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.

Mother’s Little Helper: The Feminine Mystique’s Impact on Inclusive Suffering

“’Things are different today,’
I hear every mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak
And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper”

(“Mother’s Little Helper,” The Rolling Stones)

Now, I’m not a mother myself, but I feel that I’ve met enough of them in my life to feel justified in saying that mothers feeling unappreciated and overworked is dece. Over half a century ago, (because this has been going on for that long and longer), Betty Friedan wrote a little book addressing these very issues, called The Feminine Mystique, which is largely credited with sparking the second wave feminism movement. Good for Friedan and her book.
The Feminine Mystique has been critiqued for, among other things, how narrow its subject and intended audience is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making something for a small audience or writing about a very uncommon subject. You can write an advice guide for former US Presidents on what they should do after the Oval Office. That’s an audience of five right now. You can craft an encyclopedia on Northern White Rhinos, of which there are ten still living. There’s nothing wrong with a small subject pool or a select audience. And while I won’t argue that Friedan was wrong in her choice to exclude anyone not straight, white, affluent, and female from her message, that cannot be the sole reason we decry the book.

That Damn Donna Reed
Through a somewhat roundabout series of events, I ended up starting to watch Gilmore Girls (and I couldn’t really stick with it). One episode that sticks out to me is the one where Rory, her mother Lorelai, and her boyfriend Dean watch The Donna Reed Show for their movie night. Lorelai and Rory provide constant, witty, sarcastic dubbing for the viewing, mocking how devoted Donna Reed and her TV daughter are to keeping the house cleaning and baking “an endless string of perfect casseroles” (Gilmore Girls, season 1 episode 14). When Dean comments that he thinks it’s a nice family concept, Rory uses the second half of the episode to show Dean how strange a 50’s nuclear dinner is, except that they both enjoy the evening and Rory learns that the real Donna Reed was actually quite revolutionary in the world of television.
Why do I mention Donna Reed?
For starters, The Donna Reed Show is a very clear example of both what a good deal of 1950’s home life was like and how we want to remember it having been. More to my point of not liking the book’s message, just because you think that how someone is living their life is wrong doesn’t mean that they have to join you in your sentiment, and you saying that your view is the correct one because you believe it to be that way is childish. Is The Donna Reed Show dated? Yes (it’s literally set in the 1950’s-60’s). Should we condemn how different women live their lives? No (society expects women to be everything all at once, so maybe we should focus on that). It’s good to go to college, it’s good to cook dinner for your family, it’s good to have a career, and it’s good to be a stay at home parent. A better book to The Feminine Mystique would have been Give Women a Choice in Their Lives.

On the Origins of Non-Straight People
On to the main event. I imagine that if you were to sum up every person that was part of any marginalized group, they would outnumber non-marginalized people several times over. And because we’re a species that has divided itself into fabricated groups, we feel the need to compete to be on top, we accept as an ingrained concept that not everyone can rise to the top together, we fight for ourselves and maybe our children or friends if we’re feeling generous.
To this point, Friedan, decides to spend a good portion of one of her later chapters “analyzing” and condemning homosexuality. I.e. she devotes a large portion of text to oppress a marginalized group while talking about how bad it is to be part of a marginalized group. “Homosexuals often lack the maturity to finish school and make sustained professional commitments” (Friedan, 229). She then goes on to explain that the Kinsey report found that homosexuality was least prevalent in college graduates and most prevalent in male students with a college diploma or less. And not only are gay men less mature and afraid of commitment, but they are discussed in the chapter entitled “The Sex Seekers,” a chapter in which Friedan discusses how women under the feminine mystique attempt to use sex as a way to feel fulfilled in their daily lives, but that it just manifest to hurt them, their marriages, and their relationships with their children. In fact, did you know that homosexuality is actually caused by an overbearing mother “who lives through her son, whose femininity is used in virtual seduction of her son, who attaches her son to her with such dependence that he can never grow to love a woman,” (229)?
Basically, homosexuals are a byproduct of female oppression, so when women are finally liberated, the evil that is homosexuality will be over. Awesome.

We Can’t All Have Freedom. Duh.

I’m not saying that it’s ever ok to marginalize anyone, but if it was just Friedan having her opinion, that would be one thing. It’s quite another to publish your opinion and then have that work become a central tenant of an entire social movement. Whether it’s cis white gay guys acting like they’re the only members of import under the LGBTQ+ banner or white middle to upper class women who can’t see how single women of color have issues that need to be addressed as part of feminism, Friedan’s work has helped to influence a culture where people only want to fight for people who look and live exactly like they do.
God forbid we be inclusive.

Evolution and Creationism: An Ideological Battle

A “Change the World” analysis for Six Books that Changed the World (Prof. Rob Martello)

When Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859, he anticipated backlash from the religious community. His theories were at direct odds with religious teachings of creationism, the belief that humans were created by a higher power. His contemporaries had learned to jive with religion of the era, with the church even funding research demonstrating the glory of God’s design. Plate tectonics did not directly contradict specific religious teachings. Origin presented an entirely different ideological barrier.
Darwin’s primary argument was “descent with modification”: species and subspecies formed and diverged over long periods of time due to selective pressures placed on them by their environments resulting in evolution. As far as Darwin was concerned, humans had evolved in exactly the same manner. There were several problems with this theory that hindered its adoption. First, evolution stood in direct opposition to literal interpretation of the bible. In the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, God directly creates the world and creates man. A literal interpretation of Genesis is known as Creationism, and was the dominant belief in the western world in 1859. Opposing the religious majority proved difficult for Darwin and he was met with religious rebuke. Second, the theory of evolution implied that humans were simply a descended species no different from other animals, creating a psychological barrier to acceptance. As Stephen Jay Gould points out in The Human Difference, humans have a “continuing psychological need to see ourselves as separate and superior.” This psychological barrier might explain why Darwin was met with such criticism from the scientific community as well, spurning his work for being deductive. Darwin’s other works, which utilized a similar evidence based construction, were never as hotly contested. Finally, Darwin’s theory suggested that the universe operated in a cutthroat manner without divine intervention that rewarded good and punished evil. The idea that the world was random and violent created an existential barrier that was difficult to overcome, and many were not willing to accept this as the way of the world.
You might ask yourself: Do Darwin’s contemporaries’ reactions to Origin of the Species have any importance today? The answer is yes, because a large number of people still believe in Creationism despite the majority of world religions declaring that the Theory of Evolution and their religion can coexist. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago”.
Why is acceptance of evolution important? The Theory of Evolution combined with Mendelian genetics—together known as Neo-Darwinism—is perhaps the central tenet of biology. It is important for the general public to understand these concepts for a multitude of reasons ranging from public health and the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria to sociology and race relations in the United States.
How has creationism persisted in the United States? This question is a political and legal quagmire that has persisted for more than six decades and is due to the Young Earth Creationist movement.
Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old. The most conservative of Young Earth Creationists are also Flat Earthers, genuinely believing that the earth is flat and rejecting modern science. Henry Morris is the founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and “arguably the most influential creationist of the late twentieth century” (Scott, Antievolution and Creationism in the United States). Morris, along with John C. Whitcomb, published The Genesis Flood in 1963 which attempted to form a scientific argument for a literal interpretation of Genesis. While it was rejected outright by the scientific community, it was read by hundreds of thousands of people (Gordin, The PseudoScience Wars). The ICR was responsible for drafting bills at the state level for “equal time” representation of evolution and creationism in public school biology; these bills ultimately made their way into law in the early 1980s in Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1982 the Arkansas law had been declared unconstitutional but the Louisiana law bounced its way around the court system until 1987, when the “equal time” approach was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The serious consideration given to these theories and laws sowed the misinformation deep and is still dogmatically followed to this day. The most recent approach from Young Earth Creationists on the legal stage is to force evolution to be taught as a “theory,” leveraging the day-to-day interpretation of the word against the scientific term. A scientific theory is a system of ideas supported with data, analysis, and peer review. A day-to-day theory is one used to explain the world around us, independent of serious outside verification. This misinformation campaign has persisted to this day in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin among others (Scott).
The great irony of continued American belief in Creationist theory is that by the numbers, the percentage of people still believing young earth creationism is greater than the percentage of people belonging to religions that preach a literal interpretation of Genesis (Matsumura, What Do Christians Really Believe about Evolution?). The four largest denominations of Christianity in the U.S., along with several others, have all formally acknowledged the validity of evolution and its importance in the classroom, stating that an unfair treatment of the subject in biology class undermines a student’s education in the sciences.
As engineers and scientists at Olin, almost all of us accept the Theory of Evolution independent of our religious beliefs. We are able to do this without much internal conflict. Outside of our community though, there are many people who still believe in Creationism. Given evolution’s biological importance not only to medical advances, but also public health, it is important that we make an effort to change people’s stance on the matter. We can do this without compromising religious belief and improving the knowledge of the general public.

Sources:
http://theflatearthsociety.org/home/
http://www.gallup.com/poll/170822/believe-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx

Disability Isn’t…

An Open Letter From Your Friendly Local Inconvenience

This article is written with the knowledge and endorsement of the author of ‘Disability Is…’

Last month, Frankly Speaking ran an article about disability that made me, and a few other disabled people at Olin, uncomfortable and angry. A lot of that discomfort stems from what I see as the flawed premise: it is an article, written by an abled person after a one-semester class about redefining perceptions of disability and normality, that seeks to define “disability.” (I’m extremely wary of a class that lets students leave with opinions like this, and I would like to encourage students to be critical of class pedagogies and materials, especially those dealing with such sensitive subjects!) The article reads like a personal reflection, and indeed that is what the class assignment was—something much more appropriate to share in private than in public, because of the naïve and potentially harmful views it seems to espouse. How is the content of this article harmful to disabled people? For me, at least, it is easy to read it and feel like an object of curiosity, a metaphor for other people’s consumption rather than a fully formed being. For me, it is easy to read it and feel that as a disabled person I am the only one who doesn’t feel safe sharing my perspectives on what disability is. For me, this article is another reminder that I live in a world that seldom considers or tries to understand my perspective.

There were a few things I liked about the article; I appreciated the emphasis on the social construction model of disability. This model tells us that impairments are physical, neurological, or psychological conditions that make some functions more difficult; and that disability is a condition inflicted on us by a society that designs public systems for a specific set of needs that we don’t share, or that are directly contradictory to our needs. The second paragraph of the article is a solid representation of this model, and I was happy to see a public acknowledgement of it. The paragraph that directly follows it is more bewildering because the conclusion doesn’t seem to follow at all from what came before. It does not read as a well-considered train of thought. I understand very well what it’s like to be so excited about a new concept that you just have to share it—but when that concept is the lives of a historically oppressed group of people, you really want to take the time to make sure you’ve got it right.

“Disability is the reminder that we are all fragile, temporary beings on this planet…” the third paragraph begins. The author’s intention was to depict not the “truth” but the perspective of someone uncomfortable with disability, an intention which was not at all clear to me reading it. Directly following a textbook explanation of the social construction model, I read what sounded like the author’s own strongly-held opinion, and my reply is: the concept of disability was not created to remind abled people that this could happen to them at any time. It was created to give a name and cohesion to a group of people with impairments who suffer, directly or indirectly, because of them. The reason society makes things difficult for those with minds and bodies considered abnormal is not to remind abled people about the fleeting nature of their lives. It is because we are seen as inconvenient. More convenient alternatives to designing with our needs in mind include ignoring us, trying to breed us out of the population, imprisoning us in abusive care systems, and straight-up murdering us. This was the understanding I had when I read the paragraph about the social construction model; to jump immediately to what reads to me as both an insult and inspiration porn felt like a slap in the face.

Before I get to inspiration porn, a term with which some readers may not be familiar, I want to talk about the insult. “The sight of a disabled person creates an unease… I believe that one source of this discomfort is the inability to ignore the fragility of the human body …the inevitability of breakdown, death, and decay…” First, it’s a reminder I didn’t need; I am aware, almost at all times, that my existence makes people uneasy. I know from experience that I need to wear a heavy disguise to appear in public. Some people do not have the luxury of wearing a disguise, and is to these people that the author refers: those with visually apparent physical disabilities. To reduce their experience to their physical appearance, viewed through the eyes of abled people as an object of disgust, is mean-spirited. It was also certainly not the author’s intent, but again both word choice and choice of concepts needs to be considered carefully in order to avoid hurting the people you’re talking about. What I, very personally, would like to ask is empathy. This article is clearly written from the perspective of an abled person looking at disabled people, without the firsthand context of their experiences. When I see physically disabled people, I don’t suddenly remember my own mortality or how easily I could be injured and permanently impaired. I think about the incredible amount of inconvenience they probably have to go through in order to go about their daily business. I worry for their safety and mental health in a culture that devalues their emotions and personhood. The actionable result of this thought process is that I take care to amplify their voices when I can, to listen carefully to them, and to help them when they need help. It’s the same thing I would appreciate people to do for me.

Inspiration porn is another important concept in any discourse about disability, coined by Stella Young, a disability rights activist, in 2012. I took the following definition from Catherine Soper’s excellently succinct article on the subject.[1] “Inspiration porn is a term used to describe society’s tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration. You’ve all seen the memes… [such as] a picture of a small child running on prosthetic legs accompanied by the caption ‘what’s your excuse?’ These images make the people viewing them feel great, but often they take images of people with disabilities simply living their daily lives and make them extraordinary.” Another article by Elizabeth Heideman[2] adds, “Inspiration porn turns people with disabilities into mere objects, placing their physical differences on display and reassuring the viewer that ‘If these people can live with just one leg,’ for example, ‘I can do so much more without a disability.’” The idea of defining disability in terms of abled people’s reaction to it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Disabled people do not exist as an inspiration to try harder, a reminder of any kind, or the impetus for a philosophical realization. We exist as nothing more or less than people.

I would love to create a culture at Olin that supports disabled people and amplifies our voices. I would love to create a culture at Olin where I’m not afraid to mention the specifics of my disability, for fear of spending half an hour trying to explain my point of view, heart pounding, growing more upset until I have to end the conversation abruptly. I want to feel safe at Olin, and I want to feel like people are willing to respect me, and others like me, as more than design challenges or edge cases. I want to make this school safe for everyone who comes after me, and I want your help. Challenge your own assumptions about what disability is. Think critically about the perspectives you are given. Do research. Listen to the voices of marginalized people, and don’t speak for us. What we want is what you want: the support to do what’s worth doing, and what we love. Thank you for all your help.

Keeping My Promise

In memory of my friend

I still don’t know the last of his last day.
I might, forever, want to know the last of his last day.

Nevertheless,
I wish he was loved with sincerity,
Regrets his decision,
Never had the short end of the stick,
Didn’t leave in the pain of being evilly envied,
Knew how much we loved him.
I wish his last weekend wasn’t a lonely one.

For the star that’d forever be shining in Princeton, I write in the words of prayer…

Death is such a heavy word. Someone once told me love is a heavy word, but that was before I felt the loss of a loved one. I could reject a bad love, but with death, I had no choice but to accept it. It feels like you’d be living in Princeton forever, surrounded by fellow “Princetonians” you loved, busking every weekend in front of the fancy school buildings that don’t exist at Olin, and posting sweaty soccer pictures wearing the proud orange P on your chest.
I was eating a burger at Dunn-Gaherin’s with my friends the night you left. I called you an asshole as a joke for going to an Ivy League school, being on tv shows, singing like Freddie Mercury, and being goddamn handsome on top of all of that. I couldn’t feel more stupid thinking that was the last thing I said about you, thought of you as. As much as the handsome perfect asshole you were, thanks to you, I won’t ever be singing the Bohemian Rhapsody as a joke. It was your favorite, thus it will hurt for all those that loved you.
Although this is not what I thought I’d be writing about, here’s to our promise that one day I’d take your word for it and try publishing anything on anywhere. I will always love you. Till I see your beautiful smile again, rest in peace.

Science Isn’t Truth

We’re living in a time of falsehood. Between ‘alternative facts’ and a disturbing preponderance of fake news, the lack of common ground truth precludes productive conversation. I don’t have the solution to this. But I believe a small part of the solution is understanding the logical framework for separating science from untestable, irrefutable claims. To that end, dear reader, I’d like to tell you about the philosophy of science.

If your secondary education was anything like mine, then you were probably (implicitly) lied to about science. For me, science was presented as a ‘body of truth’ — a set of equations and facts to memorize and regurgitate for the exam. In college this view got a bit more nuanced — the equations we worked with were good approximations in particular settings, but lacking compared to some underlying truth. My mental model of science was still one of verification though — propose a hypothesis, then confirm it through experiment or rework if necessary. This model, however, is totally wrong.

This Verificationist perspective on science trips on a very old philosophical issue: the Problem of Induction. To illustrate — Europeans used to believe that all swans are white. They had observed many swans, found only white samples, and drew a generalized conclusion that all swans are white. But when they eventually explored Australia, they made a discovery which caused their theory to crumble: black swans. The problem is in thinking a theory confirmed by limited observations; a ‘proven’ theory purports to hold for an infinite set of cases, but experiments are necessarily limited to a finite number. How can we logically place trust in scientific theory?

Enter Karl Popper with his 20th century work “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”, where he laid out (among other things) the idea of Falsification. Popper argued that science should not be conducted by attempting to prove theories true, but rather by attempting to show them to be false — to falsify them. In this approach, a theory is never accepted as truth, but instead gains more credibility as it fails to be shown false.

Practically speaking, why does this matter? First, it gives a logically sound formulation for doing science. Second, it allows us to separate science from ‘pseudo-science’. Popper was a contemporary of Freud, and noted that Freudian Psychology was flexible enough to incorporate any new observations; Freud claimed to be able to explain any behavior of a female in terms of penis envy. This sort of theory is not falsifiable, and therefore does not deserve to be called science. A scientific theory disallows particular behaviors (e.g. perpetual motion); such a theory has some predictive capability.

Admittedly, this doesn’t solve the problem of outright falsehood. If we don’t agree on what observations were made, then the inferences we draw will be completely different. But understanding Falsification allows us to determine what kind of claims can be refuted, and separate out junk purporting to be science. If I’ve piqued your interest in the subject, I recommend both Popper’s book (a dense read) and the Crash Course YouTube series on Philosophy (an absolute joy).