Room draw process requires technological makeover

Manitou Messenger - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 5:51pm

With the post-spring break letdown, midterms, class selection and finalizing summer plans, it is no wonder that Oles dread this season of stress and craziness. When you factor in the room draw process, the entire first half of April becomes unbearable.

No matter how a school conducts room draw, it is bound to be stressful. After all, it is important for students to select the most compatible roommate and the most ideal location. However, St. Olaf’s in-person room draw system makes this process even more stressful, hectic and dramatic than it needs to be.

Think about it: in this age of Internet and interconnectivity, we still rely on a paper system. This paper system necessitates drama. First, we have to wait for little slips of paper with our room draw numbers on them to be placed in our P.O.s.  After that, the intricately timed system requires an entire weekend of waiting in tense lines and making on-the-fly adaptations when our first and second-choice plans fall through.

Many colleges have room draw processes similar to our own; believe it or not, it is actually very common to have a completely offline room draw process. Still, other colleges have moved some or all of the rooming process online. Many colleges send students their draw numbers electronically.  Others, such as Macalester College, use an online preference and ranking system for their room draw. In this system, students connect online with the friends they hope to live with and then rank their rooming preferences.

An online process like this takes pressure off students. In this system, students are better able to plan out their room rankings. Groups can meet, discuss and fill out their preferences together instead of solely depending on one member of the group to wait in line and select a living space.  Sending one representative can result in stressful and compromising situations. If everyone participates in room draw, it is more likely that everyone gets a say in the living situation.

Additionally, an online system is simply less dramatic. There is something about the P.O. placement that conjures up pictures of students stressing around the mailbox area, waiting for their slips to come through. While receiving an email with your draw number is also stressful, at least students do not have to congregate and compare numbers in the same place.  Waiting in line to select your room is an even more stressful prospect. An online selection, again, does not necessitate that everyone congregate in one place, watching to see who is successful and who is disappointed.

Many of St. Olaf’s selection processes have already been streamlined. An online room draw process could resemble online class selection. While all Oles know that course registration is complex, we can agree that it gets the job done fairly and efficiently.  No one knows anyone else’s placement numbers.  Some get into the classes they want; some don’t.  It is still stressful, but at least we aren’t all standing around to see who got into a class and who didn’t.

Regardless of the process, room draw is bound to be dramatic. However, St. Olaf could mitigate this stress by switching to a room draw process that isn’t completely offline. All St. Olaf students have access to electronic resources; it is time to start utilizing them for the room draw process.  With a new system, St. Olaf could make this time of year a little less stressful for everyone.


Maggie Weiss ’16 ( is from Minnetonka, Minn. She majors in English and political science.


Categories: Colleges

Cindy Corrie shares story

Manitou Messenger - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 5:46pm

On April 8, the words “forget the fear,” repeated from stories of children in Gaza, were repeated in Viking Theatre through a speaking event by Cindy and Craig Corrie, the founders of “The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.” Cindy and Craig encouraged students and community members of all ages to work to resolve the issue in Gaza in any way they could imagine.

“It’s the critical issue of our time. It connects to so many others,” Cindy said.

The eleven-year-old foundation was created in memory of their daughter, Rachel, a peace activist in Palestine who was crushed by a bulldozer while protecting the home of her host family.

After the confusion of September 11, Rachel sought to understand all that she could about the conflict of cultures, including eventually traveling to Gaza to participate in nonviolent protests against the Israeli government’s presence in the region. There, she wrote of her observations and sought to raise awareness about the shootings, governmental intimidations, destruction of wells and clearing of neighborhoods that she witnessed.

“Writing is brave. It is maybe the only brave thing about me,” Rachel wrote.

During her time in Gaza, Rachel stayed with the Nasrallah family and practiced the “BDS” approach to protesting: boycott, divestment, sanction. She also slept by wells in order to ensure that they were not destroyed in the night and held a press conference on the roof of a demolished neighborhood.

On March 16, 2003, Israeli government-funded bulldozers reached the Nasrallah family’s neighborhood. Activists stood between the houses and the bulldozers, and the machines consistently pushed the protesters out of the way but did not harm them. When Rachel tried to maintain her ground to protect the house, however, the bulldozer continued forward, rolling over her and then retracing its tracks, despite demands to stop.

The Corrie family sought legal justice for the death of their daughter by raising a trial against the State of Israel. After 15 court dates, the single judge decided in August 2012 that because Rachel had died in an “act of war,” the Israeli military was not guilty.

Disgusted with the results, the family formed the foundation and appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court. The case will be heard May 21, 2014.

Meanwhile, Rachel’s story has been transformed into two stage plays. The first, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” is an internationally acclaimed production that in the past year was successfully performed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The other is the work of St. Olaf alumnus who adapted the play in 2010 from Rachel’s published journals and letters.

This production,  “I Stand Alone,” explores the many facets of Rachel and how she was more than any one role that she played in life. A video of the performance was played during the assembly in Viking Theatre.

In the same strain of remembrance, the Rachel Corrie Foundation works to promote education, the use of writing to advocate for equal rights and the provision of resources to grassroots groups.

Suggested ways to contribute include “adopting a newspaper,” in which the reader chooses a newspaper or media outlet to monitor. When an article concerning the Israeli-Gaza conflict comes up, the reader critiques the article if it seems too vague or incomplete and sends a thank you note for accurate reporting.

“The children of Gaza still dream,” Cindy said. “If you can think of anything to change the situation, not just help the people, but change the situation, it is truly a prison [there]. Now more than ever.”

The Corries wished Oles for Justice in Palestine luck and expressed their hope that students will explore the organization. Cindy also advised that the group network with more groups like it in the area.

“Everyone makes a difference in any small way,” she said.

Categories: Colleges

Softball team enjoys home success: Oles clinch first-season wins over the Wildcats

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:35pm

The St. Olaf softball team recorded two strong performances to record their first wins of the season on April 11 against College of St. Catherine on Mabel Shirley Field. The Oles cruised to a 9-1 victory in game one and, despite facing a more challenging test in the second game of the doubleheader, proved too strong once again with a 6-3 win to complete the sweep.

The Oles started slowly in the opening game, with the Wildcats holding a 2-0 advantage through the first four innings. In search of their first win of the season, the Oles erupted with four runs in the fifth  inning and three in the sixth inning to all but assure themselves of victory.

Stephanie Borndale ’16, Brooke Paradise ’17 and Afton Wolter ’16 had two hits each in the win. Borndale led the way with three runs batted in.

The Oles started more quickly in the second game, with two runs in the second inning and one in the fifth. The Oles held a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning before the Wildcats produced a valiant fight back, sending the game into extra innings after leveling the score.

Becca Walz ’16 hit a walk-off three-run homer to end the Wildcats’ chances. Haley Schrieier ’15, Woo Bandel ’16 and Alex Lebens ’16 each had two hits in the game.

The Oles’ (3-17, 3-7 MIAC) next home action will be against Carleton College on April 17. The game takes on extra significance for the Oles, as the Knights currently sit level with St. Olaf, at a 3-7 MIAC record. The last time the two teams faced off, in a 2013 doubleheader, each team took home a victory.

Categories: Colleges

‘Fly a Little Higher’ raises cancer awareness

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:31pm

The Lion’s Pause hosted a truly special event on April 4: the inspiring Fly a Little Higher Benefit Concert. The concert was a moving testament to the message of light and love that 18-year-old Minnesota musician Zach Sobiech inspired in so many before passing away from osteosarcoma in May 2013. Featuring speakers, performances and even a whimsical bubble machine, the event was a successful fundraiser and a celebration of a remarkable life.

The idea of a benefit concert was first introduced by first-year Sammy Brown ’17, Sobiech’s best friend and bandmate, with the help of St. Olaf’s Cancer Connection (SCC) club.

“I came to St. Olaf, and during the co-curricular fair I saw that St. Olaf had a cancer connection club,” Brown said. “Some not-so-great things had happened in the last three months, and it was weird not having friends and family, so I thought, ‘This could be somewhere where I can feel comfortable with those feelings.’”

SCC strives to provide a supportive environment for those touched by cancer as well as fundraise for various organizations, so the club proved a perfect outlet for Brown’s idea to have a benefit concert for her friend.

“I envisioned it, and they executed it,” she said. “I told them what we’d done in the past, and they did all the hard logistical stuff.”

The event ended up being very successful, raising over $1,000 and attracting 250 people. Sobiech’s parents Rob and Laura attended and spoke.

“We were so blessed by the amazing turnout at the fundraising event,” Laura said. “It was a beautiful Friday evening after a long, hard winter, but the room was full of college students willing to listen to what we had to say. I love seeing young people sacrifice for something bigger than themselves – it gives me so much hope for the future.”

Also in attendance was Justin Baldoni, director of the award-winning documentary “My Last Days.” The documentary, available for viewing on YouTube, has garnered 12 million views. SoulPancake and Wayfarer Entertainment, the documentary’s production companies, were in town to film a one-year-later follow-up documentary to “My Last Days,” which will feature the benefit concert. Love Your Melon, a charity Sobiech worked with that makes hats for cancer patients, was also present to sell merchandise.

The first hour of the concert was a Wellness Center swiped event and started with a screening of “My Last Days.” Brown closed out that portion with her new single “How to Go to Confession,” accompanied by fellow first year Claire Belisle ’17 on the violin, and then a rendition of Sobiech’s song “Clouds.” The audience joined in on the emotional song as bubbles floated out of a machine and tears welled.

“That was one of the best moments of the night,” said SCC co-president Kelsey Mullen ’14.

After a short break, the campus bands Appomattox and Sikk Dood performed and the night wound to a close.

“We were very pleased about the event.,” Mullen said. “We were very excited to be working with other groups that are very passionate about their work. I think for everyone, the takeaway message was positive.”

The name of the concert, Fly a Little Higher, was inspired by a lyric from “Clouds” and is also the name of Laura Sobiech’s memoir, which will be available on May 6. Brown recommends the book to those interested in gaining more insight into Sobiech’s life.

“A lot of people commented on the videos, ‘Wow, I loved that, I wish I actually knew you,’” Brown said. “The book has tons of detail; it’s very personal. It’s going to have pictures, too.”

Oles interested in supporting the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund can visit the website at

“You can donate and buy both of our CDs and my single and other stuff: necklaces, t-shirts, prints,” Brown said.

A significant portion of the proceeds from iTunes music and Laura Sobiech’s upcoming book will also go toward the fund.

Brown expressed her profound gratitude to the students of St. Olaf for making this concert a success.

“I personally was very touched by everyone who showed up,” Brown said. “I’m so proud that St. Olaf raised almost a thousand dollars. It’s not an easy thing for a college student to spend money if it’s not for a Cage cookie. So way to go, St. Olaf, for seeing the things that matter and making a difference. This is such a crazy, weird experience having these two worlds collide – it’s weird seeing my best friend through the eyes of my roommate or my friend from class – but I am thankful for it, and it’s cool seeing [Zach] having a continuing influence.”

That influence was strong at the benefit concert.

“Changing the world is done with the small things in life – the little choices we make each day. I want the students at St. Olaf to know that I am truly blessed by their kind words and dedication to making this world better,” Laura said.

The celebration was proof indeed that with optimism and love, all of us can “fly a little higher.”

Categories: Colleges

Local Natives showcase musical variety

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:29pm

This year’s MEC Spring Concert welcomed Los Angeles alt-rockers Local Natives to campus. The band’s April 5 performance came the night before they played their sold-out show at First Avenue, and the concert’s relatively low attendance spoke to the band’s small but enthusiastic Ole following. Known for its afro-pop and psych-folk influences, Local Natives has been compared to everything from Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend to Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes.

Before the band took the stage, two opening acts warmed up the crowd with varying degrees of success. St. Olaf campus band Toast kicked off the event with a short set that successfully projected its acoustic, vaguely folk-rock sound. Although the group seemed to be fairly new, their assuredness on stage spoke to their compatibility as a group. Further, Toast engaged the crowd with personal anecdotes and attracted a group of fans near the front of the crowd who cheered for each member by name at several points during the set.

Less engaging was the second opener, Aero Flynn, which serves as a permanent part of Local Native’s national tour. It sounded as if the band’s front man told the crowd that this was “our first show as a band,” which could have explained their lackluster and stiff stage presence.

The large amount of reverb on the microphone also made their echo-y sound difficult to relate to at times. While the band was a step up from Toast in terms of musical proficiency, their polarizing musical style made for an uninspired set.

The energetic atmosphere returned at 10 p.m. when Local Natives finally took the stage. Met with loud cheers from a growing crowd of Oles, the band launched into their dynamic, rhythm-heavy hour of music right away. The opening song “Breakers” from their 2013 album “Hummingbird,” with its propulsive rhythm and forceful guitar, made for an impressive introduction. Front man Taylor Rice was anything but stiff as he lurched around the stage, working up a sweat in the process.

Heavy with dedicated fans, the crowd sang along to several songs but was probably most audible during songs from the band’s first album, 2010’s “Gorilla Manor.” “Airplanes” and “Who Knows Who Cares,” the last song before the encore, both elicited especially loud cheers from an audience that only grew more energetic as the set went on.

The band’s least-successful effort came close to the end of their set. “Bowery” featured keyboardist Kelcey Ayer on lead vocals and, while in keeping with the band’s overall sound, was not as distinctive rhythmically and almost

lazy in comparison to their preceding songs.

Yells of “no” could be heard during the band’s initial exit from the stage after “Who Knows,” and 30 seconds or so of the crowd chanting “one more song,” prompted Local Natives to do just that. Their encore “Sun Hands” was easily the concert’s highlight. With drummer Matt Frazier’s rhythms amplified to twice the volume they are given in the recording, the band fed off the crowd’s energy and delivered a rousing closer to an already lively night of music.

While Local Natives did not leave the stage until around 11:15 p.m., their captivating set seemed to fly by in half that time. Although the turnout was relatively small, the band undoubtedly gained several new fans during their lively and engaging 75-minute performance.

Categories: Colleges

Let George W. Bush unleash his inner artist

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:21pm

What are the first words you think of when you hear the name George W. Bush? Some might go for the categorical terms and say “president” or “Republican.” Others would head straight to political diction and say “tax cuts,” “war on terror” or “controversial election.” But did you ever think people would say “painter” when referring to the forty-third president of the United States?

On Saturday, April 6, George W. Bush decided to show the U.S. that he could paint more than just fluffy puppy dogs. If you don’t know what I am talking about, quickly pull out your phone or computer and Google Image search “George Bush paints dogs.” Get ready to have a good chuckle.

In Dallas, Texas, George W. Bush’s exhibit, entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” opened to the public and created quite a stir. The exhibit features portraits of a variety of world leaders. Just to name a few, George W. Bush depicted Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Zayed, (the crown prince of Abu Dhabi), Václav Havel (the former president of the Czech Republic), the Dalai Lama himself and his father.

The exhibit features an introductory video explaining a little about why Bush decided to paint – he was inspired by Winston Churchill – and why these particular world leaders made the cut.

Bush says, “I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy, and I befriended leaders and learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.”

If you think the facial expressions selected for each leader are related to whether or not he worked well with them, you would be correct. For example, Bush and Putin recently quarreled over the size and ferocity of their dogs, with Putin claiming that his is “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s. Bush says comments like that did factor into how he viewed Putin and helped give his portrait very intimidating eyes.

Bush states that painting his father was a very emotional experience. He says, “I watched him very carefully through his presidency. I always admired him as a man. It was a joyful experience to paint him. I painted a gentle soul.” This explains why the son painted a smile on his father’s face.

While the media is enjoying this display of what they call ‘a softer side of Bush,’ others have some more controversial takes on Bush’s new hobby. One Texas man, after seeing the exhibit, said, “Perhaps he should have tried this before he tried politics.” One could call this comment a little harsh when speaking about a former president, and I personally find all the fuss the media is creating over these paintings quite odd. If former President Bush wants to paint world leaders to freshen up the Bush Center and ramp up tourism, I say kudos to him. None of the world leaders are being harmed by the Bush Center having a painting of them on display. If I painted a picture of the Dalai Lama and had a gallery create an exhibit of my art, no one would tell me that I didn’t have the right to display my hobby.

People who think it is inappropriate for Bush to show his art are too connected with Bush as a former president instead of looking at him as Bush the man who has a hobby that he is proud of. To be completely honest, I am not crazy about Bush’s politics. I oppose the six trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but if a sixty-seven-year-old man wants to paint dogs and world leaders for the Bush Center, I say keep calm and carry on.

Jocelyn Sarvady ’15 ( is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in American studies.

Categories: Colleges

Media’s missing flight fixation skews the news

Manitou Messenger - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 2:20pm

I’m going to be honest: For a newspaper writer, I don’t keep up with news that much. But over the past month, Americans have been enthralled by the search for Malaysian flight MH370, which went missing en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. However, was all this attention merited?

First, an update: According to Al Jazeera, Australian officials encountered two “pings” during a search for the plane off the country’s west coast.  Angus Houston, who is coordinating the Australian search effort, is confident that these electronic signals are from the missing aircraft’s blackbox.

Officials are eager to find the blackbox because it could have recorded the aircraft’s last minutes. This would give many people closure on what happened to the aircraft and could end the search completely.

Now searchers are scrambling to find this box that will give us all the answers before its month-long battery dies and leaves us clueless. It’s dramatic one-liners like this that drive sensationalist news coverage. Don’t get me wrong: This is a tragedy. For the friends and family of the 239 people on board, closure rests on finding that metal casing with flight data and voice recorders inside.

However, the media circus went to town on the few facts that were provided in the initial search. Bill Carter of the New York Times railed on news outlets – specifically CNN – that took the few initial facts and concocted grand schemes, filming their reporters in the cockpits of Boeing 777s narrating what might have happened across sparkly flight simulators.

They have been rewarded for their unending, speculative coverage as well: Ratings have skyrocketed. Depending on whom you ask, the ability to increase ratings by exacerbating high drama either makes you a good journalist or a part of the problem.

This whole story reeks of high drama. The handful of solid facts give plenty of room to extrapolate schemes. Maybe it was terrorism. Maybe a meteor hit the plane. There hasn’t been a plane disappearance since 2009, and it took two years to find that one. Could it take  even longer this time?

There are themes of international crisis and collaboration, the threat of failure, complete and utter mystery and, perhaps most intriguing, systemic technological collapse that would make thousands afraid to get on a plane again.

I am disillusioned with the media but am not dumb enough to think that coverage like this will change anytime soon. Hey, at least a news outlet focused on a story for more than four minutes. With enough spit-shining, this could be written off as a positive move!

The question is: What did we miss by obsessively covering MH370? Well there is the situation in Ukraine, which has erupted into political turmoil over Ukraine’s ties with Russia. Or, even less reported, the violent student protests occurring in Venezuela right now.

More broadly, how do we determine what events deserve coverage at all? The short answer is rooted in how we consume news media. Even if you just click on those links without the intention of actually reading their eye-catching stories, it counts as a victory for the news outlet and promotes the popularity of the topic. As a result, the news sources post more related stories loaded with advertisements so they can earn as much money as possible.

My challenge to you is this: Do not click! The news will still be there, and when it’s resolved, I’m sure you will know. In the meantime, you can just wait for the #blackbox to show up on Twitter.

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

Categories: Colleges

Newt Gingrich focuses on the future: PAC speaker presents amid controversy over funding message

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:54am

When Newt Gingrich stepped up to the podium in Boe Chapel on Thursday, April 10, the standing-room-only audience greeted him with enthusiastic applause.

“That’s a very warm welcome, and I was not quite sure,” he said.

Gingrich quickly moved on from this opening comment, claiming it was not due to protests occurring outside Boe Chapel, but it was hard not to interpret his statement in light of the on-campus controversy that had preceded his visit. Shortly after the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) announced Gingrich as its spring speaker, “Boycott Newt” posters appeared around campus. Plans also surfaced for an alternate event titled “General Assembly: Money in the Chapel, Students to the Quad.” Event organizers objected to PAC’s collaboration with the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) in bringing Gingrich to campus and to the increasing role that money plays in politics.

“We are paying an organization [YAF] run by a man who has brought about a disparaging twist in campaign finance,” organizers said in an open letter summarizing their position. “We do not all oppose conservatism. We oppose the increasing role of money in political campaigns, and we oppose hypocrisy.”

Organizers also doubted the relevance of Gingrich’s message.

“When Newt Gingrich says things like ‘There is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us,’ as he did in his presidential campaign, it obliterates respect and paves the way for manipulative politics,” event coordinator Brody Halverson ’14 said. “Gingrich may have been politically relevant 15 years ago, but [he] now appears to us as little more than an aging political celebrity, a lobbyist and a pundit.”

PAC coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 responded to these objections with a reminder that PAC works through agencies for all guest speakers.

“It costs less with an agency like this because they work with him regularly,” she said. “I can’t say specifically how much it cost, because if a school makes public how much they’re paying, then a school nearby can [negotiate for an identical price], but even with the agency’s contribution it still ended up being significantly less than Bob Woodward [2012 PAC fall speaker]. It was comparable to Stephanie Cutter [2013 PAC fall speaker].”

Palermo went on to emphasize the necessity of bringing diverse political opinions to St. Olaf.

“I think the point of college is to hear a wide variety of viewpoints,” she said. “We’re not a school affiliated with the Democratic party. I had more people be upset that people were upset he was coming. Republicans were saying, ‘We feel like our views aren’t as well-accepted here, so why can’t people at least let someone bring in a more conservative speaker without being upset about it?’”

Inside the chapel, Gingrich presented a version of that conservative viewpoint in his talk, titled “The Future of Conservatism.”

“My goal is to move conservatism from the left versus right model that has existed since 1932 to a future-past model,” he said. “I want to build a better future.”

Gingrich invoked examples of the individual creativity that he believes will drive that better future. He glorified the policies of Ronald Reagan that inspired his own 1994 Contract with America document, a list of actions the Republican Party promised to take if it regained a House majority in that year’s Congressional election. He also praised the Wright Brothers for their perseverance and self-reliance.

“They were doing it because they had passion, and they were doing it because they wanted to create a better future,” he said.

Gingrich indicted government bureaucracy and partisan politics as “prison guards of the past” and impediments to the country’s progress. In a progressively more digital and fast-paced world, he said, the government’s inefficiencies become increasingly unacceptable.

“This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue,” he said. “It shouldn’t even be a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a future-past issue. The gap between the convenience of your cell phone and the inconvenience of the government becomes wider every day. I am opposed to reform because I think it’s a total waste of time. I want to replace these systems.”

During the question-and-answer session, Gingrich reiterated many of the positions that have made him such a controversial figure. A long line of students did not hesitate to address tough topics like climate change, reproductive rights and  the role of money in politics.  Gingrich offered direct, often blunt answers, once simply answering “sure” before going on to explain. However, the event remained respectful, and the closing applause gave Gingrich a send-off to match his welcome.

Categories: Colleges

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