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 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.

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