Manitou Messenger

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The student newspaper of St. Olaf College
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Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am
To start off, like any responsible journalist, I’ll call attention to my bias. My bias is that a large part of my college experience cannot be separated from my hours in the Manitou Messenger office. Most of the biggest moments of college happened in Buntrock 110, with the couch that I rescued from the side of Ole Ave, the donut-patterned blanket Emma Whitford’s friend sent her, the little purple tinsel Christmas tree and the Will and Kate poster that predates us all. Many of my friendships were grown and solidified there, born out of the spikes and dips of energy that emerge when a bunch of people are working hard at something important under a deadline. We joke, we laugh, nearly everyone has cried.Every year, the Messenger staff starts as a group of people that has nothing in common but a fondness for writing. Every year we end up friends, learning more about each other in between late production nights and squirrelled-away bag lunches.Our collective wit accumulates and refines itself over several months before erupting in the satire edition, the one time of year we are truly popular. My freshman year I was a staff writer, my sophomore year I was the news editor and last year I served as the executive editor. This year I have taken a back seat from the action, but I have come to appreciate the Messenger’s work even more. We provide a free service to the St. Olaf community that I think is invaluable. According to Frank LoMonte’s CNN op-ed entitled “A free press shouldn’t stop at the schoolyard,” “Student journalists are, increasingly, the information lifeline for their communities. With employment in traditional newsrooms hitting historic lows, down 42 percent since 1990, the public is more reliant than ever on students to sound the alarm if schools are unsafe or ineffective – or if there’s any story unfolding on their campus that could affect their community.”And since our founding in 1886, we have indeed told the stories unfolding on our campus. We’ve talked about racism, war, civil unrest, sexual misconduct and sexual assault. We’ve offered serious news coverage and opinions, and glimpses into the lives of the faculty, students and staff who live and work here. We’ve written fun and fluffy pieces. That’s not say we have ever done this perfectly: we’ve struggled, messed up very badly and learned from our mistakes.The Messenger has waxed and waned throughout the years, but it has always been a platform for students to openly talk about what matters to them. This concept is incredibly important.The college produces their own narratives, and those are essential for fundraising and growing the student body, and those things are important to keep the school ticking. But it is also vitally important that there are some narratives present on campus that don’t have this agenda, and that they are able to be expressed on a legitimate platform with proper resources and support.“The case for protecting press freedom in schools isn’t just about training future journalists,” LoMonte continues. “It’s about developing inquisitive, participatory citizens willing to ask the hard questions of government authorities that involved citizenship demands.”So thank you, readers and subscribers, for your support. I’m grateful for what we have now, and as the future of journalism becomes more and more murky, I hope all of us fight for it in every context.
Categories: Colleges

Online personalities dominate St. Olaf’s campus

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am
Since St. Olaf is a small, residential community, its students live in such a way that makes no one a true stranger. With around 3,000 students, it is obviously impossible to know everyone on a personal level, yet, there is a strong chance of knowing most people indirectly, as a friend of a friend, a fellow club member, a classmate or at least a familiar face. We meet new people often and then begin to see them around campus, in residence halls, at parties or in town.Despite not knowing these people intimately, many of us maintain social media relationships with the acquaintances we accumulate throughout our time at St. Olaf. These relationships are tenuous and largely mediated by the online identities we curate for ourselves. This seems banal to point out; of course, everyone knows that who we are online does not necessarily match who we are in real life. However, I argue that the residential small campus in fact affords more power to the online persona. Though we might not know our acquaintances very well at all, people seem more tangible on social media when we also see them walking around campus and when we hear friends or professors mention them in conversation.Thus, in many ways, a person’s online persona becomes a person’s truth. This attribution of truth to a curated online self fosters what I see as a microcosmic cult of personality around certain students with strong social media presence, most often social media presence directly connected to politics. Garnering likes and comments often in the hundreds, St. Olaf students validate social justice posts written by peers who are somewhat arbitrarily determined to be visible social activists. In this way, certain students are upheld as cool and radical for their justice-seeking social media presence, a virtual embodiment of being “woke.”These students are valorized online and in person for their politics, despite the fact that their real life behavior may not match their curated online self at all. If someone is abusive, harassing or inappropriate, these harmful actions can be quickly erased or diminished by a strong social media presence that condemns this very behavior. For example, it might be more difficult to believe someone is a rapist if they constantly write posts that denounce sexual violence – especially when these posts are widely circulated and socially approved. For victims and survivors of violence, such constant social validation of abusers can be gaslighting and painful, an ongoing struggle not only with the perpetrator but with those that stand in virtual support of the perpetrator. It is common for students to lionize acquaintances that appear woke online, to look to such people for salient thoughts on the latest campus issue or to speak positively about them in public. All these factors make it difficult to remove such people from the pedestal and to begin to see how this aggrandizement happens.This is not to say people should stop posting about political issues. Social media has been an integral part of mobilizing activism, spreading awareness and staying politically informed. I often read articles posted by my friends that give me new perspectives, uplift voices that might otherwise be buried and present refreshing takes on old issues. Organizations like Black Lives Matter employ social media as a tool, and their impact has been furthered by a strong online presence. I wish to be clear: I don’t think social media is in itself bad, nor is the curation of online self.However, I do think the social status relegated to certain people because of their online presence can become dangerous. At St. Olaf, where everyone knows everyone, we need to remember that our peers can post anything online to appear kind, friendly or down for the cause. Though we may see our Facebook friends and Instagram followers every day, we might not truly know them outside of these media – media that are often tightly curated to produce an effect. As students in community with each other, I would ask that you think through your online relationships to your peers, being mindful of what is visible and what might be obscured through the screen, considering thoughtfully who deserves to be celebrated.
Categories: Colleges

Half-baked stories do more damage than good

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am
A few weeks ago, The New York Times published a story by Richard Fausset that humanized and sympathized with a white nationalist named Tony Hovater. That was not the intent, according to The Times national editor Mary Lacy, who said that the goal of the story was “not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.” To that end, the story sorely missed the mark. It read more like alt-right fan fiction than a news feature, and profiled the day-to-day activities, interests and quirks of Hovater. His involvement with the Traditionalist Workers Party and hateful online activity seemed to be included only for color. I counted: the story contained approximately 38 details about the Hovaters’ “normalcy,” and only 35 details about Hovater’s white nationalism. A good news story is not a math problem, but in no case should a story about a bigoted white nationalist include more sympathizing details than damning ones. Since it was published, there has been enormous backlash and a wave of critiques of the New York Times for printing such a story, many of them valid and that I agree with. Both Lacy and Fausset offered a response and a defense of the story. In his letter, Fausset discussed his lack of confidence in the heart of the piece.“After I had filed an early version of the article, an editor at The Times told me he felt like the question had not been sufficiently addressed,” Fausset wrote. “So I went back to Mr. Hovater in search of answers. I still don’t think I really found them. I could feel the failure even as Mr. Hovater and I spoke on the phone.”I routinely tell myself and my staff that “If you’re not 100 percent confident in the piece, don’t print it.” Throwing away months of work on a story can be incredibly frustrating, but sometimes it’s necessary. For The Times, it was likely necessary. Perhaps lulled by his own perception of Hovater’s normalcy, Fausset believed that after enough pressing Hovater would disclose some meaningful explanation as to why he was white nationalist, as if a person cannot be polite and hateful at the same time. The Times was looking for the inconsistency in Hovater’s otherwise typical American life, but that inconsistency is that he’s a white nationalist. In my opinion, and apparently Fausset’s as well, existing in the world as a white nationalist isn’t enough for a story. It’s disheartening that The Times didn’t know better, and didn’t realize that the once-golden idea they had for a story fell flat. Fausset should have realized the profile was missing its nugget sooner. His editor should have pushed harder and somebody should have asked “why is this important for the world to know?”Even the best editors and journalists make mistakes. I consider myself to be a good, ethical journalist, but I’ve made editorial decisions that continue to make me cringe. Remembering those failures ensures that I won’t make those same mistakes again. I will continue to read and trust the New York Times, but I expect better. At a time when covering white nationalism and alt-right extremism has become a beat of its own, I expect The Times to think harder about why that coverage is important, and how that coverage can assist and inform the American public. I’ve been told by editor after editor not to bury the lede. In this case, the lede is that Tony Hovater is a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer, who engages in and supports horrifying ideologies that produce real, ongoing damage to marginalized American communities. He should be fired from his job and he should be called-out for his racist and bigoted ideology. But I didn’t read that in this story. All I could tell you for certain is that his Midwestern manners would likely impress my mother. 
Categories: Colleges

Abroad program should prioritize lower incomes

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am
One night, Charles Hamer ’20 came to my room, and I could see so much happiness in him. “This feels so surreal, Ariel,” he told me. He explained to me that he had just received his passport for the first time in his life. Hamer has never travelled outside of the United States before. But this January, he will be going on a St. Olaf study abroad program to Bangkok, Thailand. St. Olaf College has ranked No. 1 in study abroad programs for nine consecutive years, according to Open Doors. For the 2017-2018 academic year, the college offers 123 study abroad and off-campus programs in nearly 50 countries, and students can study nearly anywhere in the world, with literally any field of study. While the study abroad and off-campus programs “aims to foster students’ global engagement” and serves as an extension to liberal art learning, the cost can be a burden. The programs usually require students to pay above the St. Olaf normal tuition, which on average ranges anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000. Starting this year there’s one study abroad program where students don’t have to pay anything: Global Semester. It’s a prestigious and long-standing St. Olaf program that allows students to study in eight to ten countries over the course of one semester. Thanks to a generous donor, the program has no additional cost above a normal semester on campus. In the past, the program was known to be expensive and only some students could afford to go. So in theory, the donation to Global Semester is supposed to help students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go on Global, especially students from lower-income families. Why is it important to give students from lower-income backgrounds an opportunity to see the world? One of the issues that cripple a lot of children in impoverished communities is the inability to see past their current situation. This inability is rooted in the fact that these children are starved of basic necessities. How much time can you spend dreaming about college or a future career when you are trying to stay safe or figure out where your next meal is coming from? Can disadvantaged youth garner global awareness when the circumstances of their environment demand that they be present in order to make it to the next day? The answer is not a strict no. However, it is severely limited – the more you have, the easier it is to dream big.This situation is in stark contrast to the reality that a lot of privileged youth face. From a young age, the chance that a person has traveled abroad is significantly higher if that person comes from a middle to upper class family background. Chances are, people from these backgrounds have learned about a variety of situations and people around the world. Sometimes traveling abroad is even an annual tradition for people with means to do so. If this is true, those people probably have an increased sense of global awareness and have several more opportunities compared to someone who has never had the privilege of traveling outside of their city.When asked if free study abroad programs should prioritize low income students, we do not have a strict, conclusive answer. However, we do believe that these privileges, or lack thereof, travel with students to college. The opportunity to study abroad could change the life of someone who has only had the opportunity to travel when it came to moving into college. For others, Global Semester could be one of the several opportunities they have to travel abroad in their lifetime. Without a doubt, low income students could benefit more from subsidized program fees than others. To be able to travel to different nations, learn different cultures and meet different people is a privilege, and it’s important that this gap is bridged between students that are able to have that experience, and students that are not able to. Free programs such as Global Semester should try to close this gap in opportunities among students.
Categories: Colleges

sleep, its all in your mind

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am
a yoyo in my hand for a secondyou on my pillowfor a brief moment my heart in a foreign hand,knotted and thrown connected, closeand separate enough to be surreal 
their story warned ofmuddy paths aheadwe’re aware, yet we attach silencers to our mouths, for the following days hold possibilities we hardly tell our 
Categories: Colleges