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The student newspaper of St. Olaf College
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

St. Olaf students organize Northfield Mutual Aid Fund

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

St. Olaf student organizers formed the Northfield Mutual Aid Fund this past summer.

“A mutual aid fund is a network of community members who act as a centerpiece for other community members who need aid. It can take the form of monetary aid, food assistance, rent assistance,” said organizer Anna Schneller ’22. “We are a network of community members who help each other with necessities, first and foremost.”

The group decided to form the fund in light of the summer’s overlapping crises of the pandemic and racial injustice. The pandemic has prompted the creation and expansion of mutual aid funds across the country.

“At least for me personally, when the school closed in March and I flew home, I had to isolate in an apartment by myself,” said organizer Matt Mackenzie ’22. “I just kind of got dumped there with no mask, no resources, no anything, and my county had already had this mutual aid network set up and I was able to get some supplies that I needed through that, so that’s how I first started thinking about the idea.”

Currently, the Mutual Aid Fund is mainly operating through microgrants, but the fund hopes to expand their services to groceries and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) delivery soon.

The group is clear about the distinction between mutual aid and charity. “Mutual aids don’t ask you to fill out any forms or prove your need. You just say, ‘I need X amount of money for groceries,’ and then we’ll just give you X amount of money for groceries or we’ll go and get you groceries,” Schneller said. “Charities usually have big donors, but mutual aid relies on small community-sourced donations.”

“Speaking in terms of solidarity versus charity more broadly, there’s definitely a difference in power dynamic that comes into play,” Mackenzie said. “Basically a charity says, ‘You’re needy, I will help you’ and there’s a distinct hierarchy between the person who’s giving out the benefits and the person that’s receiving them.”

In contrast, mutual aid funds aim to share power collectively and distribute aid amongst peers. Mackenzie described this collaborative mindset: “In mutual aid it’s more like, ‘These systems are failing us, we will help each other — you need something now, I might need something later, and you can help me out then.’”

Although St. Olaf students run the fund, their focus is on coordinating community assistance for the Northfield area as a whole. The group has been reaching out to other organizations that are already active in Northfield.

At the same time, their connection to the student body benefits their immediate mission. “We know of needs that exist on campus and will exist in the future, and for example, we want to help CUBE in whatever way that we can with their ongoing anti-racism efforts,” Mackenzie said.

At present, Northfield Mutual Aid is looking for more students living on campus to help with the physical logistics of distributing aid, especially students with cars. Individuals can request aid by following the link in Northfield Mutual Aid’s Instagram bio

@northfieldmutualaid. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to direct message the account.

Categories: Colleges

Black women on campus gather community after Breonna Taylor’s grand jury decision

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

Following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision over Breonna Taylor’s death, Black female students organized an event to support Breonna Taylor and other Black women who have died at the hands of police.

Mariam Prater ’23 organized the event titled “In Solidarity with Louisville,” with support from Black Ensemble. On Sept. 25, Black women on campus created a space on the steps of Boe Memorial Chapel to support each other, read poems and speak about their experiences on campus and in the U.S as Black women.

“I think it was important to do something to support Louisville,” said Prater “I thought it would be a moment for Black people, Black women, specifically to let out a bunch of their frustrations.”

The event opened with student-led singing of the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Speakers then took turns reading poetry, giving words of encouragement to other Black students and sharing the struggles of being a Black woman on campus. Prater aimed to create a space for Black students to converse with each other, a space that can be difficult to create on a predominately white campus, said Prater.

“It was not a protest … I wanted this event to be unfiltered a space for Black women to say, ‘I’m f****** tired, that’s what I wanted it to be and that’s what it turned out to be,” said Prater.

Following the speakers, the mic was open to other Black students who offered support to Black women. Prater closed the event with an invitation to any Black students who feel like they do not have a community at St Olaf. The event ended with Black students dancing and laughing.

Following the event, Tashonna Douglas ’21 formed a group message for Black women on campus to further create a community and support system. Prater cites the lack of representation within the administration, the President’s Leadership Team, the Taylor Center and Boe House as part of the ongoing struggles of being a Black woman on campus. This lack of representation creates a need for the kind of community that Douglas and Prater have sought to create.

“It’s hard, it’s so hard to find someone to talk to, Prater said. “This event means setting a precedent for us to be there for each other, to support each other.”

This event was led by and specifically planned for Black female students and open to all students. They filled the quad, along with faculty, looking to show support and listen.

“I wanted it to be a safe place for Black women so that they know that other Black women are there for them and that they are supported on this campus and that’s what it was,” said Prater.

Categories: Colleges

Crossword key: October 1st edition

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 8:20pm

Elijah Leer ’22

Categories: Colleges

College announces remote Interim, hybrid spring semester

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 11:07am

St. Olaf will hold classes online during the Interim term and will return to a mix of in-person and online classes during the spring semester, President David Anderson ’74 announced in an email to students on Oct. 7. The plan includes a two-week break between the end of Interim and start of spring semester and a period of coronavirus testing and quarantine when students, staff and faculty return for the spring.   

The decision comes after overwhelming student, staff and faculty support for this plan from a survey sent to the community by the President’s Leadership Team on Sept. 25. Results from this survey, shared with the community Sept. 30, showed that 79 percent of faculty, 87 percent of staff and 60 percent of students preferred the plan described above instead of a second plan which would have seen a mix of online and in-person for both the Interim and spring terms. 

The College will incorporate three “rest days” into the spring semester academic calendar, according to Anderson’s Oct. 7 email explaining the decision. The incorporation of these rest days responds to student and faculty concerns about the lack of breaks during the fall semester.

As expressed in the survey, the most important consideration for student, staff and faculty’s spring scenario preferences is “having sufficient breaks during and between terms for wrap-up, preparation work, rest and relaxation,” according to the wording of the survey.

“Minimizing campus exposure during highest flu (and possibly COVID) season” is the second most important consideration for the community, the survey showed.

The selected online Interim and hybrid spring plan ensures that these considerations are met while maintaining a practical vision of the 2021 year that will be altered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Anderson’s Oct. 7 email to students explained.

“The pandemic has imposed limits and constraints on many areas of our lives, and this is one of them,” Anderson wrote in the email. “It simply wouldn’t be practical to have everyone back for Interim, test and quarantine, and then, one month later after the Interim break, repeat that process.” 

Categories: Colleges

Photo story: A Shoe’s Journey

Fri, 10/02/2020 - 8:45am

Categories: Colleges

Humans of St. Olaf

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:49pm

What makes you happy?

Not losing my purpose. And what is it?

For the moment, it is being able to be helpful. During my Cage shift, I get to see people happy and grateful for getting their drinks.

Even that tiny thing makes me happy.

Categories: Colleges

Microfiction corner: Tag

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:42pm

The sun had gone down and the mosquitoes had come out, biting my legs as I ran further from my house. With every step I took, my breath got heavier, until my lungs felt like they were going to collapse.

Crunch. They’re catching up. I need to run faster. I must run faster. My heart pounds in my chest, my knees weak in exhaustion. Footsteps behind me get louder. I cannot look back. A breath lets out behind me as a force hits my back. I can hear the devilish grin in their voice as they say, “Tag, you’re it.”

Categories: Colleges


Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:40pm

By A.J.

The children had come in late that morning to tell them about the big smooth stone they found playing out in the yard — smooth like a massive chicken egg ready to hatch. It was soft and cold and almost felt like paper folded too many times and smeared with mud, and about the same color, with an enchanting sense of age to it. But it was so big they couldn’t pull it out, and the dirt around it was hard and pressed and anyways they had no shovels, not even the silly little plastic ones they used to have for the sandbox. The kids had lost those.

Stones weren’t much more interesting than dirt but the kids kept talking about it with an odd fervor, and before dinner they dragged their father and uncle out of the house to come look at it. It was a Sunday afternoon which is a good time to humor small children, and when they saw the smooth section of the exposed stone they felt the same inexplicable interest and joined the children in a happy and irresistible digging around until the alabaster surface of it wobbled and Uncle Hal could spread his big hand over the top of the curve and grasp firmly along a latitude and have a wide grip to pull up with. He did this while the children dug around and picked the dirt from the expanding horizon of the curved surface, while his brother, the children’s father, walked off to have a smoke and cover up the new stench in the air.

They did this until the dirt broke and Hal came up off his knees with unexpected speed and was on his back and had the stone in both hands and could see it was oddly shaped, with two good pits packed with dirt and a few more holes between those great pits and the top of the stone traced a long pleasant curvature until at the bottom below the pits where it ended in an indescribable and disgusting emptiness, a void not meant to be seen, and the stone was not a stone and Hal felt his stomach turn inside out.

Then one of the children found another piece which had been tucked under the stone and shaped like a small curved visor, but a visor with teeth, and held it for Hal to see and Hal saw the jaw and looked back at the not-stone in his hands and saw the space where the jaw should be and he felt the back of his own skull bounce on the dirt behind him and his eyes rolled up to his head as the children cackled and laughed at him. The desiccated head fell to his side and collided with a real stone on the ground and split apart and the egg hatched not to life but to the stench of death which had been preserved and fermented in the cranium like an awful clay jug. His brother came jogging back from his smoking spot and began to shout for help while the children giggled giddily still considering it good play, and were better for it.

Categories: Colleges

If Trump wins: a prediction

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:34pm

The November election has sparked worry for Americans across the country of every class, creed and political leaning. These concerns are well-founded; a variety of factors indicate that this year will test America’s pattern of peaceful and cooperative transitions of power and test the strength of the Union in ways not seen since the Civil War. President Donald Trump’s recent comments on the election are without precedent in American history — the latest in a series of failures to obey the central oath of his office and to uphold the Constitution.

Election concerns have revolved chiefly around one scenario: a win for Vice President Joe Biden. The political nightmare circulating through opinion sections, prime-time news and private conversations deal with Trump’s inability to accept a loss. While a Biden win may be the most likely outcome of this year’s election, it’s certainly not the only possibility. Wishful thinking about the outcome of the election may blind us to a disastrous outcome: a clean, fair win for Trump that Democrats may be unable to accept.

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, discusses the possibility of an outright Trump win in his piece for The Atlantic, titled “The Democrats May Not Be Able to Concede.” Hamid points to the difficulty many Americans had accepting the 2016 election, arguing the results produced a sense of cognitive dissonance and despair that has made radical politics and non-peaceful means more attractive to many Americans.

Four years later, voters are more polarized than ever. A summer of protest has led many voters to a dismal view of the U.S. legal system and electoral college, which — flawed or not — will decide the winner of this year’s election. The Supreme Court, likely to be involved in a contested election, will have had the void left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filled by Trump – whose nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is already being tarred by the The Nation as an “extremist” and by Newsweek as “inspiration for the Handmaid’s Tale.” Assuming that the Supreme Court hands down a Trump win, will Democratic contesters accept the court’s deliberations as legitimate?

The energy that has coalesced around racial justice protests this summer would likely inspire powerful street demonstrations against a Trump win. But a rejection of legitimate results might also come from party leaders. Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an emblem of the Democrat old guard, has said that Biden “should not concede under any circumstances.”

The Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group of former high government officials dedicated to ensuring a normal election and transition, ran a series of simulated war games to understand how Biden and Trump teams might respond on election night and in the following days. While simulations reliably saw Trump challenging the election’s legitimacy and greatly damaging the transition, his attempts to maintain power consistently became untenable in the long term and resulted in his concession. Only one scenario saw the outright rejection of election results and a refusal to concede: a clear win for Trump in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by millions.

In that case, officials assigned in the simulation to act on behalf of the Biden campaign organized mass labor and capital strikes, recruited

celebrities and former government officials to support a protest against the result and ultimately sparked discussions of secession along the coast. The campaign, in other words, acted to instigate a massive democratic meltdown.

None of this goes to say that blame for the country’s normative breakdown rests on the shoulders of the Democratic party. Trump has been a consistent enemy of our political institutions since before his election, and Republican Party leadership has been happy to collaborate. Trump has challenged the fundamental promise of a fair and stable democracy, which is that losers in elections can trust that they will be given another chance.

Still, if media actors and politicians continue to damage their claim as defenders of law through pre-election hyperbole and anti-institutionalism, then, as Atlantic Staff Writer Caitlin Flanagan wrote, “once again, Donald Trump may claim both the low road and the upper hand.”

John Emmons ’23 is from Seattle, W.A. His major is undeclared.

Categories: Colleges

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death further reveals injustice

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:32pm

In 1976, an Oklahoma lawyer challenged a statute outlawing the sale of certain types of beer below 3.2 percent alcohol content to men below the age of 21. The same state law allowed women to purchase alcohol below 3.2 percent at the age of 18. It was the rare case of legal discrimination against men.

This suit proved itself the perfect opportunity for one of the top lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the Women’s Rights Project to advance a case on sex discrimination to the Supreme Court. This lawyer was future Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Rather than pick a textbook case of discrimination against women (there was a mountain of options in 1976 America), Ginsburg pursued this case because it had a male defendant. Even while arguing for, at the time, incredibly radical ideas of legal protections against discrimination for women, Ginsburg focused on a pragmatic approach: making the case as sympathetic to the all-male court as possible.

In the months leading up the case’s Supreme Court appearence, the incompetent male lawyer who filed the case had refused the far more credentialed Ginsburg the chance to argue in court. Knowing that he wouldn’t back down, Ginsburg got an entirely different case in front of the Court. She made sure oral arguments happened immediately before the alcohol case and spent their entirety talking about the next case, finding a backdoor method to prosecute the case herself. Her arguments convinced the Court to a 7-2 decision on her side. This case, Craig v. Boren, is considered one of the first and most important pieces of caselaw preventing sex discrimination.

This is just one example in a whole career of brilliance, insight and, above all, pragmatism. Ginsburg’s hard fought successes for the rights of women led her to the respect and pop culture phenom we know now. Her astounding ability to become a revered figure of the American left without being seen as anathema to conservatives was a result of her uncanny skill in finding compromise and a middle path.

Ginsburg had a well-documented and close friendship with Antonin Scalia, one of the most consevative justices the Court had ever seen. Ginsburg was willing to go to the opera with a man who ideologically represented everything she fought against, and she saw his opposition and friendship as something that made her stronger. This ability to find middle ground was not just an admirable personality trait, it was the only way she could ever enact change in the Court.

And enact change she did. Ginsburg was a decisive liberal vote in many cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Ginsburg was also the writer of the majority opinion in a number of important cases, including United States vs. Virginia, a case preventing sex discrimination in higher education, and Olmstead vs. Virgina, which protected people with mental disabilities from institutionalization and discrimination.

Ginsburg was also known for her scathing dissenting opinions. The opinion that brought her fame for being the dissenter of the Court, fame that grew into the Notorious RBG personality we know today, was her opinion on Bush v Gore, the case which handed George Bush the contested 2000 election. For the over a hundred years of dissenting briefs prior, it was decorum to end the opinion with “I respectfully dissent.” Ginsburg, however, ended her opinion, a blistering argument that the Court was stripping Americans of a basic right to transparent elections, with two caustic words: “I dissent.”

Ginsburg’s successes for individual liberties were won at the hands of her amazing ability to compromise. Ginsburg spent her career on the razor’s edge between radical and moderate, conciliatory and brutal, combative and prudent. Her pragmatic effectiveness will surely cause her to be remembered as one of the most influential, wise and fair jurists in American history.

Logan Graham ’22 is from Warrenville, I.L. His major is Philosophy.

Categories: Colleges

Masks on, St. Olaf

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:30pm

Will we stay in person this year?

When quarantine started last March, it was definitely rough. But it was also new and kind of exciting. People sewed masks, whipped coffee and found quarantine hobbies. Most of us had the energy to be fairly diligent about staying home. After all, the pandemic was only for a couple of months, tops — right? Well, now we’re about seven months into the global crisis, and for a lot of people, quarantining seems to have gotten tiring.

People’s sudden boredom with quarantine is one of the many phenomenons we’ve learned about recently. We’ve also discovered that people can easily have a false sense of security when cases are low. I had to drive through St. George, Utah, last June, and a kid literally asked my mom what was on her face because he’d never seen a surgical mask. Cases were so low there that people didn’t feel the need to socially distance. This really just meant that COVID-19 started to spread extremely easily throughout the city. Eventually, St. George had a huge spike in cases.

These situations demonstrate an essential problem with reopening: if we stop following COVID-19 protocols, either because we’ve gotten tired of them or because we feel safe, and one super spreader comes along, we’re bound to have an outbreak.

This brings us to the question of St. Olaf’s future for the fall semester. Things are going surprisingly well for us right now — we had zero positive cases in last week’s random testing sample! Pessimistically, though, I think things may be going too well.

Students are only going to get less and less determined to follow all of the COVID-19 rules. Yes, the school has better policies than many other colleges, but they’ll obviously only work if people keep caring about them, something that they’re a lot less likely to do when things are looking so good.

I, for one, have already noticed little signifiers, such as how more people walking around my hall have stopped wearing their masks at night — because apparently COVID-19 goes to sleep at eight p.m. This is what makes me think that we could easily still get sent home this semester.

St. Olaf’s bubble is intact for now, but it will only keep working if all 3,000 of us strictly follow the rules. All of us have a web of people that we may be interacting with, from friends at other schools to random people in Northfield, Minn. If we aren’t listening to the policies designed to prevent outbreaks, and just a few of us bring COVID-19 in from some of these people, the bubble is going to pop.

Would the school actually send us home in the case of a serious outbreak? Colleges across the country have had very different responses to this, but it seems likely that we’ll follow the route of Harvard and many other schools, in which everyone but the first years gets sent home. I’m afraid that this will happen eventually. While it’s truly impossible to accurately predict what the rest of 2020 will be like, at this point, I can’t be too optimistic.

Charlotte Smith ’24 is from Boulder, C.O. Her major is


Categories: Colleges

St. Olaf need to test more students for Covid-19

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:26pm

It has been known for months: colleges reopening without adequate COVID-19 testing are doomed to failure. As such, colleges have spent millions of dollars on COVID-19 tests to ensure they would be able to respond with alacrity to an outbreak. St. Olaf, while bolstered by an effective early-semester testing scheme, is not doing enough to track the possibility of an outbreak on campus.

A sizable COVID-19 outbreak on campus going undetected for even a short period runs the risk of quickly bursting above manageable size. Even worse, the virus only needs to reach one vulnerable person for potentially disastrous consequences. It stands to reason that catching cases in the early stages is necessary for the protection of the St. Olaf community.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization, around 80 percent of overall COVID-19 cases and nearly all cases among non-vulnerable people are asymptomatic. Since the vast majority of cases among members of the student body would be asymptomatic, it is obvious that we must rely on surveillance testing and contact tracing in order to ascertain whether or not there is an outbreak.

The full extent of St. Olaf’s plan is to test 300 people a week at random. Once someone tests positive, contact tracers determine who they believe is at risk due to contact with the infected person and instruct them to quarantine in their room until they pass the incubation period of the virus and have no risk of infecting others. It is incredibly important to note that contract-traced individuals do not get tested. This is where the plan falls apart.

Like all viruses, COVID-19 emerges in clusters of people. Think of an outbreak as a series of layers: the first layer being the original infection, the second layer being people who got it from them, the third layer being people who got it from the second layer, etc. This spread emerges in traceable patterns, essentially creating a growing social zone of infection which acts, with enough data, predictably. Since each layer gets exponentially larger than the last one, it is imperative to catch the outbreak early. The current system, however, only deals with the first two layers.

If someone tests positive and the people at risk from them are quarantined, contact tracing does not continue onto that third layer — it figures that the second cohort has not infected anyone, which is an unsafe assumption to make. Considering the small portion of the student population that is tested each week, cases which come back positive have likely sat undetected for weeks. This means an infection is very likely to have reached the third layer and continues to spread totally unbeknownst to the College.

This is perhaps the most solvable testing issue imaginable. If the policy allocated tests to the second layer and treated them as new infections (further testing the people they exposed, so on and so forth until no new positive cases emerge,) then the college would have a near-foolproof ability to discover these clusters of cases.

The current policy assures that the College will never take the necessary measures to stop a deadly outbreak. The College needs 45 positive cases for two weeks in a row to reach the 3% threshold necessary to even temporarily place classes online. The changes in regulation between the 0-1 percent and 1-3 percent range are so small as to be basically discounted. This doesn’t seem too bad, until you consider the tests are only including the people who are randomly chosen and not those who have been exposed, which means that 90 out of 600 random tests would need to return positive over a two week period. This would imply a disastrous 15 percent positivity rate, which would mean over 450 members of the St. Olaf community would already have the virus.

This far eclipses the college’s ability to test and quarantine, and the chance of the virus being spread to a vulnerable population would be incredibly high. In this scenario, the college’s only recourse is to cross their fingers and hope for no deaths. I’d prefer we not reach that point.

I am asking for one exceedingly simple thing in order to protect students, staff and faculty: test the people exposed to COVID-19.

Logan Graham ’22 is from Warrenville, I.L. His major is


Categories: Colleges

40 years, same problems

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:17pm

The Great Conversation acts as a cornerstone of the St. Olaf education for roughly one-eighth of every graduating class and has for close to four decades. Despite its prevailing popularity, the program — a five-course series that, according to its website, “introduces the major epochs of Western civilization to students via great works of human achievement” — has faced scrutiny since even before its inception. In a 1980 Messenger article announcing the program’s proposed formation, then Vice President and Academic Dean Gerald Hartwig expressed his reservations to implement the coursework as presented.

“We had the Western heritage in high school,” Hartwig said. “We really don’t get out of our own cultural milieu when we encounter it again as freshmen.”

In a 1982 Messenger piece, Gale Holmlund ’83 wrote “The ‘Great Conversation’ is misnamed; it should be the ‘Great White Male Conversation.’”

In 1984, a college review of the curriculum posed the question: “Does the program address, if not equally, at least proportionally, minority groups which have influenced Western thought?”

Over two decades later in a 2008 Messenger article titled “Program’s ‘greatness’ considered” the name was called “a bit archaic and elite.”

Calls for change have not ceased since the program’s creation, but by and large, the program has not changed much at all. On paper, the coursework as it is presented today closely mirrors how it was first proposed over forty years ago.

The general education framework that the program works within has undergone extensive overhauls, but the program’s specific mission and courses have not changed substantially. The 1980 Messenger piece announcing the conversation’s creation described courses incluing “such illustrious Western thinkers as Plato, Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Paul, Augustine, and Dante,” all of whom wrote works that remain a part of course syllabi today. On a larger level, the current course titles remain almost identical to their original counterparts.

As they read in 1980, and as they read today, the five course titles suggest that the program follows the journey of a single tradition — “The Tradition Beginning: The Greeks and the Hebrews,” “The Tradition Continuing: The Romans and the Christians,” “The Tradition Redefined: The Medieval Synthesis,” “The Tradition Renewed: New Forces of Secularization” and “The Tradition in Crisis: Dissenters and Defenders”.

Despite the designation of this single tradition, Mary Trull, Director of the Great Conversation, says that the approach to the curriculum is outdated.

“It’s important to the program that we don’t have one narrative about the history of ideas that we are pushing out to everyone,” Trull said.

According to Trull, the steering committee, an advisory board composed of past and current faculty, is currently drafting new course titles and descriptions that intend to allow for a more thematic, less geographical approach. While the committee does not have a clearly demarcated set of responsibilities, it maintains the authority to alter the larger framework and mission of the program.

Students are calling for further changes to the Great Conversation’s pedagogy. Zoë Miller ’23 and Seneca Norvell ’23, alongside other members of the class of the sophomore cohort, are in conversations with the teaching faculty as well as Trull to voice student concerns about the program. These include concerns of what works are included in the syllabi, the manner in which they are taught, and larger questions, such as the validity of the program’s name.

One catalyst Norvell cited as an impetus for forming a formal group was reading a New York Times op-ed published in July 2020 detailing Aristotle’s support for slavery. She was concerned that such context was not presented in the study of Aristotle’s work in the Great Conversation program.

“I was thinking ‘Why didn’t we learn about this when we had read his books’,” Norvell said. “Because otherwise I think there’s a tendency to — not idolize [authors] — but you don’t get the full picture of the person. Which I think is really important; to know their flaws.”

In that vein, the group sees allowing space to continue to read these same canonical works, but through a more critical lens as one possible path forward for creating a more complete program.

“One of the first things you read in the program sets up why these texts are classics,” Miller said. “And so it was kind of an idea of if we are going to set this person up on a pedestal and name them as a part of ‘the Great Conversation’ what does that say about us saying they’re good? What if we were a lot more critical of the Western thinkers we are working with. So we read Aristotle and then we read the op-ed allowing space to continue to read these same canonical works, but through a more critical lens — dealing more with who are these people? And how do they impact today?”

Questions of who gets to decide what — or who — makes a work great are at the forefront of discussions regarding where the future of the program is heading. In order to fulfill the conversation’s goal, what needs to be studied? What voices need to be heard? How should they be examined?

The responsibility of attempting to answer such questions largely falls to each series’s teaching team, which crafts unique reading lists and class work for each cohort of the Great Conversation.

“Every time that we teach the first course, we teach Homer and Plato and Aristotle and the Bible,” Trull said. “But there’s no list that absolutely must be taken from. So a lot of it is faculty choosing to teach the same texts over and over again, or relying on tradition. But there’s no rule that says that they have to. That allows cohorts to innovate.”

This amount of flexibility from year to year allows faculty to potentially feature a greater number of voices in the program over time, but ensures no continuity from one semester to another. “That’s really kind of a Band-Aid,” Trull said in regards to individual faculty having the option to include more diverse texts from semester to semester; pointing to the new framework crafted by the steering committee as a more permanent solution.

There is suggestion from students that this fluidity allows for a lack of structural priority on including critical, diverse voices alongside canonical works; giving professors the agency to ignore the roots of texts that have been historically and presently used to diminish and discriminate.

Another aspect of the course that Miller and Norvell pointed to as inciting their call for change was the time spent focused on Biblical texts and Christianity compared to other religious texts and practices. While their cohort read excerpts from the Quran, that work only lasted three days, a fraction of the amount of time spent focused on the Bible. Other student concerns about the focus on Christianity point to the idea that even when other religious texts were studied, those conversations centered around the texts’ relationship to the Bible.

“Everything [we read] was related to the Bible, but the Quran especially,” said Mackenzie Todd ’22, a former Great Conversation student. “A lot of people were raised Christian and it was natural for them, and the professors never really discouraged it.”

Norvell said that she hopes to see more BIPOC authors highlighted throughout the course, suggesting that the class could include these less abundant perspectives through art opposed to literary works that might have been “erased by colonialist empires.”

This call from students for voices beyond those of white men have echoed since initial concerns about the coursework. In a 1984 Messenger article, it was reported that less than 3% of author’s studied across the five semesters were women. That number for the class of 2022 cohort sat at 7%. Also in the class of 2022, approximately 82% of the authors studied were white men, with about 12% being BIPOC.

Across the board, Miller sees changing the curriculum as a valuable way to practice critical analysis — something that in many ways, according to the mission of the program, is at the core of the coursework.

“Reconfiguring some of these older conversations or older traditions,” Miller said. “What is their value today?”

Disclosure: Mackenzie Todd, interviewed for this article, is an Illustrator for the Olaf Messenger

Categories: Colleges

Russian department hosts staged reading of new play, “Insulted”

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:15pm

In Belarus, local and Russian authorities are brutalizing people who are protesting the rigging of the recent election for the last dictator in Europe, Alexander Lukashenko. This environment caused many members of the opposition to flee the country to avoid imprisonment or death. One such individual is Andrei Kureichik, a Belarusian screenwriter and author of the play “Insulted.”

On Sept. 26, the St. Olaf Russian department put on a staged reading of “Insulted.” Performer and director Hadley Evans Nash ’21 described the process.

“Mark Robinson, one of the Russian professors, emailed me and a couple other students about a week-and-a-half ago, and he said, ‘This needs to go up within a week or two’… and that was our job,” Evans Nash said. It is safe to say that they did their job extraordinarily well.

The piece revolves around seven characters and their series of monologues, showing the ways different perspectives intersect in the crisis. Most of the characters are real people, including dictator Lukashenko himself and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the legitimate president-elect of Belarus. The most touching parts tell the stories of regular people who became embroiled in this political upheaval.

The performance provides a sense of power that is not possible to convey in journalistic accounts of the atrocities. There is not only an emotional understanding of the pain of the victims but a deep comprehension of the mental state of the perpetrators. While they are not sympathetic characters, Lukashenko, a sadistic riot soldier, and the bureaucrat responsible for rigging the election all have important perspectives in the story. Understanding the pathology of authoritarianism is necessary for dismantling it. “Insulted” gives us the tools to see authoritarianism across the world and in our own country before it’s too late.

The crisis in Belarus is not some distant hypothetical. Sasha Kazharskaya ’22, who played the genuine president-elect of Belarus, is herself Belarusian.

“I’ve been in the youth wing of the opposition party for as long as I can remember,” Kazharskaya said. “I was offered the position of the president, but then I had to leave the country.” Kazharskaya’s personal connection to the crisis and knowledge of the on-the-ground experience helped inform the production as a whole and added to the textured and moving performances.

“Insulted” does the necessary work of revealing the violence in Belarus to us in the U.S. and other countries, making us aware of the human rights atrocities happening in other parts of the world. “Insulted” also allows us to see the potential consequences of allowing authoritarianism to rise in America and abroad.

However, it would be wrong to characterize the play’s message as hopeless. The strength of the Belarusian people and their righteous hunger for freedom rises above even the stories of rape and murder. The reading ended in a beautiful rendition of a Belarusian protest song, and called the audience to ask what it means to be free and what they’re willing to do for love: love for each other and love for their country.

Despite the terror, Kazh-arskaya has hope. “I have never been more proud of my people, of my country,” she said.

Categories: Colleges

History behind 1995 student documentary “Can We Talk?”

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:10pm

In the 1995-96 school year, the Multicultural Student Affairs group on St. Olaf’s campus worked with Associate Professor of Theater William Sonnega to create a documentary-style short film depicting an organic conversation among students about race relations on campus. Twenty-five years later, this piece continues to spark conversation and was re-released by the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) on Sept. 20, 2020 in response to protests surrounding race-based oppression at St. Olaf and in the larger United States.

In the fall of 1995, the Multicultural group came up with a loose idea to produce a movie of some kind to draw attention to issues of racism at St. Olaf. They invited Sonnega to help aid this effort. From there, the group, including Sonnega, met weekly for months in conversation. The final film, entitled “Can We Talk,” ended up becoming a yearlong project.

Sonnega credits the final product to the community that developed over time within the group. He looks back fondly on the relationships fostered throughout the year and valued that space to talk openly and honestly about what it truly means to be a minority student in a predominantly white institution.

“When I look back on it, my one regret is that we didn’t have cameras rolling the whole time because there were some really tremendous, deep, difficult conversations,” said Sonnega.

After many meetings, they chose one Saturday to take the raw footage for their film. In a format similar to that of the show “60 Minutes,” the film shows a group of students sitting on risers, passing around a microphone and conversing. They had prompting questions, but mostly the film is just free-flowing conversation and testimony. Sonnega described the different technology of the time and the challenges of editing the VHS tape, which ultimately took months to finalize.

The film brings up themes of representation and microaggressions and specifically calls out the oftentimes difficult, restricting and silencing experiences of being a person of color at St. Olaf. The movie shows students openly sharing stories, sometimes joking and other times being very vulnerable.

The original plan for the film was to hold a screening on campus as well as to show the film to specific classes and hold peer dialogues in response to viewing. The goal was to expand the conversation around race for the entire St. Olaf community. Before the release, however, the team decided to send a preliminary courtesy copy to the St. Olaf administration. This copy prompted initial discomfort and was deemed potentially too disruptive.

A few copies were shared, and Sonnega describes the film slowly being put on the backburner with original plans never being fulfilled. Of course, as it was 25 years ago, there were less immediate ways to share the content behind the back of the administration.

“When I really think about it today, I don’t know if we would have floated that courtesy copy,” Sonnega said.

Sonnega routinely showed the film to his classes, but other than that, it was forgotten about for a number of years. The next time it was actively brought up was in response to the 2017 protests on campus. Sonnega remembers a faculty member reaching out to him wondering where the footage had gone. At that point, it was converted to digital, reshared, and shown in Tomson 280 to a group of students.

Four years after those protests, the film has been brought up yet again. Since the re-release from PAC, there has been talk of doing another project similar to this one with current students or even bringing back original alumni shown in the video to comment 25 years later. Sonnega described current St.Olaf students being excited about finding ways to continue the project.

“I think that the students’ insight 25 years ago is still really fresh in that, in their video, they talk about failure and opportunity, what’s not working and what’s working, and moreover how it all feels on a day-to-day basis,” said Sonnega. “And I’m hopeful that we all at St. Olaf College can get to that place where we are having those conversations.”

You can watch the 17-minute film on the Instagram account for St. Olaf’s PAC @sgastolafpac.

Categories: Colleges

StoReads: “The Porpoise” reimagines modern myth

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:05pm

“The Porpoise,” by Mark Haddon, follows the story of Phillipe, a wealthy man who loses his beloved wife in a plane crash, and in the ensuing stages of grief, develops an unhealthy affection that gradually ferments into an abusive relationship with his daughter, Angelica.

A young man, Darius, can sense the darker nature of their familial relationship, and attempts to save her. Haddon plots his novel around this formula of “father, daughter and hero” very strictly, but ambitiously, decides to move the narrative back in time, and attempts a re-imagining of the Shakespearean play, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”, which follows the same narrative formula. The novel is equal parts realistic fiction and fantastical romp through ancient myth, and by all accounts, it should have stumped me as a reader.

Every plotline throughout the novel seems disparate, with a sense of chronology that ignores every plea from the reader to remain linear. Reading this novel is like enjoying a seven-course meal, except the chef leads the meal with the main course, followed by another main course and five more main courses after that.

However, despite its endless ambition and complicated nature, this novel still impressed me with an exciting and engaging narrative. Haddon uses epic prose throughout the book, his lush descriptions of landscape and setting create a grandiose and romantic atmosphere, and his sharp, poignant descriptions of violence shatter it. “The Porpoise” is a great example of a modern interpretation of myth, and reading through its difficult subject matter is an intensely rewarding experience.

Haddon hops between perspectives with wild abandon. He begins the book in a modern setting, following Angelica and her abusive relationship with her father. The introductory movement is highly engaging, with the truly sickening portrayal of their abusive relationship driving the plot’s conflict. After this movement, Haddon chooses to move the book backwards in time, to a fantastical ancient Mediterranean setting. At first, this choice left me confused as a reader, but after finishing the story, I found Haddon’s ability to continue to portray his characters under different names and in a different time period fascinating. Haddon links each character to both of the time frames that the book portrays, but he somehow manages to bring the characters back together for a satisfying conclusion — an achievement in and of itself.

Haddon parallels the Shakespearean play “Pericles: Prince of Tyre” throughout the novel, which links the narrative to a  larger literary context. At times, however, it felt as though thorough research into the history and context of Shakespeare was required to understand the narrative of the novel. which I felt asks too much of the reader, and can break engagement with the story.  Haddon creates side chapters that follow the ghost of an alleged collaborator of Shakespeare, George Wilkins. While the history of the play itself is interesting, it isn’t directly relevant to the plot. These chapters created a rift — filled with nothing of relevance to the plot — between the events happening to the characters that I actually cared about.

While these literary hiccups do hamper the reading experience, I still enjoyed “The Porpoise,” and I recommend it as a challenging read for anyone interested in Shakespearean literature or, alternatively, anyone who enjoys torturing themselves with confusing novels. If you can put in the work, this book is a rewarding read.

A trigger warning: “The Porpoise” does deal frequently with issues of sexual abuse, violence and eating disorders.

Categories: Colleges

A peek inside St. Olaf’s unique music library

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:02pm

With innumerable beautiful academic buildings and unique study spots on campus, the Halverson Music Library is one of the hidden treasures that St. Olaf offers students.

This library, tucked away on the first floor of the Christiansen Hall of Music (CHM), is dedicated specifically to music and music research. The library contains materials found nowhere else on campus and includes over “15,000 books, 22,500 scores and 18,000 physical recordings along with an extensive collection of electronic materials (e-books, journal articles, and streaming media),” according to Research and Instruction Librarian Ellen Ogihara.

Three staff members work at the library, including Ogihara, Mary Huismann, the music catalog librarian and Kali Schwartz, the access services associate. A team of around 20 students work seven days and nights a week to make the library safe and welcoming for everyone.

The music library boasts “lots of fantastic, high-quality resources to do extensive, deep intensive research on music topics of all kinds,” Ogihara said. The library curates many materials that are usually only found in research institutions with a graduate degree program. Drawing on the extraordinary access this collection provides, Ogihara added that St. Olaf students have the opportunity to watch Metropolitan Opera performances for free from their dorm rooms.

“Resource-wise, Ellen Ogihara, the main research librarian, is an amazing resource herself as she can help you either use the databases or even locate some harder-to-find sources for you,” said Grace Martin ’22, a music and Russian major. “It’s fun to flit through the stacks as well, both the section with scores, non-classical music and literature. I also like the view of the hillside.”

The library offers equipment such as external drives, noise-cancelling headphones and metronomes for check-out, along with computers with music software and connection to audio playback equipment such as LP and CD-ROM players.

Furthermore, the library is a welcoming place for students to study and gather. Open to any and all students, the music library is not exclusive to music students and the library staff itself includes a number of non-music majors.

“Historically, our library has been both a study space and a social space.” Ogihara said. It has many different study spaces to fit any student’s needs, such as long tables, window seats with computers and nice views, comfy sofas and a group study room that is unfortunately closed this year due to COVID-19.

“In the past, when movement wasn’t so restricted and more was happening in the music department every day, I loved doing homework in the music library, as it was a highly convenient spot to work in between rehearsals and class,” Martin said. “It also has a lovely cozy environment and many of my friends and acquaintances from the music department would be around to chat with.”

“There are so many things I adore about the music library, like the fantastic collection, our sweet and fun patrons and the fantastic team of staff and students that I am lucky enough to work with,” Ogihara said. “The community around the music library feels intimate and special.”

Considering that most music libraries are integrated into the main library at a university, Ogihara explained that St. Olaf offers a special opportunity with the stand-alone music library and unique collection.

In all, Ogihara welcomes all students to drop in and check out the special opportunities and resources that the music library has to offer, saying, “Due to COVID, we have to ask students to stay six feet apart, but we still encourage everyone to come on in and say hi!”

Categories: Colleges


Thu, 10/01/2020 - 1:00pm

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be in a relationship. I know that sounds dark, but we’ve all been there. We feel like we’re too broken, mean or ugly for companionship. The idea of affection and intimacy scares us, and we feel like things would be better off if we were alone forever. Even though I’m in a relationship, my mind tricks me into believing that my girlfriend is too good for me — that she should be with someone better.

These thoughts are wrong.

A week after my girlfriend and I started dating, I cried in front of her for the first time. I started crying because she said that she likes me for who I am, and I cried even harder when I told her that I wasn’t as perfect as she thought I was. I felt too small and inadequate for someone with sunshine in her eyes and vigor in her heart.

She held me, told me that I’m good enough and made me laugh when I was at my lowest. She made me feel like I deserved to have her in my life.

Months ago, I endured these same pains by myself with no one there for me. Many of us suffer through days where our greatest fears come true and we hardly recognize the person we see in the mirror. We isolate ourselves and turn away from friends and family so that we don’t become a burden.

You deserve better than that, and so do I.

We deserve to be held, loved and cared for. Something I’ve noticed about people like me — people who care for others and slip away when we need the same — is that we want to be seen as strong and independent. We want to show others that we can handle our emotions by ourselves. Our worst fear is pushing someone away with our sadness.

We deserve someone who won’t be scared away because of our emotions. Relationships should be built on trust and reciprocity so that both people can ask for help when they’re feeling down. I should feel comfortable going to my girlfriend and asking for emotional support, and I shouldn’t be afraid that she will turn me away because I’m burdening her.

We deserve a happy, healthy romantic relationship. My girlfriend first cried in front of me because of a scary movie, not feelings of inadequacy. However, when I wrapped my arms around her and drank tea with her on her kitchen floor, I felt like I was taking care of her in the best way I knew how.

Now I know I deserve this relationship because we take care of each other. She cooks food for me when I don’t eat enough, and I give her hugs when she’s feeling down. We show each other affection and listen to each other. We grow together.

You and I deserve relationships. We are allowed to have strong negative emotions and express them to our romantic partners. We can be sad and tell people about it. As someone who is sensitive, I deserve someone who speaks softly to me. We deserve to be in a healthy relationship.

Categories: Colleges

How athletes stay safe during the pandemic

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 12:55pm

Following the cancellation of the spring sports season during the 2019-20 year, athletes found themselves with a few things: more time, an extra season of eligibility and a break from the grind. However, they also experienced a loss of their sense of direction in life. Many athletes find purpose in their rigorous schedules of morning lifts and afternoon practices. This obviously presented some challenges for Ole athletes.

Despite fall sports being cancelled, or at minimum postponed until spring, many teams are still practicing and lifting. This time around, practice is a bit different: masks, pods and inconsistent practice schedules. It’s clear that despite all the bad news, Oles are still willing to put time and effort into what they love. Brian Power, head coach of the men’s cross country and track and field teams, had some words on the subject.

“The cross country and track & field teams are adjusting to the new normal. Being able to walk down the hill, see friends and go for a run every day is a tremendous gift and the team is very aware of that,” Power said. “It is sometimes difficult when team members can’t run or workout with friends in another pod, but we are thrilled to be able to practice at all. The teams have done a tremendous job of being aware of social distancing and other protocols which has allowed a higher level of training.”

Practicing in pods and masks means different things for different sports. For instance, it’s quite difficult to participate in sports like cross country and track with a mask on. That being said, team members are still masking up at every moment they’re not running, and sometimes, even when they are.

For Grace Boswell-Healey ‘22, goalie on the women’s hockey team, adjusting to the new normal hasn’t been easy. For her team, practice has been off the ice since students returned. Once they return to the ice, practicing in pods will surely shake things up a bit. Following the cancellation of all fall games, continuing to practice is a testament to her team’s conviction.

“It’s definitely tough having to adjust to COVID. Not being able to have any games for the first semester is a huge bummer, and it’s going to really test our mental strength to keep pushing ourselves in practice despite not being able to see our development in games,”  Boswell-Healey said. “But as athletes we continuously deal with adversity, and I am so proud of how our team has really come together to support and encourage one another during these difficult times.”

Despite their pursuits being tampered with, Ole athletes are still willing to put their hearts into what they love. This reflects their passion for athletics, as well as their true interest in participation. Limited games, limited practices, limited teammates, yet unlimited Ole passion.

Categories: Colleges

Minnesota Lynx finish their strange 2020 season

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 12:53pm

The 2020 season for the WNBA has looked much different due to COVID-19 regulations that keep players and coaches safe during the pandemic. Protocols included shortening the WNBA’s already brief season from 34 games to 22 games while also maintaining the bubble, with all games and practices taking place in Bradenton, Florida. Teams also undergo regular testing to keep players safe. The season began in early July, and it’s about to wrap up with semifinals currently taking place.

The Lynx look much different now than two seasons ago. Lynx fans had to say goodbye to legendary Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen in her retirement as well as coach Rebekkah Brunson, who holds the franchise all-time rebounding record. Esteemed guard Maya Moore has been inactive since 2018 to focus on her social justice work, recently helping free Johnathon Irons from being wrongfully incarcerated for two decades. In 2019, free agent Seimone Augustus left the Lynx to join the Los Angeles Sparks, leaving center Sylvia Fowles as the only returning starting player.

With big shoes to fill, the 2020 Lynx team delivered amidst coaching changes and new players all while in the middle of a pandemic. The Lynx’s regular season included 14 wins and 8 losses, a record that guaranteed a spot in the second round of the playoffs avoiding single elimination. The Lynx then secured a spot in the semifinals after a close battle with the Phoenix Mercury, winning 80-79. After a close second round, Minnesota was unable to score a win and was swept by the Seattle Storm in the semifinals. However, this season’s Lynx team set a record of ten consecutive playoff appearances.

While their 2020 season is over, the Lynx still managed to walk away with the Coach of the Year award for head coach Cheryl Reeve and the Rookie of the Year award going to Crystal Dangerfield. These awards can be added to the Lynx’s impressive repertoire of championship trophies from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. These championships make the Minnesota Lynx the winningest team amongst all professional Minnesota teams.

With many young and upcoming players on the Lynx and a semifinal appearance in 2020 under their belt, the upcoming 2021 season will be an exciting season to watch and will hopefully add another championship title to the Lynx dynasty.

Categories: Colleges