Thoughts from an Island

In response to the anonymous March 2023 Frankly Speaking article titled “Let’s Make Real Environmental Impact”.

I appreciate the action, courage, and time you put into thinking about the role of OCJ in the climate justice movement on campus. We feel very misrepresented from the perspective that the board of trustees has presented to you, but I want to put that aside for a second and address a simple difference between the way I see the role of OCJ at Olin and the way I think you do:

The climate crisis is now. If we don’t reach net zero by 2030 – less than 7 years away – it will lead to catastrophic loss of lives, livelihood, and much more, especially in the most underserved regions and communities of the world. But you already know this from our articles and banners. I don’t think we have done a good job of explicitly stating the next link.

If we are to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2030, it will only happen if we radically reshape our current value systems. It will only happen if the climate crisis is our number one priority. It will only happen if we challenge the existing power structures around us (including at Olin) which will not lead us to net zero emissions by themselves.

For me, fossil fuel divestment at Olin is important because that act represents a fundamentally different political stance – that fossil fuel companies necessarily need to not exist in 7 years if we are to reach net zero. Fossil fuel divestment is important because it’s asking Oliners to be someone they haven’t been before. Students are learning to protest. The faculty are in the process of passing their first-ever climate-related resolution. The Board is learning that it cannot exist in a bubble and that its meetings can be interrupted by students filled with rage and passion. The discomfort you feel right now is the point. We want the board to divest because they don’t want to do it. The pressure, stress, and perhaps alienation you have felt from the divestment movement is part of the incredibly uncomfortable process of challenging your sense of comfort and stability when something is a crisis.

We can’t make Olin build solar panels tomorrow, but we can make Olin divest tomorrow. Literally. And making that decision would involve the board members we have been meeting with fundamentally reshaping their values very quickly. And I too agree that the board thinks it’s genuinely being collaborative while we are disengaging, but that difference is what defines the climate crisis – we are trying to set the bar for caring a lot, lot, higher.

Ultimately, the divestment movement is about the struggle and what that struggle reveals about Olin. So far, we feel like that struggle has been fruitful – it has completely reshaped the discourse at the college, it has exposed students to nonviolent direct action, and – most importantly – it has brought people like you to think about this, care about this, reach out to people in power, and respond. So thank you, and I genuinely ask you to join the next OCJ meeting. We are unwavering but not perfect, and you will have a lot to learn from our meetings only if you are really ready to challenge a lot of your assumptions because that’s what it takes to combat a global crisis at an unprecedented rate. We have studied and discussed and challenged our own assumptions so much, and trust that we will continue to do so.

I know that this will be difficult for many of my Olin friends to read. I know that if my parents or high school friends somehow found this article, they would not recognize me. And I know that I feel so deeply privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants who brought me and keep me in this school, but that doesn’t mean I stop trying to see through the clouds. My story of care at Olin would not feel genuine to me if it stopped at student support, cultural communities, and building safe, open spaces. I hope you can understand how deeply valuable each of those components are, and OCJ,  in the way that I’ve been trying to understand for the past short three years.

No community is exempt from dissent. No institution is too perfect for reckonings of power. No college, no matter how caring, well-intentioned, and hardworking, is exempt from disruption. 

I never thought that I would be writing a Frankly Speaking while studying abroad, but turns out that the climate crisis is a crisis, well, everywhere. The island I’m living on has visibly eroded this past semester. It’s time to be honest about how we got here. We at Olin, an institution with an incredible amount of influence, money, and hard-earned respect need to take big, bold steps, because… (say it with me!)

Climate justice can’t wait.

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