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.

We voted to divest, now what?

Two weeks ago, at the Town Hall, we, the student body, made Olin history. At Olin’s first-ever social referendum, 93% of the student body voted “yes” to divest and disclose.

  1. Are you in favor of calling on Olin to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in sustainable businesses, industries, and funds?
  2. Are you in favor of calling on Olin to disclose the endowment’s exposure to fossil fuel companies on a regular basis?

This town hall is the first time that we, the students, have collectively expressed our voice through a democratic process we designed. In a young, maturing institution, we are setting a precedent.

This is a monumental achievement. Many other colleges weren’t able to get above 80% support: at Harvard, for example, 72% of the student body voted for fossil fuel divestment back in 2013. Our vote demonstrates the overwhelming support of Olin students for this critical effort, and CORe will send an official recommendation to the Board of Trustees with these numbers that show our resounding consensus.

As Gilda announced on the day of the Town Hall, the Board has now formed a committee to discuss divestment. The student representatives for this committee—nominated by CORe—are Olivia Chang and Tyler Ewald, and the committee will be having its first meeting on December 13. This new committee is important progress towards divestment, and we are optimistic that it will spur both conversation and meaningful action: the committee is preparing a proposal for the Board to vote on during its February meeting.

We thank you – fellow Olin students – for your support. Your questions, your solidarity, and your demonstrated commitment to fighting the climate crisis are why divestment is moving forward. As members of the community, you have the unique privilege to shape how seriously our school takes our stated commitments to sustainability, equity, and justice. A lot of important work has been done in the past twenty years of our school, but more remains to be done.

We hope you join us in our efforts to move Olin towards a just and sustainable future. Climate justice can’t wait.

The Town of Nilo

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there was the Town of Nilo. Now as far as towns go Nilo was a rather small town, but the residents of Nilo were prosperous and happy. They took pride in their town’s central trade – pig rearing – and did it well. So well, in fact, that they were ranked among the top pig-rearing towns in the country.

Pig rearing may seem stupid and irrelevant now (and believe me, some of Nilo’s residents thought that too) but back then, pig rearing was the sought-after job. Pig rearers were paid the highest – of course, less than the factory farm executives they served – and the world had just entered what was then called the Livestock Revolution. The pig rearers of the town of Nilo were told that they were extra special, and they knew it too with their innovative, hands-on, pig-rearing skills.

As we all know, nothing that is prosperous is perfect, and the practice of pig-rearing had its bad sides too. For starters, pig-rearers (especially the wildly sought-after pig-rearers of Nilo) often ended up working at factory farms. It was known in the town of Nilo, even back then, that the factory-farming system was greedy and unethical, but the pig-rearers of Nilo worked there anyway. What other choice did they have? They needed to make money, yet the word “factory” became taboo in the town nevertheless.

But times were changing. The town was changing, and the residents of Nilo were waking up to the evils of the factory farms that they aspired to join. Moreover, the world was moving ahead, and Nilo’s innovative pig-rearing practices were not as flashy and unique anymore. Nilo needed something different, something unique to make it stand out, to make its residents feel special again. Why not capitalize on the relevance of complex changing political times and increasing anti-factory-farming sentiment?

“Pig-rearing for everyone.” That was the town’s new motto. For a rich cash-strapped town that was erected from the vast fortunes of the now-outlawed tobacco plantation industry, this was bold, ambitious, and revolutionary. Nilo was to place pig-rearing, long rooted in injustices and in the reach of only the elite few, into the reach of everyone, for everyone. Never mind that the town of Nilo had a deeply privileged culture that rested on hardworking residents from rich pig-rearing prep schools. Never mind that Nilo was in one of the wealthiest parts of the world, a region as bland elite as it could get, alien to many including Nilo’s own residents. As everyone in this little changemaking town was growing to accept, disruption is bad. Change is slow.

The hardworking residents of Nilo were told that – on top of everything that they were already doing – they were going to do more, going to get better. It wasn’t just about the pig-rearing skills, it was about understanding the context and implications of pig-rearing. It was about being angry at the factory-farming system but tempering that anger because they were going to work at those factory farms anyway. It was about feeling morally conflicted, but in that conflict finding absolvement in the idea that they were not like other pig-rearers, they had considered the ethics of pig-rearing. They were better.

As with any diverse community, there were people who didn’t care about the ethics of pig-rearing at all and others who saw it as privileged, saviorism, or hypocritical. But we don’t care about them. The Town of Nilo was one happy community, and it had finally found a fresh new purpose.

And the residents of Nilo got to work. Hard at work. In fact, they were ranked as the most hardworking residents of any town in the world. Some might even say that they worked too much. But what place does your well-being have when you’re changing the world? The residents of Nilo knew that they were special, that they could be workers and leaders and changemakers, and that all they needed to do was to try harder and be happier and more productive.

One of the first things to go was democracy. Who needs community meetings, who needs long boring town halls, who cares about the Nilo government? The town’s unique honor system was a performative joke anyway that had once been relevant in the town’s heyday. They were all distractions, time taken away from productive pig-rearing.

Next was space for reading and self-reflection. The residents of Nilo knew that everything they valued and thought about had to be relevant to their identity as pig-rearers, and anything else was a waste of time. “If it’s not pig-rearing, I know everything that is wrong about it” was the implicit motto that all pig-rearers knew as the way to stifle out anything but productive, world-changing, pig-rearing.And last to go, was fun. Well, Nilo had a vibrant nightlife that involved joint pig-rearing until 3:00 AM in the public spaces of Nilo, but anything else was taboo. If you weren’t pig-rearing, you weren’t changing the world, you weren’t living up to your full potential, you weren’t being a valuable person. But what did it matter? Nilo was still ranked as the 23rd happiest town in the world! The residents of Nilo could simply do everything, it was marvelous how they had everything and yet yearned for more. If you weren’t doing absolutely everything, were you even a true resident of Nilo?


Maybe it’s just me, but if you’ve ever studied in the West Hall 2 antelounge after midnight, sometimes you hear a certain tapping. It’s not a faint ticking, but rather a loud, consistent beating that goes on for hours. It’s happening right now as I write these words. 83 beats per minute. You can tune it out, but it’s still mildly alarming – like someone’s stuck outside where it’s cold and snowing, slowly freezing stiff, waiting for you to prove something or go to sleep.

Tap tap tap or go to bed. To be clear – I’m not here to complain about Olin’s work culture. Work is honestly the last thing on my mind right now. I’m talking about the relentless restlessness of Olin – to prove, to socialize, to care. I still really really love the college and the people and community. But therein lies the problem. Tap tap tap or go to bed. 

Last semester, I wanted to write an article criticizing the criticism at Olin. The lack of empathy, the blatant disregard for one’s own privilege, the excitement of being in a cushion community where students listen when you yell. It all disgusted me. When I saw Olin staff and faculty have emotional breakdowns in the face of disrespectful student criticism, it made me so so angry. 

But I never found the time. Winter Break happened, and my position completely flipped. I was now angry at the administration. I was frustrated with how clubs were being asked to create safe spaces at Olin; spaces that Olin loves to advertise but should be created by the institution in the first place. About how Olin’s administration needs to rebuild fractured trust among students with more leadership, openness, and professionalism.

But the reality is both. We’re a baby school with big dreams striving relentlessly to prove ourselves. An insecure college with small grounds but wide-open skies. A little colony of people trying to establish themselves and softening under the protection of a pressure-cooker community. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

The phrase that makes me shudder the most at Olin is, “Everybody here is -”. So much has been appended to that. Liberal, privileged, burnt-out, anti-capitalist, an engineer, well-intentioned. And the truth is – at least MY truth is – that’s never the case. It’s one thing to have a shared culture, and another to assume unwavering conformity to it. The vibe I feel running through campus runs through us all, but it doesn’t mean we all interact with it in the same way.

I’m not making a revolutionary point here – we’re all different. Period… or not, for your take on this may be different from mine. And a lot more can be accomplished at Olin if this simple fact is culturally recognized.

Some examples:

There is mistrust between students and Olin’s administration. Trust that needs to be rebuilt. And the key insight lies in recognizing that not all students mistrust the administration. Unfortunately, the students with the least faith in Olin’s administration, in a twist of cruel irony, are also the students who need the support of the administration the most. But acknowledging that not everyone has this attitude reduces frustration among students who feel privileged to be at Olin in the first place! Much more importantly, an administration that recognizes this nuance can use it to improve their approach – reducing the burden of advocacy on struggling students, creating structures to proactively be a resource for students, stepping in to break the self-destructive cycle of “Need Information (/assistance/health support/accommodations) Now? Just Ask” – because for many there’s never a “just” to asking.

Or the assumption that everyone at Olin has the best intentions. This is a tricky one, because all the way back from OFYI we’re taught to “assume best intentions”. And that’s definitely a huge part of Olin, an intrinsic piece of our culture. But again, it’s naive to assume this is always true, certainly not in the world, but even at Olin. I have been in situations where people have definitely NOT acted with good intentions in mind, and I have struggled to find ways to deal with those situations simply because I don’t know how to. 

There is a danger to the mindset of “we’re a close-knit community of nice people and we look out for each other”. ‘Cause while a lot of us agree with that, it really sucks for those who don’t. Olin becomes a 4-year long summer camp of trying to fit into your niches, finding your Olin brand, and having a happy, productive time overall. Good vibes only, cause we’ve created something special here in this little innovative school. Tap tap tap or go to sleep.

To reiterate: I love this college. I love the people who run it, I love being able to say hi to people I walk by and (mostly) getting a response, and I just feel so gosh darn lucky to be here. Yet, on the days that I’m exhausted and pissed and don’t want to say hi to the people I walk by, I don’t feel like Olin’s got my back. And that would be okay – except I feel pushed from the front by the sheer Olin-ness of things. What do you mean you’re not going to join the laughter in the dining hall but sulk in the mezz of introversion, privacy, and tight friend groups? 

I want to emphasize one last thing before I go to bed. Don’t take this scrappily-written article as the only perspective. My complaints about Olin are by no means important: something that everyone – students, staff, and faculty – need to recognize. The students who this college is harshest on don’t write  articles, buzzing with middle-school energy. The folks who need to be heard the most are the ones who don’t feel empowered to speak up. Listen to what they have to say, be honest and gentle, and create that space. It’s okay to be uncomfortably different. Or disagree with me and tell me about it!