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.

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!

Why The Disinformation Problem Is This Bad, And What We Can Do To Start Fixing It 

War in 2022 does not only involve combat boots on the ground. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there have been countless cyberattacks all over the globe, even here at Olin. The United States and European Union have used sanctions, financial and travel limits, and other economic levers to put pressure on Vladimir Putin’s government. But one of the most deeply unsettling and dangerous fronts in this war is being fought in the form of (dis)information. In this article, I’ll explain some of the reasons why disinformation has become a virulent social problem in the United States and offer tips on how to be a more mindful consumer of what you read online. This is an incredibly complex issue, so for more reading on the topic, please see the resources linked throughout this piece.

The public spending decisions in the U.S. that have impoverished schools, libraries, institutes of higher education, and more – combined with declining trust in the government and the mainstream media – have created a fertile environment for disinformation to spread. With even trusted organizations like the CDC backtracking some of their findings during the COVID response, it’s legitimately difficult to know who or what to trust. Disinformation also fills a social gap. Former QAnon adherent Lenka Perron told the New York Times in 2021 about how, feeling abandoned by politicians, ignored by the media, and lonely in her life, she found emotional support among Q believers. Stories like Perron’s demonstrate that the response to disinformation can’t only be teaching people how to better evaluate the news. People are not seeking the truth so much as they are seeking validation of existing beliefs and community support.

Disinformation researchers and librarians also blame the rise of social media platforms using algorithms that promote the most incendiary and divisive voices. Big Tech dominates the information landscape with billions of users, creates uncontrolled vectors of “fake news,” and undermines everyone’s ability to thoughtfully consume information. Educators are simply not equipped to combat these issues when advertising and social media giants like Facebook and YouTube design their algorithms to encourage maximum engagement rather than accuracy or reliability. While some platforms are finally attempting to squelch disinformation, corporations should not be allowed to serve as the sole arbiters of speech in a democracy. 

Worsening economic conditions, widespread fear and loneliness, the engagement-driven algorithms of Big Tech, and defunded educational institutions have created a serious problem that needs to be fought from multiple fronts. This is all in combination with a deluge of calculated disinformation tactics utilized by actors with nationalist interests and a desire for global destabilization. These tactics are the product of decades-old state-sponsored disinformation campaigns in Russia, described by one KGB defector as having a goal of changing “the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that, despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community and their country.”

Disinformation about Ukraine isn’t just coming from Russian intelligence agencies and rogue agents, though. On the one hand, you have a master propagandist in Putin, unabashedly playing the victim even as he orchestrates aggression, using his administration to spin tales of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his “Nazi guys,” as a Russian politician repeatedly said in a recent interview with BBC Newshour. On the other, you have the French media outlet that published a moving video of a Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier…that was actually a Palestinian girl confronting an Israeli soldier in 2012. This is not to establish a false equivalency between the significance of these stories, but to make the point that no matter who we support, our very human confirmation bias diminishes our ability to evaluate information.

Shifting gears to techniques we might use for assessing the information we see online, I want to start by invoking the SIFT method we teach in library instruction sessions at Olin. SIFT is a four-step process for learning to think like a fact checker. We usually teach it in the context of the much more slow-moving and deliberate process of research vs. assessing stories shared through chat or social media, but the core strategies still apply.

Stop

News is generated and spread in such an overwhelming and lightning-fast manner in 2022 that it is disorienting and tough to keep up with even in “slower” news cycles. The first step of SIFT is to stop and think – what are you even looking at? If you’re tracking stories from many miles away in areas you don’t have much familiarity with, you are going to be inherently limited in your ability to understand what’s going on. You may also be overly emotional while you’re reading or watching, and that can sway your interpretations. It’s okay to recognize you may not be able to follow certain kinds or sources of news. The next step in the process can help you find ways to stay up to date while acknowledging your limitations.

Investigate the Source

There are many kinds of sources visible on the web these days, not just encyclopedias, newspapers, and research articles. Independent writers and freelance journalists can be critical trustworthy eyewitnesses during events, sharing their firsthand experiences as they happen. Unfortunately, there are also fake accounts, bots, and spammers to watch out for. Mike Caulfield, misinformation researcher and one of the creators of SIFT, prompts us to ask if a source is “‘in the know’ — do they have *significantly* above average knowledge of a situation because of expertise, profession, life experience, or location?” He also asks us to consider a source’s personal and professional incentives, and to wait for better sources or more verification of developing news stories rather than rushing to share breaking stories the moment you find them.

Find Better Coverage

This step is a close partner with “investigate the source.” It’s critical to be extra careful about this when dealing with contexts that you may not be familiar with because of your geographic location, upbringing, or other limitations of perspectives. Ukraine is a country of over 40 million people; there are numerous mainstream media outlets, and most Americans need to do quite a bit of homework on learning which ones are reliable. It’s important to distinguish where finding better coverage is more important than investigating a source. “If you get an article that says koalas have just been declared extinct from the Save the Koalas Foundation, your best bet might not be to investigate the source, but to go out and find the best source you can on this topic,” Caulfield suggests, “or, just as importantly, to scan multiple sources and see what the expert consensus seems to be.”

Trace Back to the Original Context

In the final move of SIFT, we acknowledge that the internet strips images and words of their original context. You might see the middle minutes of a video, hear audio edited to change the speaker’s intended meaning, or see a reference to a medical study in an article that describes its conclusions inaccurately. In these cases, you should try to find the original, undoctored source or the cited article, but it may not be possible to do that. When it’s not, try to let it go. Is your best option to share something when you have 20% of the story, or an incorrect but interesting interpretation of it?

SIFT is not the solution to disinformation. Disinformation is a complex and entrenched problem in the U.S. exacerbated not only by slashed education budgets, crumbling public infrastructure, and social media giants with too much power, but also by state-sponsored or independent actors who are deliberately working to destabilize trust in democracy. It’s not something that any one individual can solve. That said, learning how to start thinking like a fact checker is one action we can individually take to help today. This article only begins to unpack small parts of the disinformation ecosystem, but a better understanding of how we got here can inspire us to work on rebuilding the support systems we have lost.

The Day Everything Changed, Part 2: 5 Minutes in 658 Words

We last left off with Tracy learning that they are going to be living with One Direction from now on. What will happen next?!?!?!

…Before I could say anything, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. She knelt down and gave me a hug. “You’re going to live with One Direction now.”   

I tried to suppress my smile as I felt my mother’s arms surround me. I could hear her attempt to present a reassuring front, and as I hugged her back I tried to convey through my squeeze that everything was going to be okay. 

As the hug ended, I took a step away from my mom and looked at my father’s face. He was solemn, and I shot him a smile before turning and facing the five boys across the room from us. I could tell they were sitting on the couch before I arrived, they were still standing in front of the slightly deflated cushions they previously occupied. They looked strangely nervous. 

I smiled wide, and slowly approached them. I could tell that my smile put them at ease, and before I was within arms reach I stopped. I stood across from them, the only thing in between us the antique mahogany coffee table riddled with water marks from years of use. I looked down at the old wood table and noticed the small chips from when I ran into it or dropped something on it over my past 14 years. It was comforting to see this relic and to know that no matter what happens next, everything’s going to be okay. 

And so I took a deep breath, and exhaled before kicking the table in front of me, triggering the hidden compartment to launch the anti-shape-shifter quasar beam about 4 to 5 feet into the air, so I could comfortably and ergonomically grab it. It was so smooth, and made me happy that I spent the extra $50 to get it installed with Murphy’s Secret Compartments.

Murphy’s Secret Compartments

Discreet, Unnoticeable, Murphy’s

With the quasar beam in hand, I blasted Zane in the face. As the rest of 1-Directions’ faces morphed into surprise, Zane’s melted into a multidimensional cosmic geometry that was unrecognizable from a human perspective. My dad quickly sprang across the room and punched the thermostat, which triggered the dimensional phase reaffirmer; banishing all revealed multidimensional beings from our reality. 

As Zane was bleeped out of existence, I could smell fecal matter coming from the part of the room occupied by the remaining 1-Directioners. I tossed my beam to my mother, barking “Cover me” as I kicked the table two more times resulting in two more beams being launched out. The first landed in my hands smoothly, and the second flew past my father’s hands, missing his reach by inches. “Dammit, Murphy!” I heard my dad mutter. 

“Dad, don’t blame Murphy. That’s what happens when you don’t keep up with your training.”

“You’re right, Tracy.” My dad said with his head slightly hanging. 

“No time for this though,” I said with authority. “It’s time to take care of some multidimensional cosmic beings that we haven’t come up with a catchy name for yet but would appreciate suggestions!”

“Hell yeah!” My mom said as she shot a beam at Niel. But he dodged it as Harry picked up the landline and threw it through the bay windows that Murphy’s brother Richard was supposed to make bullet-proof next weekend. The 4 remaining boys jumped through the glass hole as we let beams fly after them, but they got away safely. 

“Dammit!” my dad said, slamming his blaster to the ground. 

“Calm down dad! We don’t have the budget to be replacing anti-shape-shifter quasar beams willy-nilly.”

“Sorry Tracy.” My dad said with a timbre of remorse in his voice. He picked up his beam and wiped it off. 

“It’s okay dad, now let’s banish this boy band!” I said as I donned my aviators. 

Job Posting; Software Engineer

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Our company is revolutionizing the world of communication. We bring billions of people closer together on a daily basis, and we think this is a good idea because we haven’t really thought about this and have no plans to start doing so. Also, our founders grew up in white upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods and have no concept of what “revolution” actually means.

We are looking for a rockstar-guru-ninja-genius-wizard-10x-coder to join our team of rule-breakers who are changing the world through distributed hyper-automated peer-to-peer machine-learning-powered SaaS platforms.

Our Values

  • We work in a highly collaborative, team-based environment! Wow, “we” has a ring to it! Maybe we should have a new motto? Something like “Made by We”.
  • We are truly committed to our mission of using disruptive and groundbreaking* technology to democratize communication. This is something that we say so that we don’t feel too bad about destroying actual democracies.

Minimum qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent coding bootcamp experience. We like to point to coding bootcamp graduates as examples that upward mobility really does exist!
  • Excited to find life-fulfilling work in optimizing ad delivery on mobile platforms
  • Below the age of 30, because young people are just smarter™

Nice to have

  • Proof of white men in tech worship—Bezos bobblehead preferred
  • No experience working in retail or manual labor, but willing to criticize gig economy workers who want to unionize for not working hard enough
  • Medium post explaining that homeless San Franciscans just have the wrong mindset

Benefits include

  • Working with some of the smartest people in the world, who definitely should be working on a website that turns middle-aged men into QAnon fanatics instead of developing solutions to the climate crisis or advocating for human rights
  • Making the world a better place while conveniently earning $200,000 a year
  • Contributing to rapid gentrification of neighboring communities by being able to pay 2x the asking price on a home with your tech salary
  • Coworkers who write memos explaining why women and minorities are unqualified to be working at our company
  • Regular New York Times exposés of company leadership’s poor handling of sexual harassment cases

*But not literally groundbreaking! We’re not at all like the bad guys in the oil-and-gas industry, who pay their workers lots of money to help them forget they’re ruining the world. Not at all like them.

How To Be An Oliner (Tips From ARCs!)

Based on similar articles from November 2020 and February 2021

Happy February! As we settle into spring semester, it’s the perfect time to evaluate how your academic year has been going and if there’s anything you want to change. College is hard, especially now, and we know that it can be challenging to figure out how to improve your work habits or organize your life. That’s where ARCs come in! ARCs are Academic Resource Co-designers – fellow students who’re here to help you out with any organization, time management, or general productivity skills you want to work on. You can think of us like executive function tutors, not tied to a specific class, happy to chat about anything from sending scary emails to prioritizing your to-do list for the day.

We don’t need to list all of the reasons everyone has to be stressed and anxious right now – there are a lot and everyone has their own struggles to get through. Amidst all of it, though, we are still students, with classes, homework, and projects to juggle (not to mention clubs, activities, and socializing… the list goes on). So, at the start of this semester, we ARCs would like to offer some tips and tricks we’ve collected from fellow Oliners on what has helped them navigate being an Oliner.

Task Management

  • Post-it notes
    • Write out tasks by hand on a post-it and stick it to anything you see often (next to your trackpad or on the wall near your desk are great options). You’ll have a convenient place to keep track of what you need to do and you’ll get to cross things out as you do them which is super satisfying.
  • Electronic to do lists
    • If you prefer an electronic to do list, consider creating or finding a simple version that works for you! Google Sheets can be a great starting point, with checkboxes, sorting, and date formats built in. If you’re the kind of person who remembers That Thing You Should Do while walking around away from your desk, look for options that you can access from both your phone and your laptop, such as Asana or Trello. There are even game-ified to-do lists, like Habitica!
  • Schedule it!
    • In addition to adding classes and meetings to your personal calendar, try scheduling “do not disturb” work time. You can use your main calendar so others can’t schedule meetings with you during this time, or create another calendar that only you can see.
  • Track Canvas assignments
    • Did you know you can subscribe to your Canvas in Outlook and Google Calendar? Events appear for submission due dates for all of your classes and are updated automatically.

Getting Into the Flow

  • Create a commute
    • Now that we’re back in person, we have built in commutes before and after class to walk around campus. Before sitting down to do a bunch of work, try taking a walk or just moving a bit to create your own separation between school life and personal life. Working outside of your dorm can also help – the library and MAC both have great options for working at tables, on couches, or even on funky chairs.
  • Find where work is happening
    • Working with other students around is a great way to build momentum towards getting things done while adding a little friendly accountability. You don’t have to all work on the same assignment to work together!
  • Focused work
    • Many Oliners use the Pomodoro Method to get into focused work. The base version uses 25 minute blocks of focused work, broken up by 5 minute breaks.There are tons of apps and extensions with variations, but you can also use your calendar or a simple timer for the same effect.
  • Hide your phone
    • Notifications are designed to be distracting! Moving your phone away from your work area and quitting apps that send non-work-related notifications on your laptop can help limit distractions. There are many apps that offer various rewards for staying off of your phone for a set amount of time – we recommend Flora and Tide (both free) – and Windows has a Focus Assist feature that can also come in handy here.

If you want help implementing any of these strategies, want to see more options, or just want to chat about organization and productivity, feel free to fill out the ARC request form to get connected with an ARC! Getting work done can be challenging for many reasons, but ARCs are here to help you figure out how to get through those barriers as much as possible!

We hope that your spring semester is as engaging, well-focused, organized, and restful as possible. You are not alone!

Love,

The ARCs

Riya Aggarwal, Reid Bowen, Jocelyn Jimenez, Evelyn Kessler, Vedaant Kuchhal, Manu Patil, Charlotte Ramiro de Huelbes, Laurel Rodriguez Mitton, Prisha Sadhwani, and Arwen Sadler

ARC request form: https://tinyurl.com/arc-requests

Tinyurl links to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeinsVQQs-Fd-1xq2TDmhj3wbwginXmIpLISo_6DG47ZAxoTg/viewform

The Day Everything Changed Pt. 1

It was a normal day; a day like any other. I awoke at 5 AM to the sounds of birdsongs and Harry Styles’s voice angelically singing the chorus to “What Makes You Beautiful,” which was radiating from my iPod Touch. My breath tasted awful, I probably shouldn’t have snuck to the kitchen and ate that cookie dough while my parents were asleep. As I rose out of bed, I felt another twinge of regret from my late night binge and rushed to the bathroom. Like I said, a normal day like any other. 

After the color returned to my face, and I brushed my teeth I started heading to the kitchen. The day didn’t feel like a breakfast day, so I sipped on some orange juice. While savoring the taste of citrus mixing with toothpaste in my mouth, I glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was 5:50AM, did I spend that long in the bathroom? I shot a glance at the freezer, and a shiver ran down my spine as I visualized the half eaten tub of cookie dough. Shamefully, I opened the drawer next to the fridge and grabbed a spoon. But as I started to open the freezer, my mouth salivating at the sugar waiting for me in its cold plastic packaging, I heard shuffling from upstairs.

I quickly shut the door and returned to my glass of orange juice as my father entered. 

“Good morning, Tracy.” He said, paternally. He examined my face for a moment before adding, “Got into the cookie dough again?”

I put my hand, still holding the conspicuous spoon, behind my back instinctively, trying to get out a very convincing “What makes you think that?” but only succeeding in snorting on my half-swallowed OJ. My father smiled in amusement, handing me a roll of paper towels while simultaneously texting something on his Blackberry. “Careful there!” he said with a chuckle, “You’ll need all of that orange juice to get the energy you need for today!”

I might’ve asked what he meant by that if I hadn’t been so annoyed and embarrassed. Wiping my face off, and wishing for nothing more than for my father to just get out and get to work already, I said, “Thanks, Dad,” while barely suppressing an eye roll. I probably didn’t have to hide my teenage disgruntlement though, because he was still fixated on that tiny plastic keyboard, clicking away as he walked through the kitchen. “Where are you going?” I asked before he could reach the door.

“What?” he said, not even looking up. His phone buzzed, and he said, “I’m off to work–you’d better get ready for school, honey. You never know when it’s going to be a big day!”

Whatever he meant by that I couldn’t tell, as he did not elaborate before heading into the hallway and out the front door. And while, as I said, this was a normal day like any other, my father was correct about one thing: that I needed to get ready for school. With the clock now reading 5:55 and my mousy brown hair looking positively feral, I was in no position to be headed to school.

I rushed upstairs and blasted the sweet sweet sounds of pop rock as I groggily got myself together. When I was ready, I switched over to my portable earbuds (after spending about 15 minutes untangling them, of course) and, shoving an untoasted piece of toast in my mouth (because who doesn’t have time for bread?), ventured out the front door and into the unforgivingly harsh light of morning.

The rumble of the school bus gave me the perfect ambiance for a mid-morning nap. A nap which, if I’d had it my way, could’ve been longer, but the wheels of the bus had unfortunately ceased to go round and round. I followed the line of tired students into the highschool and prepared for a long boring day of doing anything I could to avoid learning anything in my classes.

At the strike of the 8:00 AM bell, Ms. Rogers, the most dreaded Calc 1 substitute teacher, jauntily walked into class. I opened my text-book and pulled out some sheets. And with a sigh, I started folding an origami crane.

“Tracy ‘cookie dough’ Evans, there is a message for you!” I snapped out of my origami frog reverie (the latest in a dreamy, artistic 2-hour sequence) to see the teacher waiting with a piece of paper. I cringed. ‘Cookie dough’ Evans, from the freaking substitute teacher? 

I felt the eyes of the rest of the class burying their gaze into me as I walked to the front and accepted the slip. 

“Please come outside; I’m waiting in the parking lot. It’s urgent.

-Mom”

“Huh?”

Still confused, I left the classroom and made my way out to where my Mom was waiting for me in her Dodge Charger. 

“Hey Mom, is everything okay?” I asked nervously. She didn’t seem stressed, but the energy in the car was weird. 

“Yeah sweetie, everything is fine. We do have some news for you, but I think it’s best if we go home first.” Her calm tone was slightly reassuring, but did not answer any of my questions. I studied her face as she started to drive, and found no hints of stress. 

“Maybe we are going on a surprise vacation,” I thought to myself. I allowed myself to feel some excitement, as we passed the suburban houses dotting the street. It was still during the day, so there wasn’t much going on. It was weird to see the street so quiet, there’s usually some liveliness when the bus passes through at the end of the school day. 

After a few more minutes, we pulled into our driveway, and my mom released a slight sigh. My nerves returned as she looked at me solemnly and said, “Tracy, please know that no matter what, your father and I still love you.” 

My mind was racing, what on Earth could be going on? As my mother led me inside, I felt the urge to run but then my dad opened the door and invited me in. 

As I stepped through the threshold of the door I heard a beautiful voice count down from three, and then an angelic “You’re insecure, don’t know what for, you’re turning heads when you walk through the door” crawls out from the living room. My heart skipped a beat, and I ran over to see Zayn, Harry, Louis, Niall, and Liam standing in front of my couch singing “What Makes You Beautiful.” My jaw dropped. 

Before I could say anything, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. She knelt down and gave me a hug. “You’re going to live with One Direction now.”    

What happens next? You decide!

Link: https://forms.gle/BtdjLsBLLHd9jeMw7

I’m A Guy You Just Met, And I’m Already Mansplaining Python To You

Hey, it’s great to meet you. Did you know that Python uses whitespace instead of brackets? I’m sure you didn’t, because even though the internet exists and there are thousands of tutorials out there, I must be the only person in the world who has ever taken a Python course. 

Isn’t it so amazing that I know basic information about Python syntax that anyone would get from a W3Schools tutorial? Having opinions on the relative merits of camel case and snake case makes me feel like a fully formed human being.

What do you think about the latest Python release? You haven’t thought about it? You must not be a real engineer. I, of course, read the Python changelog on a daily basis, and I tell everyone I meet about it because I think it makes me a well-informed citizen. 

You know, I really feel like being able to use Git is a defining personality trait. Yeah, I’ve only ever used Git to write commit messages like “asdfjkasldflaksdfj i hope this works” and “changed something”, but being able to type two-word commands into a terminal shows that I am a very intelligent person.

Sometimes I feel threatened by the fact that software engineers that aren’t white males exist, but then I go to my room and read the James Damore memo and tell myself that I’m special because I once read the first few chapters of a book on object-oriented programming and then I feel all better.

What’s that? You’ve used Python before? You’ve used Git too? That can’t be right. If you’re not spending all of your time on r/programming, how can you even call yourself a coder?

Well, I just checked your Github account, and my contributions graph has more commits than yours does because I don’t understand the concept of rebase, so I must be a better developer.

Have I told you how cool Elon Musk is? Wait, where are you going? Come back so I can tell you my take on the Cybertruck!

This article was inspired by fun moments as a woman in STEM.

Olin: An “Alien” Perspective

At Olin College of Unspoken Privilege, we don’t have enough open, honest conversations about the culture that makes you feel out of place for feeling out of place. And a lot of people feel out of place at Olin, a lot of people don’t vibe with the conversations in the dining hall, a lot of people feel awkward, left-behind, lonely – far detached from the caring, close-knit community they were promised at Olin. We need to recognize this, and we need to understand why.

We need to talk. Here’s an international student perspective. 

Over a month ago, I interviewed four international students, each from a different country. Those conversations were some of the most honest and powerful I have had so far in my life, and they made me realize that there are so many powerful stories hidden unexpressed behind these inspiring people, each with rich, unique sociocultural backgrounds. 

I suppose that’s why I’m doing this. To raise awareness that at Olin, there is a small community of students legally labeled as ‘aliens’ by the US government. These students leave behind most of what is familiar to them and fly across the world, and many of them struggle. I’m writing this to help unpack those stories, and to help unpack my story.

I don’t claim to speak for all international students. The opinions in this piece are my personal perspective, with reinforcement from my four interviewees, each of whom come from diverse countries and backgrounds and have vastly different views on America and Olin.

Olin’s work culture for example – coming from the hypercompetitive, scarce work environment in India, Olin initially seemed like a dream to me. People were living their life to the fullest and creating space for hobbies, clubs, project teams – things that brought them joy! But three of my interviewees had the opposite take – they felt that compared to their countries Olin, and in their experience, America in general, has too strong of a workaholic culture. One of them called it ‘internalized capitalism’. Neither viewpoint is incorrect. However, the sharp difference in perspectives was eye-opening, and it made me question my generalizations about my international student experience.

But we, international students, do have many shared experiences. One of the biggest challenges I faced when transitioning into Olin was simply being able to hold conversations. I was not at all prepared for how difficult it would be to engage with people. One of my interviewees spoke about not understanding the references from movies, the conversational contexts, baseball – it all fed into the imposter syndrome, the lingering feeling that they didn’t belong here. It’s often difficult to realize that American insularity exists, especially because of the tiny size of Olin’s international student community. While 28% of Babson’s undergraduate student body is international students, Olin is at around 8%. International students at Olin lack the cultural support communities traditionally available at other, larger colleges, and that can make settling into Olin’s environment significantly more challenging. An interviewee even suggested making an America ‘cheat sheet’ – a list of cultural elements international students need to be aware of before interacting in social settings at Olin. It’s important to recognize that the process of adapting to Olin’s cultural space was, for me and a lot of my interviewees, slow, embarrassing, and occasionally even hurtful. An interviewee shared how hurt they had felt when they got attacked for not knowing what Indigenous Peoples’ Day was – all they wanted to do was understand and clarify. They said, “Give us more slack – assume positive intent. We’re trying to adapt to a new way of life, it’s not always easy.” 

Due to the cultural force of the USA in global media, there’s an assumption in the USA that everyone must be informed of US history, geography, and liberal political contexts. That assumption is simply not fair on international students, who, for example, never learned US history or learned an inaccurate version of it. Moreover, that lack of context can make it difficult to understand prevailing attitudes at Olin.

For example, when I first got to Olin, I was struck by the sheer amount of US-bashing by Americans. “Yeah, America sucks,” was assumed to be the default attitude. Why would anyone like this country, with all of its flaws and inequities? Yet my first reaction was, why would anyone not like this country? There’s so much here – money, resources, jobs, dialogue, freedom of speech.

There’s a very American-centered conversation in the US around empowerment. It recognizes that despite the country’s championing of democracy, a significant number of Americans don’t have access to the aforementioned privileges that dominant groups in the country do. Olin has made some progress in creating a space for this conversation, and I also believe that we have much, much further to go. However, significantly more unrecognized is the fact that many international students come from countries that systemically lack the opportunities available in the US. All that US-bashing can get hurtful – yes, the USA has massive, entrenched problems, but there is so much privilege in being able to complain. And yes, while the criticism should not stop at all costs, it is important to recognize this privilege especially in front of students who have left behind so much – family, familiarity, and a sense of belonging –  to attend college in the USA. There’s so much privilege to be fearless; the last time I expressed significant dissent against India in my high school, I was physically dragged aside and yelled at by two high school teachers in front of my entire school for nearly an hour – an experience that left me disgusted, emotionally exhausted, and terrified. It’s still unbelievable for me to hear people at Olin effortlessly and casually criticize the USA.

Olin, by design, is a privileged space. I recognize that my entire ‘American’ experience has been an Olin experience, and Olin, by any stretch of the imagination, is not representative of the USA. And so I spend a lot of time thinking about privilege at Olin, often through many of the traditional American lenses such as race and gender but also about the privilege of simply being American. All of my interviewees expressed frustration at the lack of recognition of that privilege at Olin – the privilege of being able to return home for Thanksgiving, the privilege of being familiar with Thanksgiving in the first place, the privilege of not being branded as an ‘alien’, the privilege of understanding cultural references, the privilege of not being anxious about your limited time in the USA, the privilege of belonging. And yet I recognize that some American Oliners don’t have these privileges either.

When I first thought of writing this piece, I had initially set out to rant all about how international students feel like they’re left out, in a place of privilege where their time is ticking, unsupported in an unfamiliar culture at Olin by virtue of their background. But a lot of American Oliners feel this way too! People of color, people from low-income families, and many others – and we don’t talk about this enough.

There’s value in making connections, so that diversity and inclusion efforts on campus have another voice. Yet there’s also value in differentiating – international students come from a unique, different place compared to other minority groups at Olin. Supporting the experience of being an international student should be both merged with and distinguished from diversity efforts at Olin. The first step is recognizing that international students should be getting more support.

Thank you to all the faculty, staff, and students – both international and American – who helped me with this piece. You know who you are :)

It’s (Still) Time to Talk About Divestment

The following article2 was published in the May 2016 edition of Frankly Speaking by two Oliners (and now alumni), Aaron Greiner and Izzy Harrison. They were part of a group of students who ultimately presented a proposal for fossil fuel divestment to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 2018. The conversation about divestment, mediated by Patty Gallagher (formerly the CFO), ended with students being told to wait until a new president settled into Olin.

Divesting Olin

By Aaron Greiner and Izzy Harrison on behalf of GROW

So, What is Divestment?

According to Wikipedia, “Divesting is the act of removing stocks from a portfolio based on mainly ethical, non-financial objections to certain business activities of a corporation.” One of the first times that divestment was used as a means to promote a social change was during apartheid, the extreme system of racial segregation, in South Africa. Companies, universities, organizations, local governments,  and individuals took their money out of apartheid-affiliated businesses and are partially credited with helping to dismantle the system.

Today, there is a new divestment movement. Five hundred and seven institutions and 3.4 trillion dollars have been divested from the oil and gas industries. The goal of this movement is to put financial pressure on the largest contributors to climate change and other environmental disasters in an effort to get them to behave in a more socially and environmentally responsible manner.  Sixty-one colleges have already divested in some meaningful way, and we hope Olin will join the movement.

Why Should Olin Divest?

Olin was founded on the principle of making the world a better place. Fossil fuels are unsustainable (they will run out), and are the single greatest contributors to climate change, so we believe it is against Olin’s founding principles to support fossil fuel companies  We believe that continuing to profit from the destruction of the environment through knowingly investing our money in companies that are accelerating the pace of climate change is fundamentally against Olin’s core values.

The scientific consensus is clear and overwhelming; we cannot safely burn even half of global fossil fuel reserves without dangerously warming the planet with disastrous effects1. Furthermore, as the market inevitably shifts towards more renewable energy sources, we believe an innovative institution such as Olin should be on the forefront of this change. 

We believe progressive action towards divestment will be a sound decision for the wellbeing of Olin’s alumni and current and future students. We deserve the opportunity to graduate with a future unimpaired by climate chaos.

What Have We Done so Far?

A little over a year ago, we started meeting with our CFO Patty Gallagher and Chair of the Investment Committee Doug Kahn to explore what it might look like if Olin were to divest. They were incredibly receptive, and we formed a close partnership. Over the past year, we have had many meetings and are making positive progress towards a solution that we can all get behind. In addition, we had a meeting with the investment firm that manages Olin’s money to get a sense from them about what divestment could look like while, of course, keeping the best financial interests of the school in mind. 

We are very fortunate that we are at a place like Olin where we can have meetings like this, and our collaborative approach has had positive results. The Investment Committee has begun to have discussions about the topic of divestment. We will continue to work with Doug and Patty to advance the conversation towards a mutually acceptable resolution.

Before we move forward, we want to be confident that this is something that Faculty, Staff, Board Members, and Students, can all get behind.  We are looking forward to continuing the progress in the fall and hope to keep the community updated.


It has been over four years since the article above was published. Since then, divestment from the 2003 holders of the most carbon reserves has been soundly rejected. Now, the Board is considering incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in our investment strategy. While a step in the right direction, this is essentially the bare minimum and is becoming, or has already become, standard practice4,5. This minimal acknowledgement of social and environmental realities casts them as mere externalities impacting our financial viability. Treating social and environmental issues as distinct and separable from economic issues in this way neglects the interconnectedness of the three. Olin, by continuing to profit on the climate crisis, is abjectly failing in its purported mission “to do good for humankind.” Olin is certainly not a leader among academic institutions in operational sustainability, nor in a holistic view of engineering. It’s time for Olin to recognize the contradiction of espousing leadership in integrating ethics into engineering while failing to take the action that so many of our peers (including Wellesley) already have.

Since the original article was published in 2016, the following U.S. schools have made commitments to divestment:

Interested in continuing Olin’s divestment movement? Questions, comments, or concerns?

Reach out!

gtighe@olin.edu