was part of the Dada art movement, which developed in Europe and New York in direct response to World War I. Hoch’s work specifically centered around identity construction–what does it mean to be a “modern woman” in the aftermath of such a devastating event? During the pandemic–which hasn’t ended!–I felt comfort in the way that Dada embraced nonsense. Nothing else in the world made sense, after all–why should our art?

Although we’re back at Olin, things still don’t feel “normal,” and there’s no promise they ever will be. But I can continue to grow, as an artist and a person, in spite of that. And I’m glad to have found my “mews.”



OCLOACA (Olin College “Look Out! Anomalous Creatures!” Association) has been hard at work over the past month since our return to campus. We seek out those creatures whose existence seems to reject reality, and warn the community of any dangers or delights associated with them. We are pleased to finally present a partial catalog of anomalous entities observed, or thought to have been observed, directly or indirectly, at Olin College of Engineering.

The Weeping Capacitors

These electronic components, found primarily in the iSIM lab but occasionally spotted elsewhere, are notably emotionally sensitive. If you curse at them in the heat of circuit-related confusion, they will cease to properly function until you cradle them in your arms and apologize profusely. Just don’t make them cry. We still don’t know what their tears contain. Also, we kinda want to protect them now.

That Perfectly Shaped Circle Of Moss We Saw On The Dining Hall Balcony That One Time, And I Just Had To Take A Picture Of It, Because Come On, It Was Such A Perfect Circle

I miss it every day.

The Anti-Mimics

These irritating pieces of text consist of a single symbol, or a single collection of symbols, that can be associated with many completely separate concepts. Most Anti-Mimics actually live in harmony with us, helping us communicate more concisely. However, many specimens can be particularly nefarious. One such specimen was recently sighted within the covers of a Discrete Math textbook: P(x) referring to the power set, and then only 2 pages later the same P(x), this time referring to a propositional function? We consulted one expert, Dr. Hexter, who specializes in malicious symbolic anomalies, and they had this to say: “[series of incoherent noises]”. After some guttural-noise-frequency analysis, our current hypothesis is that they were trying to evade the harms of the Anti-Mimics by creating a single-use, disposable word for every concept, but we’re not sure.

The Mist of Guilt

These microscopic organisms often build up in places like team rooms, classrooms, and poorly ventilated areas, but their multiplication is greatly accelerated by occasions where sleep-deprived yet passionate people have been talking in one room for too long. The Mist has a characteristic smell that doesn’t register as a smell to humans; rather, it registers as a strong feeling that you must solve all of the world’s problems now, or else — and not only that, but that you must do so alone. After being accidentally released from the site of a failed superhero creation experiment ██ years ago, many institutions have had to deal with periodic infestations of the Mist. If you begin to feel the effects of the Mist at any time, you must stop your current activity, evacuate the contaminated area, and do something else for a while, to allow the contaminated room to air out.

The Unknown Unknowns

The class of anomalous entities that we don’t know that we don’t know about. The only thing we know about these creatures as a class is that the number of entities belonging to it is probably extremely large, as well as incredibly huge. Maybe.

The Impostor

This monstrous creature skulks around every Olin location at once. Though it has been observed by many, its true appearance cannot be described. If one is exposed to it too often, it may follow them around anywhere they go. Contrary to popular belief, the Impostor’s most dangerous property is not being “sussy”. If you observe it, you will be strongly induced to believe that the Impostor is you — that you are watching yourself skulk about from a distance. There are many ways to prevent this. One involves recognizing your own goodness. I guarantee that if you’re reading this, you are not this creature, as the only thing that this creature ever does is try to make others believe in it. Have you been skulking around all places at once, at all hours of the day, making everyone think that they’re you? I thought not.

Join OCLOACA now, to help us better understand the reality-breaking entities that affect our lives every day. And remember — only you can prevent ████ █████████ ████████.