The Return to Happiest

4 years ago, I was an impressionable senior in high school sitting in the Norden Auditorium anxiously waiting for Candidates Weekend to begin. President Rick Miller got up to the podium to give his welcoming speech. I don’t remember much about what he said, but one thing that stuck out to me was a statistic he used. According to the Princeton Review, in 2020, we were ranked number 4 “Students Study the Most” and ranked number 14 for “Happiest Students”. Normally, I would say rankings aren’t that important, but Princeton Review does a great job of surveying students and using those results to determine their rankings. We were the only college on both of those lists and talking to students throughout the rest of my candidates weekend experience, it was clear that they were happy to be here and really enjoyed the work they were doing. Now we are no longer on the “Happiest Students” list and we are ranked 1st for “Students Study the Most”. What’s changed?

Olin College has never been perfect by any means, but that was part of the appeal that was advertised to me during the admissions process. Olin College was continually reinventing itself in a collaborative process to improve engineering education and the school as a whole. I believe that collaborative design process has been lost and been replaced by planning behind closed doors. 

One of the most unique classes we take at Olin is called Collaborative Design and it’s a part of the reason I came to this school. In the class, we practice user oriented design by interviewing people in a user group, and understanding everything about them. We then work to create a solution for a problem they have. We codesign the solution with them during repeated feedback sessions to understand what could make our solution more useful for them. This class takes a significant amount of nuance and understanding of our stakeholders to create something for them. That collaboration that’s critical in the design process taught at Olin hasn’t been implemented in policy creation at Olin.  

It’s important to look at the financials of the college. According to a member of the board of trustees, Olin College runs an 8 million dollar deficit per year. That’s approximately 20 thousand dollars per student per year. We have an endowment that is a large sum of money that gains interest every year, but if we draw more than the interest minus inflation from the endowment, the purchasing power of the endowment decreases and will lead to the college running out of money in the long run. This is a major challenge that the college is facing and I believe to come up with solutions, we need to engage in a similar process to what we did in Collaborative Design by making sure we understand all the stakeholders involved before creating plans rather than announcing plans and apologizing half-heartedly or not at all after the fact. 

There have been a string of “solutions” that have been rolled out in my time at Olin that address this problem. In my first year, there were layoffs that impacted employees of the college without student input. In my second year, to fit all the students coming back from a semester or year away from school due to COVID they built walls in suite common spaces so we could accommodate an additional person in each suite. They also converted some rooms to triples all without student input. They claimed the walls would be temporary, but then said that the walls were here to stay due to financial reasons without student input. In my third year, they tried doing codesign with students to determine whether Babson students should live in the dorms. Many students voiced that feedback and we were told that the proposal didn’t go through due to our feedback. The proposal didn’t go through because Babson no longer had a need to house students on our campus, and this year, it was announced unexpectedly that students from the first floor of East Hall would be relocated to make space for Babson students that would live in our dorms. This decision was again made without student input. It was just recently announced that the incoming class will be 110 students and that there will be triples for students. This decision was made without student input. When talking to administrators, students have been asked to talk about decisions made at Olin using “we” not “they,” but it’s very difficult to do that when we don’t feel represented in the process.

This trend of not soliciting student input and working to codesign proposals wasn’t how Olin always was. I don’t think that most of these proposals were inherently bad and they make sense given our financial situation. The frustrating part has been the lack of input from students and the ability to codesign. 

In the year before I came to Olin, a project to redesign the 1st floor of the MAC was put forward. Students looked at this plan and found that there were significant problems with this proposal. They presented these problems to President Miller and other administrators and the project was then canceled. That’s the last time I believe students had a significant voice on campus in codesigning what Olin is.

Talking to alumni, one of the ways students were involved in the past is through having representation on committees that would make decisions around campus. It was these committees that made decisions about most things related to the school including student life, academics, admissions, etc. Many of these committees have been dissolved, but the structures used by committees remain in groups like the Academic Review Board and Space Force where students have representation. By forming many committees like these, it would prevent planning behind closed doors and allow students to have a voice. 

Why do I think we’re no longer on the happiest students list? I think it’s because the collaboration and co-design that this college preaches isn’t practiced inside the school. I think it’s because decisions that affect student life continue to be made without student input. I can’t speak for every student on campus, but I think most of us want to help with the problems our college faces. We don’t want our college to run out of money. We just want to be a part of the solution creation process like we were promised we would be when we chose to come here. I think we as a community need to work together to continually reinvent Olin so that we can tackle these new challenges while not sacrificing what makes Olin a place for all of us. 

What if Babo Didn’t Have Guns?

If you would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs, take one step forward. – this question is in the online privilege walk, an activity we conduct in the OFYI Privilege session. 

One year, a student openly reflected in class. They said something like: “Until I saw that question, I didn’t realize that people would think twice about calling the police. That was an important realization for me.” I deeply respect that person’s openness in sharing that reflection. That openness sparked this article.

As a result of years of tireless organizing by the Movement for Black Lives – popularly known as the movement Black Lives Matter – the death of George Floyd sparked widespread protests, especially in the USA. The broader American public began to realize something that many Black and brown people had known since the invention of the modern police state: something’s very wrong in our assumptions of what policing does and who it benefits. In my first semester, I saw students and professors with Zoom backgrounds and profile pictures with the BLM logo. I saw Olin’s stated mission shift towards recognizing racial injustices in engineering systems and committing to combatting that

Yet I didn’t hear a single conversation, comment, or jibe about the police here, at Olin. The only thing I recall was an exchange between two other international students, where one warned another not to mess with Babson Police, “it’s not like the police at home”. It seemed to me that everyone was convinced that Derek Chauvin is a “bad” police officer, unlike Babson Public Safety, who are “good” police officers. Babo wouldn’t do that. I am sure that many officers at Babson Public Safety recoiled at Derek Chauvin’s actions. But that’s not the point.

I wish I didn’t have to clarify this, but I am not saying that the officers I have interacted with at Babson Public Safety are bad people, as far as I know. (I’m sorry if you cringed or felt dismissed at this supposed clarification because you’re thinking “it doesn’t matter if they’re good people” – I promise that’s my point, keep reading.)

The point is to criticize the assumptions of policing, as BLM does. Every day, people in the US (especially black and brown, especially those experiencing homelessness, especially trans and non-binary people, especially women of color) die from police violence. Abolitionists have known that the reason these people get killed by police is not because they are “bad actors” who deserve punishment, but that the communities that are policed the most are the most marginalized and under-resourced. 

Abolition is the broad movement to reimagine a world without policing and incarceration, and in the crudest of terms, it is about focusing on prevention of harm, not punishment and control. I wish I could go beyond the tiny, tiny scrape off the tip of the iceberg in the stories and organizing and scholarship in truly recognizing why policing exists in various degrees of severity in nation-states and what it means when abolitionists ask us to imagine a world without police, but I won’t. Mainly so that you keep reading, and maybe because I’m scared of the vastness of the divide between my opinions and acceptable discourse at the college. Baby steps.

Here’s what I do feel comfortable telling you, in the political context of Olin in March 2024.

Armed campus policing is not normal. Just ten years ago, only 22% of private, small (<5000 student) colleges had armed police. I don’t know when Babson Police were first armed, but I hope to ask them about it in the future. Many private colleges still don’t have armed campus police, such as Vassar College in New York, or Smith College in Massachusetts. None of the colleges I know in India have armed police on campus – just “Campus Security” to berate drunk students. When you think about it, having armed officers patrolling a college campus doesn’t really make sense.

But Vedaant, I feel more safe with the police being armed.

Which means you’re probably white. Or grew up in a wealthy neighborhood. Or have never had an encounter with a cop that left you shaken. An argument I have heard from fellow students is that “But no one at Olin really cares.” That statement, to me, speaks to how much further Olin has to go in having a student body that’s truly representative of the US population. Olin is a place where people get loud and aggressive, people have their stuff stolen, people experience sexual violence, and none of that requires an armed police officer. Remember, I’m not asking for abolition of campus police just yet – just not arming them.

But Vedaant, what if there’s an active shooter?

This is one of the most common questions. This isn’t India, people own guns here. Many studies have shown that having an armed police officer on campus has no correlation with deterring a shooting, or speeding up the response to one. We know this because of the unfortunate number of elementary schools with armed police officers which have experienced horrific school shootings. We simply cannot use the argument of guns to justify more guns.

But Vedaant, Babo is so helpful with the transports.

Exactly! Babson Public Safety (at least according to some accounts) is ostensibly helpful, reasonable, and quick to act when it comes to the health and safety of Olin students. Which should not be the role of an armed police officer. In the words of the Dallas Police Chief, “We are asking police to do too much in this country…Policing was never meant to solve these problems.” 

I want to be able to dial 5555 and a trained, level-headed, adult to show up in minutes to help in an emergency. I want that person to have first-responder training and de-escalation training and be a paid adult whose full-time job is to make sure that everyone in the community feels and is safe. I want that person to be as approachable and friendly as a Peer Advocate or R2 is, so that students have support in handling crisis situations. And I want that person to not have a gun. It would make me that much less hesitant to call them.

In the words of legendary abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” Beyond Olin, abolition as I understand it is about rethinking a world where we don’t create the conditions of desperation that spawn violence and harm by investing our resources in “healthcare, housing and wages to its community members that truly keep communities safe”. It’s a big vision, but it’s certainly not impossible, and to me is intrinsically connected to the equally big vision of Engineering for Everyone in envisioning a world where everyone has equitable access to explore, to dream, and live fulfilled, safe, lives.

And that won’t happen at the snap of a finger; the point is that it is a thoughtful transition. I’m not asking for Babson Public Safety to disappear tomorrow and leave us with no one. But right now, at Olin, I’m asking for Babson Public Safety to not have guns. I’m asking Public Safety to mean genuine public safety, not a synonym for armed police. And therefore, I’m asking for Babson Public Safety to refocus itself to the critical care and first-responder work that it isn’t adequately trained to do, which StAR and student resources may be stretched too thin or wrongly placed to do. 

I’m asking for us to recognize that I can still choose whether Babson Public Safety makes me feel safe or not. And that there’s privilege in having that choice.

Footnote: I want to leave a quick note for who I believe is Frankly Speaking’s most important reader. The future student. I’m in my final semester at Olin, and I don’t have the time or energy left in me to engage in conversations, research, campaign, organize for this. But I recognize that Frankly Speaking may inspire you just as it inspired me. 

About ten years ago, students wrote about sexual violence, about fossil fuel divestment, about the deaths our engineering could enable unless we choose otherwise. Those writings gave me a launchpad to think critically about this college and to find peers who did too. I hope that ten years from now (hopefully sooner), our writings today give you a launchpad to be critical and to care.

I also recognize that, just as I judged the Frankly Speaking articles 10 years ago for being too conciliatory, a little naive, and often insensitive, you may judge this article today too. In the vast history and organizing practice around police abolition and the violent realities experienced by millions of Americans, what I’m arguing for is rather – mild. I could have written this in a vastly more “radical” form, but I chose not to. I want it to be a starting point, a tiny widening in our imagination of what’s possible. Baby steps.

Shout out to Olivia Chang for her endless support and helping out with research for this piece.

On Invitations and Asks

I want to draw a distinction between two types of requests that one person may make to another person or to a group. Suppose a friend texts you and asks, “can you call me after dinner?” It can be hard to interpret this request. Is the friend having a really bad day and needs to talk to you so they can let out their emotions to someone they trust? Or do they want to chat with you because they’re bored and haven’t seen you recently? If you have a lot of work to do tonight, you might not want to chat in the latter case, but of course you would make time for them if the former case were true. I would like to share the way I go about making this distinction clear.

When I don’t need someone to do something, I like to use the phrase, “I invite you to…” or “this is an invitation.” The word invitation is the basis for a practice called invitational theory1. Making an invitation means that I hold no expectation that the other person will accept it. It is a gift of an opportunity: I am offering it because I believe the other person may enjoy or benefit from it, but if the person being invited doesn’t think so they can decline it and nothing is lost. When I offer someone an invitation, I am also making a commitment that I will not feel let down or unhappy in any way as a result of their decision (this commitment sometimes takes active effort to keep, but it is the most sacred tenet of a true invitation). Most of the requests I make to people at Olin are invitations.

When I need something—for my mental health, to meet a commitment, or to enable me to do something important—I try to use the phrase “I need…” or “this is a hard ask right now.” Here, it is clear what I am requesting, and I don’t risk not getting what I need as the result of a miscommunication. It can be difficult to use direct language like this, especially if I feel like I am burdening someone, or if I’m not sure they will be able to help and I worry I will make them feel bad because of that. But if I have decided that I need something, it is always worth making a clear ask. Even if they can’t help directly, the person I’m asking might come up with an alternative way to fulfill the need.

As for the feeling of burdening another person, I recently learned the maxim “burden me and I’ll burden you.” When I make an ask of someone, I am also committing that I will be there when they make an ask to me in the future. To ask someone to help me without the expectation of reciprocity is rude and goes against human nature. Being there for someone else in a time of need can be a transformative experience for both people and can strengthen relationships. And the person giving the help will have someone else they can turn to the next time they need something.

I hope this article helped you consider the difference between an invitation and an ask so you can clearly communicate when you make a request to another person. I hope it also helps distinguish between invitations and asks you receive from other people, and if it’s unclear, to seek clarification: “is this an invitation or an ask?” Finally, I hope it relieves some stress from making a difficult ask because it can actually deepen relationships, it creates an offer of reciprocity, and it is one of the things that truly makes us human. I invite you to trust in the kindness of others and to communicate your needs and wants clearly.

What’s the Deal with slasreveR neveS?

Let’s begin at the end. I think that’s the most fitting for an analysis of a story like this. Reversal 6: The easiest scene to understand. The author has made a self insert from the character of Marla, and an insert for the audience in Jake. Jake is bored and confused because the play is not straightforward. Sure, the show is goofy, but it doesn’t feel substantive to him because it seems to have no cohesion. Jake calls her a Buttinski, which I learned means “One who is prone to butting in; a meddler.” The writer is literally butting in to tell the audience, “Hey! There’s something meaningful here!” Well, if the writer is so insistent on the layered meaning of this play, then perhaps we should do as Reversal 7 does: rewind, and start over. 

This will be a short summary/analysis of each of the main reversals present in slasreveR neveS. I hold a strong belief that each scene is trying to show the audience how the reversals they utilize each make a commentary about how we understand characters in other plays. I will not be engaging with any of the blue-out scenes. I find they encompass a different story. With that said, nigeb suh tel.

Reversal 1: Mixed speech. You kind of know what’s being said, but the longer you listen the less that makes sense. This is done to acclimate the audience to the zany nature of this show, but to also show us that words are not the necessary focus to understand the scene. The actors are forced to use their tone and physicality to convey the plot instead. The costumes do a lot of heavy lifting as well to represent character alignment. This is the more entertaining way to do it, after all. The lines should never be the sole focus of how a scene is told. 

Reversal 2: This scene does a reversal of character goals. Instead of putting focus on the time that is left, Ben and Robin focus on the game. That’s what’s important to them. And why shouldn’t it be? If Robin has cancer, will die very soon, and he got his will together and everything, then he deserves to see the Green Sox win. Who cares about the nuke? It’s not more realistic, but it’s a more honest and authentic way for these characters to live in the moment. Almost an anti-reversal of sorts.

Reversal 3: I don’t understand what is to be made of casting light on the actors before or after they take on the roles of their characters, but I have ideas about Nora, Martha, and Isabelle. The darkness indicates light, and the light is now darkness. Which means to me that when the spotlight shines in a certain direction as a character speaks, it is revealing darkness instead. For Nora, the spotlight is on Isabelle, as she laments about the optimism of her cousins. Nora can easily and succinctly identify the darkness within her cousins, making reasoned and self aware criticisms. Martha wishes to understand Nora, but cannot. That’s why the light moves to Nora’s book. Similar to my CD experience, she can only get external, surface level insights about the people she cares about. As Isabelle speaks, however, the light is brought to random locations around the set. She doesn’t care about the darkness within her cousins. She only cares about their capacity to serve her ends. To Isabelle, they are “2 halves of the same heart, that organ being [her] own.” This works the same, yet almost opposite to scene 1, in that we are removing our ability to perceive the physicality of the characters, but this time we learn about them through the range of the lighting. 

Reversal 4: I have a personal headcanon for this one. I believe that this scene is the position all the characters want to be in. The Villain, as a child, just wants to be loved. Gwen, now as a villain, gets to enjoy having the power to control other people, instead of other people controlling her. Mother, as the hero, has the resources to help all the people she cares about. Lastly, the Hero, now taking the role as the mother, gets to have a more personal role, not as a savior, but as a friend. It is a common narrative tool for characters to assume the role of another character. However, it’s rarely utilized so explicitly.

Reversal 5: Finally, we reach the end of the middle. The grand whodunnit. What’s great about this scene is that because of the main reversal, that of the murderers are now fighting for all the credit, additional, smaller reversals can be packed in. The detective, for example, is no longer the subject of admiration for skill or deductive reasoning. He is now only a vessel to direct admiration to other characters. The maid, which in many stories can also be the butler, is the only person in this house to have not made a kill. The primary reversal of this scene is similar to the second scene, about reversed priorities. But again, this becomes an anti reversal, because villains already love going on diabolical monologues about their evil plans. But don’t we all just want attention after a job well done?

March Drunk Horoscopes

♈ Aries: March 21–April 19

  • Beware the Ides of March. Beware the Bridge of Doom. The gauntlet is coming.

♉ Taurus: April 20–May 20

  • You don’t have to be a bitch about it, Beetle.

♊ Gemini: May 21–June 21

  • You will spend 4 hours painting yourself blue. You will find out that’s the wrong Avatar. The candidates will laugh at you. 

♋ Cancer: June 22–July 22

  • Are you a cis white TALL man? Apologize. Consider being an active member of the LGBTQ+ community.

♌ Leo: July 23–August 22

  • Boooooooooooooo.

♍ Virgo: August 23–September 22

  • Don’t get the flu. Do get the flu shot. Do get pot. Don’t get caught. Do-learn. Do-nut?

♎ Libra: September 23–October 23

  • Your friends will torment you with the pregnant man emoji. The miracle of life awaits.

♏ Scorpio: October 24–November 21

  • It’s 2:00 AM. You should go to bed. But the Nord floor calls to you. Pick up.

♐ Sagittarius: November 22–December 21

  • You will discover you signed up for the wrong ESA. It is too late.

♑ Capricorn: December 22–January 19

  • Squawk like a seagull. Caw-caw, caw-caw.

♒ Aquarius: January 20–February 18

  • Womp womp.

♓ Pisces: February 19–March 20

  • You will receive a shamrock shake free with purchase of $15 or more on UberEats. The driver will leave it at the wrong door.