Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Beyond Olin: Finding community outside your major

<lass="page layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

If you think your major is a silo, you may reconsider after reading something like this:

“The current one-school theory has been dominant since 1973 when physicists discovered the existence of a campus outside of Olin.”

I read this statement in an old copy of the Carleton Quirk. Upperclassmen might vaguely recall reading the Quirk, a satiric paper that unmistakably resembled the ‘Tonian, save for the outlandish stories. I was taking my intro physics course while I read about how Carleton physicists theorized the “existence of a second Northfield college.”

Several classes and a major declaration later, I couldn’t fault the article’s conceit: it is a well- known perception that the lives of physics majors revolve around being stuck in Olin. Once last term when I was walking with someone after lunch, my companion was about to ask me where I was going before stopping herself to say, “You’re going to Olin right now, aren’t you?” She knew me too well by then. For many of us majors, we inevitably plant ourselves in Olin, a workspace – no, a living space – that is special to us, as spaces for other majors are to them. It is indeed likely that we would be collaborating on problem sets or burning midnight oil with an electronic lab setup, hopefully before Bill Titus arrives in his office around 4:30 a.m. Oh, and research of course. Our spaces are conducive to all of these things, and inevitably, camaraderie grows amidst character-building exercises. Not to mention that it’s easy to adjust the temperature in the rooms, so that hunkering down there to do your work in the winter sounds attractive.

No matter how much time we spend on the second and third floors of Olin, I would be amiss not to point out how much we do live outside on campus. If you’ve taken a social or swing dance recently, you probably were taught by physics students, and you may have danced with them at open dance sessions. Athletes, RAs, language learners, writers, peer leaders, mentors, organizers, outdoors adventurers… some of us sure wear lot of hats when we’re not working in Olin or sleeping.

A “well-rounded” life, whatever that means to you, seems much more likely at a place like Carleton, and I too wear many hats. Even so, I continue to suffer a nagging doubt about how I live that life, living in Olin and actively on campus.

It seems fairly recently that I’ve grown concerned about a “right” way of living and acting, considering how I envisioned a life in science long ago. My sentiments blurred together: an aesthetic appreciation for a physical understanding of the world, wonder with a dash of hubris. Undergirding my motivations was a notion of being above our humanity, being better than it. I felt that way in 2010 after watching the folks in Washington rip each other to shreds over Obamacare, dissuading me from following a career into politics that I had wanted at the time.

The nastiness of that affair further convinced me that I wanted to avoid a life without the stresses and difficulties of social interaction. No people. Later, my notions became more fatalist. The squabbles and injustices of today seemed like nothing compared to the distant, impending heat death of the universe. We wouldn’t matter. And science – especially physics – seemed all the more a noble profession, which Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg described as “one of the very few things which lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

Scary yet beautiful realizations happened on the way to my present moment here at Carleton. While I can’t share them in full here, I can deduce this much. Indeed the idea that death is coming and humanity’s time is a blip, but a blip we ascribe so much meaning to, by virtue of all of us being in it. I can’t ultimately shake off the sense of social responsibility to one another, our complex connectedness in our communities. We can’t divorce ourselves from our humanity, no matter the nobility we want to ascribe to ideals like science. We can’t be socially unaware and expect others to do the work of improving the human condition themselves.

I feel agnostic about how my social responsibilities fit my life now. And so here is that doubt, that ambivalence, between living in Olin with meaningful careers and passions in mind, and living truly beyond Olin, with equally meaningful aspirations in mind, those greater than any of us. Not science: the aspiration is about us. For us.  

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *