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.