Compliment Corner – Spring 2021

Editor’s Note: Thank you Jessie Potter for helping put this together!!!

Reid is such a wonderful and lovely person to talk to and work with

It’s been great having Arlene Keizer as the Sketch Model Creative in Reference this year.  I’ve loved the speakers and the workshops that she has shared with the community!

Shreya, thank you for showing me how to take time to slow down and learn. I admire how thoughtful you are in both in your role as an engineer and as a friend, and I appreciate you <3

Emma P, I am *so* glad I picked up helio and got to spend so much quality time with you out on the great lawn. I’m going to miss you next year!

Chris and Oscar Allum and de la Garza made this semester feel like real Olin again with the pool tourney. Thanks <3

Becca, you’re such a hard worker and I always appreciate seeing you around Zoomland

-points at clark pohl- this sparks joy

Reid Bowen, thank you for being such a strong, empathetic human in my life and the lives of others. You are so loved and appreciated.

Sherrie and Shashank are the best Advanced Algorithms co-instructors ever! I loved when we started a few of our meetings with important anime discussions

Jocelyn, thank you for coming to Olin. You had the perspective I gave you, and you still chose to come. Better yet, you made Olin an amazing place and were a fantastic MIX president. I love you so much and I am so so proud of you. You are such a kind person and help make space for others to exist and I wish the best for you. Please take care of yourself. You’re so 10/10 and I will miss you so much.

Chelsea, you are a ray of sunshine! Our SCOPE team wouldn’t be half as fun without you around to brighten up our meetings

Thank you Jordan for always helping me pack. 

Cara makes really good bread

Pickles E> was a really great suite and they really carried this year for me. I will miss you all greatly and wish you much love. 

Grant G just has really good vibes

CJ is unpredictable in the best way

Jordan is such a great person and has been extremely supportive of me during this past four years.

Zoie is always excited to do stuff and is hilarious to be around

Allison Li is a great friend and brings great energy to every interaction

Alli Busa and Aiden Carley-Clopton make really good orange chicken.

Shree is chill to be around and is really understanding and empathetic

Andrew C (when he doesn’t just repeat one-liners :P) is actually really funny but is still able to hold serious conversations when needed

Emma is an amazingly creative DM and is great at character voices

Sof’s laughter is contagious

Chase is a big pokemon nerd but he got our suite, our favorite pokemon plush as surprise easter gifts.

Han has a great sense of humor (when he isn’t repeating the same jokes on loop)

Arla brings amazingly positive energy wherever she goes

Nathan Estil knows how to make good mac and cheese and mashed potatoes from real potatoes that are a great consistency.  

Luke M is such a sweet bean

Maia Materman! Since you aren’t running Compliment Corner this time (thank you lovely Jessie!) you can’t delete this compliment about you :) Thank you for being such a loving, empathic human, I appreciate you greatly <3

Annie Tor! You’re such a wonderful person, and someone I’m very grateful to call a friend of mine. You’re always so hard working and selfless, I have no idea how you do it all!

Shree is just really easy to hang out with

Mark Goldwater is made out of seaweed but also kindness.

Sara Hendren has gone above and beyond to make UOCD viable this semester under incredibly challenging circumstances for that course.  We appreciate everything you’ve done!

Jason Woodard is the best presenter Olin has ever had.  His leadership on the Org&Culture team presentations has been a model for all of us to emulate.

Mark Somerville has helped us all survive this year.  Where would we be without him?

Sharon Breitbart did it again.  (And by “it,” I mean everything.)

I wish I could think about tricky things the way Deb Chachra does!

Caitrin Lynch has chaired every committee about everything this semester.  Is there anything she can’t do astoundingly well?  I doubt it.

I can’t even believe how lucky I have been to have the eight stellar members of my lab this semester.  Libby, Eamon, Alison, Micah, Ava, Bill, Liv, and Ally  – you all rock!  I am so, so grateful to get to play with you all and wish it would never end! – Jon Adler 

Sherrie makes really good food and always shares her creatures just when I need them

Prisha, I know you don’t like people saying nice things about you, but I just wanted to say, I really appreciate how caring and selfless of a person you are. I know lots of people look up to you and you’re just a great human who deserves the world

Stephanie Milton was a pleasure to have at Olin and I will miss her terribly.

Adva has been our emotional rock this semester.  That wasn’t a fair thing of us to ask of her, but we are eternally grateful for her persistence, strength, and grace. 

Rick O and the whole IT team have done astounding gymnastics this year to keep us all connected in the ether and we’re so, so thankful!

I have no idea how Jason Woodard does everything he does, and does it so well.

I wouldn’t have graduated without my tutors. Thank you Kyle Combes, Emily Kohler, Vivien Chen (x2 semesters), Anil Patel, Katya Donovan, Onur Tolu, Emma Westeroff, Mark Goldwater, Nathaniel Tan, Brandon Zhang, Quinn Kelley, and Abigail Fry (x6 semesters). 

Maia Matterman – I love your bubbly energy but also your compassion for valuing the health and wellbeing of those around you! <3

Micah – you’re so cool and down to earth! Go you!

Gail – thank you for all the love and generosity and fun times!

Melissa – you always bring a smile on my face :)

Sam Coleman – you make Olin special and you are so loyal and trustworthy!

Shreya – you are so compassionate and such a great leader for the Olin community and class of ’22

Sam D. – thank you for being such a rockstar and role model for our community <3

Katie Foster – I always love talking to you and you’re so fun and kind!

Mika is the goth bitch of my (platonic) dreams, love you!!

Emma Pan – You’re so thoughtful, and I always love hanging out with you!

Ricky has great vibes

Melissa Anthony is incredibly kind and understanding, and is one of the frankliest speakers I know (in a good way). Thank you for the jokes and bits, and for never giving up on what’s really important.

Olin students are amazing!

Sam Daitzman, you’re great! I would love to get to know you better, because you’re such a cool person!

Adva is a dear and I love her.

Shreya is one of the most caring, kind people I know! I’m so glad that I’m friends with her <3 

Maeve makes me feel seen and affirmed 1,000,000 times over

Thank you to the Olin OPEN leadership team for taking over and doing an amazing job. Glad you all are kind, compassionate, and dedicated leaders. This include you Melissa <3

If I ever become 5% as cool as Emma Pan I’ll be satisfied with my life

Will Fairman has huge biceps 

Meg Ku you are a rockstar and an inspiring leader! Keep up the awesome work :)

Nathan W, you are so incredibly smart!

I love whoever designed the senior class tshirt. It’s amazing and fantastic.

Anusha- Thanks for the incredible work you do for our class! 

Flynn-  I really miss seeing you around campus! You are such a light. 

Shout out to [brand name] for being extremely chaotic but giving me a project I enjoy to this day. 

Callan- Thank you for the passion and hard work you put into the Olin library! You make everything more fun and engaging. 

Joanne P- Thanks for all the amazing support throughout the years! Loved getting to ninja for you for some of them! 

Tim S- Thank you for bringing so much joy and spirit to each and every conversation and design critique. You are truly one of a kind and I am in awe of the fact that I even get to know you! 

Thank you to my Sibb Dylan for being fantastic and always having great hair. I love you tons and I enjoyed working with you this semester.

Dylan M- You are so giving, kind, and strong. I know this was an unbelievably hard semester, but you powered through it with grace and dedication.

Jax the cat- Sad I haven’t met you in person, but please know I literally cheer out loud every time I see you through the window.

Sarah Deng is the best SCOPE project owner. She taught me what I wanted in a team and helped our team keep it together when we fell apart several times this year.

Mark G- Thanks for always making me laugh!

Quinn Kelly is one of the reasons I wish I rejoined Baja. She’s extremely supportive and worth being friends with. She’s up for random things and cares about the people around her. 

Adva- Thanks for really caring!

Mika- You are SO undeniably cool.

Meg Ku- our dedicated receipt wizard. Absolutely phenomenal. 

Grant G- You are so sweet and such a thoughtful listener. Thanks for being a bright spot in my senior year!

Lydia Hodges is extremely funny and made SCOPE and BMDD worth it.

Madi- You are so inclusive and kind. I’ve appreciated your Mel and life updates, and the passion you bring to discussions.

Mika Notermann has the best memes

Loren- So so kind and always says hello. Genuinely spreads cheer to those around him wherever he goes!

Thank you to the BMDD class and Alisha for keeping it real.

David F- Miss seeing this sweet human so much! So incredibly selfless and giving.

Katie Thai-Tang has the coolest style and always shares her smile to those around her.

Sabrina- You are so much fun to be around and have such a good heart. Also- your sense of style is impeccable!

Alisha, I can’t thank you enough for teaching a class in the accessibility space without being ableist. Thank you for calling out the ableism from our clients and ourselves. Thank you for being inclusive in the way you taught our class and not assuming all of us were able-bodied. I’m so proud of your for taking on your new role, but please know you were one of the most supportive professors I had that helped me get the most out the classes you thought. 

Micah- You are so real and rare. I am so lucky to have gotten to know you better sophomore year- you find the fun in situations and also strive to make things better.

Bahner- You are so easy to talk to and so considerate! Also, I really wish I had your dance moves. 

Noah- You have the most amazing sense of humor, but also you pay close attention to the world around you and care really deeply about things. I always really enjoy getting to see you! 

Robin- you have the best shenanigans and such a thoughtful heart. Thank you for always stopping to chat, and for your enthusiasm! 

JZ- You radiate positive vibes. Grateful for your passion for bad day cookies, big rock, Mariokart, and more. Thank you for being so passionate about Olin and its community.

Aaron. I know you are gone, and I regret not thanking you sooner, but thank you for keeping me real and pushing me to be my best even though it took me a while to get here. I wouldn’t have graduated without you. I am so grateful that you were my DesNat professor. Thank you for helping me see the people around me and making me aware of the tunnel vision I entered Olin with. 

Alison- You are such a good listener and someone that so many people feel safe going to. Thank you for all the work you’ve done to support others at Olin! 

Jamie- You have so much energy and make everything way more fun! You make conversations effortless, are always willing to go out of your way to make sure everyone is having a good time, and also are just very authentic and friendly. 

Koala Tea Friends- Wouldn’t have made it here without you! Please please please keep in touch. 

Kyle B- An incredible super-Mechy who comes up with so many brilliant solutions. Also incredibly good at so many board games. And a phenomenal baker. Seriously- your talent and dedication is unreal! 

Chase- One of my favorite peeps. So sweet, so altruistic, and you give such amazing hugs. Thanks for being a good friend, and for always going with the flow!

Amy- Is there anything you cannot do? Grateful for your dedication, thoughtful insights, willingness to try new things, and creativity. 

Ever- Miss you more than I have the words to say. You bring such warmth and comfort to those around you. I wish I had your ability to make people feel comfortable and cared for. You give the best hugs, and I know that with your kind heart and brilliant mind you are gonna make waves in the world!

Cali- Your enthusiasm and love for fun have made such an impact on my time at Olin. Thank you for the many pinterest messages, baking adventures, good show recommendations, and more. You are attentive to what others are saying, and contribute excellent thoughts and questions to discussions. You just make me so happy and see the best in others.

Luis- We’ve come a long way from two first years trying to model Superman punching someone off the planet. You put a lot of thought into the things you do, and are somehow both the most calming presence in a room and the person with the best jokes to make someone snort with laughter. I appreciate your willingness to try anything, and to jump in and help others where you can.

Cassandra- You have no idea how relieved I am that you will be in New England for graduate school! You are brilliant and insightful. You give the most considerate, personalized gifts I’ve ever received, and you ALWAYS show up when I need a friend, despite your very busy and dedicated schedule. Thank you for making me laugh, sending me cute webtoon references, fangirling over the same characters with me, dancing to Taylor Swift music videos, finding photography and writing opportunities, and more. You are such an amazing person in every way, and I am so so lucky to have you in my life. 

Alison W- Thank you for being such an amazing and supportive adviser through my entire time at Olin! You bring so much joy and kindness wherever you go. 

Timmy’s Suite- Thank you for reaching out and helping me when I was at a low point. I will forever be grateful to you, and love how sweet and caring you are as a group! 

Emma P- You are so hardworking and really care about ethics in engineering in such an inspiring way. I wish I had half your creativity and skills! You are so fun to be around and come up with clever and unique activities to try!

Rob Martello, the great wizard of AHS- Thanks for being such a good sport about becoming everyone’s background, and for the energy you put into your classes! You respond so speedily and really support your students. I am grateful to have gotten to know you more over the past two years- you are a gem! 

Casey May- Gosh I miss you! In every situation, you somehow find the absolute kindest thing to say. You are an undeniable gem in the Olin Community. You make others feel valued and seen. You give the best movie reviews. Your future dog is going to be the most loved animal on the planet. You have mad computer skills. An amazing sense of humor. The list could go on forever! 

Anna G- your energy is contagious and you are so considerate! It always meant a lot when you invited me to things. You are so driven and dedicated, and I am amazed by the sheer amount of work you crank out, all while still keeping things fun and interesting! Thanks for being such a good sport about everything and spreading lots of cheer!

Ricky- you are not only HILARIOUS and incredibly cool, but you also have an undeniably kind heart. You are so accepting and really listen to what other people say. I really wish I spent more time with you over these past four years, but I’m beyond grateful for the conversations we did have!

Julian- You were someone I spent my whole time at Olin wishing to know better, and I’m so glad I got to see you quite a bit this year! Your references always make me smile, and you just do everything with so much joy. Whenever anything happens, I always feel like you have the best reactions, and you are a very sincere individual. I wish I had your energy, charisma, and excellent taste in music. 

Jason Woodard- the man, the myth, the legend! Thank you for all of your kindness and help. You were the best ModSim instructor, Mechanics buddy, P&M teaching team member, and SCOPE adviser I could ask for. You are generous, creative, hard working, and encourage those around you to be better. 

Serna- Very thoughtful and dedicated, and you’ve done an incredible job with Frankly Speaking! I love seeing your passions and creativity play out through your Olin projects, and now with your soap business! Can’t wait to see what the next few years will bring you! 

Class of 2021- I love you all. Please keep the group chat popping with the occasional life update or cursed image. 

Thank you all for generating over 9 Google docs pages of compliments! I am beyond grateful to have been a part of this community for the past four years. In the words of A.A. Milne, “how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” 

You are motivated. You are strong. You seek the best in people. Thank you for generating some joy and kindness with this form. I know each of you will continue to fill the Olin community with love and shenanigans through the rest of your time here.

Reopening the Front Door

It’s cliche to say I didn’t realize the fall of 2019 would be my only “normal” Olin semester to date, but it’s true. I started my job at Olin in July of that year. The first day I rode my bike to work, I got a flat tire about six miles from campus, but a fellow commuter showed up out of the blue, gave me a spare tube, and helped me make it on my way. That week, Summer Sketch Model was happening, and the library was full of people both from campus and beyond. I marveled at how different this new job was from my last one in a busy system of public libraries less than ten miles away, and not just because there was free lunch. At the public libraries, I only knew the names of a handful of our regulars. It allowed for a sort of shallow memory that made it easy to empty out the contents of my brain at the end of a given day and make room for a new crop of strangers on the next one. At Olin, I didn’t know who anyone was, but I knew being successful at the job required quickly figuring it out. And there was not only a cast; there was also a script, a shared language with tons of jargon. I furiously took notes at an early orientation session where somebody patiently explained the most frequently used acronyms on campus. A few days later, I chuckled when I heard our pop-up campus coffee shop was called “ACRONYM.”

That semester, I tried to make sense of the priorities for myself and the library while also grasping a better lay of the land. I took advantage of the course visitation program; that let me pop my head into classes offered at the time. I think most people in those classes were probably like, “who’s this lady with the unicorn hair?”, which is fine. I was included in a new faculty orientation pod, which helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in thinking of “The Raven” every time anyone said “POE.” I also conducted a community-driven strategic planning process that helped me put most of my assumptions aside and confirmed a few of the smarter ones, and also gave me much greater insight into the unique role the library plays on Olin’s campus. From September to December, we saw thousands of footfalls every week – library workers love to measure those entrances and exits – and it ticked up throughout the semester. We hosted everything from geodesic dome building to community breakfasts to guest speakers to final presentations. But what I liked the best were our casual gatherings, whether impromptu or part of an event, when we’d talk about anything, everything, and nothing. We made sense of the world in the library, whether we were seeking greater understanding or just trying to make each other laugh.

I won’t say it was a hard decision to close the library from March 2020 to May 2021. It wasn’t. We had the institutional support to do it (thanks, y’all). Over this past winter break period with cases spiking around the country, it didn’t seem appropriate to change our course. In the early days, when no one knew a thing about COVID, a huge amount of attention was placed on potential surface transmission. That was particularly the case in libraries, where the paranoia was kicked up by a series of talks and studies that meant well but led us to think we were all doomed. With a small staff and a very tactile work environment, it seemed impossible to find a way to keep up with quarantining and cleaning expectations, so we opted to move ourselves as much as we could online. I also was very concerned about the safety concerns spreading throughout the library field, especially given that most state-level guidance chose to pretend libraries don’t exist (or that, as one Johns Hopkins paper suggested last summer, libraries are “low risk,” even though the entire deal with libraries is you touch things other people can touch and you spend a ton of time breathing the same air as people you’ve never seen in your life and probably never will again). So we closed when the college did, and we decided to stay closed for this entire academic year.

Now, as we get ready to dip a toe into something resembling “normalcy” on campus, I find myself thinking about the folks who’ve told me their ability to socialize has diminished throughout the pandemic. I don’t know if I’m in that boat (I’m always awkward, so what’s a year of isolation gonna do?), but I’m not sure I remember how the fall of 2019 felt, either. And I’m cautious. I’m fully vaccinated, but I’ve still only gone to a restaurant in the Boston area once since March 2020. (It was Semolina in Medford – that place rules.) We’ve got a long way to go before we can even approximate what we were doing two years ago. I don’t think the before times are gone, but some of them have started to fade. I’m still new at Olin, though, and I’m still learning how to be a part of this place, and I’m trying to remember my glimpses of what it felt like in here before no one was around. One of my favorite memories of that time was when the library rats started showing up. There was one, and then there were dozens, and if you’re a first year or a new employee, you may have no clue what I’m talking about, but you will soon. (I feel an obligation to end this paragraph with “don’t worry, they aren’t actual rats.”)

This academic year has been tremendously hard, and we’re almost to the end of it. There were so many days when I wished we could be open like before, gathered around in a circle, sharing snacks and stories, finding a way to push through like we did on the day we found out we were all being sent home, eating Wegmans cake. One staff member said to me recently that they wouldn’t feel things were “normal” until they saw the library’s front doors opened. I can’t guarantee normalcy, but I do hope one thing that will help us soon in the future is the ability to return to a place where we can all come and process the world together, no matter how silly, tiresome, or abnormal it gets. I’ll prop the doors for you.

Reflecting on What it Means to Scale Change Responsibly

Police brutality. Asian hate. Anti-immigrant. LGBTQ+ rights. Voter disenfranchisement. Rising unemployment. Housing crisis. These are just a handful of the phrases that, when spotted in today’s news headlines, social media postings, and public protests, make me feel a pressing need to do something. However, a question I’ve been grappling with recently is: How can I scale social change responsibly?

Two years ago, I learned that my good intentions are capable of causing significant harm.

When PInT received a well scoped web-scraping project from a nonprofit that uses technology to identify victims of human trafficking, I signed up immediately. I had looked forward to using my technical skills to help others since applying to engineering school, and was eager to get started. After our team’s first meeting with the nonprofit stakeholders, I felt energized, like a vigilante about to dish out justice to the perpetrators of human trafficking.

When we started working on this project, I had little knowledge of the complexity of the human-trafficking space, and the ethical concerns that accompany any attempt at intervention. We met with professors who work in the trafficking prevention space, and researched previous intervention attempts like the SESTA-FOSTA bill, where a well-intentioned attempt to prevent human trafficking led to a policed environment that forced voluntary sex workers into riskier and more dangerous situations (Editors’ Note: This is hyperlinked). Over multiple months of research and deliberation, our team gradually shifted our focus from asking about data privacy risks to asking crucial questions about the power dynamics of the project, and the needs of the vulnerable people we wanted to help. Who decides whether someone is a victim or simply trying to make a living? Are there lasting support networks in place for all victims who are identified?

Looking at the project from the perspective of potential human trafficking victims, I realized that the people with the power to make decisions about their welfare were all ex-military white men, who have only chosen to partner with law-enforcement agencies. These men with good intentions have vastly different lived experiences from those of human trafficking survivors, and left out victims and survivors from their decision-making processes. They communicated in dehumanizing combatant terms like “extract” and “offensive/defensive”, which sharply contrast the compassionate language and values of survivor support groups. Their responsibility ends as soon as they pass on victim information to law enforcement, and they don’t have any accountability for what happens to victims afterwards. Our team had even less experience and contact with survivors of human trafficking, and hypothetically could hand off the technical tool we were asked to make, with no accountability for how that tool would be used.

The project proposal, which had once seemed so straightforward, was suddenly rife with ethical dilemmas. Our job was to cast a wide net in our data collection, and let the police-affiliated nonprofit decide which people were victims who needed help. Once this decision is made, the ‘victim’ has no choice in whether or not their information is passed on to law-enforcement agencies. The people whose data we were told to collect could be selling sexual services voluntarily, trying to make ends meet, or avoiding more dangerous situations. The repercussions of misidentifying someone as a victim without their consent are severe–it could lead to prostitution charges, incarceration, a permanent criminal record, and/or loss of child custody. I realized that an intent to “do good” is not sufficient to prevent causing significant harm to the people I aim to serve.

Due to the many dimensions of risk that our team could not account for, we all felt uncomfortable with continuing to implement this project. When we respectfully communicated our concerns and decision not to proceed to our nonprofit client, they thanked us but did not make any changes. I was initially afraid that by refusing to continue the project, we had failed to validate PInT’s student-driven consulting model. I wished we could have continued to work with the nonprofit to include survivor voices in their process, to

guide the work they are doing. However, as students with limited time and no direct connections with survivors, we were not well poised to be doing that sensitive work.

Looking back, I am proud of my team for making a difficult decision that centered care for the people we were designing for. I have come to realize that there is immense value in modeling for our community of budding engineers that saying “No” is a valid, sometimes necessary action for preventing harm to others and ourselves. I learned from this experience that refusing to continue a line of work can feel futile, but the personal risk the action carries can add weight to my words. There are hundreds of engineers out there who could take my place if I say “No”, but if I keep my head down, how can I expect others to step up, or for any meaningful change to happen? Through my refusal, I can grow my own ethical practice, and potentially influence the practice of others.

After these revelations, my mindset swung from “do good” to “do no harm”. For a time, I chose smaller-scale projects that were closer to home, with less risk of severe consequences, but also less potential for significant impact. I battled a feeling of paralysis that threatened to keep me from experiencing new contexts and challenges. A project-based class called Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship (ADE) helped me feel more equipped to commit to large-scale change, while still being cautious of potential consequences and prioritizing stakeholder needs.

In ADE, I joined a team on a multiyear project with a mission to abolish the carceral system in Massachusetts. This is an important and ambitious goal. In the United States, the carceral system is massive, and the system is racist. Mass incarceration in America has deep historical roots and causes harm to people before, during, and after they are locked in prisons. It’s a complex, daunting problem that no one person, team, community, state, or even political party could take on alone. Our challenge is to protect people of color when finding, scoping, and implementing a specific project that intervenes in the massive system built against them.

When I started the project, the team had already spent almost two years focused solely on learning about the context of mass incarceration in Massachusetts, and connecting to related local organizations, community organizers, and people who are formerly incarcerated. In the human trafficking prevention project, the only voices we initially heard were those of the nonprofit employees, who hadn’t spoken much to the people they served. Meanwhile in ADE, building relationships with stakeholders was and still is our first priority, so that we can center the voices of the people who are directly affected in all of our project-related decisions.

This semester, our goal was to scope and evaluate the impact of a specific project proposal: creating a publicly accessible database of policing traffic stop data, with analysis tools to help public defenders and community organizers statistically prove the racial discrimination they see every day. Given my state of paralysis at the time, I was weary of this project because of the ways in which it could cause harm to people of color. Sharing police accountability data could lead to retaliation in the local community and collecting traffic stop data could put people at risk of employment discrimination if that data is identifiable or leaked.

ADE has us mitigate harm by speaking to people who have relevant expertise, so that we understand the full spectrum of risks we are taking on. For example, I spent a few weeks interviewing data advocacy experts, who asked us where we get data from, who is responsible for storing it, and how it will be shared. If we dove directly into technical prototyping and user testing without answering these questions, we could end up with a useless outcome, or accidentally leak sensitive information to the wrong people. By taking the time to fully understand the problem before trying to solve it, we can make more deliberate decisions that design against harm.

However, given the generally unpredictable nature of humans, we can design for years and some amount of risk will still remain. At a certain point, the only way to learn if a solution will be effective is by testing it in a non-hypothetical setting. The ADE framework encourages us to mitigate harm by trying out solutions at a small scale, where we can easily test our assumptions and measure the effects. Our team will test our new project by collecting a small amount of data to analyze, and sharing it with a group of people we trust, for feedback. The stakes are low, so that if we discover negative consequences or exceptions to our base assumptions, we can take a step back and adjust given that information, or try something else altogether. Reflecting on this fluid process has helped me realize that scaling change can be nonlinear.

If we receive positive feedback, that is a good indicator to expand a little more, to get perspectives from different people. The leader of a local community organizing group working against systemic racism and police brutality expressed that they could make a lot of change with the proposed data tools, but never had the time to create them, given all the more immediately pressing issues on their plate. There is a clear need for our project coming from the people we serve, and our team has that bandwidth, technical skill set, and core mission alignment to be able to implement it with minimal risk. All of these factors indicate to me that in this case, our team is well-poised to be doing this type of work, and should continue down this path.

Similar to a dialogue between people, the act of scaling can expand or backtrack, and change course based on input from people who are directly affected. The fact that all of these are valid outcomes helps me overcome my feeling of paralysis, because it means I can still fail on a small scale, then learn, and grow, to inform a better solution with minimal overall harm. Over time, I can imagine our team making better and better decisions, if we base them on an accumulation of insights from past experiences. However, I still feel a tension between scaling like a dialogue, which is a process that cannot be rushed, and meeting the urgency of issues that are happening in the moment. People are dying from police brutality, and suffering behind bars because of the color of their skin. I don’t think dialogue-scaling is enough for change that needs to happen right now, and I wonder what alternative frameworks exist for making immediate change responsibly. My perspective on change-making has grown a lot at Olin, but I still have a lot to learn about the nuances of balancing momentum and risk in high-impact situations.

Shortbeard Cookies

Tis the season, and you decide to go back to your hometown to celebrate the Holidays. You have a red-eye flight tonight and a few hours to spare before you need to call an Uber to the airport. You are excited to see your parents, siblings, and childhood friends again at the huge annual Christmas party that your family organizes, but there is a lump of anxiety eating away at the bottom of your stomach. You haven’t been home in three years. Your dad warned you about that before you left for grad school. He said that you would rarely see him again, only coming home for short visits that would become increasingly sporadic as you grew older. At the time, you swore that you would visit every few months and always stay by mommy’s and daddy’s side. 

Dad was right, as usual. You drifted away from your family, floating up into a whole new world of adulting. Before you lose yourself in these new heights, you want to visit the ground at least one more time. So you’re going back home with an anchor dangling down, determined to reform a connection with your family.   

It’s easy to be up in the sky by yourself, not having to care about others. Your only obligation is to be in the lab every day for eight hours. At work, there is always another email to write or a new issue to debug. You tackle one to-do after the other until your desk is surrounded by a dark silence. You sit in an empty subway and trek through the darkness before arriving back at your apartment. It’s already close to 9 pm, so you quickly heat up some leftover mushroom pizza from yesterday. Repeating this day in and day out is easy, but it’s boring, like drifting through the same clouds over and over again. At this point, you tried all of Trader Joe’s frozen dinner options a million times.   

You miss those times when you spent the entire day with your brother testing out a “simple” Julia Child French recipe. Beef bourguignon, a rustic farmer’s dish that required every pot and pan in the kitchen. Pêches cardinal, a light summer dessert of poached peaches covered in raspberry puree, which wrecked the Vitamix blender. The two of you would argue about different recipe interpretations, while mom and dad constantly poked their noses into the kitchen, taking pictures and asking for samples. You don’t know if you can get that again when you come home. Your brother just became a father, which puts him on a whole nother level in the family hierarchy. Even so, the closeness and warmth of being home is more than enough to cure your loneliness.  

However, you can’t go back home empty-handed. Mom taught you to always prepare a gift when you are a guest, and until you arrive back home, you feel like a guest, an outsider. It’s taboo to grab something random sitting in your apartment, and your savings are dangerously close to the “will I be able to afford next month’s rent?” threshold. Souvenirs at the airport are so ridiculously overpriced. You chastise yourself for not thinking about this sooner. Maybe you can make something within the next five hours? Parents always like getting handmade gifts from their children even if they are in their late 20s. The living room back home is covered in paintings of flowers and wine bottles, even though your art teacher technically did most of them. Dad constantly shows you the Father’s Day card you drew him when you were five with a sloppily written “I love you” next to a stick figure. The typical “shoot I forgot that I have to make a card” kind of gift. Unfortunately, that tactic no longer flies. You forfeited your position as the family’s cutie pie three years ago. You have to make something that a grown-up lady would. You step into your kitchen and start rummaging through the cabinets.   

You used to bake like crazy, claiming it was your greatest passion. Watching The Great British Bake Off, flipping through baking science textbooks, scrolling through a million ASMR baking videos on YouTube, and scavenging the internet for recipes that you could mash together. You did all of these while dreaming that one day you could make something that looked and tasted just as amazing. Unfortunately, you weren’t super talented. You rarely got a recipe right on the first try. Most of the time, you screwed up a little thing and ended up with a subpar dessert. Accidentally forgetting to peel the apples before making apple butter and ending up with an apple sauce pie instead of a smooth and thick berry apple butter pie. You totally freaked out when the peels refused to dissolve with the pulp, and dad had to fix the blender so you could patch up your mistake. Over proofing your matcha sesame babka, resulting in a nearly burnt bake. Mom claimed that she loved the hard and slightly bitter crust because it reminded her of a treat from her childhood. Doing who knows what wrong with a Japanese cheesecake and having to cover up a large crack on the surface with blueberries. Your parents thought your blueberry decoration was intentional and wanted to take a bunch of photos before cutting the cake. Each mistake weighed down on you, but your parents were always there to encourage you to keep trying. You worked hard, got better, even worked at a cafe for a summer. But baking takes time, especially if you want to do it well, so once grad school started and you lost your cheerleaders, you put away your apron and redirected your determination to your research.

It’s been months since you baked something. Your pantry is quite diminished, but the essential ingredients are still there: all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, and eggs. What should you make? Muffins? You don’t have a muffin tin. A sponge cake? How are you going to fit that in your backpack? Cookies? Yes, shortbread cookies are an option! Before your brother left for college, he would bake your grandmother’s shortbread cookies every Christmas. Sometimes, you would help him sift the flour, dig through the cookie cutter box, and coat the tops of the cookies with egg wash before baking them. Your brother constantly forgot to write down the recipe, so every year, the cookies tasted a bit different. Some years were too dry, others tasted like mini cakes. Baking shortbread cookies seemed like the most complicated recipe in the world, especially the part where you roll out the dough into a uniformly thin sheet. Eventually, he stopped baking cookies, and the family tradition went on hiatus. 


When you were back home for Christmas near the end of college, you stumbled upon your grandmother’s original recipe written in German. Your dad helped you translate the instructions, and you adapted your grandmother’s shortbread recipe to your own tastes, cutting down as much sugar as possible without impacting the chemistry. You experimented with different baking conditions and made the recipe your own. After two tries, you were able to reproduce the best versions of your brother’s cookies. Your parents love those cookies, so you decide to go for it. You open your fridge to fish out the butter and eggs. It’s important to have cold ingredients at room temperature, so they would more easily bond together, creating a seamless and evenly textured batter. Additionally, butter and eggs trap more air at room temperature, which would result in a more tender cookie. You pull out a few sticks of unsalted butter and a couple of eggs, leaving them to warm up on the counter while you dig out your little baking notebook. 

The softcover notebook is smaller than the palm of your hand. The pages are stained and wrinkled from various ingredients that escaped from measuring spoons or bowls. You flip to the page with your shortbread cookie recipe and start measuring out the ingredients using a $10 kitchen scale from Amazon. The measuring ingredients game is still as vexing as always. You weigh 250 grams of butter and 180 grams of sugar in two separate bowls. In a slightly larger mixing bowl, you measure out the dry ingredients, 500 grams of all-purpose flour and 1 tsp of baking powder. The baking powder is tricky since it’s even more powdery than flour. You can’t just stick a teaspoon into the container and expect to scoop out exactly 1 tsp. The natural alternative would be to weigh baking powder, but 1 tsp is 4.8 grams, and your scale doesn’t have that many significant digits. So you slowly add baking powder into the mixing bowl and watch the scale hit 4 grams. You add a tiny bit more and then the weight shoots to 6 grams. Urgh! The baking powder is already camouflaged among the flour. You try to scrape off the topmost layer, but the scale stubbornly stays at 6 grams. Ahh! Whatever! You’re out of practice and don’t have all day. You whisk together the flour and baking powder, finalizing the measurements. Your mom would have stuck the teaspoon right in the container and saved all that trouble, but accuracy is needed to create the perfect cookies. 

The last ingredients to prepare are lemon zest and juice. You grew up with a huge lemon tree in the backyard that provided an endless supply of large yellow lemons year round, which meant that all your recipes contain some form of lemon. In Boston, lemons are expensive, but old habits die hard, and you pay the extra few dollars to always have 1-2 lemons in your fridge. You take out your last lemon. The skin is smooth and light yellow, unlike the rough and darker skin of lemons back home. You cut the lemon in half and squeeze each half over a small bowl, carefully removing the seeds. Before throwing away the hollowed-out shells, you harvest the yellow skin with a microplane grater, tightly gripping one side of the lemon as you slide it back and forth.   

With all the ingredients, you follow the recipe step by step, making sure the butter is malleable to the touch before creaming it with the sugar, 2 eggs, lemon, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a dash of vanilla powder. From there, you slowly sift in the flour and baking powder. After dusting the batter with a thick layer of white snow, you force the hand mixer through the thickening mixture at a crawling pace. Sift and then mix. Eventually, the batter becomes a clay-like dough, and you abandon the mixer in favor of your hands, gently kneading until the dry powder disappears without a trace.

To firm up the butter and create shortbread’s crumbly texture, you chill the dough in the fridge. After two hours, you take out the hardened dough and roll it out until it is 1 cm thick. Having made thousands of pie crusts at La Terra cafe, rolling dough into a flat plain is almost second nature. You take a small metal ruler and measure the height of the edges, making sure they are very close to 1 cm. All your fancy Christmas cookie cutters are at home, but you have a practical 12-piece round cookie cutter set, which you use to cut a diverse range of circular shapes. You cover two parchment-lined baking sheets with circles and coat the tops with whisked egg yolk before sliding the trays into an oven preheated to 350°F. You close the heavy oven door with a thud and wait for the cookies to finish in around 15 minutes.

After freezing the leftover dough and washing the bowls, you hover around the oven. You can’t focus your attention on another task, just like when you were a little kid and sat on a stool in the front of the oven, watching the timer countdown. You keep wondering if the cookies will turn out okay and whether you accidentally messed up. Maybe the 1.2 grams of extra baking powder will make the cookies expand too much? Could there be egg shells hiding in the dough? You turn on the oven light and peek through the blurry glass window. You can barely make out clumps of dough on the baking sheet. What’s happening in the oven is completely out of your command. The measuring, mixing, chilling, and cutting that you spent hours on were just preliminary stages to prepare for these 15 minutes in the oven. You did all the hard work setting the stage, but it all comes down to the bake.

Butter melts and releases trapped air and water, which expands air pockets formed during the mixing process. This gas expansion needs to be carefully timed with protein coagulation to create a cookie with both structure and lightness. Egg and flour proteins trap water and form a continuous network that surrounds the expanding air pockets, creating a home that protects the gases from the outside world as they mature. A cozy home with a large lemon tree, cornflower blue walls, and a narrow kitchen filled with enticing flavors. A home with a thousand books, a well-stocked pantry, and a million baking supplies. But children can’t stay inside forever. They have to leave the house to go to college and then find their own air pockets to protect.     

Once the gases grow up, the air pockets are no longer able to contain them, and the support structure ruptures, forming a porous sponge-like texture where gases freely pass in and out. When the dough becomes a sponge, its shape is finalized, and the excited gases surge out of their nests and go on their own adventures outside of the cookie world. The structure builders are left behind in a home covered in doors that are always open for their children. Some gases will calm down and eventually remember to visit their homes. Others will forever remain outside the cookies, even escaping the oven into a whole new universe. With all the empty nests, the cookies lose a lot of moisture and weight. The lack of water forms a dry and hard crust on the surface, a network of scars on the proteins that are left behind. The crust eventually browns from sugar caramelization and maillard browning, forming a sugary lemon scent that spreads throughout the apartment. The cookies are almost ready.

The timer on the oven starts blaring, and you quickly shove on bright-red oven mitts and crack open the oven door. The orderly rows of cookies have a bright orange shine on the surface and a light brown complexion on the bottom. They look perfect. You extract the trays and place them on a towel to cool for a few minutes. The cookies will continue to bake for a while longer. You call an Uber and then rummage through your closet to find the new pack of tupperware you bought from Target but never opened.

To test the quality of your cookies, you eat one of the smallest cookies. The cookie is still warm and part of it melts on your tongue. The sweetness from the sugar and sourness from the lemon dissolves to reach your taste buds. The more complex aromas of vanilla, citrus, and caramelized sugar drift to your olfactory cells. The texture perfectly complements the flavors, a crumbly but soft base with a hint of denseness from a thin layer of egg wash. Flawless, as far as you could tell. You pack the rest of the cookies in the container. You can’t wait for your parents and brother to taste them. With some shortbread cookies, there’s no way they wouldn’t invite you home with open arms.

Mailänderli Cookies

The cookie is still warm and part of it melts on your tongue. The sweetness from the sugar and sourness from the lemon dissolves to reach your taste buds. The more complex aromas of vanilla, citrus, and caramelized sugar drift to your olfactory cells. The texture perfectly complements the flavors, a crumbly but soft base with a hint of denseness from a thin layer of egg wash. Flawless, as far as you could tell.

This recipe is matched with “Shortbread Cookies”. It’s the recipe that I follow throughout the story. Mailänderli is the German word for butter biscuits. My grandmother gave this recipe to my brother and eventually to me. I bake Mailänderli cookies for Christmas and Easter since they make amazing gifts!

Recipe makes around 40 cookies 

Ingredients

Equipment

  • Two mixing bowls (one large, one medium)
  • Scale and/or measuring cups1
  • Electric mixer
  • Rubber spatula 
  • Sifter 
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters
  • Ruler to measure cookie height
  • Baking trays and parchment paper
  • Pastry brush
  • Cooling rack

Cookie Dough

  • 17 1/2 tbsps (250 grams) butter at room temperature2
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract/vanilla powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 3 tbsps lemon juice3
  • 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp (4.8 grams) baking powder

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream (optional)4

Instructions

  1. Preheat: preheat oven to 350°F 
  2. Mix the dry ingredients: in the medium mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Stir until ingredients are well distributed
  3. Cream butter: in the large mixing bowl, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth. Usually this takes around 5 minutes
  4. Add the sugar: add granulated sugar and cream on medium speed until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Takes around another 5 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl one or twice while mixing  
  5. Add in remaining wet ingredients: add in the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium-low speed until incorporated. Add in the vanilla extract/powder, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix until evenly combined
  6. Add dry to wet: in several batches, sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. For each batch, mix the dough together until most of the flour disappears5. After adding in the last batch, knead/mix the dough until all traces of flour disappear. The dough should feel like soft clay
  7. Refrigerate dough: chill the dough in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days
  8. Cut out cookies: roll the dough to 1 cm thick6. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Transfer the cookies to baking trays lined with parchment paper  
  9. Final touches before baking: coat the tops of each cookie with egg wash
  10. Bake: bake cookies at 350°F for 15 minutes. When cookies are slightly brown on the bottom, then they are ready 
  11. Cool: cool cookies on baking trays for 10-20 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. At this point, you can start eating them! :)

Tips and Tricks

  1. I like to use a scale for dry ingredients and measuring cups for liquids
  2. It’s important for the butter to be at room temperature before creaming it. You can tell that butter is at room temperature if it’s malleable to the touch. Microwaving to soften the butter isn’t the same since it won’t trap enough air
  3. The amount of lemon you add is up to you. If you want a stronger lemony scent, then add more. You can also just add the zest and juice from one lemon to keep things easier
  4. If you want the cookies to have an orange top, then skip the heavy cream. If you want a more pale, golden color, then add the heavy cream
  5. Eventually, the dough might become too thick to mix with the electric mixer, so knead the dough with your hands
  6. The thickness is also adaptable. If you want crispier cookies, make them thinner. If you want them to be more moist and cakey, then make them thicker. I would recommend 1-1.5 cm as a good starting range

Madlibs

Instructions: Fill out the following list, on your own or with a friend. Do not peek past the list until you have finished, or you will miss out on the surprise! 

  1. Noun: ___________________________________________
  2. Plural Noun: ______________________________________
  3. Verb Ending in “ing”: ________________________________
  4. Noun: ___________________________________________
  5. Verb Ending in “ing”: _______________________________
  6. Verb: ___________________________________________
  7. Direction: ________________________________________
  8. Verb: ___________________________________________
  9. Verb: ___________________________________________
  10. Verb: ___________________________________________
  11. Olin Professor: ___________________________________
  12. Exclamation: _____________________________________
  13. Noun: __________________________________________
  14. Verb: ___________________________________________
  15. Proper Noun: ____________________________________
  16. Body Part: ______________________________________
  17. Adjective: _______________________________________
  18. Verb: ___________________________________________
  19. Noun: ___________________________________________
  20. Verb: ___________________________________________
  21. Verb Ending in “ing”: _______________________________
  22. Adjective: _______________________________________
  23. Person in Room: __________________________________

Dear Dean of Harvard Admissions, 

We’re no strangers to ___1___. You know the ___2___ and so do I. A full commitment’s what I’m ___3___. You wouldn’t get this from any other __4__. I just wanna tell you how I’m __5__. Gotta make you __6__. 

Never gonna give you __7__. Never gonna let you __8__. Never gonna __9__ around and __10__ you. Never gonna make  __11__ cry. Never gonna say __12__. Never gonna tell a __13__ and __14__ you.

We’ve known __15__ for so long. Your __16__’s been aching, but you’re too __17__ to say it. Inside, we both know what’s been going on. We __18__ the __19__ and we’re gonna __20__ it.

And if you ask me how I’m __21__. Don’t tell me you’re too __22__ to see it!

Thank you for your consideration.

Best,

__23__

Credits to Pete Waterman, Matt Aitken, & Mike Stock for writing the lyrics to “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which we altered for this Madlibs!

Assumptions

I wake up to the sound of my rock n’ roll inspired alarm blaring out the tunes that get my day started. Rolling out of bed, I begin to make myself look presentable for the many zoom calls and trips to the dining hall that I will be taking today.

As I open the door to head out for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast, I , by force of habit, check my pockets to make sure I have everything. “Key, wallet, phone- what am I missing….” tends to happen often. Nowadays, I can’t forget to grab a mask and have it on properly until I gladly consume my entire container of home fries and eggs. Leaving with my fish-patterned mask, I head downstairs and out of West Hall seeing the same people that I encounter daily. With a “Hi” and an air wave, I let them know of my intention to greet them and receiving a similar gesture, I assume with the same ecstatic feeling.

Inside the CC, I swipe my ID, ask for some of the day’s food specials, and try to engage in small talk with some of my favorite dining staffers. I assume their reactions and facial expressions to our conversations and wish them the best as I head to my every-morning spot. Sitting, I remove my mask and expose my excitedness to my fellow household members as I take in the view of my meal. They, way more than any others, get to see and understand my almost consistent facial reactions. I wish I could share them with more people. I wish more people could share theirs with me.

Still, if you see me around- whether it be over zoom or on campus- there is no need to assume what I’m thinking. I’m excited to be here. Everyday as I wake up, hearing that same alarm sound, I grow exponentially happier at the thought of where I am. I look forward to holding the door open for someone and love watching people do incredibly cool things outside. I love everything about out school. I love Olin.

More than ever, I think its important to express yourself outwardly because it is so hard to assume what someone else is trying to convey behind their mask. Make it known how much you love your project team meetings! Exclaim why you cannot do without the garlic knots in the dining hall! Project how much you love having access to unlimited Zoom meetings! People need to know how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and how you’re doing. So let’s stop assuming that others assume you’re “doing well today.” Let them know.

Revisiting American History: Origins of Racism

Warning: The following article wrestles with a difficult topic in American history, and that topic contains some horrid depictions of human suffering.

This article is a continuation of the Revisiting American History Series, where every month, I revisit a section of American history with a critical eye for the different groups of people involved in that history, telling stories not of America as a collective group pursuing a national interest shared by all of its individuals, but as a variety of groups all with competing interests. While this series typically does not delve deeply into current events, I hope that it does help put a lot of conflict rampant in America today into context. I’m mainly following along with A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, rereading, annotating, and distilling the content into quick summaries for you here. Remember, any story from history contains bias. Howard Zinn is not exempt from that bias and neither am I. Also, if you ever want more information or perspective, I highly recommend reading the book for yourself!

This article focuses on an exploration of the different groups involved in the institutionalization of racism through human trafficking (slavery) in America’s early colonial period. I purposely use the words “human trafficking” and “slavery” interchangeably, as I’ve become a little too used to talking about “slavery” as just a fact of history, rather than a disgusting treatment of human beings. By using the wording of “human trafficking”, I hope to return to the people abused by this system some of their humanity, and myself a reminder that these were, in fact, humans, just as you and I.

A Black American writer from the 1900s, J. Saunders Redding, describes the arrival of a ship in North America in the year 1619:

Sails furled, flag drooping at her rounded stern, she rode the tide in from the sea… The flag she flew was Dutch; her crew a motley. Her port of call, an English settlement, Jamestown, in the colony of Virginia. She came, she traded, and shortly afterwards, she was gone. Probably no ship in modern history has carried a more portentous freight. Her cargo? Twenty slaves.

We can trace the origins of human trafficking in America back to this first ship. Racism has been embedded into America’s history since its infancy. While some historians think the first black people to arrive in Virginia were considered servants, like the white indentured servants from Europe, the strong probability is that even if they were listed as “servants”, they were seen differently, treated differently, and ultimately, were slaves.

To understand why the American colonists were so open to human trafficking as a means of acquiring labor, we have to understand the conditions in which they made that decision. The first white settlers of Virginia were utterly unprepared for the harsh challenges associated with making a new life for themselves in America.

Many Virginians had suffered through the “starving time” from 1609-1610. By 1609, the population had grown to five hundred colonists from the original one hundred founders. At that point, the colony could no longer support its massive population. Colonists went from eating one small ladle of barley per meal to roaming the woods for nuts and berries, and eating the corpses of those less fortunate. As the Journals of the Burgesses of Virginia, a document from 1619, recounts the story:

… driven thru insufferable hunger to eat those things which nature most abhorred, the flesh and excrements of man as well as of our own nation as of an Indian, digged by some out of his grave after he had lain buried three days and wholly devoured him… one among them slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salted her and fed upon her till he had clean devoured all parts of her head…

By the end of that “starving time”, starvation had reduced five hundred colonists to sixty.

After enduring that traumatic experience, the Virginians were ready for a way out. They needed labor to grow corn for their own subsistence, and tobacco for export. They had just sent out the first batch of tobacco out in 1617, and found it quite profitable. They needed food, and they needed money.

These colonists were searching desperately for a source of cheap labor. There weren’t enough white servants to do the work, and they came with a massive downside. Once their contract expired after a few years, they would have paid off their debts for the voyage to the New World. At that point, a servant was no longer a source of free labor, but just another mouth to feed. The free white settlers in the colony were primarily skilled craftsmen, with a few even being “men of leisure”, who were not so inclined to work for John Smith, who had to organize them into work gangs and force them into the fields for their survival.

In their search for gold in the Carribean, the Spaniards slaughtered and enslaved the Arawaks. Why didn’t the American colonists do the same to the Native Americans in their search for cheap labor? The fact of the matter is that the desperate and starving American colonists were no match for the resourceful Native Americans defending their home. 

Edmund Morgan, writer of American Slavery, American Freedom, a book from 1975, focuses on the frustration and dissonance these colonists must have faced, enraged that even though they had superior firepower, and a supposedly superior way of life, they just couldn’t win against the natives. As Morgan writes:

If you were a colonist, you knew that your technology was superior to the Indians [Native Americans]. You knew that you were civilized, and they were savages… The Indians [Native Americans], keeping to themselves, laughed at your superior methods and lived from the land more abundantly and with less labor than you did… And when your own people started deserting in order to live with them, it was too much… So you killed the Indians [Native Americans], tortured them, burned their villages, burned their cornfields… But you still did not grow much corn…

For all of their pain, suffering, and violence, the colonists gained nothing. Their aggression against the natives resulted only in more of their own suffering. The colonists’ own hubris and arrogance made enemies of the natives who were knowledgeable in survival and might have otherwise helped the colonists survive. Unfortunately, this relationship only grows more strained as America’s history marches forward.

At this point, the colonists were focused on survival, and they needed labor. Unable to get the necessary labor out of the servants and freeman among them, or the natives nearby, they turned to the human trafficking of African peoples.

Even if the institution of slavery had not been regularized and legalized in the colonies at this point, it would be difficult to presume that those first black people forcibly taken to Jamestown and sold to colonists as objects, were anything but slaves. By 1619, a million black people had already been brought from Africa to South America and the Carribean, the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, to work as slaves. Europeans had branded African people as slave labor for a hundred years by this point.

Since slavery had existed in the African states, Europeans sometimes tried to use it as a means of justifying their own slave trade. However, that’s not quite a fair comparison, as the “slaves” of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe. According to Basil Davidson, author of The African Slave Trade, points out that while African slavery was a harsh servitude, the humans enslaved were “altogether different from the human cattle of the slave ships and the American plantations.” One observer from the Ashanti Kingdom of West Africa noted that “a slave might marry; own property; himself own a slave, swear an oath; be a competent witness and ultimately become heir to his master… An Ashanti slave, nine cases out of ten, possibly became an adopted member of the family, and in time his descendants so merged and intermarried with the owner’s kinsmen that only a few would know their origin.”

While African slavery isn’t something to be praised, it is altogether far different from American slavery, which was lifelong, morally crippling, desctructive of family ties, without hope for a future. What made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history was the combination of the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture, and reduction of the slaves to less than human status, where white was master, and black was slave.

These African people who had been ripped from their land and culture were in an especially vulnerable position in America. The colonists were in their own European culture, and the Native Americans were in their own land and culture. The African people had to fight with sheer extraordinary persistence just to hold onto whatever they could of their heritage of language, dress, custom, and family relations.

Oftentimes, these African people were kidnapped in the interior of Africa, forced to march to the coast, sold, shoved into pens with people from various African tribes, and shipped off to be sold in the European mainlands or one of its colonies. These marches were death marches, sometimes reaching one thousand miles. The enslaved people were shackled around the neck, and marched under whip and gun. Two of every five of them died during these marches. John Barbot, at the end of the seventeenth century, described the cages on the Gold Coast.

As the slaves come down to Fida from the inland country, they are put into a booth or prison… near the beach, and when the Europeans are to receive them, they are brought out onto a large plain, where the ship’s surgeons examine every part of everyone of them, to the smallest member, men and women being stark naked… Such as are allowed good and sounds are set on one side… marked on the breast with a red-hot iron… The branded slaves after this are returned to their former booths where they await shipment, sometimes 10-15 days…

Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745-1797 , an African man who survived through the slave trade and escaped in 1766, describes his experience seeing a slave ship for the first time in his autobiography. 

The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror when I was carried aboard. I was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me… Indeed such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.

Given the opportunity, many of these people chose to jump overboard and drown themselves rather than continue their suffering. Olaudah Equiano describes one such incident as follows.

One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together (I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea: immediately another quite dejected fellow, who, on account of his illness, was suffered to be out of irons, also followed their example; and I believe many more would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship’s crew… two of the wretches were drowned, but they [the slavers] got the other, and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery.

One of every three African slaves died overseas. Despite the horrific nature of human trafficking, the huge profits, oftentimes double the investment made on one trip, justified the act in the eyes of the slavers. 

By 1800, ten to fifteen million Africans had been forcibly transported to the Americas as slaves, representing perhaps a third of those kidnapped from Africa. As Zinn puts it:

It is roughly estimated that Africa lost fifty million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.

And thus, the stage was set for the history around race in America. Remember that when we talk about racism and our modern day understandings of race in America, this was where it started. I don’t believe this to be the roots of racism across the world, but it’s certainly the roots of racism in American culture. This article helps illustrate why human trafficking based on race become so integral to American history from its roots, and begins to explore what this actually meant for the African humans caught in the midst of this system.

Next month, I plan to focus on the history surrounding African American resistance to slavery, and the instutionalization of racism as a means of suppressing class conflicts. As the institution of slavery spread thoughout the colonies, so did resistance to the oppression of the black and white lower classes alike. Fearing widespread civil unrest, the landowning elite of America found means of suppressing both while giving up as little as possible in return.

Sources:

  1.  A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn

I’m citing this source again because of how extensively I’ve used it to write this article. Many pieces of this article are either direct quotes or paraphrased paragraphs from Zinn that aren’t explicitly called out. Part of this is due to his unique style of writing I hope to capture in this article, how well he articulates certain ideas, so that I can be certain I’m not misrepresenting any facts presented by Zinn, and to not disrupt the flow of the writing.

  1. The Interesting Narrative Of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written By Himself.

This was an incredible autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, c. 1745-1797, an African man who survived and escaped from slavery. He wrote his autobiography specifically to advocate for the abolition of slavery in Britian, and he recounts his journey across various parts of the world and his experience as an African slave.

  1. American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund S. Morgan

I mainly checked the date the book was published to provide more context to Zinn’s quotation from the book.

Library Strategic Plan Progress & Updates

During the Fall 2019 semester, the library began work on a 2.5-year strategic plan to help guide our priorities and activities. The Olin community has given us tons of feedback and ideas to steer this process, and we hope that you’ll keep it coming. With your needs at the center of our process, we think we’ve made a “P4” (pretty pandemic-proof plan). You can see the plan at http://library.olin.edu/strategic-plan.html, or read the Frankly Speaking article from March about it: franklyspeakingnews.com/2020/03/library-changes-with-callan/

Part of the strategic plan framework we’ve adopted is creating yearly action plans. These are useful because they give us specific tasks to focus on each year and make our values and mission more tangible. As we’re getting close to the end of the time period covered by our first action plan (January-December 2020), we wanted to share an update on the progress our team has made.

I’d also like to give a huge personal thanks to Maggie, Mckenzie, and all of our student workers past and present for making all of this possible. Never hesitate to reach out to our team if we can help in any way.

How have we been honoring our commitments and values?

As always, we’re providing free, confidential access to information to everyone with no strings attached and encourage information literacy, democracy skills, and critical thinking. We’re making resources–course reserves in particular–available for those who can’t afford them, and are providing ebook access or print upon request for visual and cognitive accommodations. Our approach to acquisitions and collection development continues to be community-driven with an emphasis on diverse authors. We’ve provided cultural heritage displays, workshops, and other forms of community engagement. All of us are also striving to be transparent and constructively critical about the library profession’s failures and lack of diversity.

What have we been doing?

After we conducted community surveys and focus groups about the library in the fall of 2019, we organized our plan into three main themes: Culture & Serendipity, Studying & Gathering, and Research & Access.

Strategic Plan Theme: Culture & Serendipity

Last year, we created the new Community Engagement Librarian position and hired Mckenzie Mullen. We began offering workshops and regular events, such as the Fall 2020 intergroup dialog workshop series, weekly creative/crafting time, and unstructured hangouts. As soon as Stephanie Milton joined us as Director of Diversity and Inclusion & Title IX Coordinator, we worked with her on events, reading lists, read-outs, and resource lists. We improved our book displays and tried some totally new things, like our pop-up library in the dining hall. Rather than sticking to the “traditional” model of ordering books recommended by other librarians and in our trade publications, we’ve focused on continuing with patron-driven acquisitions (i.e., we buy the things you ask us to buy) and are conducting a diversity audit of our collection. When COVID struck, we started an asynchronous library hangout space on Slack for everything from pet and bread pics to reading and listening recommendations, and we would love to see you there <olinlibraryhangout.slack.com>.

In response to how frequently the upper floor of the library is used for community events, we have tried to make the layout as flexible as possible with our current furniture. We eliminated most of the shelving up there except for five units to store course reserves, fiction, graphic novels, poetry, and DVDs. With the help of our amazing student workers, we shifted the entire photography collection to the Quiet Reading Room and moved all of the art and design books downstairs. To increase findability and make it easier to check things out, we relabeled DVDs, cameras, and tools. For the first time in the history of the library, we weeded our collection, meaning we removed thousands of books, CDs, and DVDs; they were donated to local libraries and to a global book redistribution service called Better World Books.

Strategic Plan Theme: Studying & Gathering

Most library policies were updated and rewritten in Spring and Summer 2020: <http://library.olin.edu/policies.html>. Before COVID days, we began a new system of encouraging stewardship throughout the library, including cleaning out the workroom in the summer of 2019 and creating a new process for removing and labeling projects.

Respondents to our surveys identified the lower level of the library as a space in need of some major rethinking. We removed many of the large rolling chairs from the lower level and bought new tables and chairs to increase flexibility of the space. The sewing area also needed attention, so we repurposed old newspaper racks as sewing storage and will soon expand the sewing area to where the 3D printer area was, providing more work surfaces and storage. (Note: We worked with The Shop to move the library’s 3D printers to the MAC to simplify access–and because we don’t have the greatest lighting or ventilation on the library’s lower level.)

Strategic Plan Theme: Research & Access

The Olin College Library officially joined the Minuteman Library Network on July 1, 2020, giving our community access to over six million items at 40+ area libraries, increased support for our staff, and other resources, including a user-friendly ebook collection. We subscribed to a new service in early 2020 to facilitate off-campus access to our subscription database products (who knew how much that would come in handy, now that we’re mostly off-campus these days!). To enhance accessibility and make it easier for us to create high-quality documents for course use, we obtained a professional-quality book scanner from the Boston Public Library.

Throughout the year, we’ve been trying out new processes for collecting database usage information and tracking current subscriptions using Google Sheets and Pinboard. This sounds boring, but has helped us make informed decisions about products to keep or get rid of this year when there was added pressure to reduce spending (budget adjustments/freezes; accommodating ebook spending).

With the help of Jack Greenberg ‘23, we have been working on rebuilding our digital archive using an open source solution created by library professionals. The live site is here: <http://ec2-184-73-148-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com/node>. It still needs much more work, but it’s searchable and browseable now.

We’ve been trying out new ways of helping people get in touch with us and utilize the library, especially now that we’re in a remote setting. Last semester, we tested office hours on Zoom in Spring 2020, but are going to be shifting to an appointment-scheduling model using Calendly. We started using a service called Niche Academy for video tutorials: https://my.nicheacademy.com/olin

Library staff have been continuing our own professional development, and we’ve all attended a number of training, conferences, and workshops this year. We’ve utilized what we’re learning in our instruction sessions, collection development practices, and more. Callan presented at eight library conferences this year and wrote a book for ALA Editions, Responding to Rapid Change: A User Experience Approach <https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/responding-rapid-change-libraries-user-experience-approach?_zs=pbaiW1&_zl=PDc97>. We began meeting routinely with the directors of the Wellesley and Babson libraries and have been working with Wellesley Free Library to batch-enroll Wellesley and Babson College students in Minuteman (this will streamline getting library access to cross-registered students).

If you have any questions or comments, want to tell us what we’re doing right (or wrong–don’t worry, you really won’t hurt our feelings), just want to say “hey,” or get some great pet pics, reach out to us at library@olin.edu. Remember: The library isn’t closed, it’s just somewhere else right now.

SERV Activity Updates

The Daily Table: Emily Yeh

Daily Table is a nonprofit organization that makes affordable and healthy food available to people with low incomes. A group from Olin volunteers at Daily Table every Saturday (time TBD). If you’re interested, keep an eye out for an email to Carpe with more information!

 

Big Brothers Big Sisters College Campus Program: Justin Kunimune

Big Brothers Big Sisters has continued with its biweekly outings. As we approach the end of the semester, we prepare to say goodbye for our Littles for the summer.

 

Charles River Center: Emma Price

The Charles River Center is a non-profit organization based in Needham that works to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and help support their families. They have a variety of different programs for people of all ages, all with really fun activities (like zumba and yoga)!!

 

E-Disco: Micaela Chiang, Daniel Daughterly, Lauren Pudvan, Nicole Schubert

We have continued our monthly lessons at Schofield Elementary school. We hosted the 6th graders from Dana Hall and had them design for mythical creatures. We will be having students in the area come to Olin on April 29th to build and launch Bottle Rockets.

 

IgniteCS: Casey Alvarado, Emily Lepert, Brenna Manning, Vicky McDermott, Sophia Nielsen, Andrew Pan

We are hosting computer science workshops on Saturdays at nearby middle schools. Last semester we hosted two workshops at Dedham Middle School and Monsignor Haddad Middle School. This semester we hosted one at Pollard Middle School in Needham and will be returning to the Dedham Middle School. We are always looking for volunteers to help out at our workshops and for new members to join our curriculum design team!

 

The Food Project: Aaron Greiner, Gaby Clarke

The Food Project engages youth and works on food justice issues through running 70 acres of farm in the Greater Boston area and the North Shore. They work on advocacy, youth development, and much more. Their farms, which are largely run by youth and volunteers, produce food that is sold at affordable prices at places like farmers markets. They have volunteer opportunities at all of their farms throughout the week.

 

Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Framingham: Ashley Funk

MCI Framingham is the Massachusetts Department of Correction’s institution for incarcerated women. They have a number of opportunities for volunteers, though getting approved as a volunteer takes persistence and patience (lots of background checks and paperwork). Currently, I am volunteering in the greenhouses and providing support for the gardening program where the women grow plants to sell to the prison staff.