Links to slavery makes food consumption unethical

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 1:26pm


It sounds dramatic, right? To think that your favorite cocoa, milky treat has a dark past behind it strikingly changes how someone views his or her comfort food. Suddenly, chocolate isn’t as sweet as it used to be. Whoops, there goes the comfort of Dove candy—that generic quote on the wrapper isn’t so inspiring anymore, huh?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a serious issue. If you don’t know anything about this, Campaigns Director Abby Mills from the International Labor Rights Forum can give us some insight: In Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire there are an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million child laborers – ten percent of whom came to work as a result of human trafficking – and depending on the country, only 50-60% of these workers attend school.

Child labor is problematic enough as it is, but to make matters worse, this is arduous labor. Cacao trees are delicate and have fragile roots; the pods of cocoa beans are firmly attached and must be hacked off with a machete. About 57% of child laborers use this method, sometimes with the machete on a long stick to reach the high branches. 80% of the kids are carrying heavy loads while they do this.

Part of the issue simply comes from demand. The Harkin-Engel Protocol was a coalition between major chocolate-producing companies in an effort to end the problem of child exploitation. But cocoa prices have continued to rise and people still want chocolate. This means that farmers are doing whatever they can to produce the most crops at a low cost, so they are able to ensure supply for their consumers.

From a human rights perspective, this is clearly unethical. But what if adults were laboring instead of kids? What if they were not harvesting cocoa beans, but instead were sewing pairs of shoes?

This is where the situation gets even more complicated. Nike, for example, is infamous for its sweatshops. It costs $16.25 to produce a pair of Air Jordans, but $160 to buy them in stores. In the end, the people who stitch the shoes earn maybe $2, if we’re being generous.

Or we can stay in the realm of food and talk about palm oil. Palm oil is in a great many  products we eat, but is mass produced on plantations that destroy local wildlife, ignore environmental standards, hand power over to corporations and – you guessed it – use children as a source of labor.

There’s just something particularly maniacal about chocolate having this evil history. “Not that sweet that holds me so close when I’m so sad!” you say to yourself reading the title of this article. Saying that those super-cool shoes that all the cool kids wear were produced by glorified slaves doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it, even though it should.

Ultimately, the movement to end child and adult slavery and extortion needs to be a unanimous effort without preference for one product over another. Chocolate should not get preferential treatment merely because most people may like it more than a “Pot O’ Noodles.”

I don’t think it would be too much to lump this issue into the umbrella term of “poverty porn.” In case you’re not familiar with the term, it “exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause,” according to

This unilateral movement must be global. It should target issues specific to our country, ask us to change our habbits and shatter our perfect worldview of cheap goods. But to prioritize any one issue is to deny the reality of a particular child or person’s experience; it plays favorites based on the random happenstance that brought the kid there in the first place.

However, beginning this kind of movement is much easier said than done. In the meantime, we can do our part by focusing on consuming wisely. Buying “equa-trade” chocolate from the bookstore, for example, or avoiding foods from Stav Hall (like some of the cereals) that have palm oil are both good options. Admittedly, we can’t avoid it all. But we can do our best to act as a unified front against all human extortion.




Michael Enich ’14 ( is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in Religion.

Categories: Colleges

Palestine-Israeli Conflict Sparks Debate

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 1:23pm

Regarding the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, most people would use the word “conflict.” However, at a panel discussion on April 29, speakers Asil Abuassba, Assistant Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Ibtesam âl-Atiyat and Northfielders for Justice in Palestine and Israel member Ruth Hansen pushed students to reframe how they think about the situation.

“Use the word ‘colonization’ instead of ‘conflict,’ because we’re not equal,” Abuassaba said.

The panel focused on correcting common misconceptions about the situation, ranging from this word choice conundrum to broader misunderstandings of historical events. Titled “Understanding Palestine: A Discussion of Life Under the Occupation,” the event was co-sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee and Oles for Justice in Palestine and also included discussion of resolutions to the violence.

“I will not divide up my identity according to some sort of map,” Abuassaba said, stating that the majority of Palestinians do not believe in a two-state solution “because we’ve lived it, and it doesn’t work.” Abuassaba expressed her support for a one-state plan in which “we are all living together equally.”

âl-Atiyat, however, presented an alternative solution: “Everyone recognizes Israel’s right to exist given certain conditions,” she said. She claimed that many people involved in the struggle, including Palestinian extremist groups, believe in the two-state option. However, she emphasized that this “right to exist” cannot be defined as it currently is by many pro-Israel groups.

“In order for Israel to exist and to declare this right to exist, Palestinians have to cease to exist,” she said. Referring to villages taken over by the Israeli army, she added, “Somebody decided that the history of an entire family should be erased.”

Before the panel got to these proposals for the future, though, they gave audience members a better undertanding of the the past. The discussion began with a brief history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and then âl-Atiyat launched into a more detailed backstory.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a modern conflict,” she said. “Jews and Arabs have never been in conflict, historically speaking.”

As âl-Atiyat explained, the two populations interacted peacefully until the rise of Zionism at the turn of the century. She traced Israel’s origins to 1917, emphasizing that the country was not created as a response to the Holocaust, but rather that the events of World War II gave the already-existing Zionist movement additional momentum.

Hansen, who has taken over 20 trips to Palestine, added an outsider’s perspective on the situation, further emphasizing the struggle’s recent origins.

“It’s the outside world, it’s the Zionists that really cause the trouble,” she said. Hansen went on to discuss her own experiences, where she witnessed Palestinians and Israelis living side by side and interacting peacefully. According to Hansen, the Zionist movement has stunted the Palestinian economy by making transportation of agricultural products through checkpoints impossible and diminishing employment opportunities.

As an international student who grew up in Palestine, Abuassba added a personal touch to the history lessons by sharing some of her own experiences. She explained the toll of Israel’s creation on Palestinian identity.

“[Zionism] means that there’s a chunk of history that has been replaced by Zionist narrative,” she said. “This is colonization. It’s actually replacing our entire narrative.”

Abuassba told how some Israelis living in former Palestinian villages know nothing about the historical displacement of Palestinians  and how teachers can be sent to prison for teaching Palestinian history. More poignantly, she noted that some Palestinians cannot even refer to themselves as “Palestinians” for fear of repercussions.

“People start internalizing their own inferiority and inequality,” Abuassba said, noting that the Arab identity in Palestine has been reconstructed as that of an “enemy other” because of Israeli colonization.

Although stories like these provide a bleak picture of current-day life in Palestine, all three panelists expressed hope regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the situation. Hansen pushed students to take action and speak out against the Israeli occupation.

“Do you know how to call the president?” she asked, eliciting a few nods and some nervous laughter from the audience. “It’s easy. Dial 202-456-1111, and you’ll get somebody to talk to.”

Hansen told students to demand that their political leaders work for peace. Abuassba concluded the event with other practical suggestions, including boycotting Israeli products or companies that fund the Israeli military. She also suggested another vocabulary change, asking students to “use the word ‘colony’ instead of ‘settlement.’” The panel’s conclusion seemed to be that in the struggle for peace, purchasing power and word choice can all make a difference.

Categories: Colleges

Baseball rallies to game two victory: Oles split doubleheader with Bethel University Royals

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:28pm

The St. Olaf baseball team returned to action on April 26 on the Mark Almli Field to take on Bethel University in a MIAC doubleheader. The Oles performed strongly against the number two-ranked team in the conference, narrowly falling 2-3 in a tense game one before responding with a resounding 7-1 victory in game two. With the series split, the Oles sit just one win off outright third place in the conference standings.

Joe Zorn ’15 led the way for the Royals in the opening game, and the Oles were unable to contain his dominance. Zorn allowed just two runs throughout his seven innings pitched, restricting the Oles to just a two-run home run in the seventh inning. Chris Paradise ’14 led the way for the Oles, hitting the runs that got the team back into the game. Bethel collected ten hits throughout the game, scoring two runs in the sixth inning and another in the seventh.

Game two was a completely different story for both teams, with the Oles collecting 13 hits and seven runs. The Royals were unable to get into the contest, only managing five hits and one run that came in the final inning of the contest. Sam Maus ’14 and Jack Schechinger ’14 performed strongly, managing four and three hits, respectively. Nate Gelle ’15 pitched eight scoreless innings as the Oles raced away to a comfortable victory.

St. Olaf now sits at 19-15 overall, with a 9-7 MIAC record that puts them in equal fourth place. The Oles have a series of crucial games in the coming weeks to determine whether they will manage to sneak into the MIAC postseason tournament.

Categories: Colleges

The PoliticOle: May 2

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:24pm

On April 2, 2013, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), placing legally-binding regulations on the $85 billion-a-year conventional arms trade. According to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, 118 states have since signed the ATT and 31 have ratified it, but 50 ratifications are required before the treaty enters into force. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed the ATT on September 25, 2013, but a number of U.S. Senators, supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have made clear that they plan to prevent the treaty from achieving the two-thirds Senate majority vote necessary for U.S. ratification.

As the world’s largest exporter of conventional arms, the United States should ratify the ATT. The treaty is far from perfect, but its benefits, like international peace and security, outweigh its risks. By ratifying the ATT, the United States would facilitate a widespread improvement in national arms export controls and secure a greater voice in the future of the international arms trade regime, all without violating the Second Amendment or having to substantially change its own arms transfer controls.

The final text of the ATT was a compromise that limits arms transfers to abusers of international human rights law, increases arms trade transparency and promotes the sharing of best practices for national export controls. The ATT’s regulations apply to small arms and light weapons, as well as a variety of combat vehicles and heavy weapons. The treaty only partially applies to ammunition and does not mention more recent technological advances such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

The heart of the ATT seeks to ensure that conventional weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. According to the ATT, State Parties that have ratified the treaty shall not authorize transfers of conventional weapons if they have knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It also prohibits the transfer of arms if there is an overriding risk of the weapons being used to commit a serious violation of human rights law and asks State Parties to take a number of measures to prevent the dispersion of weapons. Although the ATT is legally binding, like most U.N. treaties it is unenforceable and relies on national implementation.

The ATT does not guarantee that states will stop selling weapons to human rights violators, but it may be able to shift a state’s political praxis over whether it chooses to ignore or heed the international community’s condemnations. The success of the ATT will rely on civil society organizations to monitor the progress of State Parties, calling out those governments that do not adhere to their promises. While the ATT will not instantly create new international norms, it will provide the basis for future developments and improvements.

This emerging international arms trade regulation will be crippled if the U.S. Congress does not ratify the ATT, and the U.S. will also have missed an important chance to further its international influence. The United States already has some of the most stringent export controls in the world, so very little would have to be done to bring it into compliance with the treaty. Other states that have weaker export controls would be forced to raise their standards to the level of the United States. The substantial gains in international security would far outweigh the minimal changes that the United States would have to make.

If the Senate chooses not to ratify the ATT, the treaty could be left “unsigned” when a president less sympathetic to its goals takes office. The ATT is too important to be caught in limbo. A first step in preventing unsavory weapons transfers, the ATT will positively contribute to peace and security worldwide.

Categories: Colleges

Handbell choirs ring out the year in concert

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:22pm

How do you know if someone is a member of the St. Olaf Choir? They tell you! How do you know if someone is a member of the St. Olaf Handbell Choir? Wait, we have one of those? Indeed, established in 1965, the St. Olaf Handbell Choir is one of the Hill’s hidden gems, and as they exemplified at their concert this past Sunday, they are ready to rumble.  In an exclusive interview, Emma Haput ’16 and Stephanie Lewis ’16 provided some insight on their experience as members of the group.


Manitou Messenger: How did you become interested in handbells?

Emma Haput: A lot of handbell choirs start in churches, and I grew up in a church that had one. I joined in ninth grade, and I have been playing ever since. I was looking for a college that had a great music program, and I was happy to find a school that had a great handbell choir in addition to the other musical ensembles.

Stephanie Lewis: I started playing when I was in third grade. We transferred to a new church that had several handbell choirs. My mom already played handbells and wanted to get us involved, and I have been playing ever since.

MM: What is the most difficult part of playing in a handbell choir?

EH: It is definitely a community. In a choir there are a lot of people singing the same parts – sopranos, altos and so on. In handbells, you are responsible for your own notes. If you aren’t at rehearsal, your part doesn’t get played. It requires a lot of coordination and teamwork.

SL: It really is a unique dynamic. A handbell choir is the only instrument which requires a team to play it. You have to be able to really read one another to play next to each other. The bells are like keys on a keyboard, and you have to be prepared to work in sync with everyone.

MM: What makes handbell performance a valuable art?

SL: Handbells are one of the more visual instruments to play.  You can see each note being performed. It is a really under-appreciated art because it has pretty much been exclusive to churches for most of modern history. Handbell choirs are now beginning to incorporate new movements and instruments into their performances, and we have played some really great modern pieces this year.

EH: We have rung everything from transcriptions of organ music to contemporary songs. It is a really versatile art. Handbell choirs today are playing everything from church hymns to Lady Gaga songs.

MM: What are some of the challenges of being in such a competitive handbell choir?

SL: It requires a lot more time outside. We had to take home our music and practice rhythms. The pieces that we play are so much harder than people understand. You have to really have a grasp on music and counting and the techniques.

EH: Sometimes there are pieces where we ring chimes and bells, and there are notes that you physically can’t get. We have to coordinate those complex situations with each other. I might not be able to reach it during this measure, but maybe you don’t have any notes during this measure and you can help me out. It requires a lot of planning and a lot of trust.

SL: We finally have our own room and that has made things really nice. Last year we had to go into a classroom, push all of the chairs aside, set up all of the equipment, practice, take everything down and reset the classroom. When they were looking into setting up the plans for the Undercroft, the architect was all for setting up a bell closet for us. Now that we have our own room, it is a lot easier for people to come in and practice on their own. There is always room for other musical groups, and now there is one for us, too.

MM: What are some of the most interesting things the St. Olaf Handbell Choir did this year?

EH: We went to a handbell festival in Sioux Falls in the fall. We took two of the St. Olaf vans and went on a little road trip together. We spent the whole weekend working with 15 or 20 choirs playing bells, leading workshops and participating in classes. At the end of the festival we played a song together with everyone who was at the festival. It was an amazing experience.

SL: Yeah, the festival was really fun, and we go on tour every year. We also have a biannual kids’ concert. Last year we ended with a song from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and we brought in a really great Jack Sparrow impersonator. It was kind of distracting having him run around and steal our bells, but the kids loved it.

MM: As the school year comes to an end, what are you looking forward to most for next year?

SL: We have a really great group this year, and we are so lucky to have such fantastic people with so much experience. Collectively, we have over 150 years of experience represented in our group! It is going to be sad to say goodbye to the seniors, but we are excited for our choir to keep getting better and to expand our repertoire.


If you missed out on the concert last Sunday, fear not. The St. Olaf Handbell Choir will play during the Boe Chapel service this Sunday, May 9.

 Photo courtesy of Jill Mahr
Categories: Colleges

Possible Marxism revival reflects class

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:16pm

There is a revival growing from the grumblings of economic turmoil; Marx is kickin’ it. Don’t get too excited, there won’t be a full-blown revolution anytime soon. These new waves of intellectuals, dubbed Millennial Marxists, are more concerned with critiquing the economic status quo than with social change.

This disconnect in the intellectual thought of the Millennial Marxists is what Ross Douthat, writer for the New York Times, says makes the revival interesting, yet not fully reactionary. Without the synthesis of seeing Marxism as a political movement and revolution, do we have a pure Marxist revival?

Obviously not, but is this a step toward seeing a resurrection? Yes, it is.

Why should anyone care that Karl Marx is a big deal again? One word: classism. As a whole, the working class is doing much better than they were centuries ago. Douthat notes that the 99 percent’s prosperity is growing in measurable ways.

There is prosperity and growth in the working class?! How could this be a problem? The discrepancies seen in income and wealth distribution are still, as Douthat says, “Victorian.” We’ve seen these inequalities before, and they continue to exist. The capital is owned by those who exploit others, those who own little to none of the “free market.”

This growth in the 99 percent has slowed down goals of many leftist groups and has rendered them weak, leaving room for many moderate and right-wing groups to flourish. Many of the arguments on the right point out the success of the 99 percent, but in the context of American economics, the middle class has declined. It has fallen behind Europe’s working classes, which have surpassed the American one percent. Interestingly enough, the top of the one percent has been increasing in wealth over the past year. In other words, as the richest of the rich get richer, the rest get poorer.

Douthat says, “Both capitalism and the welfare state tend to weaken forms of solidarity that give meaning to life for many people, while offering nothing but money in their place.”

These are biting words and a solid critique of what the Millennial Marxists are missing. Yes, we are seeing a growth in the 99 percent, yet the one percent is slowly declining while individuals on top of the finical hierarchy get wealthier.

The next step for this ideology is to ask who controls the flow of money and why they have that control.

Is Marx alive? No, we have his ghost moving about. There is an intellectual renaissance in many different political groups, but we have yet to see Marx’s ideology wrapped in flesh and ready to fight the people’s war.


Cynthia Zapata ’16 ( is from Rosemount, Minn.  She majors in race and ethnic studies and English.

Categories: Colleges

PAC event focuses on Islam in U.S.

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:15pm

A documentary about the negative portrayal of Muslims in America called “The Muslims Are Coming!” played in the Lion’s Pause on Monday, April 21.  The documentary was put on by the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) and  the Diversity Celebration Committee (DCC).  Dean Obeidallah, the documentary’s co-producer and co-director, appeared at the end of the showing to answer questions. Obeidallah is a writer who has published stories with high-profile news outlets, including CNN, PBS, Al Jazeera and the Daily Beast.

“The Muslims Are Coming!” is both a documentary and a comedy. A Muslim stand-up comedy group travels around the southern United States giving free comedy shows on Muslim culture in the U.S. to increase awareness. According to one comedian, the group was using comedy to give the U.S. “one big Muslim hug.”

The documentary begins with a slew of news clips highlighting anti-Muslim propaganda, including one that states, “All Butterball turkeys in America were sacrificed to Allah.” These clips helped point out the ridiculousness of statements made against Muslims.

The comedians hoped that through their work, laughter could bring about a catharsis for this painful topic.  They toured in states without much exposure to Muslim culture, including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona and Utah.

The documentary also discussed some current examples of mass Muslim protests.  Recently, people turned out full force in New York City to protest the building of a Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.  The protesters claimed that it would encourage Islamic supremacy.  Project planners said that it would in fact be the opposite, creating a place for Muslims to give back to the community.

The comedians also talked about false representation of Sharia law.  News reporters announced worry that Sharia law would become law in the U.S.  Muslim leaders, however, talked about how it is against Sharia law to establish the law in a place that is primarily not Sharia, so this would not be coming the U.S. any time soon.

To promote their tour, the comedians often took to the streets.  One day they had an “Ask a Muslim” activity, and some people asked why Muslims have not come together to openly denounce the 9/11 attacks.

Soledad O’Brien, a guest star, was quoted saying, “If you are constantly trying to prove you are the model minority, it is exhausting.”

The comedians also put on “Hug a Muslim,” bowling with Muslims and a trivia game.  In the trivia game, people had to guess if quotations came from the New Testament, the Old Testament or the Quran.  Many people guessed the Quran when a quotation was really from the Old Testament, showing that many religious books contain violent phrases.  It comes down to interpretation rather than content.

The group hoped to bring new insights to people in the U.S. by breaking down stereotypes.  One comedian, Negin Farsad, who was one of the few female Muslims in the group, often had sexual sets with expletives, making her especially controversial.  During one performance, a group of Muslim women wearing the hijab walked out on her set.

In the question-and-answer portion, Obeidallah wanted to highlight that “while Islam is the center of the film, what it is really about is freedom of religion for all religions in America.”

He stressed that “malevolence is really just ignorance.”  The U.S. has an evolving face, and what is offensive one day becomes common the next.  There is always a minority, but that the group changes.

“They will move past and find others to hate,” Obeidallah said.

A student in the audience asked how Obeidallah was able to be both Christian and Muslim, since his parents identified with these two religions.  He answered that he found it hard to separate the religions since they were ideologically very similar. He didn’t like having to pick and felt he could be both.

“It is all about the path to God,” he said. “How you get there is not important.”

Categories: Colleges

When is a sport too dangerous?

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 05/05/2014 - 3:38pm

It’s a commonly accepted notion that the more exciting a sport is, the more likely fans are to watch it. Let’s face it – who doesn’t want to witness brilliant athletes completing seemingly impossible acts while pushing the limits of human capabilities? Never does this hold more true than at the Winter Olympics, where athletes fly downhill on skis and perform incredible moves in numerous jumping events.

One in ten: Those were the odds that an athlete would get seriously injured while competing in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s injury tracking at those games, 35 percent of the ski and snowboard cross athletes were injured. What price are we willing to pay for athletes to entertain us with daring endeavors? What is the solution for a competition where one in three of the world’s best athletes are put out of action with serious injuries?

Of particular concern is the sport of slopestyle, in which athletes compete over rails and jumps on a snowboard or on skis. The sport made its debut for men and women at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, yet its time as an Olympic sport may be short-lived. As far as entertainment goes, it was one of the big hits of the games. The sport, however, isn’t popular with everyone. Lars Engebretsen, a Norwegian orthopedic surgeon, is an advocate for removing the sport from the games.

“Right now, the injury rate as it was in Sochi was too high to be a sport that we have in the Olympics,” Engebretsen said. “I can say what I feel: That sport should change, otherwise we shouldn’t have it. But the IOC may not follow that. Something has to be done with that sport.”

Even some athletes withdrew from the slopestyle competition before the games, citing that they were fearful of getting injured. The most notable of the withdrawals was U.S. star Shaun White.

“With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said.

The controversy around slopestyle and the Winter games raises an interesting question: How dangerous do sports need to be to attract an audience? The simple fact is that if people stopped watching events such as slopestyle, these competitions would no longer be held. And yet the “success” of the sport in 2014 indicates that as an audience, we crave danger and perilous events.

So how can we make the necessary changes? It’s up to the IOC to remove slopestyle from the Olympics. It’s up to us to not demand that athletes put their lives at risk for our entertainment. It’s time to acknowledge that some sports are unreasonably dangerous and that entertainment should not have such a high price.


Categories: Colleges

‘Putnam’ offers light-hearted approach to lyric theater

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 05/05/2014 - 3:34pm

The spring lyric theater production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a bit untraditional when compared to past campus productions of lauded operettas and intricate musicals like “Candide” and “Into the Woods.” But that does not mean that the quirky and modern one-act musical comedy will struggle to find resonance with a musically-adept college community like St. Olaf.

“We have a very capable team,” said co-director Denzel Belin ’15 before a weeknight rehearsal. “We have a lot of different backgrounds – music, theater, production – but   we have enough faith in one another to challenge each other and explore the potentials this musical offers.”

“Besides, this show offers a lot of interesting truths that reflect well in a St. Olaf audience,” co-director Natalia Romero ’15 added. “These characters are all major caricatures but have small moments where they crack, where we can see their truth. We’re sort of like that as college students: seeminlgy perfect and afraid to show our flaws.”

“Putnam,” which is a completely student directed, acted and produced show, centers on a fictional spelling bee at Putnam Valley Middle School in which six ambitious adolescents (Maddie Sabin ’17, Jordan Solei ’15, Jessica Lawdan ’15, Ashley Kershaw ’16, Gabe Coleman ’17 and Charlie Platt ’16) compete for the top prize under the guidance of three odd and delightful adults (RJ Nunez ’16, Zach Jackson ’14 and Kat Middeldorp ’15). Throughout the bee, each of the contestants is pushed past their limits and forced to come to terms with some of the more intimate aspects of their lives.

Belin and Romero began discussing the potential  for “Putnam” last summer, when they decided that they wanted to apply to direct the spring lyric theater production. Both have experience with directing and theater (Belin, a theater major, has worked on “Albert Herring” and “Extremities,” and Romero, a music education major, worked on “In The Heights” last fall), and knew they wanted to pursue something more modern. Directors for the student-directed lyric theater spring production apply for the position with the music department in the fall and begin putting the show together early in the spring semester.

Over that time period, Belin and Romero have been able to really think about things like character development and musicality, care and precision that comes through in the final production, especially in the musical performances by Middeldorp and Jackson and committed characterization by Platt.

“I’ve been pulled more vocally here than I ever have before,” said Maddie Sabin ’17, who plays Olive Ostrovsky. “But I know that everyone here believes in our ability to put together a really amazing ensemble performance.”

One of the more interesting quirks of the show is that it requires the participation of four real audience members who are invited on to the stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters. During my observation of the “Putnam” rehearsal, I was one such participant – called to the stage, asked to spell and create questions, sure, but also encouraged to dance and participate as if I were one of the characters in the actual musical. Whether it stems from persistent practice or an innate ease, the “Putnam” cast showed that they are both comfortable with and encouraging of the improvisational potential of such audience interaction. By the end of my time on stage, I was completely at ease and immersed in the experience, just as invested in my own chances of winning as I was in the other characters’.

“Audience participation adds another dimension of difficulty for our actors and immersion for our audience,” Belin said. “It allows us to showcase the sheer talent our cast really has.”

This unmistakable talent makes “Putnam” a must-see for musical theater fans, whether or not one is heavily invested in the more classic approach to lyric theater. A cohesive blend and complicated technique from extensively trained actors push “Putnam” into the same technical field as its more classic predecessors.

“Watching this show come together has been better than I had anticipated,” Romero said. “This cast pushes this show into something more amazing than I first knew was possible.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed in Urness Recital Hall in Christiansen Hall of Music on May 9 at 7:30 p.m. and May 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. There are no formal tickets for the production, but seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.


Categories: Colleges

Standardized test results fail to measure overall ability

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 05/05/2014 - 3:30pm

The success of education in the U.S. is measured by the outcomes of standardized tests given to students – just little grey bubbles colored in with Number 2 pencils. These tests claim to assess students’ academic abilities. There’s the ACT and SAT, taken for college admissions. For education beyond college, there’s the MCAT, LSAT and GRE. Like it or not, the results of these test may decide your future.

According to an article on, each state spent over $1 billion. on standardized testing in schools in 2008. Since the No Child Left Behind mandate in 2002 required all students to take standardized tests in schools, U.S. math ranking has slipped from 18 to 31 in the world. With these realities in mind, are standardized tests effective?

Some students perform exceptionally well on tests, but other students feel the intense pressure and freeze up during testing, performing far below their actual ability level. Standardized tests don’t evaluate the critical thinking or creative abilities of students because some people don’t process information as quickly as others.

After the 2002 implementation of nationwide testing, schools’ yearly curriculum shifted toward preparing students for the tests. In some schools, more than a quarter of the school year is devoted to test preparation. The government sees the test results as a reflection of teachers’ instruction.

My senior year of high school revolved around ACT and SAT prep. In English classes, we reviewed vocabulary, practiced skimming tests and relearned basic grammar rules. In math classes, we rapidly reviewed older concepts and various shortcuts for answering questions: If you’re solving for x, just plug each answer into the equation instead of wasting time solving the equation.

Teachers provided many tricks and tools for “beating” the tests. On the ACT, answer all of the questions. On the SAT, leave them blank if you are unsure about the answer. ACT: Don’t read the science section, just read the questions and skim for the answers. Do the same with the reading portion. However, because some students take longer than others to read or skim, the time restraints prevent some testers from achieving their full potential.

Some students in my high school weren’t going to college, but their last year in school was still dominated by preparations for standardized tests they weren’t taking. They lost interest in the coursework because it wasn’t applicable. These tests don’t prepare students for the real world. Without the incentive of college acceptance, they are useless. In fact, there are many things standardized tests don’t evaluate: critical thinking, emotional intelligence, life skills and leadership qualities. All of these traits require much more than memorizing facts.

Some people argue that students should have the ability to opt out of standardized testing. However, this is a challenging topic. There does need to be some way to test students’ progress in school and to evaluate students in relation to each other. There will never be an even playing field, but standardized tests come as close as possible to creating one. While these tests reflect poorly on some people, they still have value. The tests highlight certain subjects students should focus on: math, reading, writing and science. Multiple-choice tests eliminate the human error and bias that go along with day-to-day grading: There’s a right and a wrong answer.

The main problem here lies in the interpretation of test results. Some students are pushed aside after they perform poorly on their tests. Other factors should be considered just as heavily as test scores.

At St Olaf, A’s aren’t taken for granted. To get an A in a class, you have to work for it. But in college, having the best grades doesn’t necessarily make you the best student. Extracurricular activities and club involvement also reflect strengths outside the world of academia.

It seems as though standardized tests are here to stay, but hopefully the numbers from these tests will bear less weight in the future.


Katie Haggstrom ’14 ( is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English.


Categories: Colleges

Documentary connects chocolate, trafficking

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 05/05/2014 - 3:24pm

“The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a film screened by St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery (SOLAS) on Thursday, April 24, drew attention to the negative practices involved in production and distribution of chocolate.

SOLAS provided free chocolate and coffee for those who attended the short documentary screening.  In the film, Miki Mistrati, a Danish journalist, went to West Africa to investigate if child trafficking is still happening.  Companies like Nestle, Barry Callebaut and Mars all signed a petition called the Harkin-Engel protocol, pledging that child trafficking would no longer occur in the production of the cacao plant for chocolate.  However, Mistrati did find that child trafficking is still happening, especially in Ivory Coast, a country in western Africa.

Mistrati uncovered the inner workings of child trafficking in his documentary.  Children are bused to the border of Ivory Coast and surrounded by traffickers on motorbikes.  These traffickers would take them into Ivory Coast by a back route.  Once across the border, more traffickers would sell the children to cacao farmers.  A child would sell for up to 230 Euros, without negotiation.  This price includes transportation and unlimited exploitation of the children, who very rarely get paid.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, and over 40 percent of cocoa is produced on plantations throughout Africa.  Considering that people consume about 3 million tons of chocolate a year, cocoa production is a big part of Ivory Coast’s economy.

Mastrati met with Ali Lakiss, CEO and owner of Saf-Cacao, the largest cocoa exporter in Ivory Coast. Lakiss claimed that child trafficking was no longer happening because it is illegal.

“No children work in the plantations,” Lakiss said in the documentary. “Committees have investigated and shown that no children work on the plantation.  It has been confirmed.”

Mastrati met with Tohe Malick, chief secretary of the Department of Labor in Ivory Coast.  Malick claimed that the transportation that Mistrati was seeing was children vacationing with their families in the summer, since Ivory Coast is a tourist destination. Malick also believed that child slavery was no longer a problem.

Additionally, the documentary brought forward ways in which chocolate companies make a huge profit while producers of the cacao earn a fraction of this amount. The disparity could be one of the reasons producers turned to child slavery in the first place.

At a cacao plantation, the cacao plants are harvested and dried in the sun.  They are then bought by intermediaries at one Euro per kilo. These intermediaries sell the plants to national exporters.  The beans are washed, packed and sold, now at two and a half Euros per kilo.  The companies turn them into cocoa powder or cocoa butter.  One kilo of beans, which earned a farmer one Euro, can be made into 40 chocolate bars.

One of the takeaways for SOLAS is to be aware of the products that everyone uses.  There are many companies that are beginning to raise awareness of how their supplies are made, but many others turn a blind eye to the injustices being done.  At their presentation, SOLAS served Divine chocolate and Peace coffee.  Both of these brands are Fair Trade companies, meaning the companies are aware of where they are getting their raw materials.  Other companies, like Nestle, are leaders in using cocoa from suppliers who have child slaves.

“We are just asking you to keep in mind where your products came from and how they were made when you purchase something,” said Sarah Kretschmann ’15, one of the leaders of SOLAS. “Try to purchase Divine chocolate, which can be found in the bookstore, over Nestle products if you can.”

At the end of the screening, leaders of SOLAS had computers available for people to sign a petiton found on to stop chocolate companies from using slavery in production.

Categories: Colleges

Women’s golf claims sixth despite weather

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 05/01/2014 - 6:22pm

The St. Olaf women’s golf team competed in the Carleton Spring Invitational on April 27 and finished the event in sixth place. The field only included seven teams, yet the competition was fierce. The meet featured four regionally ranked teams, including hosts Carleton College, and was unexpectedly shortened to one round due to poor weather conditions.

In incredibly tough circumstances, with ten mile-an-hour winds and cold conditions, the Oles battled to finish sixth with 356 (+68), enough to see them tied with No. 24 Wartburg College. Unfortunately, the poor weather continued, and thunderstorms led to the cancellation of the second round.

Leading the way for the Oles in the shortened event was Linde Sundell ’14, who posted a total of 85 for a 13 over par. Two other Oles also finished within the top 20, with Nadia Baker ’15 finishing in a tie for fourteenth place with 15 over par and Grace Luker ’16 ending in a tie for seventeenth place with 16 over par.

The team will wrap up their season this weekend with the UW-Eau Claire Invitational in Wisconsin on May 3-4. It will be the final competition for seniors Sundell and Karin Hansen ’14.

Categories: Colleges

English honor society, Poetry House celebrate writing at first ‘Lit Crawl’

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 05/01/2014 - 6:20pm

Ever wanted to experience a pub crawl but get drunk on the wise words of poets and philosophers instead of alcohol? On April 25, English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and the Poetry House teamed up to offer the St. Olaf community such an opportunity at the first annual St. Olaf Lit Crawl.

The idea for the crawl stemmed from a Washington Post article covering a summer literature crawl that allowed attendees to sample different kinds of writing at their leisure. For Johnna Purchase ’14, who helped head the event, it was a way to unite St. Olaf’s community of literature enthusiasts.

“It’s about enjoying, sharing and finding a new favorite [literary work or writer] and getting to talk to new people,” Purchase said. She added that the event encouraged thoughtful interaction between students and a colorful cast of English department professors.

The Lit Crawl was also the year’s first large-scale event to unite English majors. According to Andrew Wilder ’15 (Note: Wilder is an Arts & Entertainment editor for the Manitou Messenger), while many other majors on campus have events to foster bonding, the English majors do not generally reach the same level of closeness. Much of the separation may come from the specialization of areas within the English major that prevents some groups of majors whose classes are selected to fit specific interests from ever meeting.

Sigma Tau Delta hosted its first event, a reading of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, in the fall. After the success of the event, honor society leaders decided to organize a more ambitious event for the spring.

“We were shooting for the stars,” Wilder said about the initial Lit Crawl idea. The original plan featured six different locations both on and off campus and a published author from outside of the college. Logistics and timing, however, forced organizers to limit their ambition slightly, resulting in a Lit Crawl with three vastly different stops and an even more varied breadth of literature sampled.

Beginning in a fifth floor classroom in Rolvaag Memorial Library, the three-part literary odyssey eventually wandered to Boe Chapel and  then to the Poetry Honor House, located on St. Olaf Ave.

In the Rolvaag classroom, English professors shared their favorite poetry, meandering from the amusing to the reflective and even poignant. While students sat in a semi-circle, each professor read two or three poems and provided spirited commentary to boot.

“So it’s not about seduction; it’s about how to live life!” joked Professor Mary Trull before diving into a reading of Andrew Marvel’s “Coy Mistress.”

In the Boe Chapel Undercroft, an informal “open mic” offered students a chance to read their favorite poets’ works or their own original pieces. The readings ranged from song lyrics to traditional poetry and slam poetry. Somewhere during this second spot, it became evident that the participating “crawlers” were becoming increasingly more comfortable around one another, laughing more lightly and considering one another’s comments more deeply.

The group finished the crawl at the Poetry House, where students listened to St. Olaf Writer in Residence Benjamin Percy explain the background and formulation of his werewolf-civil-rights-virus novel “Red Moon.” With his deep voice and punchy prose, Percy sent chills through the crowd as he read various suspenseful sections. The reading led to an informative discussion on writing style and how to create suspense in novels without overloading readers.

Sigma Tau Delta leaders anticipate that next year’s Lit Crawl will engage in more publicity and a wider range of stops and literary styles, encouraging a broader range of students to participate. Still, in their pilot attempt to bring together St. Olaf’s literati, Sigma Tau Delta and the Poetry House showed that despite some divergence of academic emphasis, it is possible for all lovers of literature, English majors and non-majors alike, to find some level of confluence off the page.

Categories: Colleges

Lindsay Lohan reality series a recipe for harm

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 05/01/2014 - 6:14pm

Oprah Winfrey recently gave Lindsay Lohan a reality show – or “documentary series,” as Oprah euphemistically calls it – on her OWN network. As if constant tabloid attention wasn’t enough, viewers can now tune in to weekly hour-long episodes following the daily ups and downs of life as Lindsay. Producers promote “Lindsay”: “In this honest, no-holds-barred account, viewers will see an intimate, unflinching look into the life of one of the world’s most sought-after celebrities. Cameras follow Lindsay as she returns to New York, reunites with friends and family and attempts to build a new life.”

Lindsay Lohan was once a sweet, aspiring actress who won viewers’ hearts in “The Parent Trap” and made them laugh ’til their sides hurt in “Mean Girls.” Her future looked bright, but tabloids and celebrity magazines told a different story. Lohan has struggled with drugs, bulimia and breaking the law. According to CNN, she has spent time in five different rehab centers and has appeared in court over 20 times since 2007. The public watched all of these episodes play out on TV and read about them in magazines and newspapers. Lohan’s acting career suffered greatly, forcing her to take mostly short-term cameo roles.

What is with our obsession with celebrity gossip? Is it the element of comparison, the comfort in knowing that even if we aren’t as beautiful or successful as the Hollywood actors, at least we don’t have all the problems that they do? Or is it merely entertainment, watching the plots of their lives unfold like soap operas? No matter why people buy into it, the problems caused by selling the personal lives of celebrities cannot be ignored.

Reality shows rarely have positive outcomes. More often than not, they magnify the drama in the subject’s life, increase public criticism of them and result in emotional frustration and more problems for whoever they are following.

One example of such a reality show is “Jon & Kate Plus Eight.” When the TV cameras first found Jon and Kate, they were a big, relatively happy family. The end of the fifth season of the show featured their divorce and the legal issues that ensued as a result. The pressure of the show took a toll on the family and prevented them from living out their “normal” lives.

It makes sense that when someone is filmed for millions of viewers to see, they rethink their actions and do things that they would not otherwise do. And it is true, then, that reality shows change lives, just not in the ways people may expect.

A scary cycle has emerged in popular culture between destructive behavior and the attention it receives from the media. Perhaps if the media and consumers focused less on these details, the incidents would be less likely to recur. Contrarily, Judge Sautner told Lohan in 2012: “I know it’s hard when people are following you all over the place, but that’s the life you chose. Live your life in a more mature way, stop the nightclubbing and focus on your work.” He placed the blame completely on Lohan.

This is the attitude that many Americans take toward celebrities’ actions. While Lohan is ultimately responsible for her behavior, it is completely incorrect to say that publishers and consumers as a whole don’t have a responsibility to give celebrities their privacy.

For Lohan, a reality show can only lead to more issues, which is the last thing she needs. In order to work through her issues, she will need personal space, not cameras constantly in her face. Oprah giving her a reality show only encourages and rewards her negative behavior. Hopefully one day soon the media will realize that “entertainment” comes with a price.


Cathrine Meeder ’17 ( is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

Categories: Colleges

Panel examines diversity: Faculty highlight campus demographics

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 05/01/2014 - 6:12pm

On Thursday, April 24, St. Olaf organizations arranged a panel for students, administrators and faculty to discuss the hot topic of race. The panel consisted of Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Kwon-Dobbs, President David Anderson ’74, Teacher Educator in Residence Maria Kelly, Vice President of Enrollment and College Relations Michael Kyle ’85 and Associate Professor  of  Theater William Sonnega. When asked how they came to be part of the panel, many said they hoped to bring a new perspective on the topic of diversity.

Panelists were allotted two minutes to answer student questions. Students were asked to write their questions on cards and send them down their row for an emcee to read.

One question asked how St. Olaf’s racial diversity has changed in the last ten years and how it will continue evolving during the next ten years. In response, Anderson presented graphs comparing St. Olaf to 24 other colleges. The number of international students at St. Olaf compared favorably to schools like Carleton College and Gustavus Adolphus College. St. Olaf’s number of domestic multicultural students has increased from 7.2 percent in 2003 to 15.9 percent in 2013. The college’s plan is to continue increasing by one percent each year.

Soon the discussion moved from the number of students of color to the quality of these students’ experiences at St. Olaf. Kwon-Dobbs noted that it is “important to see the narrative.” After warning the emcee that she would take longer than two minutes, Kwon-Dobbs read from her notebook something that she had prepared for the panel and the students.

The room fell quiet as Kwon-Dobbs shared her experience sitting in a classroom when a professor shared a personal collection of photos showing posed mutilated and decapitated bodies of Korean people. In the poem she shared, she asked, “How might your skin feel?”

Because Kwon-Dobbs was a new professor at the time, she was unable to really speak up about the experience, but she expressed her gratitude for the support of her colleagues and the administration’s “commitment to social justice.” When she finished her statement, the room erupted into applause.

After Kwon-Dobbs’ narrative, the panel responded to several more questions. One faculty member received significant attention from the crowd for comments urging the administration to have a “full commitment” to the issue of diversity.

There is no denying the fact that the number of international and domestic multicultural students is increasing at St. Olaf. Anderson stated that he plans to “work really hard at [increasing diversity on campus].” Kyle also pointed out that the top five schools to which St. Olaf typically compares itself have not achieved equivalent levels of diversity.

If this panel’s engaged audience is any indication, race continues to matter to the students, faculty and staff of St. Olaf.



Categories: Colleges

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