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Ralph Ellison and the psyche of the invisible man

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

I was recommended Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” by Gordon Marino, emeritus professor of philosophy during my first year at St. Olaf. One of the assigned readings for Marino’s class, Kierkegaard and Existentialism, was the Prologue from Ellison’s 1952 novel. The Prologue stands distinct from the rest of the story — it is not surprising to find it alone in the curricula of philosophy classes or reading lists of book clubs around America. Any chapter that opens with such a punctual line as “I am an invisible man” deserves heightened recognition, and Professor Marino made the importance of this solitary, 12-page introduction to the novel’s actual plot clear to me and to the rest of his class.

I forget how our discussion drifted to him recommending that I read the novel in its entirety. Most likely I was expressing my feelings of loneliness, alienation and solitude that persisted throughout my freshman year. And most likely Professor Marino replied in a way that was both reassuring and mystifying, pointing me toward a work of literature that confronted these very feelings head-on. This was late in the spring, so the recommendation was for a summer reading that he and I both hoped would lead to some sort of fantastical self-realization.

I finished the book in August 2020, one summer removed from the recommended date. With the grace of hind-sight, I now think it was a more appropriate time to travel alongside Ellison’s invisible man through his plights in a fictionalized 1940s United States.

I return to “Invisible Man” now in a similar way to how Ellison himself returned to his novel 29 years after its original publishing, writing his own introduction. The concept of the invisible man forced Ellison, as he would go on to explain, to craft a plot around a character that prodded the consciousness of America to recognize why the invisible man would ever categorize himself as such.

“Most of all, I would have to approach racial stereotypes as a given fact of the social process and proceed, while gambling with the reader’s capacity for fictional truth, to reveal the human complexity which stereotypes are intended to conceal,” Ellison explained, culminating a long paragraph in which he would espouse the need to reveal the “human universals hidden within the plight of one who was both black and American” — his self-proclaimed task in writing the novel.

In the same way that the concept of the invisible man challenged Ellison’s imagination throughout his seven years of writing, the same concept now challenges my interpretation of the book’s purpose within America. While I originally intended to read “Invisible Man” as a purely selfish process of self-fulfillment, the book says much more about the society America has constructed than I realized. The novel’s two purposes highlight the multiple levels of the self and society Ellison engages with.

Ellison’s invisible man is a natural consequence of American society. Black folk in America have been and still are forced to live invisible to white folk, who occupy positions of power that exert life-threatening levels of control over their lives. That’s why stereotypes, for Ellison, were of predominant importance. This stereotyped life, as personified by the book’s narrator, leads to the psyche of invisibility. One can jump through hoops here and there, find social, academic and political acclaim, fight back against racist systems, bring pride to himself and to his community — all feats the nameless narrator achieved — and still end up invisible in an abandoned cellar or shot dead in the street.

The sentiments, about stereotypes and invisibility, ring as true in 2020 as they did in 1952. That’s the power of the invisible man.

“No, because what is commonly assumed to be past history is actually as much a part of the living present as William Faulkner insisted,” Ellison acknowledged in the introduction. “Furtive, implacable and tricky, it inspirits both the observer and the scene observed, artifacts, manners and atmosphere and it speaks even when no one wills to listen.”

Categories: Colleges

Just give Comeback Player of the Year to Alex Smith already

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

The NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award has all but been decided. Following an injury-riddled 2019 season that saw him play only eight of sixteen games for the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton has found a new life up in New England. Starting three games under center so far this season for Bill Belichek’s Patriots, Newton has led the team to a 2-1 record, falling only to the undefeated Seattle Seahawks. Despite a COVID-19 diagnosis keeping him out of a week four matchup with the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs, Newton has revived what was thought to be a dead team. Provided he can continue playing like he has been after a week off, there is no one close to competing with him for the award.

But there really should be. On Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, following an injury to starting quarterback Kyle Allen, quarterback Alex Smith took the field for the Washington Football Team. Despite the 36-year-old being the 2005 number one overall pick out of the University of Utah, Smith led a generally unproductive offense, completing just 9/17 passes for 37 yards in a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
However, despite an unremarkable outing, this game marked an extraordinary return to football for Smith. Smith had not played a game since going down with a gruesome leg injury in 2018, an event that triggered an almost two-year saga of pain and heartache for the QB and his family.

After leading the then Washington Redskins to a 6-3 record on the season, on Nov. 18, 2018, Smith went down with a catastrophic injury to his leg, following a sack by Houston Texans safety Kareem Jackson. Smith was rushed into surgery, where it was revealed that he had suffered a spiral and compound fracture to both his tibia and fibula in his right leg. Even without fully grasping what that means medically, I think we can all agree that just sounds downright painful. However, despite almost immediate medical attention, the first operation did not fully fix the injury. Smith had to go under the knife 17 times over two years before the injury could be allowed to heal itself, at one point even contracting an infection so extreme there were serious talks of amputating his leg. Even after recovering, there still existed significant concerns surrounding his ability to not just play football, but simply walk.

However, despite the adversity, Smith battled his way back, going through a long and arduous course of physical therapy before finally working his way back onto a football field.

Smith deserves recognition for his efforts. He represents both the courage and resilience that it takes to play this game we love. It is time, NFL. Just give him the damn award, regardless of how Newton’s performances this year.


Categories: Colleges

Media Beat: “Schitt’s Creek” is deserving of the hype.

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

by Genevieve Hoover

Perhaps it was because my parents had initially recommended it to me or the Netflix trailer that harkened back to cringeworthy 70s sitcoms, but I was reluctant to watch “Schitt’s Creek.” In the weeks following the initial lockdown, when it looked as though we would never be returning to Olaf, I found myself desperate for escape. In the moments between awkward Zoom breakout rooms, online exams, and collapsing internships, I turned to Netflix to keep my sanity. 

The pop-culture phenomenon “Schitt’s Creek” debuted on Pop TV — a Canadian channel — in 2015 and gained widespread acclaim and a cult following once it dropped on Netflix in 2017. The show received a stunning send-off in 2020 after the airing of its final season by winning nine Emmys, breaking the record for most wins in a single season of a comedy. 

“Schitt’s Creek” follows the wealthy Rose family who, having lost all their money and assets, is forced to move to a town they bought on a whim in rural Canada. There is no real Canadian-ness to the show, however, so poutine and hockey fans might be a little let down. 

The first two seasons were entertaining in a cute, 20-minute episode sitcom way, but it wasn’t until I fell in love with the character David Rose that I sunk into an obsession with “Schitt’s Creek.” I am ashamed to say I watched seasons three to five in just one week, and season six, which premiered on Netflix just a few days ago, in one day. 

Dan Levy shines as David, an overdramatic and high strung former art gallery owner with a penchant for black clothing and kilts. Throughout the show, David transitions from a selfish, formerly wealthy man-child to a successful business owner and adoring husband. 

I was fully on board for the sweet romance between David and his business partner Patrick. In the midst of the comedy, “Schitt’s Creek” gives a glimpse into the struggles of a real relationship: jealousy, intimacy, and even heartbreak.

It is on the basis of Dan Levy’s brilliantly sarcastic performance alone that I maintain “Schitt’s Creek” deserved every Emmy it got and more. But I would be remiss if I did not at least mention Moira Rose’s incredible wig collection, or Alexis Rose’s enviable fashion sense. Moira’s relatable, if histrionic reactions to career setbacks capture the mindset of many of us during quarantine and the upcoming election, because let’s face it, we’d all “kill for a good coma right now.” 

If you are looking for a socially-distanced activity to entertain you on these lovely fall nights I cannot recommend Schitt’s Creek highly enough. So, pop a bottle of zhampagne and get on with it because as Vanity Fair wrote, “Yes, ‘Schitt’s Creek’ really is that good.”

Categories: Colleges

Faculty approve new courses for spring 2021 and interim 2022

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

St. Olaf faculty formally approved nine new courses and two new study abroad programs on Oct. 1. The courses will be available to students beginning this spring semester and next interim after having been under development for about a year.

    The new study abroad programs are a semester on natural history at the Field Museum in Chicago and a semester on global health and human rights in Kenya.

    The new St. Olaf courses consist of four classes in the sciences, two music classes, two religion classes, and a Nordic studies class.

    The science courses consist of a biology class on neuroethology, which focuses on nervous systems in animals; an engineering class on computer aided engineering; a nursing introduction to public health; and a psychology research experience class.

    The music department will add classes practicing for musical success and the pedagogy of Zoltán Kodály, a twentieth-century Hungarian composer.

    The new theology courses  are comparative religions class on Christianity and Islam and a class on anti-racist Christian pedagogies.

The Nordic studies class is on Nordic explorations of sexualities and genders.

   According to William Sonnega, the chair of the St. Olaf Curriculum Committee, professors designed the courses with the new general education (GE) requirements in mind. The religion classes in particular relate to the Christian Theology in Dialogue and Power and Race requirements.

    To get course approval, the departments and programs have to bring course proposals to the Curriculum Committee, and from there work together to transfer the ideas into teachable classes, Sonnega said. All 12 members of the Committee, who come from every academic corner of St. Olaf, review each proposal. It’s an “effective way to ensure that when we finally bring these to the whole faculty for approval, they’ve been subject to a lot of different views and questions about them,” Sonnega said.

    Once the Curriculum Committee approves the new course proposals, they go to the faculty for final endorsement. As of Oct. 1, the new classes and the College now officially offers them.

Categories: Colleges

A&Eats: An Ode to the Panini Press

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

The pandemic has taken so much from me, including the love of my life. My love, my light, my joy, my other half, my partner in crime, my bae, my boo, my comrade is no longer on campus. This indefinite separation has me feeling all sorts of things. In a word, sad. An infinite void has opened where my heart should be. As I struggle to get out of bed every morning, the only thought that keeps me going is the hope that I’ll see them again.

I am lost. How am I expected to go on without stealing glances towards my crush in the caf? How can I be deprived of such a classic St. Olaf experience? With already limited contact, the caf provided the only chance of seeing my crush. You can take away my in-person classes, the tortilla station and everything fun about college, but I draw the line at the love of my life. Every day I wander around Stav aimlessly in hopes that this has all been a fever dream, and that they will return. The caf has now become a somber place as I mourn for my love, and the state of the food only makes my mood worse.

Maybe you’ve met my other half. I know you’d recognize them if you saw them. After all, this is a small school. Incredibly hot, dependable, everyone’s friend, adaptable, an absolute celebrity, and did I mention hot? The list goes on and on. Truly irreplaceable, especially these days. And they can make the best sandwiches you’ve ever had on this campus.

Golly gee. Talking about this is like reopening old wounds and chucking salt into them. Why did I even come back to campus? What’s the point if my crush isn’t even here? Sure, I’m here for my “education” and to “work towards a meaningful degree,” but at what cost? What has this all been about? Some of y’all have never had a caf crush, and it shows.

I’ll never move on, never recover. I need closure, not a replacement. Sure, I’ll be okay someday, but our separation has certainly had a huge impact on our relationship. Love is hard to come by these days with platforms like St. Olaf Flirts and Tinder. I want, nay need, to meet someone organically like I met my crush that one fateful dinner. I need the love of my life — the panini press —to return to the caf.

Categories: Colleges

COVID-19 changes jobs on campus, students speak up

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 12:30pm

COVID-19 regulations have created differing opinions among student workers about how job supervisors on campus are enforcing the proper guidelines.

Student and Staff Employment Specialist Audrey Turner explained how the College is approaching student jobs.

“The concern is being able to provide as safe of a workplace as possible. The Community Standards, testing protocols, use of the ProtectWell app, and the COVID-19 Employee Safety training have all been implemented to support a safe work environment,” Turner said.

Emilie Hapgood ’21 works at the Admissions Office and weighed in on how COVID-19 has impacted her job.

“Admissions is doing the best they can by making tours virtual. Unfortunately, not many people are coming to visit campus right now, and there’s a lot of student workers in Admissions. That means that I have only had one shift in four weeks, so I am not really getting hours.”

In regard to other COVID-19 regulations, Hapgood had a generally positive attitude.

“My work allows me to be in my room, but they have offices set up for tour guides if they’d like a more private space,” Hapgood said. “I would say in regard to safety, I am satisfied with how they’re keeping us virtual. I can’t speak for other jobs.”

Not every student worker feels the same about their working environments. Melinde Madsen’s ’21 experience has differed from Hapgood’s.

“I work a few jobs on campus for my need-based work award,” Madsen said. “One of my jobs got moved online and a lot of hours got cut. I had to let some other workers know that they are essentially out of a job. We are already underpaid and nobody is regulating departments on the actions they are taking.”

Turner gave some insight on jobs that have been eliminated.

“Some departments had to reduce the number of jobs they were able to offer to students in order to limit the number of students in a given space to uphold physical distancing requirements,” Turner said. “Conversely, we have also seen other jobs created as a result. Bon Appetit continues to have a high need for student workers to fill open shifts.”

The pandemic may continue to affect student jobs next semester, but there is still much uncertainty around the subject.

“It is hard to say with the trajectory of the pandemic what student employment will look like for sure,” Turner said. “However, I am optimistic that we will continue to see jobs posted and available for student work.”

Categories: Colleges

Midterm grades cause varying opinions amongst students

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

The Emergency Academic Committee (EAC) implemented a new midterm grading system in response to COVID-19. Starting this semester, students will receive a midterm grade in each class which will give them an indication of their progress.

College Registrar Ericka Peterson explained midterm grades and how they will work this year.

“The Emergency Academic Committee (EAC) implemented mid-semester grading for fall 2020. Mid-semester grades will not be factored into the GPA, nor will they be reflected on the academic transcript,” Peterson said. “The mid-semester grade is a measure of academic progress at the mid point of the semester.”

Students have a range of opinions about midterm grades. Gape Lepak ’23 said that it feels like high school all over again.

“I didn’t think much of it then, and I certainly don’t think much of it now. There are more important things to worry about anyway,” Lepak said.

Some students, like David Howard ’21, expressed more feelings of stress about the process.

“With the adjusted schedule for this semester, I was surprised by how quickly midterms came up. I think it’s hard to judge where everything stands with grading,” Howard said.

Grace Lanasa ’21 is another student who feels overwhelmed. “Without fall break it feels like we’re running a marathon that I am not trained for,” Lanasa said. “I’ve personally noticed that my classes have been more demanding. I get why midterm grades were introduced but my professors aren’t easing up on work load, and I don’t know how I am expected to cope.”

However, there are also students who feel more prepared to face the new midterm grading system. Katelyn Lannom ’22 is one example.

“I honestly am a fan of midterm grades this semester,” Lannom said. “In the past, some of my professors wouldn’t have anything in the grades on Moodle until the very end of the semester, so it was hard to gauge how I was doing in the course. It feels like a nice halfway checkpoint so I have more concrete feedback.”

According to Peterson, for midterm grading to continue, a proposal would need to be presented to the Curriculum Committee for review and endorsement. There is currently no plan to continue midterm grading after this semester.

Categories: Colleges

Eugene Sandel ’22 crowned new Champion of the Hill

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

The most arbitrary and fun of St. Olaf’s homecoming traditions is Champion of the Hill, an event that is part talent show, part fashion show and part pure chaotic energy.

Seven contestants competed in four rounds on the steps of Boe Chapel The show started with a no-elimination newlywed game where they brought friends to guess their favorite pizza toppings, professors and pooping spots. 

Next, they moved on to the talent portion, the most popular part of the competition. This year was no different. Each contestant demonstrated their wide arrays of talents. Well, they demonstrated a wide array of ways to do the same talent. It is very apropos to St. Olaf that every single contestant sang for their performance. From a Carl Wheezer voiced parody of “Stacy’s Mom” to an ironic song about the greatness of the singer (“I am the goat, I am the greatest, I drive a toyota prius”, he sang), each contestant brought something fun and exciting to the show. 

Sawyer Johnson ’23 and Eugene Sandel ’22, the final two contestants, took opposite approaches to their talents. Sawyer sang a personal and earnest original song of “indie singer-songwriter” quality, and Eugene gave a parody of indie songs that ended with a satirical attack at St. Olaf’s “quirky” culture (institutionalized racism and all). 

The final three contestants — the two mentioned above and Moses Young ’22 — each gave similar responses to the final question portion of the competition, stating that they want to call the St. Olaf community to love and respect one another. 

Ultimately, Sandel was declared the victor. He expressed his gratitude and gave advice to aspiring champions, dispensing his champion wisdom to the whole of the campus.

 “Just be yourself, the whole purpose is for your personality to come through”, Sandel said. “Love each other and create space for your marginalized friends, brothers and sisters. Let St. Olaf be a place where people feel loved, accepted and welcomed.”

Categories: Colleges

Org in focus: Karibu

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

Karibu, the African and Caribbean student association at St. Olaf, has entered the 2020-2021 academic year with a fresh set of events and opportunities for participation, spearheaded by an engaging graphic redesign and dedicated executive team.

Tyreis Hunte ’23 and Mbuyisile Tlhwaele ’23, co-chairs of Karibu, alongside Trish Mutsigwa ’23, Lillian Ingabire ’22 and Kgomotso Magagula ’21, treasurer, brand manager and social media proxy, respectively, comprise Karibu’s executive team. The team has a renewed concentration on strengthening Karbiu from within.

 “We aim to build our internal community more during the time of social distancing as well as engage with other orgs and the St. Olaf community at large,” Hunte said.

Karibu is a relatively young organization on campus, with first mention in The Messenger only dating back to an article from 2004, in which they were referred to only as an “African club.” The group’s internal focus this year makes sense, then, to strengthen and define the organization so that it may better engage the campus community at large.

This internal focus, coupled with social distancing and quarantine, inspired Karibu’s first event this year, the “Dating 6FT & Worlds Apart” panel discussion. The panel was held Sept. 2, the day after St. Olaf’s two-week quarantine period officially ended. 

Longing to find connection in the new and distanced St. Olaf social sphere prompted the event, but the more light-hearted topic also offered members of Karibu the chance to share their personal reflections without the need to educate. In this way the panel was less a lecture and more a conversation between guests in virtual attendance and the five panelists, Magagula, A.D. Banse ’23, Sandra Chimutsipa ’23, Onyinye Emeli ’21, and Sadrin Mukamba ’24.

“As much as it’s important to educate, it’s also good to engage with less heavy topics,” Hunte said. “At the end of the day, we’re still growing adults, and we like to talk and engage with a variety of topics.”

In addition to engaging with a wide variety of topics — further evidenced by Karibu’s second “Hair & Colorism” event — the organization has looked to revamp their digital design with an emphasis on uniformity. Primarily, as Hunte explained, the focus has been on colors. By using a similar color scheme for various publicity platforms, such as Instagram posts, fliers and posters, Karibu has established one consistent aesthetic, something Hunte noted was missing in previous years.

Ingabire and Magagula, Karibu’s brand manager and social media proxy, respectively, have worked to revamp and unify the organization’s digital presence, which is essential during quarantine and continued social distancing.

“We’ve taken the majority of our programming virtually, so social media has been one of our main channels besides our alias to attract members and promote events, whether they are on the alias or off the alias,” Hunte said.

This improved social media and aesthetic presence, coupled with hosting interesting virtual events such as the “Sip & Tea” discussion, has driven more students to engage with Karibu. Because of this increased engagement, Hunte sees the organization’s programming so far this year as successful, not only in building the internal community of Karibu but also in reaching the external campus community at large.

Another aspect of hearing more voices from around campus, of both students from Africa and the Caribbean and students who are not, is an increased awareness of issues within the African and Caribbean regions.

“We’ve been having an increase of non-regional guests and members into our meetings,” Hunte said. “Regional members have been able to engage the topics because they themselves might not be aware of contexts within other countries within the regions.”

“This has given us an opportunity to see how other people see the regions, and gives us the opportunity to engage the topic with people who are not from the regions,” Hunte continued. 

The “Hair & Colorism” event — part of a series on “Decolonizing Our Bodies” and held Sept. 23 — was an example of this, as it served more of an educational and informative purpose as opposed to the “Dating 6FT & Worlds Apart” and “Sip & Tea” events, which focused on self-care and personal relationships.  

With this event, Karibu engaged in a “conversation around hair and colorism to better understand the historical frameworks of colonizations and their implications in the present,” according to the Instagram description for the post detailing the event. The conversation offered students the opportunity to share and learn from their personal experiences with an added historical context.

The variety of programming so far this year showcases the multitude purpose of Karibu at St. Olaf — to celebrate, to educate, to engage and to promote engagement with the African and Caribbean region at large. 

The celebration of African and Caribbean culture starts internally, within Karibu, and then extends to engage the whole College community, as Hunte noted — “Our regions have contributed a lot to the world, so that by engaging with us you’re engaging with the world at large.” 

Categories: Colleges

Board of Regents tethered to Lutheran heritage

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

From the mandatory first-year Bible class to daily chapel time, the influence of the Lutheran church has a tangible impact on every student’s time at St. Olaf College. What is less apparent is the power that the church holds within the Board of Regents, St. Olaf’s governing body.

St. Olaf has been a Lutheran-affiliated institution since the College’s founding, and today the College’s bylaws require at least 40% of Regents — and the College President — to be members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Additionally, the bylaws state that a majority of Regents must be “members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or another denomination with which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or its successors has established full communication.”  The denominations with which the ELCA has established full communication include the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Moravian Church, the Methodist Church and the Reformed Church of America.

In practice, St. Olaf’s bylaws give Lutheran affiliated Regents the power to control almost all votes made by the Board, as the Board of Regents passes most decisions with a majority of affirmative votes.

St. Olaf’s Board of Regents website does not include information about which Regents fulfill the religious affiliation requirements. 

Even with room for non-Christian Regents, the influence of the ELCA permeates not only the structure of the Board, but also makes Christianity a central part of the Board’s culture.

“There are times on the agenda when we pray together,” said Rev. Bill Gafkjen ’79, a current Regent. “[President David Anderson] will often say ‘As a college with the word ‘saint’ in its name, we pray together.’”

The bylaws of the College require one Regent to be “a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or a person who is widely recognized as a thought or practice leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” That position is currently filled by Gafkjen who is the Bishop for the Indiana-Kentucky Synod.

Gafkjen views his primary role on the Board as functioning just like any other Regent, but also “to provide a connection with the ELCA and to help when necessary to help the Regents understand a little bit of what it means to be a Lutheran college.”

The role of a Lutheran institution is “engaging the big questions of life in a way that one might not engage those questions at a community college or not church related school,” Gafkjen said. “And to do that in the context of also welcoming religious diversity, welcoming cultural diversity, racial diversity and actually lifting that up.”

Gafkjen also referenced the 2018 document “ROOTED AND OPEN: The Common Calling of the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities,” which “all of the ELCA colleges and universities have essentially adopted,” he said.

“The Lutheran theological roots that these schools have inherited deepen their educational purpose, inform their educational commitments and anchor their educational priorities,” the document states. “Their foundational commitments promise to make them flexible, open to change, ready to partner, institutionally curious and intellectually alive.”

And change they have.

“There was a day when colleges and universities were required to have 100% Lutheran members of their boards and faculty and everything else,” Gafkjen said. “In modern life, there’s been a move to honor more [religious] diversity. So, the fact that it’s actually less than a majority that have to be Lutheran I think is a strong step forward to open the door for other perspectives.”

The bylaws and constitution of the College are ultimately controlled by the ELCA National Church Council, which votes to approve any changes.

“What [the Church Council] tends to look for is whether or not something will change the relationship of the college with the ELCA,” Gafkjen said.

Additionally, the presiding bishop of the ELCA must vote on the College’s president.

However, aspects of St. Olaf such as curriculum and student life are under the control of the Board of Regents rather than the ELCA Church Council. Most recently, St. Olaf’s Lutheran affiliation was addressed by the Board of Regents in discussions of reforming the general education (GE) curriculum in 2019.

“[St. Olaf’s Lutheran affiliation] came up when we were working through the curriculum changes,” Gafkjen said, “and what was appropriate in terms of the identity of the College and the religion requirements in the curriculum.”

The Board of Regents ultimately approved the GE reform.

However, for students at St. Olaf who believe that the College’s emphasis on the Lutheran tradition creates an exclusionary environment, the changes made towards openness and diversity have fallen short.

In a 2018 Messenger article titled “Emphasis on Lutheran Heritage Exclusionary,” Maggie Meyer ’20 wrote that St. Olaf’s focus on the Lutheran tradition implies that “an individual can practice whatever they want, but whether they like it or not, the Lutheran tradition is still nourishing them and guiding them because it is the tradition that matters.”

Regardless if students agree with the College’s enforcement of the Lutheran tradition, they feel that they are unable to operate apart from the ELCA’s influence.

Student organizations pursuing changes that are under the Regents’ oversight are working to navigate and utilize St. Olaf’s Lutheran affiliation in order to appeal to the Board. For leaders of the Climate Justice Collective (CJC), the power of the ELCA within the Board of Regents is informing their plans to continue their push for the College to divest from fossil fuels.

“In order to pass divestment we have to appeal to the senses of the Board and the administration,” said CJC leader Abby Becker ’21, “and that requires using examples of other institutions who have also divested. And if they won’t respect our other contemporaries like Macalester or Middlebury, then they might respect other [Lutheran] groups or churches who have divested.”

While Becker pointed to the various “moral and financial motivations” for divestment, she said that the Board has not been receptive to those appeals.

“The fact that we have to go this roundabout way to get to them only reflects the way that the Board of Regents does not represent its students even though it makes all the decisions for us.” said Imani Mosher ’21, another CJC leader. “They don’t see us, they don’t hear from us.”

The Board of Regents fall meeting is being held on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Disclaimer: Anna Mulhern, writer of this article, is a member of CJC.

Categories: Colleges

Microfiction Corner: “The Fall of Civilization”

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

In Minnesota, it rains leaves. 

There is a question that, I reckon, has circulated smoke-filled dorm rooms for years. Nowadays, it’s too cliche to utter: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” We can ask the same question about the leaves. When we’ve all left, and we may be leaving soon, will the trees still sprinkle the ground with beauty? They will. 

We need the trees to live, but the trees do not need us.

Categories: Colleges

María Pabón speaks at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Women

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

The St. John’s Lutheran Church Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Northfield is running an ongoing speaker series this fall called “Courageous Conversations.” Director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón started off the program on Oct. 1 with a Zoom talk titled “Unconscious Bias and its Impact on our Actions.”

Pabón presented an introductory training in recognizing and fighting unconscious bias. She explained unconscious bias as rooted in human biology.

“We are biologically wired to create categories and groups in order to understand the world,” Pabón said.

She instructed the 45 participants to think about their own biases before offering a definition and a variety of examples of her own.

Much of Pabón’s talk centered on the impacts of unconscious bias on marginalized communities. She provided examples of places in which bias appears such as law enforcement, schooling, access to jobs and medical care.

Pabón shared a story about her experiences with her daughter’s school to illustrate the ways unconscious bias can be pervasive and deeply harmful to those it affects.

In the last portion of the talk, Pabón outlined steps that the audience could take to mitigate their own unconscious bias. She began by stressing that her talk was only part of a larger set of actions that people must take to undo their ingrained biases.

Pabón advised the audience first and foremost to have conversations with people who are different from them. Her discussion centered on building diverse and inclusive social circles. The first step, she said, is to examine one’s own groups and make friends with people with different identities.

“This has to be a constant work,” Pabón said. “You’re not going to have it figured out after I’m done talking.”

Categories: Colleges

Pac-12 and BIG-10 will play football after all

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

“While there have been rumors circulating in recent weeks that both the Big-10 and the Pac-12 may reverse their decision and hold their college football seasons at the normal start date, word through official channels is that the schools remain committed to their original decision and will not be swayed by public pressure.”

“In postponing their college football seasons, the Pac-12 and Big-10 made the unpopular but correct decision. They put safety over profits, and should be commended for it. The Big-12, SEC, and ACC should all follow suit.”

These are both quotes from articles that I previously published only a few weeks ago. As you can see, I predicted that the Big-10 and Pac-12 athletic conferences would remain steadfast in their decision to not hold their college football seasons. I even went as far as to praise them for their commitment to safety. As I often hope to be when making sports predictions, I was wrong.

Since releasing those articles, both the Big-10 as well as the Pac-12, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the #WeWantToPlay movement, have decided to hold their college football seasons. The Pac-12 will begin its season on Nov. 6, playing seven games between then and their championship game on Friday, Dec. 18. The Big-10 will begin its season on October 24th, playing eight games before the winner of the conference is decided by the championship game, a contest that will take place on Dec. 19.

While both conferences made sure to hold their championship games before the college football playoff selection on Dec. 20, it is clear that no concessions will be made to accommodate their shorter schedules. Despite the Pac-12’s best efforts to have the playoff expanded to eight teams for the sake of fairness, the NCAA has maintained that the playoff will only be the top four teams in the country.

This decision by the Pac-12 and Big-10 to restart their seasons is not only disappointing, it is downright idiotic. Once again, the United States has decided to put profit ahead of human lives, ensuring that we will only continue to lose more and more Americans to the novel coronavirus. I take back any compliments I have paid either conference.

Categories: Colleges

Barrett nomination exposes a vulnerability in the system

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

On Sept. 26, 2020, President Donald Trump announced United States Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his choice for Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The opposition has dissented to Barrett’s selection on a few different levels: the timing in regard to the upcoming election, the influence of Barrett’s religious background on her rulings, the effect of a lifetime appointment and much more. Above all else, however, I believe this decision exposes a significant threat to democracy: the people involved in appointing and confirming Supreme Court Justices do not represent the views of U.S. citizens.

As a young person, it is often difficult for me to parse out the meaning of certain American political practices, policies and traditions. It is easy to get confused about how each of our political processes work and how democracy is either protected or put under siege. What is the nuance between decisions the Senate and House make? What is the true power of the presidency? And right now, how exactly is the Supreme Court chosen, and where is the judicial power held?

In a vacuum, this system seems generally fair and honest — basically, the sitting president nominates someone to fill a Justice position, and then the Senate votes on their confirmation with a simple majority decision ruling. But when looked at with a scrupulous eye, especially through the lens of Barrett’s nomination, the justice system is glaringly flawed.

Ginsburg was a giant of a woman regarding ethics, inspiration, intelligence and integrity. She represented what I will forever imagine a judge to be, despite her imperfections. In utter contrast, Barrett represents a woman deconstructing and devaluing the legacy of the notorious RBG. This makes the choice of Barrett all the more bitter and difficult. She would further move the purportedly impartial court toward conservatism rather than maintain a balance of perspectives.

Right now, the majority in power actually represents a minority of the American population. This means that our justice system is being upheld, controlled and changed by a minority. To be more specific, our justice system is in the hands of the Republicans. Of the current Justices, five were appointed by Republican Presidents, three by Democratic Presidents, and one remains completely up in the air — this is potentially Barrett’s seat.

Further, republicans controlling the senate will make the final decision on Barrett’s appointment, though they represent only 30 percent of the population. Think of the decisions that are being made and will be made in upcoming years: healthcare, human rights, reproductive rights, racial injustice — all of these issues are in the hands of individuals who don’t represent the views of our broader population. With Barrett as a Justice, the Court will be ever more skewed towards misrepresentation. Imagine the impact.

As President, Trump has nominated three Justices to the Supreme Court, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote. This exposes a vulnerability in the system. The actual views of the American public are not displayed in the makeup of the Supreme Court, with or without Barrett. Inequality, unfair distribution of power and the ominous fate of democracy are all coming to light under the shadow of Barrett.

With Trump’s recent positive COVID-19 test, which some say was caused by the ridiculous event that was the in-person Barrett announcement, the upcoming election is falling even further into chaos and uncertainty. Due to this, there is increased doubt in her confirmation process. No matter the decision, in order to uphold the type of democracy that the U.S. strives for, the Supreme Court needs to be reformed, and fast.

Caroline Peacore ’24 is from Pasadena, CA. Her major is


Categories: Colleges

Advice for those looking for “long term” — because hookups are pretty risky right now

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

Dr. Lovegood ’69, Specialist in All Things Amorous

Hello lovelies, I hope you all are faring well through the first few weeks of this strange but lively semester. I’ve been getting a few questions in my office hours about how to tell if someone is worth “popping your bubble” for. Getting involved with another student romantically is more risky with the eternally-present virus looming over us. So, it makes sense to be extra selective about who you’re going to go on a real date with or let into your personal space. “But how,” you may ask, “in the midst of a global pandemic, face masks and hormones am I supposed to decide if they are worth it?” In my experience, the real issue at stake when asking if someone will be worth your time is your compatibility. Here are some categories I highly recommend considering before reaching out to pop your bubble in the hopes of something more than a fling:

1: Are we emotionally compatible?

Although this category is more likely to harbor surprises (i.e. you date for a month before realizing that they have a crippling Reddit addiction), it’s the easiest one to figure out without risk. Something my Aunt Vera always said, “If he can’t make you cry from laughing or make you laugh when you’re crying, he’s not for you.” You can tell a lot about how well your senses of humor, emotional needs and communication styles mesh before taking any physical risks by simply having caf dates, coffees from the Cage, chats outdoors, shared homework time, etc. At this stage, you can start to read whether you’re potential lovers, or maybe just friends, without risking the Rona.

2: Would we be physically compatible?

This is a trickier one to be completely sure about, but what is romance without some level of mystery? Obviously, if you aren’t attracted to someone physically, you probably shouldn’t date them. However, in some cases a combination of personality and physical attraction will make someone pretty darn appealing. There’s also the question of expectations. Do they expect sex early in a relationship? Will they be severely disappointed if that doesn’t happen? This is a question of communication. It is most crucial, however, to never feel constrained by how attractive your friends find someone you like! They aren’t going to be the ones kissing them or spending long hours gazing into their eyes, and if they are, you have some other issues you might want to address. If they are to your liking, that’s enough.

3: Other major logistics:

Imagine a world where there’s no COVID, no crazy class schedules, no preordained practice room slots, no 10 hours of Bon App shifts every weekend. Sadly, this is not the campus world we currently live on. So here’s the question, do you actually have time for each other? You might find that even with less rehearsals and orgs, you still don’t have the time or energy to be in a relationship. Beyond that, there’s consideration of age difference, which can feel surprisingly steep when you’re a sophomore and they’re a senior. And don’t forget issues of spiritual compatibility, life philosophies and lifestyle differences.

At the end of the day, having a significant other to be there for you is a lovely, wonderful thing. But in the beginning it can be hard to tell who is worth a shot, especially with all the masks! The most important thing is to know your deal breakers. Not your friends’, not your parents’, but your personal deal-breakers. Be honest with yourself about what is and is not acceptable to you in a committed relationship and be sure to think long and hard before deciding to let any of these ideals go for the sake of giving that special someone a chance.


Categories: Colleges


Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

I met a stranger at a corner of my street.

She said “Hey, there, yes, over here. Would you spare me a little of your time?

See, every single person that passes by never spares me even a look.

I am turning into stone.

I swear I am.

I am blending into this wall.

I am not asking you for much.

Stand here, by me. Just for a while.

Pretend that I am a person you know.

Pretend you took the time to come see me. Pretend that I matter. Pretend you see me. Look into my eyes, and pretend you see what I feel.

I am turning into stone. I swear I am.

I am blending into this wall.

If you could tell somebody about me today,

at least they too will know I exist.

Even if that’s all I am, at least they will know a story about the lonely stranger you met at a corner of your street.”

Categories: Colleges

Northfield residents engage in weekly protests for Black Lives Matter

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

Following the death of George Floyd, a group of Northfield residents have held weekly protests in downtown Northfield to show support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Organized by Sharon Lane-Getaz, associate professor of statistics and education at St. Olaf, and other Northfield residents, the Stand Up Northfield protests aim to spark conversation within the town. 

These weekly protests happen every Monday at 5:15 p.m, weather permitting, alongside Highway 19. Beginning as a small assembly of residents who  attended the Northfield Women’s March, the weekly gathering has expanded over the summer to include local high school students and families. Organizers encourage masks, social distancing and family-friendly posters.

Since St. Olaf students have returned to campus, Lane-Getaz has been in contact with student organizations on campus and is hoping to see an increased attendance from college students. “The Hill is not an isolated entity. Part of what we are experiencing on campus is a result of what we are feeling across the world. We need to get out in the streets and see our solidarity,” Lane-Getaz said. “I am a Northfield resident. I am a professor at St. Olaf. When we put those two worlds together, there’s power in that.”

Rahmah Iddrisu is one of many high school students that have been attending since the summer, and she has been leading the crowd in chants ever since. Iddrisu brought a megaphone and friends in order to raise the energy when she noticed that the crowd was “idly standing there,”Iddrisu said.

Iddrisu expressed hope for consistent protests in the future. “There have been a few protests in the past, but it’s on and off every few years. I want this to be the time things become consistent,” Iddrisu said.

Iddrisu noted the importance of building community in Northfield as a place to support Black lives. In Northfield, Iddrisu discusses the struggle to find community, “I feel like most Black people feel isolated because of the lack of the community. So to see all these Black people and white people come together and find community … is really inspiring.” Iddrisu said.

Northfield resident Claire Bussman drives two hours from her college in Iowa every Monday to attend these protests with her family.

“This is not a super diverse town, but this is where I grew up. I know we’re trying to do better and I want to support that,” said Bussman. “People need to be out here until there are some changes. If you don’t show up, it doesn’t look like there is a problem; it doesn’t look like people are mad.”

Within the last couple of weeks, the protestors have been met by counter protestors. Four  trucks did laps around the area of the protesters with “Trump 2020” flags flying from their vehicles. After the residents moved to Bridge Square, the counter-protesters chanted “four more years” and “all lives matter” as the BLM group tried to hold a moment of silence. Organizers encouraged BLM protestors not to engage.

Protests will continue weekly. The organizers are currently in contact with St. Olaf student organizations to create an event on Oct. 12 for students and residents. The event will include the protest alongside potential speakers.

Reporting contributed by Lydia Bermel, News Editor

Categories: Colleges

Boe Chapel adapts to COVID-19 policies to ensure safe worship space

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

Boe Chapel’s Sunday worship and daily chapel services transitioned to being in-person on Sept. 3 after having gone fully online in March in response to COVID-19. 

St. Olaf College Ministry leaders followed strict guidelines from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship and Sacraments to ensure a safe environment for reopening.

“Our first step was seeing if there is expertise and guidelines out there of ways to return to worship safely that we felt like in using those guidelines we could protect the health and safety of the St. Olaf community,” Associate College Pastor Katherine Fick said.

Some of those guidelines include elements which were already a part of the community mandate, such as requiring masks, staying six feet apart, chapel-specific guidelines that include limiting the amount of singers to four, having all musicians stand nine feet apart and stopping congregational singing and speaking in unison.

“When you take out singing and speaking, we had to rethink everything,” College Pastor Matthew Marohl said.

Ministry leadership adapted former worship elements to accommodate the guidelines by using sign language in worship and offering communion in separate containers to minimize contact.

While necessary, the changes to worship have some additional unforeseen benefits. “Movement and gestures, using hands and body feels like something you are more willing to do now,” Marohl said. “If we are given an opportunity to introduce some kind of movement, let’s not miss that opportunity.”

According to Marohl and Fick worship has changed format but the need for worship is unchanging. Although in-person worship attendance is lower, streaming statistics show that both live streaming and archived streaming is up, Marohl said.

Since going online, Boe Chapel created programs like the 10-week Summer Chapel series focusing on the topic of resilience. Future collaboration between the Student Congregation and Arneshia Williams, visiting assistant professor of dance, will provide opportunities for students to teach others how to incorporate more movement in worship.

Fick pointed out the importance of health at Boe Chapel. “We are just continually evaluating to make sure that what we are doing, we always have students in mind, students’ spiritual lives and health but also their physical, mental, emotional lives and health,” Fick said. The number one priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Categories: Colleges

Fifth Year Emerging Artists: Alekz Thoms ’20 on creating art with the land

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

The Olaf Messenger is running a multi-week series on the Fifth-Year Emerging Artists (FYEA) at St. Olaf. The program allows artists to create and display artwork, use St. Olaf studio space and remain in community with current students. 

Alekz Thoms ’20 is on a mission to make art without creating waste. From our shared screen over a Google Meet interview, Thoms held up a batch of paper they had made from cardboard cereal and soda boxes. I could not help but be in awe of their passion for sustainable art and, even more, the patience that must have been required for the whole process. 

But when it comes to their art, it became very clear to me that for Thoms, there is no need to rush the creating process — nor was there a rush to leave St. Olaf just yet. The Fifth-Year Emerging Artist applied to the program because they were not ready to part with the supportive community they had found within the art department.

“While I can make art anywhere, it’s just nice to have people that know me and know the art I make and know my life and are able to give me criticism in that way,” Thoms said. 

Working from home in North Dakota, they have still been able to maintain communication with the art department and get a sense of what everybody is up to on campus as well as the support they need for their projects. 

Apart from making paper, Thoms has also been making their own paint, keeping an open eye to their landscape and collecting anything from rocks, plants and clay from the river banks to make paint pigments.  

“It’s not like a project in itself where I am creating a piece, but more so, exploring the art that I can make with the land,” Thoms said.

Thoms expressed their concern with the gatekeeping of supplies and techniques that tends to characterise the arts, particularly with the making of art materials. After tallying up the cost for getting conventional paint making material, Thoms noted it would have cost around $250. 

“But I found a glass cup from the thrift store for fifty cents and used some tools that were just from the store,” Thoms said. Thoms wants to share with people that art is so much more accessible than it has been made out to be. 

“ For me art is very much about sharing. I create things to share. Even if I am making a portrait painting, the creation is to share with other people the way I view something,” Thoms explained, “gift giving is my love language — I am always making things to give to other people.”

Thoms’ passion to share their growing knowledge on making paint with other people not only  shows their commitment to making knowledge accessible within the artmaking but also truly speaks to how much community is centred in their art journey.

Categories: Colleges

Media Beat: Sufjan Stevens reemerges as a reluctant iconoclast with “The Ascension”

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 12:00pm

Sufjan Stevens has an uncanny knack for capturing the spirit of the U.S. Once pledging to make an album for each state of the union, Stevens built his fame on lovingly and painstakingly mythologizing the middle-American experience. After reaching an artistic peak in 2015 with “Carrie and Lowell” and experiencing the soul-shaking malaise of the present day U.S., Sufjan had nowhere else to go. So, he took a hammer to it all. 

“The Ascension” is not as large of a musical departure as one might imagine. Although more known for his intense folk music (we in the Sufjan Cult call it his ‘Twing-Twang’ music), he has a deep career-spanning body of electronic music (‘Bleep-Bloop,’ of course). Stevens’ real departure is in the emotion of his work. 

Stevens is not expressing the tender love of his home a la “Michigan,” or revealing the manic highs of psychotic depression like in “The Age of Adz;” he is depicting a seeping dread, one that threatens the very core of his being. In “America,” the very end of the album, Stevens pleads to both God and his fans, “Don’t do to me what you did to America”. He has an entire song where the only lyric is a haunting repetition of “I want to die happy”. 

The music sounds good, too. An unlikely combination of existential dread and melodic EDM, the album hits its strides in songs like “Death Star,” “Ativan” and “Make Me An Offer I Cannot Refuse,’ where Sufjan manages to meld overwhelming electronica elements with sweeping “sad boy” lyrics that bring you to where he’s at: crying on the dance floor. 

The album ends with a departure, however. The titular (and best) track has him accepting his fate, that he is incapable of fixing the world around him as it crumbles into chaos. This leads into “America,” where he lets his misery and hopelessness take form as the album fades into oblivion. 

“The Ascension” is not without its stumbles, however. Songs like “Goodbye To All That”, “Gilgamesh” and “Ursa Major” are mostly forgettable and are unlikely to make it into your Spotify playlists. Even with its strengths considered, “The Ascension” lacks the thematic and emotional depth and musical consistency of his best works. It’s certainly no “Carrie and Lowell” or “Age of Adz.” 

In the end, “The Ascension” is still a special record. A great depiction of the world we find ourselves in, I cannot more highly recommend lying down, putting your headphones in, and floating along on the hour and twenty minute runtime. Please, go forth and ascend. 


Categories: Colleges