What I’ve Learned

This moment last year, Olin Climate Justice was little more than an idea in the back of my mind. I’ve spent this past year pouring my life and soul into building OCJ.

I understand our group means many things to many people. To me, it represents thousands of hours of work and love and care and courage and determination and resilience and guts and kindness and heart. This may not be your view; that is okay.

OCJ has responded to the claims made by March’s anonymously published article. In this moment, however, that response is immaterial. Instead, in an act of vulnerability, I will tell you that article landed with deep hurt, frustration, and sadness. I recognize this was not the author’s intent, and yet both things can be true. And so I extend an invitation to you. 

I hope to use this space to reflect on one rollercoaster of a year, and I invite you to journey with me. These learnings are borne of experience; you may find them vague and unsubstantiated. That is okay too. I invite you to see them as an open question, an opportunity to wonder why I might have learned this.

Above all, I invite you to wonder what Olin could be. And I hope that wonder inspires you enough to act, as it did for me.

  • I’ve learned that the same anti-democratic structures in this college that center whiteness and maleness and wealth are the same structures that got us into the climate crisis in the first place.
  • I’ve learned that “collaboration” is wielded by those in power to obscure power differentials, and that when we say “collaboration” we really mean perfunctory student participation.
  • I’ve learned that “community” is similarly wielded by those with whom I am not in community as a means to suppress dissent.
  • I’ve learned that we can repeat the words collaboration and community over and over until we drop dead, and yet nothing will substitute for democratic processes that hold people in power accountable.
  • I’ve learned that student decision making power in this college is predicated on whether people in power feel like listening, and so students are expected to accommodate the whims of unelected white men.
  • I’ve learned that those in power are seen as collaborative because they maintain a range of things they are willing to do and take student input on, and outside of that range they are steadfast in their opposition.
  • I’ve learned that the lack of formal decision-making structures at this college prioritizes the “old boy’s club” that has existed from the start, empowers well-liked white men to attain outsized control over every decision, and prevents accountability and real democracy by obscuring power.
  • I’ve learned that better does not equal good, whether that is relative to other institutions or the Olin of the past, and those in power wield narratives of “change is slow” and “acknowledge small progress” to justify inaction.
  • I’ve learned that “common ground” and “shared values” are all too often employed when they do not exist, as reasons to ignore the substance of one’s argument.
  • I’ve learned that “impact” is meaningless when divorced from who we are impacting, what impact we hope to achieve, and why. And that meaninglessness is precisely why those in power love the term. (The same applies for “changemaking” and “do something”, always a low bar).
  • I’ve learned we’ve set the bar for “caring about sustainability” so low that not denying the existence of the climate crisis is considered enough.
  • I’ve learned that “sustainability” can mean anything, and so often is used to reinforce business-as-usual operations.
  • I’ve learned that some are so invested in avoiding discomfort, are so unsettled by efforts to pull back the Olin veil, that they would tear down their fellow students to uphold the systems of oppression that built this college.
  • I’ve learned that you can spend long nights poring over solar panel proposals and early mornings cleaning out overflowing compost bins, and those in power will turn around and claim credit for that work.
  • I’ve learned that no matter how hard you work, the credit will go to the cis men around you, while other men will always be happy to offer their unsolicited opinions.
  • I’ve learned that those in power will co-opt your work until you are no longer palatable to them.
  • I’ve learned that the only way that white men take me seriously is if I contort into someone calm, collected, and quiet, who never pushes for more.
  • I’ve learned that it’s one thing to care about sustainability and real environmental impact, which everyone does, and another thing to care enough to prioritize it above CompArch and PIE and Formula. It’s one thing to say you care and another thing to stare wide-eyed in terror at the ticking clock that is 1.5C and look around and think, what the hell are we all doing, acting as if everything can be normal and the same? That we can just keep going like this?
  • I’ve learned that we’re made too busy to care. For this college and for each other.


Hello everyone! As the semester winds down, I thought I could be nice to share some poems I’ve written over the last few weeks with you all. I wrote them for a specific person in mind, but please, interpret them how you will at your heart’s content. I feel like I’ve grown a ton over the last semester, and I hope to pursue this kind of non-STEM activity more over the next x-number of years (no hints!). Please don’t judge them too harshly, and I encourage you all to share a little love before the semester ends. Love you guys <3.

Sonnet 5:

Frosted gaze or sin-ged remark

A warm embrace never knew winter’s frost

Crimson leaves atop a glowing bark

Love enflamed lifts love lost  

Cold respite or scorch-ed bond

A firefly always finds its light

Roots entwine to blossom fond 

Petals bloom for fruit’s fertile flight

Orange dawn or amber rose

A painter’s brush never knew such bliss

Scarlet love in river flows

Winter’s chill mellowed with Summer’s kiss

Seasons struggle with time apart

Yet equinox begins within our heart

Sonnet 2:

I was never much of a writer,

Too weak to lift pen’s ink

I was never much of a sculptor

Too brain-scattered to think

I was never much of a painter,

Shades never seemed to lighten

I was never much of a singer,

Waves could never match Siren’s

I was never much of a poet,

But my heart compelled me so

She said I could be a poet 

But how could she ever know

I was never much of a lover

But that doesn’t seem to bother her

Sonnet 1:

I know your name

Better than my own

Endlessly articulate it in my mind

Like a schoolboy’s detention

But your name is all I know

And yet it is my own

Cork it in a bottle

Fawn over its waves 

If only you’ll let me know more

So I can be yours

Your name is the only

I wish to know

I’m never gonna know you now

But I’m gonna love you anyhow

Reflections on the Way to Divesting

The anonymous March 5 Frankly Speaking (FS) article, “Let’s Make Real Environmental Impact,” has me reflecting on what I had hoped to give when I came to Olin in 2018.  Prior, I served as a professor for 27 years, the last 13 as the founding co-director of a center for sustainability in engineering.  I learned many great and terrible lessons on my path to “have impact.”  The first was that we will always have an impact; is it the impact that we want to have? 

As I witness the divestment efforts unfolding I am moved to offer a few observations and learnings. I hope they are useful. My first observation is that Olin Climate Justice (OCJ) is cutting an admirable, textbook path of democratic action in service to social justice; I am awed by the high standard of scholarship in their communications that transparently grounds their case for divestment in data and explicit logics. Tyler’s March 9 email (subject: Olin Climate Justice’s Response to Board Statement) is another example.  All would do well to follow their lead, it seems to me. A lesson I cannot forget is that I am part of the system that I long to change. The truth of anthropogenic climate change is that my actions are causal to the problem. It is not “someone else” who is to blame–it is me, yet I am not alone.

The March 5, FS article, if I understand it, is expressing a students’ sense of betrayal. It goes a little like this: 

  1. OCJ communicates -> Author believes OCJ,  presuming factual communication
  2. Board members communicate -> Author believes Board, presuming factual communication
  3. Board communications do not equal OCJ communications
  4. Author concludes OCJ communications are false
  5. Author feels betrayed by OCJ because of 4

All communications, as theorized by linguists Grinder and Brandler1, re-present the world in ways that delete, distort and generalize and therefore are neither factual nor true.  I include the things I’m attempting to communicate now (and always, really).  Our options are then to test what is said for its coherence with reality, investigate it, or have faith in the speaker. The “faith” option is frequently granted to those with perceived authority, but not always warranted.

I have noticed at Olin that “collaboration” is often conflated with “consultation.” Collaboration is a mode of working that involves mutual respect and open power sharing. There are other properties but collaboration is distinct from consultation which is a mode in which one party holds power and exercises it unilaterally after seeking input from other parties (i,e., “consulting”); cooperation is another mode2. It is useful to recognize the distinction between these modes of working3. As the FS article points out, a dictate that another party adopt one’s point of view is not an act of collaboration–it is, as the biologist Humberto Maturana pointed out, a demand for obedience4. To be clear, the Board’s insistence that OCJ recognize what the Board believes to be a superior non-divestment approach is a demand for obedience; is it not an invitation to collaboration. The communication is this: If you only saw things the way I do, you would know I am right. That is, the assertion that OCJ was “non-collaborative” is a projection of the asserter’s state. 

It is very tempting to relate to what is said as right or wrong. What is more likely is that the things said are both right and wrong or equivalently neither right nor wrong. For example, the claim that Environment Social Governance (ESG) is “more effective” than divestment requires all kinds of assumptions about the meaning of “effective.” Effective at what and for whom? Whose standard, shareholders’? How do stakeholders whose life, livelihood and future are stolen rate the “effectiveness”?  In the end, I believe the dilemma of divestment must be addressed through authentic collaboration.  

In my five years at Olin, I have witnessed cooperation many times, but I have only seen collaboration ~3 times.  As I understand it, collaboration requires:

  1. A consciously-held, shared commitment to something larger than any of the party’s individual interests;
  2. A willingness for all parties to suspend their point of view for the sake of 1.
  3. A tolerance and patience with holding ambiguity long enough for a solution to emerge from the emptiness created by 2. 

How do we access C? Usually through inquiry: A compels B and produces curiosity; this curiosity causes the parties to real-ize that their individual points of view are not as comprehensive as believed. In this realization, people relax their attachment, literally relax (somatically) and gain access to collective creativity. I have often found at Olin that if we get past B, the space for creativity in the social field (C) collapses.  We cannot hold C–it is often said “we don’t have time,” but I think we mean that we don’t have courage.  

At this, the end of my career, I have learned that all inequities, whatever form they take–environmental injustice, racial injustice, social injustice, organizational injustice, classroom injustice–are one thing: an abuse of power.  The incredible beauty of the Olin community is that we long to do better.  For this reason, I came to Olin. As I retire, my hope is that all of us would pursue a conscious awareness of how we wield power and ask, “Is it just?”  We all want to live in a thriving world and we are the people we have been waiting for to bring it. I leave you with this quote from the 13-th century Persian poet Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Here for a Season

As all good things do, it started as a joke. Sometimes jokes get taken too far and that’s how I ended up in MAC 128 with a couple of others trying to figure out how to make Olin Clean Snowmobile possible. That’s how I ended up in a meeting room with admin figuring out the logistics. That’s how I ended up pitching this team to half the student body as if it was the hottest new P&M project. And like all P&M projects, you probably weren’t given much context as to what we’re really doing.

Olin Clean Snowmobile is a team that will modify an existing snowmobile to lower emissions and noise pollution. Contrary to popular belief, we will not be making an electric snowmobile, but we will be modifying a snowmobile with a diesel engine. Some modifications may look like redesigning the muffler system to utilize destructive interference, tuning the drivetrain, or designing a diesel particulate filter. This snowmobile will compete in the SAE Clean Snowmobile competition against other colleges and universities. To answer the most frequently asked question, yes, we’re serious about this, despite it all starting out as a joke.

In October 2022, a few of us who had joked about Olin Clean Snowmobile decided to try to do something to make it happen. We started to search for sponsors and put together a sponsorship packet. We started to plan for what projects the team would take on to achieve low pollution with the snowmobile. In November, we met with a winning team from Wisconsin to gain a better understanding of exactly what we were getting ourselves into. In December, we found ourselves in a conference room with a couple of faculty members pitching this project team. Before we formally started the meeting, one of them turned to us and said, “This is not a matter of if, but a matter of how.”

It was around that moment that I recognized how invested I was in this team. At some point in the process, Olin Clean Snowmobile became more than a joke. It was fulfilling the dream of the high school senior touring Olin thinking if there is any place to do something of any meaning, it’s this place. The one who accepted admission to the school with the belief that it was different than other schools in this way. It was showing the defeated first-year just starting classes that maybe there is something bigger than going through the motions with classes and clubs. Maybe, just maybe, my past self was onto something with this place. Doing something, as any honorable Oliner is meant to do, felt incredible.

It all came to a screeching halt just before spring break. We received the email we dreaded, the email we always knew might end up in our inbox, but it felt increasingly less likely as time went on. Olin Clean Snowmobile couldn’t happen. Not due to a lack of funding, a lack of interest, or a lack of faculty support. It was due to a lack of space.

Sometimes this school is too small for the growing dreams of the student body. The mere five buildings on the campus cannot always contain the hopes we have. Space is not an easy thing to come by and it isn’t something I necessarily expect to change. But at some point, something has to give. If there is no room to grow, then growth can’t happen. If students hear enough times that their attempts to “do something” simply aren’t possible, then won’t they stop trying?

I still, perhaps foolishly, believe that the mentality of “it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of how” still exists at Olin. Maybe because if Olin is really all that I want to believe it is, it has to.

Drunk Horoscopes

By the drunk horoscope squad (can we get an extension on our pronouns?)

Aries (March 21-April 20)

Don’t go swimming in the parcel B pond. Who knows what’s in there. I do, but you don’t need to. 

Taurus (April 21 – May 20)

Just because you’re eating dirt doesn’t mean it has to taste bad. Bring some spices. Add some water and make it a soup. Or, add some leaves and make a salad. The opportunities are endless

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

How’s that rattling noise your car’s been making? Turn off the radio, and really listen. It almost sounds like its trying to tell you something. Maybe read the user manual?

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Why did the chicken cross the road? Well to beat the high score on the Crossy Road Leaderboard, of course. There’s a leaderboard in the MAC, and I bet you can’t beat it. But you could try…

Leo (July 23 – Aug 22)

You know that Wizer Training phishing scam? Fun facts from Olin IT, it’s not actually phishing. Its an important 3 minute training to protect yourself from these scams. Or at least that’s what they want you to think. Maybe click the link anyways. It’s getting a bit annoying.

Virgo (Aug 23 – Sep 22)

It’s not too late to change your AHSE concentration. Babson College of Entrepreneurship offers four different classes in sex. That’s more than three. You could do it.  

Libra (Sep 23 – Oct 22)

Google your name. You might find someone interesting. A new friend. Reach out to them on Linkedin. But, there can only be one. Challenge them to a fight. Winner takes the 

Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 22)

Consider purchasing a life insurance policy. Not now, but like, later. It’ll probably come in handy. Not to you necessarily, but to someone. Or maybe consider it now. You can never be too prepared.

Sagittarius (Nov 23 – Dec 21)

Get a jar of salsa and invite over your 5 closest friends. Also get some tortilla chips. Or a spoon or straw, that works too. Set a timer. Go feral. 

Capricorn (Dec 22 – Jan 19)

The frogs are calling. Will you pick up? They might have an internship offer for you.

Aquarius (Jan 20 – Feb 19)

Have you filled out that reimbursement form? It might take 6 months to a year to get money in your bank account, so you should do that now. Yes, now. Find the receipts and submit the form.

Pisces (Feb 20 – Mar 20)

Make sure you wake up at 10:30 am on the dot this Saturday. It’s omelet time. Tell James how much you appreciate him. Surprise him by ordering something new, like an omelet with no eggs. Or don’t. Change is hard and that’s ok.

Let’s Make Real Environmental Impact

Nearly everyone in the Olin community supports environmental sustainability. A group coalesced, forming Olin Climate Justice (OCJ) to push environmental sustainability at Olin. Unfortunately, they’ve not only become ineffective, but actually counterproductive. We students have allowed them to become our voice. We’ve allowed them to be our exclusive ear. Our understanding of the Board’s actions and inactions come through them. Recently, I reached out to multiple Board members so I could better understand the situation.

OCJ demanded divestment of any Olin investments in climate unfriendly companies. OCJ claims it has exhausted its options for collaborating with the Board of Trustees and that the Board refuses to listen. 

I learned that in OCJ’s persistence the Board agreed to reasonable stated goals of OCJ, provided numerous opportunities for listening and collaborating, and in fact has taken action to have more than a symbolic impact for climate justice. 

I learned that OCJ asked for a committee within the board where students could surface environmental issues and the Board delivered. The issue isn’t the Board’s willingness to collaborate to find real impact, but that OCJ rejects anything other than divesting as “not collaborating.”

OCJ asked the Board in a 2022 publication to divest all direct holdings in fossil fuels within five years. They prompted alumni to petition for divestment from direct holdings. I learned that Olin had already divested from all direct holdings. Without acknowledging this, OCJ now presses to prevent possible indirect holdings by divesting from collective investment funds that may include indirect holdings.

I learned that the Board wants student input but cannot allow students to have unilateral control over Olin investments. OCJ has communicated to students that they ask to be heard about divestment, but they did not communicate that they also requested audit veto rights on any investment decision. This is different from asking to have input into endowment decisions. The Board is fiscally accountable for its investments and cannot set a precedent that would abdicate that responsibility to students.

I learned that the Board has conducted extensive research on the environmental impact of divestment; the data shows it has nearly 0 impact. In fact, divestment costs time and optionality.

I learned that the Board has successfully pursued Environmental, Social, and Governance investing (ESG), a form of sustainable, socially responsible investing. Like divestment, it makes a public statement, but arguably has optionality for longer lasting changes.

ESG enables new tactics, like ClientEarth is trying. As shareholders of Shell, ClientEarth has standing to file a lawsuit against Shell’s Board for failing to implement a Paris Agreement compliant energy transition strategy. Winning million dollar lawsuits against Shell has no impact (as OCJ has explained) but winning a million dollar lawsuit against individual board members would.

The board proposed alternative approaches with more promising impact than divestment and extended the opportunity for students to collaborate to find more effective solutions. The Board suggested shareholder resolutions and finding changes that the Olin community could make on campus – all of which have proven to have a larger environmental impact than divesting. OCJ has not reciprocated collaboration; they have only pressed for divestment.

I learned that Olin convinced the endowment’s investment firm, Summit Rock, to implement ESG. They adopted it for Olin’s investments, and offered it to other investors. The Board invited OCJ to participate in a recent Summit Rock presentation regarding how it implemented ESG. OCJ showed up but refused to discuss ESG, simply pressing Summit Rock to consider divestment instead until the meeting was ended due to lack of productive engagement. The Board asked OCJ to communicate with the student body to find students who would be interested in engaging with this idea; without asking the student body, OCJ communicated that no one was interested.

The Board welcomed students to meetings with investors, potential new board members, and other high stakes guests. The Board demonstrated trust and willingness to include students in their core work. OCJ refused to engage beyond demands for divestment. The Board was hopeful for collaboration but students who attended the meetings appeared disengaged, using their cell phones, taking private meeting notes and exhibiting disrespectful behaviors.

Recently, the Board didn’t object when OCJ entered their meeting chanting loudly. They listened while each student spoke. When the Board president asked if listening was a two way street, OCJ responded by blasting music. OCJ persisted with music and shouting, forcing the Board to adjourn.

Olin’s relationship with the Board is important. It’s part of establishing an integrated, supportive community with a greater collective influence. Beyond addressing OCJ, the Board has run events to connect with students and build community. OCJ should reflect and change course now so it can help build Olin’s capacity to impact environmental change rather than continuing self-righteous and arguably ineffective demands.

I, too, want real positive environmental impact. I’m not proud of OCJ’s tactics. OCJ hasn’t acknowledged positive actions Olin has taken, the level of divestment that already exists, or the proposed co-curricular to explore greater impact opportunities. OCJ has refused to engage beyond demands for divestment. Exclusively dictating divestment without entertaining additional options causes harm and will not positively impact the environment. 

Students, I encourage you to truly understand what you are supporting. Help OCJ recenter themselves on fighting for climate justice and recognize and collaborate with our allies. The Board has demonstrated they want to be an ally and so should all of us, including OCJ.

You are Awesome

Olin can be challenging at times and there is a lot going on in one’s personal life: the pressure to join clubs, finding a job, finish all your work while balancing social life, coping with internal and external personal matters, battling FOMO and/or Imposter Syndrome, trying to avoid burn out, trying to give back to the community, the list goes on and on… Despite whatever you are dealing with, how challenging your academics and life may feel right now…I want to remind you that YOU ARE AWESOME! And you have my utmost admiration!

I am extremely proud of you! Keep pushing through!

I hope everyone else around you keeps reminding you of how wonderful and amazing you are, because trust me…You are one cool cat! In any case, I hope you know that at least one person is thinking of you and wishing you the most beautiful day ever! <3


An Oliner

Now you Know

Valentine’s Day was just like any other day. I could have cared less. However, as I recognized this, I couldn’t help but think ‘yikes, am I becoming one of those bitter old people?’ I don’t think so. However, I couldn’t help but feel this great sense of apathy.

Why do I feel so apathetic when just a week ago I would get so excited to see you?  What changed? Have I self-sabotaged? Have I begun to overthink this? Or have I not thought about this enough? 

If so, why? What am I running from? Maybe I do know.

It’s funny because they say everyone knows each others’ secrets here at Olin. Perhaps that is true but I don’t quite believe that. But here goes nothing. I can share a little piece of my secret before it gets told by the masses. Or maybe if you have known me long enough you have already seen this part of my secret that not even I have been brave enough to confront. Anyways, now you know. Now I can say I have written my first Frankly Speaking article. Yay me! Perhaps I will write more. I must say this has been a lot of fun. Who knew I had so many thoughts and emotions behind this topic. Well, now you know.

PS: To you-who-shall-not-be-named it’s not you it’s me. Lol. Yup, that’s the thought. Thanks, y’all. It’s been real.