Stop Silencing Us

Last week, all student activist work was removed from the campus center and other buildings around campus. Administration cited the posting policy as the reason, a policy which has only been referenced previously in the last four years as a reason to tear down other student activism. Under the guise of cleaning up campus, postings were removed with no alternative being given, and the student option for speaking out was taken away just as all students printer emails had been. They tore down everything about sexual misconduct and silencing student voices, everything about all gender bathrooms, even all of the Palestinian activism anywhere outside of the dorms. Students had already requested that this work be left alone or given more information prior to removal, but the work was taken down overnight. All of these topics had previously faced censorship on campus, and this was a new tactic from admin aimed at removing our work to create a nice and sanitized Olin in advance of inauguration. 

This silencing of our voices feels discrediting and invalidating of our pleas for safety on campus. We feel excluded from the space we deserve. It feels frustrating to be caught in a cycle of StAR acting first without consulting students. StAR needs to directly consult students before taking action. StAR has the potential to greatly change things at Olin if they follow through with their proposed changes and what the working group has been working on. However, we know there have been many times these proposed changes have been dropped through the transition of semesters.

 We are speaking up for ourselves and our peers out of necessity, all in an attempt to curtail the silence and suffering of others now and in the future. This has gone on long enough, we are asking you, begging you, to join us in speaking up and speaking out, in not taking no for an answer, in demanding kindness and respect and dignity as human beings in this world. So support us in our work, sign in agreement, and refuse to tolerate the repetition of these failing cycles of change. We need real changes and it can only come from us.

We’ve compiled a short list of demands in response to the ongoing sexual misconduct issues that have been discussed for the last two months as well as the silencing of student voices. You can find this google doc at https://tinyurl.com/olinchange and sign your name to show support. As a small group we have been unable to get the attention and recognition from Olin’s administration in a way that will convince them to act, so we are sharing our cause to bring more attention to these issues. We are using our voices to create much needed change, speaking out against our institution and pushing for lasting change to processes and not just placating conversations and singular initiatives. 

Hey, Class of 2022

Shit is rough, but you are wonderful. And the wonderfulness of you will endure, in the exact way that the rain pouring in my backyard right now will not. Uncertainty defines everything these days, yes, but I believe in your enduring wonder because I’ve seen who you are and what you can do.

I remember I had a conversation with some of you in March 2020 about how you come to trust people and the expectations you have for the relationships you’ve got and the ones you’ll build, and the courage that taught you how to understand and embrace criticism, and to speak truth to power. Since then, I’ve heard many of you express your concerns about holding onto the selves you’ve built here after you leave this place. Though it may not happen immediately, you will one day find places – jobs, community groups, bands, theater troupes, whatever – that do not see your brave curiosity as a liability, but rather as a beautiful, beneficial thing. Whether your work fulfills you or you yearn for something more, you can become – perhaps you already are – an activist. You can engage with your future communities in so many ways that are sorely needed. You can volunteer, teach, discuss, mentor, build. The skills you have brought with you to your learning and then honed throughout your education will keep you going in this work.

If you struggle to find your feet beneath you as you move on to this next stage, fear not; this is the natural course of things. Maybe the most important things geriatric millennials like me can bestow upon Gen Z are these four points: 1) the “insert college degree, expect economic prosperity” model has proven to be a myth for some time now, 2) your life is going to feel like a series of fits and starts, forever delayed, 3) it’s really alright if you don’t go straight from point A to points B and C, etc., and 4) all of this, friends, is not a personal indictment of you.

Let me tell you a story. I finished my undergraduate program in 2009. Shit was rough then, too, but there at least was no global pandemic to contend with. I moved just outside Boston a few weeks after I received my degree on a frigid day in upstate New York. I tagged along to Massachusetts with a group of people I hardly knew because I had no other plans lined up. That was a cruel summer; it rained a record-setting 27 of 30 days in June. I had nothing much to do, though, no job and no prospects, so I walked the flat streets of Waltham until I knew them like the hilly, curving roads of my hometown.

Eventually my money ran out and I took a job at a CVS in Wellesley, the small one on 135. I was the photo lab manager, but because I wasn’t working in a “professional” job utilizing my degree, I felt a shame that I carried around like an unshakeable aura. I felt like I’d failed so many people: myself, my parents, my brother who was currently working on a PhD in computer science, my partner at the time, a chemistry major who had snagged a job downtown. At CVS, we didn’t have a proper darkroom at the store so I used to have to go down to the basement with the lights all turned off, stumbling over the off-season merchandise, to change the photo printer paper cartridges. The baffling precariousness of that situation is a fitting metaphor for this whole period of my life.

I quit a couple weeks into the new year, 2010. At this point, I had decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Library and Information Science, in part because I grew tired of men throwing newspapers at me when I asked them to walk five feet over to an open checkout station (silly me, I should have anticipated grumpy dudes throwing stuff at people would also be a problem in public libraries). I obviously still needed money, so I took a job north of Boston at a hair salon software company and built websites for stylists and spas in New England for a few months, and yes, it was exactly as ridiculous as it sounds, and then I started my MLIS almost exactly a year to the day after I arrived in Massachusetts. I lived in a different apartment with different people by then. I’d lost some old friends and made some new ones. I got my cats, who you’ve probably seen on Discord or Instagram.

So, happily ever after, right? Lol, no. It took me years – ones that contained a cross-country move, a stint in a very modestly successful electronic rock band, a failed marriage, and several family tragedies – before I felt “on track.” I went from point A to point Q to some point not even identifiable in this alphabetic system before I got to point B. These are the fits and starts I mentioned. Things got especially confusing from 2016-2018, when I took on a very stressful job and had a big falling out with my main friend group. I spent much of that time being a jerk, taking unnecessary risks, and making mistakes that I thought I had learned from – and mind you, this was the very end of my 20s, over seven years after I’d entered “the real world.” The day some sense got knocked into me wasn’t even when I woke up in the hospital after a driver hit and left me while I was biking in Brighton, but probably the night three months after that when a set of stairs collapsed under me in Allston as I was carrying my bike out of the house of a person who didn’t deserve one more second of my time. (Yes, this must be a scene in one or more redemptive indie romcoms with a strong female lead and a lot of ukulele strumming.) And even after that, I have continued to mess up. I have messed up prodigiously in these 13 years since I got my bachelor’s degree, and I know I’ll mess up routinely forever, but you know what? That’s the deal. We’re all on board for this. There’s nothing you can do to stop many of your own screwups until you’ve been on earth long enough to practice avoiding them, but you can do one thing to help you through it. You can remember point 4 from the above. Point 4: “All of this, friends, is not a personal indictment of you.”

I have gotten to know some of you better than others, but you are all impressive to me. The things I’ve seen you build, the teams I’ve seen you working with, the art I’ve seen you make – it’s been a joy. I’m a little weepy as I sit here and imagine not seeing you on campus anymore; your shoes are unfillable by anyone but you. But that’s part of the deal, too – you must go on, and you must mess up outside the bounds of our campus, and you must be the change you want to see in the world, the big one out there beyond our wee bubble.

I’ve been sitting here staring out at the rainy dark for a while without many ideas for a good closing paragraph, so I’ll leave you with someone else’s words. They are a more eloquent way of stating the first sentence of this letter: “Shit is rough, but you are wonderful.” You were, after all, challenged to “do something” when you came to us, and I share this in the spirit of challenging you to keep at it after you go, even if you’re feeling like a mess because you’re stuck in the dark at the CVS stockroom of life, trying not to trip over last year’s Halloween decorations.

“Nature teaches persistence and perseverance, because in the end nothing stops nature. If a rose can grow out of the concrete, so can we.”

– Micah Hobbes Frazier, racial justice activist, kind of quoting rapper Tupac Shakur, quoted in adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy

So go forth and grow, you wonderful little roses, you.

What’s on your mind?

Whenever I write for a large audience, I try to center my writing around one key value: inclusivity. I seek to write in a way that everyone can connect with, not seeking agreement but at least an invitation that “Hey, it’s okay to disagree.”

This month, I’ve spent a long time thinking about how to do that. I’ve seen people in so much pain, anger, exhaustion, curiosity, and joy, and I don’t know how to write about it. I knew that I wanted to write something, I was simply bursting with opinions and thoughts. I wanted to move beyond the dining hall conversations about course registration and housing, into something that was new and somehow fresh. I spent days deliberating how to do this, how to create a representative opinion, how to process the frayed fabric of Olin that I honestly feel is best typified by its website – too many unexpected pangs of disappointment with the “Oops! This page cannot be found.” A missing connection that really should be there. 

And then I realized – what if I just ask? Find people in the Olin community, and simply ask them, “What’s on your mind?” Note – the question isn’t, “What do you feel about the OlinTM issues?”, but rather, “What are you thinking about right now?” And that’s intentional. I didn’t want this to be a platform for opinions, but rather a candid reflection of what Oliners are frankly thinking. 100 words. 11 people.

I’m relieved that the semester is ending. I’m sad that the semester is ending. I’m curious to see what’s next. I’m anxious about what will happen next. I’m excited to celebrate Gilda’s inauguration. I’m hopeful that big things are coming. I’m exhausted. I’m eager to be outside, away from email and Zoom. I’m enchanted by blue skies and forsythia and flowering trees. I’m trying to just experience it all. – Alison Wood

Lately with finals, obviously, and the fiasco with suites- that took up a lot of my mind at the time, and eventually I was like, “I’m not going to get a suite”. And then finals are happening. I have a large project to do there that I just came from a meeting. We feel behind but we’re not sure if we’re behind yada yada. And I have other responsibilities and other jobs. I CA, as you know. I’m currently dogsitting, which is a whole lot of work and a ton of back and forth and running from place to place. I haven’t really had space to think so this is nice. – Ben Morris

“How do you disrupt a downward spiral of being disconnected in a way that makes things better? I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Especially because I think there are pent-up frustrations that people have been carrying around. If you don’t know how to release what’s been pent up, or can’t find an outlet, then what? In our culture, we look to our community for support. We seek solace from our community when things aren’t working well, when the rest of the world is chaotic. The community is supposed to be where we can lift each other up. And that doesn’t seem to be happening as much as it should.” – Gilda Barabino

What I’m thinking about is, that the price of Ubers going into Boston is getting ridiculously expensive. Like my first year, it was like 18-20 bucks, maybe 25 on average. That’s expensive, but you’re like “I can make it work”. And I came back from Boston today, and it was 45 bucks. And I was tearing my hair out – like this is ridiculous, it’s a lot of money. And so then I went to Boston three times this weekend, and each time I went it was like “UGH, my bank account is crying”. And it’s not even the stuff I’m doing in Boston it’s just for getting there. – Shashank Swaminathan

What’s on my mind?  Storm clouds and weeping willows.  After this extremely difficult year, I have so many things on my mind and it’s left me overwhelmed.  But I chose images that may represent hard feelings, but are also beautiful in and of themselves.  And that really is what is on my mind – incredible fatigue from a tumultuous year and compassionate acknowledgment that it takes energy to weather a storm and there is comfort to be found in the shade of the weeping willow.  We are tired and strong, stressed and still breathing.  We are here together still.  Adva Waranyuwat

Each of us experiences Olin differently, both because of our own individual vantage point and our roles at Olin. Thus, there is no “the students,” “the faculty,” “the staff,” or “the administration.” The number of people in each of those categories is small, yet none of them are monolithic. We are a collection of individuals, having these very different experiences. At the same time, we are often much more aligned in our goals and desires than we realize. I hope that we can continue to work towards finding a common space, so that we can bring our individual perspectives and strengths to be a better whole made up of all of our glorious, messy, passionate, and brilliant parts. – Anonymous

When the weather’s nice, a man sits on a bench all day blasting music near my house. The other morning a song from the Breakfast Club movie was followed by Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.” It’s almost like he’s DJing for the neighborhood; it’s like a soundtrack to his life. You can almost tell his emotions by the songs that he chooses to play. So this has been on my mind: relating to music. Everyone can somehow relate to music, and that got me thinking: “What would I play if people could hear in the morning how I was feeling, and if my music choices would change day-to-day?” – Courtney Beach

There’s a lot of things on my mind. I’m relieved that all my tech weeks are done. I’m sad that all my tech weeks are done. I’m very excited to graduate. I also don’t know where I’m going to live. This weekend was really fun, and I did a lot of cool things, and I feel like I’m really enjoying Olin right now and I’m really vibing, but I’m also so ready to leave. I can’t believe I’m graduating. It still feels fake. SCOPE is a lot of work. And not always fun work. But it’s exciting. A lot of my favorite classes have been not in my major. Like I feel like my favorite classes are not engineering classes. That’s it really. – Shirin Kuppusamy

Graduation. This will be my 17th Olin graduation (that’s all the graduations). That’s a 17th year of saying goodbye to people with whom I’ve grown close. These are people I’ve had the great joy and honor of teaching, learning with and from, growing with, sharing in sadness and joy, talking through topics big (life, justice, futures, and the present) and small (vegetables, shoes, memes). Again, I brace myself for tangled emotions: pride, joy, curiosity, gratitude, and hope plus a definite sadness and self-consciousness about my selfishness as I mourn relationships that will never be the same. – Caitrin Lynch

Something that’s been on my mind a lot recently has been, what do I want to do after graduation? And a tension with what do I feel responsible to do? I feel this responsibility to go into like, climate crisis mitigation. But that’s doesn’t necessarily bring me a lot of joy? It’s necessary, but also really heavy on my soul to do that work? Part of me wants to screw around and do aerospace or robotics or things that feel fun but not meaningful. Yet I feel this responsibility to do meaningful work because I have a skillset for that. Kind of that tension of doing things for me vs. doing things for others and like what my responsibility is as an engineer? – k

Who I am at Olin, who I’m expected to be at Olin, who I let myself be at Olin? What parts of me are core and recognized, and what parts of me are not, and neglected a little bit? And especially if you think about – being in the flow of love. Love for myself, love for one another. Without that necessarily looking like the care that I show whenever I’m a good R2. Or the sort of care that I show if I sit down one on one and have a meaningful conversation with someone. That’s a tendency that I have that I feel very valued in. And I value it a lot in myself. And at the same time it’s felt like as I transition away from this place and have 23 years of living and will have many decades to come, there’s something spreading that – I don’t know – doesn’t quite cut it. – David Freeman

If you made it to the end, congratulations! Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I did it. I guess I learned, I connected, and I grew. And you probably got something different out of it. Um, I didn’t have time for a fancy reflective conclusion (which I suppose is how the seniors feel) – come tell me what you think about it!

Drunk Horoscopes

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): Is this real life or is this just fantasy? Why not test it out? Pinch yourself. Ask your best friend on a date. Stand on a table dining hall and sing a song. Mix all the sodas with sriracha. Eat floor wax. But I don’t need to draw more attention to myself than I already am. All the tests came back negative. Therefore, Connecticut.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): You are the eye of the tiger. Or the knee of the lizard. It’s okay if you are still figuring yourself out. You have so many options, think for a minute. You can be any animal body part you like. 

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22): Don’t stop believing, hold onto that feeling. That feeling of a tickle slowly dissolving into dread. You know what else is weird about horses?

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): Take me on a trip, I’d like to go someday. Take me to New York, I’d love to see L.A. Take me on a trip in my favorite rocket ship. You’ll be my American rocket ship. I love you, Saturn V. 

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): Ain’t no mountain high enough. Ain’t no valley low enough. Ain’t no river wide enough. Man, this minecraft world sucks. But there is no global warming in minecraft. We can do whatever we want.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): At first I was afraid, I was petrified, then I asked for an extension and my professor was on my side. Then I spent so many nights working on the assignment. I went to CA hours and got all my questions answered. And I grew strong. And I learned how to get along.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): You can set yourself on fire, but you’re never gonna burn burn burn. Like the pride flags in the dining hall, you are not particularly flammable but still against the Olin fire code. You can look up the fire code on the internet. But it is dense and unclear, so you’re never gonna learn learn learn.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): Hey Jude, don’t make it worse. Make sure to avoid saturated fats, eat fruits and vegetables, and avoid the consumption of processed food. Increase your physical activity to at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Remember to make regular visits with your cardiologist and let her into your heart so she can start to make it better. 

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. Don’t worry baby, it’s really hard to kidnap a blue whale. 

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): She wears short skirts, I wear T-Shirts, she wears socks, I also wear socks. She buys her socks from Costco, don’t ask me how I know that. Don’t buy socks from Costco this week, someone put itching powder in all of them.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): Here comes the sun. Why are you so cool?! You are the weather at Spring Soiree, too cool for real school. Be like summer in the spring, and do the thing halfway. You can always duct tape your tits. Remember that. It’s all right. 

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): Do you like pina coladas? With or without rum? It’s fine either way, I was making a new batch anyway, I can make it any way you like. Wait, you don’t like coconut? Well then is it even a pina colada? Well I guess pina colada means strained pineapple, so I can just give you pineapple juice with ice if you want. No, we’re not actually making pina coladas, it’s just for the drunk horoscope. 

Assorted other stuff: 

What could an elephant really give you? 

I’m Not Talking About Bathrooms

I’m going to be honest: it’s because I’m angry, and I’m tired.

This anger has been bubbling for years. Did you know that I can prevent myself from peeing for nine hours at a time? I know, because I did it every day for four years when I was in high school. Skipping breakfast and not eating lunch helps, though you’ll have a harder time paying attention in classes, having conversations, and you’ll be slightly angry all of the time. The bathroom for me, a nonbinary person, was somewhere I was explicitly not allowed to go—it says right there on the sign. In high school, I had nowhere to have a moment’s respite from the busy halls, nowhere to sit and cry when overwhelmed, nowhere to fix my outfit or hair if it got messed up. Sure, technically I *could* have used a gendered bathroom, if I looked enough like a cisgender boy or cisgender girl to use one without getting strange looks, or questioned, or harassed, or attacked. But the choice was between looking cisgender and having the illustrious privilege of being able to shit in a dirty gray rectangle with slurs scrawled on the walls, and looking like myself. And it’s not easy to forget you don’t look like yourself in a room full of mirrors. Really, that gendered bathroom sign to me may as well read “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.” I’d prefer that, actually. Then, at least, it’d have a bit of camp.

Bathrooms are a recurring motif in my nightmares.

This last week has been tiring. It’s such a little thing. A square of plastic. Yet people will pay to keep it in place, and it’s illegal to take it down. It’s *illegal* to *not* misgender me. And sure, we could just ignore it, make the bathrooms *socially* all-gender even if *legally* they can’t be. But I don’t have nightmares about getting lost in a labyrinthine public toilet because I wasn’t able to share a bathroom with all of you. There is still a sign hanging there that says I don’t have a place here—that I don’t even exist in the first place. I have been told that I don’t have a place here, that I don’t even exist, every single day of my life.

I’m tired. And I’m angry. And I’m tired. So I’m checking out: I haven’t been to any of the discussions with administration about this, because the conversation really boils down to “look, WE know you exist, but it’s just really inconvenient for us so we have to continue to publicly pretend that you don’t.” Weren’t pride parades originally something about not keeping your queerness behind closed doors at a time when it was illegal to be publicly queer? But that’s long past: now pride is about rainbows, and about showing how LGBT+ friendly you are, #loveislove! It’s about being visibly queer out in that street, just as long as you don’t come near our bathrooms, you pervert! It’s about consistently ranking in the list of most LGBT+ friendly colleges, and pride flags in the dining hall! All this talk about our software Jenzabar putting students’ deadnames on class rosters, and publicly reporting our student body makeup by “legal sex” to show how “gender balanced” we are, and this stuff about bathrooms, all that’s just talk. We’re accepting! We promise!

I’ll save us both some time, then: that’s not a conversation I’m going to have with you. If you can’t take five minutes out of your day to remove a piece of plastic from a wall, then you don’t deserve to have five minutes out of mine so I can listen to you try and convince me of how good a person you are, actually. It’s not that complicated: gendered bathrooms prevent trans people from existing in public. That’s wrong. And after more than 20 years of being told I don’t exist every single day of my life, I don’t have the energy to argue that with you. Though I may be tempted, because you get angry when you’ve been holding it in for this long.

Do You Even Care?

By an anonymous nonbinary student

The ongoing conversations about all-gender restrooms have led me to conclude that Olin administrators care more about protecting Olin as an institution than they do about my well-being as a person.

I face situations that remind me of my trauma every single day at this school. Although logically I believe I am safe in gendered restrooms at Olin, deciding whether to use a convenient restroom or to spend my time going to an all-gender restroom brings up traumatic past experiences. Knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from remembering the time a friend mentioned that I should be careful using a women’s restroom so I am not accused of rape, or the time I was told to be careful using a men’s restroom so that I do not become a victim of rape again. Knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from remembering the time someone pulled a knife on me in a public restroom due to my perceived gender, and I was terrified I was going to be assaulted or murdered. And knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from irrationally fearing that today could be the day my sense of safety in Olin restrooms is proven wrong.

The school’s reason for not converting more restrooms to be gender inclusive is that it is illegal and the school could face penalties for defying this law. Members of Olin’s administration need to understand that their responses to students’ requests for more all-gender restrooms have shown me that they care more about the possible risk of fines than reducing the suffering caused by my trauma.

Improving access to all-gender restrooms matters. I should not have to decide whether to prioritize my classwork or my mental health. I should not have to decide whether I’m willing to risk a panic attack to minimize the amount of class I miss. And I should not have to decide whether to advocate for myself or protect myself from my trauma. As such, I call on all Olin administrators to reconsider their priorities. Prioritize the health of your students over unjust laws and financial risks. Show that you care about me as a fellow Oliner. Show me that you care about me as a person.

Second Chance

“Can I lick the spatula?” Suzy asked, pulling it out of the bowl, holding it close to her face, and pretending to go in for a huge lick.

I raised my eyebrow at her, confirming what we both knew: the sharing principle. It’s never been easy for me to reprimand her—ever since she was little, she’s been so goddamn funny. “Ask your brother—“

“Ask your brother about the sharing principle,” she said, laughing at the words I probably said twice a day. “Josh-u-a! Sharing principle!” she yelled. The phrase had come from a painfully dry PBS kids show Josh had watched before Suzy was born, and when it came down to teaching him to share with his new sister, it had always worked better as a joke.

“Huh?” he said, watching a hockey game with his dad in the living room. “Uh, yeah, I want some.” He always did that, processed a question slightly after he started responding. Pushing his red bangs out of his face, he rolled over the back of the couch, his lanky limbs sliding around freely. He got his legs under him on the other side of the couch and pushed his hair back again. He looked so much like Adam now, with his limbs exploding out of him like we’d always seen coming.

“You know, we could get you a haircut,” I said, but I knew what the answer would be. No, mom, it’s hockey flow season.

“Yeah, or some fresh legs, so you can actually walk around the couch,” said Suzy. 

Josh caught Suzy in his arms so she squealed. “You think I need new legs?” he asked, reaching around her to shove the spatula into his own mouth.

Suzy giggled and grabbed it back, and Josh let her. Their age difference, five years, turned out so well. They were just far enough apart that they didn’t compete for anything, and Suzy had idolized her older brother since she was a baby. Josh was trying, at twelve, to enter his sassy teenage years, but his best efforts hadn’t gotten him very far yet; I thought Suzy was holding him back somehow.

It was exactly what Jess had always wanted. I flashed back, after trying, but not very hard, to resist the memory, to sitting in my tiny single with Jess. I remembered that the floor space was too small for a couch, so we’d just sit on my bed, talking, hanging out. Jess was sometimes there for sex, sometimes there to escape her terrible roommate. She was usually drawing while they talked, her thick black hair pulled back in a messy bun that held her hair off her neck just enough. She drew what she called “dumb romance scenes,” and mythical creatures and, more than anything else, families. Pretty much exactly this was one of my favorite drawings of hers: a young boy ticking a young girl in pigtails while she held something away from him, just out of the frame. I remember that you could almost hear the girl laugh in that image.

Adam and I talked about Josh that night. He was such a sweet kid, and so, so bad at hockey. He wanted to try out for the travel team next week, and we weren’t about to stop him, but we didn’t think he would make it.

We could take him roller skating on Friday,” Adam said, his google calendar open on his phone. Always on damage control, even before there was any damage.

It was a good idea. “Yeah, okay.”

Adam turned away a little and swiped at his phone. “Sounds good,” he said, distracted.

I watched him for a second, watched his eyebrows come together under his gently receding hairline. He breathed hard once, like he was blowing something away.

I reached over and put my hand on his leg. “You okay?”

“No, yeah, it’s just Marcus,” he said, tapping the screen. Adam was a music teacher at the Pewaukee high school a couple blocks away, and Marcus was his accompanist.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Adam didn’t look up from his phone. I knew better than to push, here. Adam was open with me when he needed me, and didn’t like being pushed when he didn’t.

As we fell asleep later, I thought, again, of Jess. Adam pulled his arm loosely around me, his forearm thick and hard from decades of playing the double bass. I thought of her arm around me, smaller than his, but always tighter. Where Adam held me loosely as a kindness to me, she held on hard, making sure I didn’t go anywhere.

“I’m sorry, babe,” Adam muttered into my hair. When he was tired, his Minnesotan accent came out a little, his vowels rounder. “It’s just that I’m worried about a kid in the boys choir. He’s a sophomore and I think he was just broken up with or something. It’s kind of silly.” Adam tapped his fingers against my chest. “Marcus doesn’t think anything’s wrong.”

I kissed his forearm gently. “You’re the best human.” I felt him squeeze me a little. “Is there anything else?” 

Adam’s silence filled the room.

“I love you,” I said. I closed my eyes and pushed down the lump in my chest. There was no reason to feel shitty. But still, I wished he would talk to me, open up like he did when we had just gotten together, tell me why this boy worried him so much.

“I love you, too.”

In the morning, Adam and I woke up together when his alarm went off, an hour earlier than the kids. He pulled a t-shirt and sweatpants on over his boxers and almost jogged to the basement. His hour of bass was his favorite time of day. 

I ambled over to the kitchen nook with my laptop and a notebook, and while it booted Illustrator, I poured myself a cup of cold brew from the pitcher in the fridge. Adam preferred French press, but he was so good at making coffee, so he always made me cold brew over the weekend. I loved working before the sun had risen all the way—this time always felt like free hours to me, checking things off my list before the day even started. Today, I was playing the fun, irregular game of “do I remember how to use Illustrator”? I worked as a kind of engineer-designer-human trying to do community-based work, and I had volunteered to try to make a poster for a community garden in downtown Milwaukee this week, one of those things that wasn’t really part of my job, but that I pretended I could do. This was my morning to figure it out. While dredging Illustrator knowledge from the depths of years-ago tutorial land was tricky, this was the time of day to do it. I started pulling inspiration from other community gardens, exploring the shapes of leaves and letters first on paper and then in Illustrator. Sometimes, on mornings like these, I’d chuckle a little, thinking back on classes like partial differential equations and fluid dynamics, since this is what I called engineering now.

In an hour, like most mornings, Adam came upstairs to shower and wake up Suzy and I cut up some fruit and made toast for breakfast. Josh got himself up, and liked to do homework in the morning (such a weird 12 year old). He and Suzy, incredibly, really didn’t need much help getting ready most days. Adam drove them to school on his way to work in our beast of a Honda CRV, and I settled in to my work.

Around 10am, just as I was starting to fade into hating the poster I was working on, the doorbell rang.

Thinking back, I feel like I should remember getting up. I feel like I should remember wondering who was there or going to the door or opening it, but all I remember is her face.

Jess. Her hair was pulled back in just the same way, a bun holding her wiry black hair off her neck, but now with a couple gray hairs laced in. Her nose, God, I’d forgotten about her nose. It was big, too big at first, and so angular, but it pulled her face together, made her absolutely striking.

And there she was on my doorstep, 20 years after we last saw each other. I felt that flip in my stomach, the one I’d felt every time I’d seen her the last semester of college, after we split up. All I had to say was hi, but I always felt shaky as I walked away. What the fuck was she doing here now?

“Hey, uh, you look great,” she said. She smiled that half smile that showed off that one crooked tooth. It was a smile just for me back in college, one that no one else could see. She pulled her fingers apart from where she’d been fidgeting, starting for a hug, but when I held up my hand, she put them back down.

“What are you doing here—no, come in.” I wasn’t trying to be polite, I was trying to get her out of the street where all my neighbors could see her. Wisconsiners are great, but they’re also the nosiest people in the world, especially with strangers, especially with strangers that looked… like Jess. With her flannel and her Bluntstones, she didn’t look so different than them. But there was something that made her stand out here. Maybe it was the subtle undercut below her bun, maybe the fact that her jeans were black instead of blue, maybe that she looked too hipster, too far towards the fashionable side of Carhartt instead of the working side. Either way, I didn’t need rumors starting. I practically shoved her inside.

What are you doing here? How dare you come here? How did you find me? “How are you?” I asked, gesturing toward the kitchen nook for her to sit down.

“Yeah, good.” She sat down. “I mean, um, not great.” She smiled at the table.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, surprised at how harsh it came out. But there she was, right where Adam usually sat, the cloudy morning light highlighting her nose and jaw. I couldn’t help thinking that that’s right where she should have been sitting all along.

“Do you have something to say?”

“Do you want something to drink? We have cold brew, or I can make some tea.” What the fuck are you doing here? How are you sitting in my kitchen right now? No, I wasn’t going to give her that power, of showing her she got to me.

I stood across the table from her, gripping the heavy wooden chair. I glanced over at my laptop and notebook sitting open on the table, in front of the chair between us. I wanted to close them, or push them away so she wouldn’t be able to see them, but I couldn’t give in.

In college, Jess fell in love with another girl during January term of our senior year. We’d been dating for three years, but that winter, I’d decided to opt out of J-term in favor of taking the month off and going backcountry skiing and winter backpacking in Vancouver with some friends. She had taken a women’s poetry course that month, partly because she needed the credit to graduate in the spring and partly because she was absolutely in love with the poet teaching it, some young lesbian with a mohawk and a gorgeous sleeve of mango tattoos. In the course, she met a junior, a theater major with career goals, or, as she called them, life fulfillment plans, that looked a lot more interesting than mine. Jess was an artist selling prints by then, with a major in English studies; she could create from anywhere, and she’d rather have done it in the middle of a a boho scene than out here in Wisconsin. A week before I returned to campus, and just after I’d come back from a winter backpacking expedition, we Facetimed. I was in the backseat of my car, mooching Wifi from a McDonald’s parking lot. She broke up with me then, saying that she didn’t think we wanted the same things. I’d thought she wanted a family with me, but it turned out she wanted something more exciting.

“Erin, please,” Jess said now, gesturing for me to sit down next to her. She gently pushed my laptop and notebook towards the middle of the table, and I saw that the sides of her fingers were stained with charcoal.

I sat down. It felt like a rubber band was pulling me to her, like if we just touched, or maybe kissed, some great tension would be released. I tried to push away the feeling, to think about Adam, about Suzy and Josh. I looked at the notebook in front of me, and was suddenly aware of how stupid my designs must have looked to her, poorly drawn leaves and flowers growing into words.

“I’m so sorry,” Jess said. She put her hand on mine. I melted involuntarily, feeling my stomach flip back over, and then tensed my shoulder blades, not allowing myself to be comfortable, not after 20 years.

I bit my tongue, trying to distract my brain from her hand. “Why are you here?” I asked as calmly as I could.

“I had to talk to you.”

Obviously. “That’s a ridiculous answer.” When she could have texted or emailed? Or not come at all? It was so entitled—why should I have even let her in? Why did I? And yet, her hand on mine.

“No, yeah, it is. Um, I’ve thought about you every day.”

I held my breath, wanting more, wanting her to lean across the space between us and kiss me, wanting her to take it back. She’d always opened up like this, letting me in so much, all the time. I couldn’t tell her that I had thought of her, too, because then what else would I say? That I thought about her while I fell asleep, instead of my husband with his arm around me? That I missed how she opened up to me, even when I was guarded? That I wish my kids, my beautiful kids, were hers, too?

She picked her hand up off mine. “I mean, I’m sure you haven’t, of course.” She didn’t wait for me to respond. Instead, she pulled over my notebook. “These are very nice, these designs.”

I stood and backed up, toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make tea.”

I was losing it, losing my nerve, giving in to giving her everything.

In the kitchen, I turned the kettle on, giving myself until it boiled to recover. I had a family. I had kids. I was happy. She had no right to come here, out of nowhere. Why was she here right now? What did she think she was going to get?

Grappling With What Olin Is and What Olin Can Be

I’ve been thinking about the honor code. For me, being a tour guide is an invitation to present the positives of who we collectively are, and also a time to contemplate the things I cannot say about us that I wish I could.

I know I’m not the only one who feels that the Olin I envisioned during my time as a candidate doesn’t match with the Olin I know today. That Olin had a version of me that wasn’t afraid to try and fail to rally other students and learn about what it takes to build a movement. That version of Olin featured a version of me that didn’t run away from eigenvalues in QEA 1, a version of me that asked for help on my PIE project before the deadline loomed. When I read the honor code, I saw a principle that I realized encapsulates what I wish to see at Olin and in myself: Passion for the Welfare of the College. To be ‘a steward for the welfare of Olin College through a spirit of cooperation’. To be passionate about letting things be difficult. To throw myself up in the air and do everything I can to land, and then do it again with the goal of landing gracefully. Let’s be the Oliners that reach beyond our courses for an education.

In the twenty years since the 2001-2 partner year, Olin’s culture has hosted happenings that were and are vibrant and bizarre. Today, I have felt in myself and others a fear of losing the ‘culture we have worked so hard to build’. It is well intentioned, but this fear is destructive. The time we spend thinking about culture lost is time we haven’t spent strengthening what we want to cherish and building anew what nobody has ever done for Olin. Not so long ago, other students like us saw this trend. They formalized that reminder in the honor code as Openness to Change. Let’s be the ones that drive what comes next. 

Olin has a tradition of being intensely self-critical. I believe this is a strength. At the same time, it seems we habitually give critical feedback with no intention of addressing it. We could be in danger of becoming unassertive and passive. This is why the honor code implores us: Do Something. Strive to better yourself and your community. Take action towards resolution. Expect others to do the same. As a community of simultaneously intelligent and conscientious people, we need a caveat to self-criticism to keep from tearing ourselves apart. 

I’ve started to forget that my actions have overwhelming power over what defines Olin: a few of us together create a large portion of current students. When I frame my decisions as something I could feel proud to tell about on a tour, I feel motivated to rise to a higher standard. When I realize that just as many people as before are looking in on me as when I was one of the people looking in, I feel just crazy enough to believe I have this in me.

For me, this means doing some of my classmates are doing already. I’m going to host a session at SLAC. I’m going to build new things in the shop and invite others to ride them. I’m going to master timeboxing for my own benefit, and I’m going to continue to commit to better sleep. Do me a favor. Spend six minutes looking at the honor code. Ask yourself if you think the honor code is still useful as a compass to guide you, and us, to be successful. If not, try to think about how it could change to once again become that guide during one of those rare, lucid moments during the day. It may be the catalyst to a much more successful future for all of us.

Drunk Horoscopes

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): Your teammates do not appreciate your team bonding ideas. Maybe try explaining them in the form of a song? Do not count your mangos before they’ve hatched.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): Who said dispensing every drink from the fountain at once was a bad idea? This is what nirvana feels like. Just don’t spill it. That stuff will never wash out.

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22): Write all your ideas down. All of them. Yes, even that one. Especially that one. Why aren’t you writing that one down? We’re tired of you not listening to us. Why haven’t you returned our calls?

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): Yes! Take that risk, baby! You’re on fire! No, seriously, you’re on fire. Where was the last time you saw a fire extinguisher? Map out your memory of the passage of time on the back of a napkin. Add the napkin to the flames.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): One day you will walk through the exact geometric center of the O, and you won’t even notice. Damn. One of your projects is over-scoped.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): Trains can be so romantic. Have you ever taken a ride on the Amtrak? The green line can be a close substitute, if you don’t care about quality, you cheapskate. You’ve been using too much 3D printer filament.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): You’ve got issues, but damn, maybe someone needs them a freak like that, bestie. You will be filled with a sudden, intense urge to eat the next bath bomb you see. Follow your heart.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): It’s time for a break. Maybe take a nice bath to celebrate? Wait, who ate all your bath bombs? Damn, guess you’ll have to keep feeding your workaholicism by starting a new project or creative venture. HAGS!

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Give all you can into the world. Unless you just have unsorted resistors. The world doesn’t want your striped denizens of purgatory. Go forth and choose your colors wisely.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): What are all these ‘feelings’ that everyone talks about so much?? Is it a type of potato chip? Why would anyone call a subflavor a feeling? Maybe potatoes have all the feelings and eating them gives them to us. Wanna test the theory?

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): You have the heart of a child, but can already hear your knees creaking. You think maybe this is a sign that you’re ready to adult. Will they build on each other or cancel each other out? Who knows???? Your aching back says to go take a shower.

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): What’s a four letter word for two things that’s also kinda like an apple? Wait, is it pair or pear? Gah, I hate this game. Pleeaase go fix the English language for me. Thanks, I owe you one!

Other Things Happen, Too

his school is too small. The number of people is enough to be stressful but not enough to get lost in a crowd. And it’s too few people to hide from those you absolutely do not want to see. 

I was in a really bad relationship on campus in the past. I got out of it ok and only later realized the severity of what had happened. It took time for me to identify the feelings and lingering effects that I still deal with. There were so many gray areas, so the way I often define it is as sexual and emotional abuse. 

It wasn’t a one time thing. The bad part lasted a couple of months. It was my first relationship and I trusted him. He was the one that knew things, so the problems and discomfort and bad feelings had to be my fault.

There are a number of things that I understand better now. Just because someone loves you does not mean that you have to have sex with them. Being depressed is a very valid reason to not want to have sex- you actually don’t owe a reason at all. Saying yes once (or not saying no) does not mean yes to everything. If you feel bad around the person you’re with, that’s not actually a problem with you. These are all things I knew in theory but was too full of self doubt and misplaced trust to see happening to me. 

I would sit in my room and cry after the fact, which is not a normal reaction to a normal and acceptable thing. I’m sometimes haunted by the thought that I should’ve said no and pushed him off, acknowledging what I had been trying so hard to bury for those couple months. I remember the first and only time that I wasn’t able to hold in my tears until I was alone again. I remember finally telling myself that I would never let it happen again, never let myself be used like that, acknowledging what had happened and that it wasn’t ok. I guess that’s what would be classified as sexual assault. I sometimes have trouble classifying it like that and often choose the term abuse instead. Other things happen here, too.

And we’re both still here at Olin. Part of why my name is not on this piece is because I would feel guilty about the consequences he’d face. I know everyone else on campus who looks anything like him in my peripheral vision. I’ve gotten especially good at taking a quick second glance just to assure myself that it’s someone else. In the hallways and stairwells and especially the dining hall. I’m not afraid of all men, just the one. And on hard days, being reminded of it all again by just seeing that person can feel impossible. 

There are sections of the dorms I avoid, not because anything or anyone is actually there but because it’s where things happened in the past and I don’t want to think about that again. I had trouble at the beginning of the year going to the dining hall on my own, worried that I would freeze up and have to just leave without getting food. I have to try and see who’s in my classes so I know if there are conflicts, and then hurriedly change my schedule at the last minute. 

I’m incredibly lucky to have a strong support system and friends that will back me up with anything, no questions asked. But I can’t help but feel for those on campus who deal with the same struggle and go unseen and unprotected. There are no resources, no real support system outside of what you can create for yourself, it’s only on you to avoid and escape. 

We know that this happens here. We’ve known for a long time that bad things happen here and get brushed under the rug. I can only imagine how many others on campus are also hurting, from similar situations or something else that makes being here that much more difficult. And we’re just too small for anonymous support. I can’t begin to describe what it would mean to me to have a group that also understood what this feels like. A reminder that I’m not alone, that there are people with me, that it wasn’t all my fault.

I don’t want to relive my trauma by taking it to StAR. I don’t want to be forced to tell people, because it’s hard to talk about it and they see me differently. I don’t want anyone to have power over me anymore. I just want to have control of what I can, and don’t trust StAR to truly give that to me. 

So read this and share it and talk about it and put yourself in the positions of others. And if you relate to this, I am here for you and I am here with you. Things are really hard here, harder than they should be. In my mind, graduation coincides with finally being free of my abuser. I’m not entirely sure if he even knows what he did to me, but maybe he’s figuring it out now. And he’ll probably read this too, and so to him I say, respectfully, fuck you. 

If have a message for the author, email mbeltur@olin.edu