“They’re Just Cameras”: Policing the Domestic and Abroad

A line seems to be drawn at Olin about working for the military-industrial complex that divides it into two parts: the “unacceptable” weapons manufacturers and the “acceptable” reconnaissance suppliers. Holding each other accountable to discourage unsavory behavior helps form a community, and I think it’s great that our norms have reduced the number of Oliners working at “unacceptable” defense contractors compared to other engineering schools. My goal is not to argue that the engineers at Skydio are perfectly identical to the engineers at Lockheed Martin who created laser-guided bombs, one of which was dropped by Saudi Arabia on a school bus in Yemen in 2018, killing 40 children and 11 adults.1 Rather, I believe we need to reject the artificial dichotomy prevalent in American engineering culture. The distinction between bombs and cameras is not helpful in understanding the real, violent impacts of the military-industrial complex as a whole. 

Often, when drones are discussed in the context of warfare, the focus stays on armed unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as ”hunter-killers,” such as the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper manufactured by General Atomics. Some at Olin have claimed that unarmed UAS, such as the Skydio X10D, are different and thereby ethical to build for the military, as they do not directly harm anyone, and merely carry cameras. But is the difference so clear-cut? In practice, the vast majority of an armed UAS’s time is spent hunting without the use of its weapons: the targeted killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “consisted of more than 600 hours of Predator time spent looking for and tracking him, followed by about 10 minutes of F-16 time remodeling the structure he was hiding in.”2 In fact, the Predator was first armed in 2001 long after its introduction in 1995.3

Whether the killer is attached to the hunter is simply a matter of situational preference that does not affect the overall outcome. Obviously, while the Skydio X10D also has high-quality cameras and thermal cameras, it functions differently than the Predator due to its small form factor and short battery life. However, it can still act as a part of a hunter-killer system for real-time ground combat. According to Major James Tay, small UAS can act as an effective “force multiplier” because of their ability to give GPS coordinates for ground-to-ground firepower and provide confirmation that a target has been eliminated.4 Instead of enacting violence with Hellfire missiles, asymmetrical intelligence from seeing “over the hill” allows for increased lethality including the ability to follow targets and update coordinates should they flee the site of initial attack. 

Proponents of surveillance technology in warfare suggest that it allows for more precise targeting, thus reducing civilian casualties. In practice, however, these targeting technologies instead are used to create new targets through techniques such as “pattern of life” analysis. By gathering data on civilian activities deemed signature behaviors of terrorists, a killing can be authorized without having to even know a target’s name. According to reports, individuals involved in the drone program often “have joked about how a group of Pakistani boys doing “jumping jacks” are easily construed as a “terrorist training camp.””5 From the sky, the label of non-combatant evolves to mean someone who has yet to receive designation as a suspect. All those surveilled are suspicious until proven dead: “civilian” becomes solely a retrospective term applied to a life that has ended without being designated a target.6 

This level of surveillance changes warfare away from a focus on military targets towards policing the lives of an entire populace from above. 

It is tempting to view this form of policing as a phenomenon that only happens outside the US, but by moving past the “newness” of drones, we see an old pattern emerge: police surveil a young man from the “suspect” population either by patrol or drone. An officer justifies the routine killing of these targets with little oversight due to a state of exception, triggered by a perceived physical threat to the officer or a terror threat. The identity of the target has little relevance.7 It’s no coincidence that after the military, Skydio’s website’s second “solutions” listing is for the police. Skydio brags that “more than 320 law enforcement agencies rely on Skydio in 49 states and across Canada” and that “no other drone solution serves law enforcement needs like Skydio.”8 In promotional material, they use rhetoric like “officer-involved shooting” to describe an officer returning fire on a suspect.9 Later, they demonstrate how the Skydio drone reduces the time needed to find a suspect in a field and have a K9 unit bite them.10 Note that police dog bites can go through bone and cause lifelong injuries and even death.11 In many jurisdictions, similar to other escalations of force, dog bites are disproportionately inflicted on Black suspects.12 Why is this company allowed access to our classrooms? Why do we have to pretend that unarmed drones are perfect observers that will “make the world more productive, creative, and safe”?13

In August 2023, Skydio ceased to provide consumer drones, beginning to sell only to private companies and the public sector14 — the U.S. military provides a more steady stream of funding than could be received from consumers. This shift marks a company-wide shift towards the defense industry: while Skydio used to boast its work in infrastructure and surveying, its new focus is clearly on the military and police. Of Skydio blog posts since August, about half are focused on defense and police applications.15 Much like how unarmed UAS are justified as ethical in comparison to armed UAS, Skydio allows engineers to justify their choice to work there by contrasting themselves to large weapons manufacturers. Lockheed sells bombs—Skydio sells safety. But who gets to be safe? Whose lives are allowed to be considered precious?  As a community, I hope that we can think more deeply about the systems that our engineering interfaces with and move beyond dismissing critique with phrases like “they’re just cameras” or “they do non-military stuff too.”  Let’s change our norms to see through the different aesthetics and messaging of military-industrial companies and stop working on things that are directly used to enact violence, no matter what form it comes in.

1US supplied bomb that killed 40 children on Yemen school bus | Guardian

2Franz, N. (2017). Targeted killing and pattern-of-life analysis: weaponised media. Media, Culture & Society, 39(1), 111-121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0163443716673896. (Quote from Lt General David Deptula).

3Kindervater, K. H. (2016). The emergence of lethal surveillance: Watching and killing in the history of drone technology. Security Dialogue, 47(3), 223-238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0967010615616011 

4Group 1 Type: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) as a Force Multiplier to the Fire Support Team | DTIC

5Tyler Wall, “Ordinary Emergency: Drones, Police, and Geographies of Legal Terror,” Antipode, Volume 48, Issue 4 (September 2016), 1122-1139.

6Neocleous, Mark. “Air Power as Police Power I.” In War Power, Police Power, 138–62. Edinburgh University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt9qdr8p.9.

7Tyler Wall, “Ordinary Emergency: Drones, Police, and Geographies of Legal Terror,” Antipode, Volume 48, Issue 4 (September 2016), 1122-1139.

8Police & Law Enforcement Drones | Skydio 

9Facepalm Pilot: Where Technology Meets Stupidity: An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar | McSweeney’s Internet Tendency 

10The Future of First Response: Oklahoma City Police Department’s Drone Initiative | Skydio 

11We Spent A Year Investigating Police Dogs. Here Are Six Takeaways. | Marshall Project 

12K-9s in question: Bay Area police dogs bite with little consequence | KTVU
(WARNING: Contains gore of woman who had scalp bitten off after shoplifting Ulta)

13About | Skydio 

14Skydio to sunset consumer drone offerings | Skydio 15Newsroom | Skydio

Not a Privilege But a Right

After we put up posters calling out Skydio for sending drones to the Israeli military1, one common response from the supposed adults at this institution was that criticizing other students’ personal career choices was privileged and therefore wrong (never mind the fact that we were not criticizing individual career choices—we very narrowly called out one company’s involvement with a state currently engaged in genocide). 

I am very aware that a given student’s ability to take an “ethical” job is deeply entangled in class privilege. College is expensive as hell—it shouldn’t be, but it is. Many of us graduate with significant debt and therefore heightened incentives to pursue the lucrative jobs offered by military contractors. 

Those of us with class privilege do indeed have the freedom not to pursue weapons manufacturer jobs, while for some of us, career choice is not much of a choice at all. And class privilege is not a subject that is easy to reckon with. (I also believe administrators and PGP know this and use personal choice as a bad-faith justification for allowing military contractor recruitment.)

But what does it mean that at Olin, an institution that quite frequently touts itself as second-best in the country for undergraduate engineering, that until very recently proudly described itself as elite2, where for almost every moment of our four years here we optimize ourselves in pursuit of a job with a starting salary that lets Olin boast that it is “first among all private four-year colleges for highest earnings”—what does it mean that at this institution, we throw up our hands and say that “oh well, people do what they need to earn a living”? If students in this bubble of incredible privilege must justify taking jobs at weapons manufacturers due to a void of opportunity, what choice does the rest of the world have?

I mentioned previously that we must shift the focus of anti-militarist dissent from the individual to the institutional because individualization of responsibility prevents us from recognizing the ways that Olin, the institution, is complicit. This is still the case. Our institution must cut ties with weapons manufacturers (particularly those that are currently profiting from the genocide in Gaza), and our president should not hold a position on the Department of Defense Innovation Board.

But we also shouldn’t pretend that “system change over individual action” exempts us from all moral responsibility. How interesting and saddening that we would “haha no ethical employment under capitalism amirite?” our way into justifying weapons manufacturer recruitment at a wealthy institution in one of the wealthiest areas of the wealthiest country in the world.

No one has the right to kill people or the planet for a living, and no one should have to. It is not a privilege but a right to demand that the work that we do does not help our government terrorize and oppress mostly nonwhite populations abroad in the name of “democracy”3.

Abolitionists say that our work must be twofold: to take power back from deathmaking institutions, but also to dream of new and better horizons beyond what we think possible. I think we dream far too small if we convince ourselves that destroying life in the name of making a living is the world that we have to live in.

1If you somehow missed it, Skydio is abetting a genocide by sending drones to the Israeli military. We put up many rounds of posters pointing out this fact; these posters were swiftly removed because our administration conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism. See linktr.ee/skydioweseeyou for more details.

2And has hopefully realized the very obvious contradiction in having the motto “Engineering for Everyone” as a school with a 1 in 5 acceptance rate that largely enrolls private school students, no longer provides need-based financial aid to international students, and will take 87 years to educate the same number of engineers that Arizona State does in one year.

3You may have noticed I do not use the common euphemism for weapons manufacturers. That is because defense is possibly the least accurate term for what the U.S. military does.

February Drunk Horoscopes

♈ Aries: March 21–April 19

  • Welcome back from Scotland! You should have run when you had the chance.

♉ Taurus: April 20–May 20

  • Whore yappiness??????

♊ Gemini: May 21–June 21

  • You stumble upon a mystery metal. It’s a liquid! Like vodka. Beware, it’s not galium. Your flooring will be replaced.

♋ Cancer: June 22–July 22

  • You will see Renee Rapp. You will question your sexuality.

♌ Leo: July 23–August 22

  • Oops! There is a fire. Run. The cats will cry. The cats are high.

♍ Virgo: August 23–September 22

  • I think gay is the best one. If you’re straight, that’s your own problem.

♎ Libra: September 23–October 23

  • Horoscope incoming! I’m cooking, cooking!!!

♏ Scorpio: October 24–November 21

  • Welcome to 1N! The sink isn’t supposed to do that. I guess beavers cause dams.

♐ Sagittarius: November 22–December 21

  • You will get BITCHES!! You love them sooo much. They are so caring and wonderful and you love having them in your life.

♑ Capricorn: December 22–January 19

  • Your name is Regina George. You are not a massive deal. You have five QEA assignments due.

♒ Aquarius: January 20–February 18

  • You’ll get cozy in the Charlotte airport. You’ll miss your first P&M. Bonding.

♓ Pisces: February 19–March 20

  • You’ve been through ten high schools. They start to get blurry. No point planting roots ‘cause you’re gone in a hurry.

Contributers:

Audrey Abraham (she/her)

Avery Mosley (mech/proto)

Becca Cramer (honk/honk)

Cat Cirone (P/M)

Charlie Mawn (him/he/his majesty)

Kate McCurley (Bri/ish)

Maddy Fahey (wa/hoo)

Mika Gazit (thoughts/prayers)

The Palestine Talk

Dear Olin, 

You are about to read the all-student email I sent at the end of my senior year in 2022. Today I believe that email is more important than it ever was. There have not been many Palestinians at Olin – to my knowledge, the only two were in my class of 2022. By the time we both graduated, we had left our marks on our classmates by engaging them in our family histories and our culture. As anyone who attended Olin at that time could attest, I sent a lot of emails about Palestine, and you can still see some of the posters I hung up around campus. I tried to do my part to be an activist from Olin’s apolitical bubble, and I am still engaging in activism in my post-college life. The way I see it, I owe a lot to Olin – I learned so much about myself here. But Olin also owes a lot to me, and to the other students who fought for their rights here. My class began a lot of the work that you see happening today at Olin – we fought for better considerations for students who experienced sexual abuse, we fought for gender-neutral bathrooms, we fought for the climate, we fought for racial justice, and we fought for Palestine. I believe my class only had the ability to fight and only found success because we uplifted each other’s causes. There have only been two Palestinians at Olin, but the people who I studied with amplified the Palestinian voice and cause as if it were their own. I hope that you will read my words and feel what my classmates felt – that Palestine is your issue too. My people are facing genocide after decades of slow ethnic cleansing. We have been suffering in the diaspora and from the occupation. We need you to be the Palestinian voice at Olin. 

Email from 2022:

As my final semester at Olin comes to a close, I grow more and more worried about what will happen when I leave. I am one of the few Palestinian students to ever attend Olin, and in my time here I’ve been trying really hard not to let anyone forget it. Being Palestinian defines so much of my identity, both because it is my culture that I love and because it is the identity for which I am the most hated. Every friendship I have starts with “the Palestine talk”, a frankly exhausting endeavor in an attempt to make sure my friends know what they’re signing up for. But they’re mostly graduating, and I don’t want the Palestinian story at Olin to die, so here’s the Palestine talk, one last time, for all of you.

My dad’s parents grew up in a farming village outside of Haifa, called Al-Mansi, which no longer exists. In 1948, they were forced from their homes and into refugee camps. Because of the way the UN categorized names, my family name was changed from Bin Seidan to Al-Ahmad. My grandfather at the time was, we think, 7. His original records don’t exist anymore. The UN decided he was 5, which is the only reason he was able to start getting his education, and gave him the birthday of January 1, the birthday they assign to all refugees whose records are lost. My dad’s family is not unique – my grandfather was one of at least 750,000 people forcefully made refugees in 1948. My mother’s family is from Hebron, a city in the West Bank. After 1948, the economic opportunities for Palestinians in all occupied lands were scarce, and they were forced to move more and more into what is now Jordan (at the time all of the West Bank was occupied by Jordan). In 1967, Israel gained control of the West Bank and suddenly what was supposed to be a temporary move to find work meant they could no longer go back to their home in Hebron. This is what happened to another 280,000-325,000 Palestinians. I tell this story to new friends when we start to get close – 9 times out of 10 the conversation ends with them sobbing and me numb. 

Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees across the world – the same number resides in the Palestinian territories and Israel today. I am counted in that number. This month, Israeli forces raided a mosque during Ramadan and barred Palestinian Christians from entering their churches on Good Friday and Easter. They also bombed the Gaza Strip, which has been under blockade since 2006 and is widely considered to be an open-air prison. No one at Olin is talking about it. This is not unique or new – this kind of treatment of Palestinians has been ongoing for 74 years, and it has been more deadly than this in the past. No one at Olin is talking about it. The story of Palestinians is often not told, the humanity of my people ignored as we get slaughtered by a military that is funded by the US government. The story of Palestine is also not unique – it’s the same story of all indigenous people forced from their homelands or forced to live under their colonizers. The Israeli Defense Forces (the ridiculously named Israeli military) trains police forces in the United States – the same police we protest today in many movements for their horrifying treatment of black men and women. I bring this all up because I know that many do not engage with Palestinian activism because they believe they do not know enough, it’s too complicated, or it’s not their place. I invite you all to reconsider that. You know this story here in America – it’s the same story in a different language. By staying silent, you are allowing what exists today to continue.

This year, I started the BOW Students for Justice in Palestine. This organization isn’t my first form of activism for Palestine on campus, but it will be my last. When I graduate I will be passing the leadership on to a Babson student. Currently, we have very few active Olin students. I am begging you all – please don’t let the fight for my people on this campus die. Please don’t let Palestine be forgotten at Olin. All I want is for the next Palestinian girl who comes to Olin to not feel so isolated and alone and to not face as much racism and ignorance as I did. You all hold the power, now and always. Start talking about Palestine.

Here are some websites to check out if you want to learn more:

https://imeu.org/topic/category/palestine-101
https://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/mission/
https://www.instagram.com/letstalkpalestine/?hl=en

And here is the BOW SJP Instagram – the link to join the WhatsApp is in the bio:

https://www.instagram.com/bow.sjp/?hl=en

Maya Laila Al-Ahmad 🇵🇸

I haven’t shared much of my family’s story to many in the Olin community in detail, but I want to share pieces now because it hurts to know that this community that supported me and I supported during my time at Olin can be silent while my family and people fight to live through a genocide. My dad grew up in Gaza City, most of which is now rubble. The church my family used to go to on Sundays in Gaza was bombed on October 20th killing 18 Palestinians, 3 of which were my cousins. The cemetery where my grandparents were buried has also been destroyed in bombings.  None of my family that had left Gaza was able to return for their funerals because you can’t simply visit Gaza as a Palestinian and not fear for your own life. The killing and destruction in Gaza has been happening for years. When my dad was a kid going to school in Gaza in the 1980s, 6 of the students in the class he entered with didn’t make it to graduation and were killed by bombs or the Israeli Defense Force. If he were a kid in Gaza today only 6 would be considered lucky. My family chose to stay in Gaza from 1755 being the earliest documented up until my grandparents’ generation passed away in their home in Gaza that is likely now rubble as well. My dad and his brothers were lucky to be able to leave before it became a blockade where that choice is no longer a choice people in Gaza can make. I called it a choice, but it was never really a choice. Leaving Gaza is to leave your family’s home that you’ve stayed in for years and years and leave the family you grew up with, cousins, siblings, and know that you may never be able to peacefully return and for my dad that holds true 38 years later. And if he hadn’t left, who knows if he’d be alive today after over a month of genocide that this community had been silent about. I echo Maya’s plea to support Palestinians and keep our fight alive. 

David Tarazi 🇵🇸

Some groups to follow to stay updated on upcoming Free Palestine actions:

Student organizations: MIT Coalition Against Apartheid (@mit_caa), Wellesley for Palestine (@wellesleyforpalestine), Harvard Palestinian Solidarity Committee (@harvardpsc), Tufts SJP (@sjptufts), Northeastern SJP (@nuslsjp and @nusjp)

Boston organizations: Jewish Voices for Peace Boston (@jvpboston), Boston South Asian Coalition (@bsac_boston), If Not Now Boston (@ifnotnowboston), Boston Liberation Center (@bostonliberationcenter), Massachusetts Peace Action (@masspeaceaction), Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Boston (@bdsboston)

Engineering for (Literal) Impact

More than fifty years ago, Vietnam War student protests resulted in many universities severing
their relationships with the military-industrial complex. Many universities separated themselves
from on-campus labs that conducted substantial weapons manufacturing-related research,
including Stanford (Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International), Cornell (Cornell
Aeronautical Laboratory, now Calspan), and MIT (MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, now Draper
Labs).
The ongoing genocide in Palestine has prompted universities across the country—including
nearby MIT, BU, Tufts, Northeastern, Harvard, UMass Amherst, and Brandeis—to reckon with
institutional complicity with those enabling Israel’s war crimes. I would hope that we do the
same.
The following excerpted Frankly Speaking article was published in April 2016. Since then, Olin
has rebranded around a Strategic Plan that explicitly names equity and justice as core
institutional values (“Engineering for Everyone” and “Engineering for Impact”).
And yet Olin’s current military and weapons manufacturer ties include SCOPE and research
projects, recruitment through career fairs and newsletters, endowment investments, and our
president’s position on the Department of Defense Innovation Board.
I republish this article excerpt as neither a critique nor absolvement of individual careers, as
incessant focus on individual responsibility prevents broader structural analysis of the ways
universities perpetuate US militarism. Instead, it is a call to recognize how Olin funnels students
into what Bue Rübner Hansen calls “batshit jobs”, or jobs that are inherently deathmaking.
As Hansen writes, “to call this work mad does not mean that workers are crazy to make a living,
but rather to point out that a crazy contradiction arises when making a living is also a part of
unmaking life on many scales […]. Some workers could leave their jobs fairly easily, and others
are deeply dependent on the next paycheck. These workers have an interest in habitable
environments, but are caught in a maddening contradiction, asked by their employers to destroy
the conditions of life in order to make a living. We are habituated to think of this as normal, even
rational, but it’s time to say openly that it is madness, and to start from there.”
Letter to the Olin Community (2016)
At the most recent Town Meeting I asked President Miller if he thought there was a contradiction
between our talk of teaching students how to have a positive impact on the world and our
participation in systems of violence. I specifically brought up our collaboration with military
contractors in project work, but also that I think we would find violence in more than just the
military-industrial complex if we took a critical look. He did not answer my question, but said that
he thought it is a conversation that our community should have. I would like to use this forum to
continue that conversation and express some thoughts that I have about values and purpose.
I want to be clear about a few things. I do not intend this article as an attack on any member of
the Olin community, either explicitly or implicitly. While I have very conflicted feelings about this
institution, and certainly some criticism of individual actions, I feel a lot love for the people who
are part of this place and have found my relationships here as both a student and an instructor
to be very meaningful. I also want to be clear that this is not an article about the presence of
militarism on campus. I have my own set of values, and I am happy to discuss them, but I am
not going to make the argument that my values should be your values, or that they should be
our community’s values. My argument is that we, as an institution, should decide on and publicly
declare meaningful values and act to embody them.
Our “core institutional values” are all self-centered and neither stake out our position nor offer us
guidance in our engagement with the world. At a recent meeting a faculty member declared that
“Olin’s brand is that students build cool stuff.” The quote above the library, that “Engineers
envision what has never been, and do whatever it takes to make it happen,” is apolitical and
amoral about both ends and means, accepting any vision of “what has never been” and any
tactics used to get there. This is problematic: we could all think of examples of people trying to
realize “what has never been” that we would find abhorrent. Why not qualify that statement with
values that speak to how we want the world to be?
I see a few potential reasons for our lack of commitment to values that speak about how to act
in the world. The first reason is that it is difficult. Such a commitment would compel us to
navigate gray areas, be deeply self-critical, and make hard compromises. It would hold back our
“bias towards action” and likely lead us to restraint, a concept that goes against the instincts of
engineering and of our culture. A declaration of values would necessitate conversations about
whether our institution’s actions realize those values, and these are not easy conversations.
Resistance to these difficult conversations can find validation in the assumption that technology
is neutral, that engineers create tools and don’t have to concern themselves with how those
tools get used. Technologies are not neutral. Technologies reflect the goals of their creators,
have effects on the world that are not neutrally distributed, and re-arrange power structures in
society. We cannot hide behind the idea that technologies are neutral and that their effects,
whether positive or negative, are the sole responsibility of the user.
The second reason lies deeper. It is often implicit, as it is in that quote above the library. It is the
assumption that engineering cannot help but make the world a better place. It is a deep faith in
technological invention and innovation. This faith is problematic; it is ignorant of the lopsided
effects that engineering has, both within humanity and between humanity and the non-human
world (see the surveillance state, drone strikes, climate change, etc.). It also displaces the social
in favor of the technical, and we ought to consider the possibility that what the world needs is
not the stuff of science fiction but of “social fiction.”
There is a third possible reason, and that is that we do not care about figuring out how to leave
the world a better place than we found it. From my experiences here, the conversations I’ve
had, the wonderful and beautiful work that I’ve seen students, faculty, and staff pursue, I don’t
think this is true. I am sure that there are people here that truly don’t care, but I do not see
evidence of this as a general truth.
So I am not trying to claim that we are a community of sociopaths. My argument is more along
the lines that Olin is institutionally sociopathic. Many members of our community want to figure
out how to do good in the world and yet we have an institution that offers little support and is
content with evaluating its success by the starting salaries of its graduates.
I think that if we’re serious about leading a revolution in engineering education, a sense of
purpose around why and how we practice engineering is important. And I strongly believe that
we should codify that purpose. As practicing engineers, and indeed as some of the most
privileged people on the planet (the average Olin starting salary puts one in the top 1% of
income earners in the world), we have incredible power. Using that power for good is not easy. I
think it is quite difficult to leave things better than we found them when we’re explicitly trying
very hard at it, and impossible when we’re not. I am arguing that we should go for it, and we
should go for it explicitly.
What do you think? What do you think the purpose of Olin College is, or should be? What would
you like to see in the list of core institutional values? My idea of amending the core institutional
values is just that, an idea. It is a potential first step, with a lot of hard work to follow.
If this is near and dear to you, get organized. Host discussions, draft proposals, try and build a
consensus among the student body. Look for faculty support, but understand that the lack of
tenure at Olin makes it difficult for faculty to speak critically about the institution. Bring ideas to
the administration and to the Board of Trustees, and expect resistance. Recognize that there is
a lot of comfort with the status quo. But also recognize that this is your college and that you
have power to transform it.
I also want to point out here that I think the scholarship is fundamentally tied into this (fun fact,
the scholarship is the only founding precept that the Board of Trustees has been willing to
revise, even before the grossly misguided commitments to capitalism and no tenure for faculty).
When I graduated from Olin I had no debt and a lot of freedom to take risks, and I know that this
is a freedom that many students do not have. An unequivocal commitment by Olin College to
direct engineering education towards bettering the world would demand a commitment to
students graduating without debt as well as strong support of students taking risks, both during
and after Olin.
[…]
For additional context on the history of military contractors at Olin, see these Frankly Speakings:
● Is Our Empowerment Zero-Sum? (2011)
● The Meaning of Empowerment (2011)
● A Few Thoughts (2011)
See also:
● Abrams, R. M. (1989). The U.S. Military and Higher Education: A Brief History. The
ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 502(1), 15-28.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716289502001002
● Smart, B. (2016). Military-industrial complexities, university research and neoliberal
economy. Journal of Sociology, 52(3), 455-481.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783316654258
● Wilson, D. A. (1989). Consequential Controversies. The ANNALS of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science, 502(1), 40-57.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716289502001004
● Tufts: Students, community members protest military industrial recruitment at career fair The Tufts Daily
● UMass Amherst: Update on UMass Dissenters protest efforts against Raytheon and
subsidiary company – Massachusetts Daily Collegian
● Boston University: Students protest Engineering Career Fair for inviting companies that
‘cause harm’ – The Daily Free Press
● Harvard: O’Sullivan: Resign Out of Shame, Not Pressure | Opinion | The Harvard
Crimson
● Northeastern: Activists, students protest Raytheon at NU career fair – The Huntington
News

Indian Beyond This

Byline: This article is specifically about Indians, but that’s mainly because I happen to be one. I hope that this is an invitation for more Frankly writing about identity, so we can better live, work, and laugh with each other. I don’t claim that the experiences I talk about below apply only to Indians, nor do I claim to speak for all Indians. Here’s what I’ve learned:

It’s been a long time coming.

All around the world, the discourse is growing. The country with the most people, with the world’s largest and most influential diaspora. CEOs of big tech companies, the prime minister of the UK. From students to indentured laborers, millions working hard from the UAE to Ukraine, sending billions of dollars, and a promise of a better future, back home. We’ve surely shaken up something.

We have been a significant presence at Olin for many years. A group that is celebrating its presence with increasing confidence, holding some of the largest events on campus. Yet it isn’t a group that we have explicitly thought or talked about.

So let’s do that. Let’s talk about us.

A few months ago, I interviewed six Olin students who consider being Indian at least a part of their identity. Unsurprisingly, I heard six completely different stories. Trying to weave together these stories, find a common narrative, a well-packaged identity has been next to impossible. I’ve raised more questions than answers, but that’s why we start here, beyond this.

What is Indian beyond culture? Every single American-born Indian spoke about the struggle of connection with their culture, in a community that often predicates your Indianness as colorbar depending on how “cultured” you are. Do you watch Bollywood movies? Check. Do you follow cricket? Check. Do you speak your parents’ first language fluently? No? Oof that’s too bad, you’re a coconut – brown outside, white on the inside. Claiming your identity becomes an Olympics of cultural connection – an Olympics in which some come out first in, but being on the podium isn’t enough. It never is.

What is Indian beyond food? Someone pointed out a line from an American children’s show where the sole Indian character says – I kid you not – “Sweet Ganesh, I’m a human samosa!” That’s what you’re known as – the spice, the channa masala, bursting with flavor. But that’s not it, is it? Another interviewee said, “Food has so much attached to it – it’s not just the food itself. It has so many feelings attached.” Food is a culture. Food is taking care. It’s an indication of presence, warmth, home. Indian is (undeniably) the best cuisine because food for you is, well, important.

What is Indian beyond a person of color? “Engineering for Everyone”. Most interviewees candidly described the justice-aligned mission as a “nice to have”, but not something they think about everyday and certainly not why they came to Olin. You don’t struggle with representation or access. Your parents are engineers. Your families expect it of us, and often are willing to scrape together the resources to send you to this top-ranked, 10%-acceptance-rate, engineering school. What should that privilege mean to you? Do you know where you fall within this hegemony, or its challenge?

What is Indian beyond jokes about brownness? Every identity group has their story of reckoning with the fabric of the communities that they live in. How do you reckon with yours? Your dad’s sexism, that one Indian friend who thinks it’s funny to say the N-word, the Islamophobic comments your relatives make. What does that mean? An interviewee pointed out that “Western media is quick to poke holes in Indian society with a level of skepticism they don’t have for their own country. They’re quick to present us as backwards, so growing up I believed that India is a messed up place.” Often, the progressive path is to denounce and renounce Indianness – staying progressive despite your culture. But the same interviewee challenged this by arguing that it’s important to be proud that you are Indian and also say that sexism, colorism, racism have no place.  Reframing the conversion from “I’m Indian but progressive” to “I’m Indian and progressive”?

What is Indian beyond here? The Indian story is always of migration – you are and always will be an outsider. One day, you showed up to school, with the baggage of your “ethnic background”. Maybe American legally, but really from India. Your skin, your height, your food, your religion, your festivals, your movies, your oh-so-colorful clothes. Your name. Your major. Your purported resiliency. You lug it around everyday, but you don’t want to unpack that sack in front of everyone because it sure isn’t the biggest sack – why should you get a chance? Why shouldn’t you get a chance?

I’m asking these questions because an interviewee remarked that their attempts to discuss Indian identity with their peers had been “killed with kindness”. Everyone is an active listener- and then no one talks further. Another interviewee pointed out that “to have conversations is a privilege”, especially in family. By no measure have I reasonably covered all the topics people brought up in response to the same questions. I haven’t spoken about the diversity within India, how Bollywood movies are not musicals, or what ABCD stands for. But I’m going to stop now, hoping this has helped. To reduce the dance of politeness just a little bit so that we’re a little less scared to be more honest and engaged with each other. 

Now, it’s your turn.

Drunk Horoscopes

Contributors:

Charlie Mawn (he/him)

Kate McCurley (any/all)

Maddy Fahey (any/all)

Eddy Pan (he/him)

Mika Gazit (any/all)

♈ Aries: March 21–April 19

  • You will start a club and make a group chat. It’s Facebook Messenger. You will cry. Your club will cry. Facebook Messenger will cry.

♉ Taurus: April 20–May 20

  • You’ll start vibrating, then you’ll start bouncing, and then you won’t be able to stop. You’ll start doing a kickline. Country roads, take me home.

♊ Gemini: May 21–June 21

  • You wake up. You have one Croc on. Where is the other Croc? It’s not in the Shop, because Crocs are not Shop-safe. (Even if they’re filled with jibbitz.)

♋ Cancer: June 22–July 22

  • Touch some dirt. It doesn’t have to be outside. In fact, maybe grow a tree in your toilet. Remember, the Olin dorm dirt limit is ten gallons.

♌ Leo: July 23–August 22

  • IT’S REUBEN, I KNOW IT IS. IT’S REUBEN!!

♍ Virgo: August 23–September 22

  • You will get a computer virus. You will click on the big green download button. Microsoft says you don’t have one, but you do.

♎ Libra: September 23–October 23

  • You will die slowly, like the grass under the Family Weekend tent. Your parents will come see you. They love the tent. They don’t realize you’re dying.

♏ Scorpio: October 24–November 21

  • Carve a pumpkin in a church. Carve a church in a pumpkin. Steal a pumpkin from a church, no one will stop you. Steal a church from a pumpkin, even.

♐ Sagittarius: November 22–December 21

  • You will get lost in Parcel B this week. You will befriend a bug, though. It might hop. You might hop.

♑ Capricorn: December 22–January 19

  • You will find a mosquito bite on your body. You don’t know where it came from. You didn’t even go outside. Maybe you should go outside.

♒ Aquarius: January 20–February 18

  • You’re probably sober. You can still feel your teeth.

♓ Pisces: February 19–March 20

  • There are so many questions! Where I go? Who I know? Will I be alone on Saturday night???

OPEN Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Cover Art Credit: https://www.kaitlinkall.com/ 

Okay, if you like sci-fi commentaries on humanity and our unique place in the universe, and you haven’t read this book, please go out and borrow it from a library right now. 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel written by the science nerd and face of Crash Course himself, Hank Green, in 2017. It tackles issues of social relations, fame, and media, making meaning in a world that’s constantly changing faster than any of us can keep up with. 

Summary: April May is a young artist trying to pay off her student loans and make it in New York City. When she happens upon a beautiful statue that catches her creative eye, April makes a decision that will change her life forever. hijinks ensue, April faces death, unfathomable dreams, and most frighteningly of all, SOCIAL MEDIA. She wants to make a difference in the world, but she’s desperately balancing between enacting change for better or for worse. 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a deep dive into what makes humanity special: what motivates us, what brings out our best, and what brings out our worst. Hank Green has such a beautiful take on us and all our weird ticks. He picks apart many of the people who are found in our modern society: internet haters, fear mongers, scientists passionate about making a positive difference, political figures, newscasters, rural sheep farmers, and everyone in between, and he does it through the lens of a witty, dramatic 20-something-year-old woman. I love this man so much. 

Oh, and this book is Gay. I guess I should mention that in an OPEN media review. April May is canonically Bisexual and there are other characters that are in our community as well. Hank Green himself is Bi, and I’m all here for the support. The great part about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is that all the LGBT+ people in this series are deep, fleshed-out characters. They are not “The Gaytm ” best friend, or “The Gaytm ” parents, nah. They are people, who happen to be gay. There is also a character in the sequel (yes there is a sequel, if you read this one, PLEASE read that one too) that is canonically Agender, which warms my AroAceAge heart. 

So if you’re looking for a great read, looking to have a good laugh, solve a few puzzles, and have an existential crisis or two, then I highly suggest that you give this book a glance.