Lutefisk: a traditional, Scandinavian dish of pungently gelatinous cod. While its origins are unknown, one theory suggests that lye was added to preserve the fish for future consumption.
The origins of Lutefest are much easier to trace. It rose from the ashes of Arbstock, which was described in the February 12, 1988, edition of the Manitou Messenger as “a joint concert-and-kegs function held on Carleton College’s grounds in the late spring.” The need for a new festival arose due to students’ destructive behavior.
In reference to Arbstock, Carleton’s Dean of Students Mark Govoni was quoted in the September 19, 2003, issue of the Manitou Messenger as saying, “We feel pretty good about our control over Carleton students and less confident about our control of St. Olaf students…I have no investment in improving the lives of St. Olaf students by allowing them to come over here and drink alcohol.”
St. Olaf Vice President Greg Kneser echoed this sentiment in the same article, stating, “St. Olaf students caused a disproportionate amount of incidents at the event which Carleton had to take care of.”
But St. Olaf’s tradition of late-spring binge-drinking did not begin with Arbstock. Beginning in the early 1970s, Oles indulged in Heathstock, named after the nearby creek where the festival was located. Student organizations supplied kegs and students brought their own beverages as they crossed nearby farms to reach the remote location.
According to the 1980 St. Olaf yearbook, Heathstock was the “one day that St. Olaf students blatantly broke the alcohol policy” and was canceled due to “budget concerns” and “problems policing the event.”
Thirty-three years later, I believe the St. Olaf administration is dealing with Lutefest in the same manner: dissolving the event and threatening students with disciplinary measures. President David Anderson ’74 may have been familiar with Heathstock, and Vice President Kneser fully admitted that Oles were the issue at Arbstock.
So why are they dealing with Lutefest in the same failed manner?
Let’s briefly pause to consider the ideology behind St. Olaf’s Honor Code. Implemented during exams, it functions on the basic premise employed by many professors even in homework assignments: increase expectations, and the quality of students’ performances will increase.
Now, let’s summarize the school’s dry campus policy: alcohol, even in casual amounts, detracts from the academic performance and general well-being of the student body. Students tend to be irresponsible, so Resident Assistants and Junior Counselors make hourly rounds as an enforcement measure. The “levels” within the disciplinary system seem to equate a casual glass of wine on a Wednesday with binge-drinking on a Saturday as being caught in either activity could result in a Level One alcohol violation.
I know, I know. Changing the dry campus policy might offend conservative, old donors who are out of touch with the social revolutions of the past several decades, and changing it could eliminate potential revenue.
I get that.
I also believe that Oles’ “rite of spring” partying functions as a rebellion against a vestigial alcohol policy that alienates a large percentage of St. Olaf’s future donors. I recognize that this partying has strained the college’s relationships with the larger community for at least forty years.
It’s no accident that Oles have been more of a problem than Carls at these events. Carleton’s social policies reflect St. Olaf’s academic policies: they expect responsibility from their students. On the other hand, our administration points fingers at us while sweeping the recycling bins overflowing with beer cans and empty bottles of Jack under its copper-plated, limestone rug.
But you can only repress something for so long before it finds its way to the surface; all of these festivals are proof of that. My solution? Other dry campuses have implemented wet dorms where of-age students can indulge responsibly. Another possibility could be converting a portion of the Pause into an ‘island’ or bar where students can legally drink.
Meanwhile, I believe the Zootefest movement has proven that the spirit of Lutefest isn’t going anywhere. It fell through this year due to bureaucratic inefficiency, but there’s an old saying about taking dogs out of fights that I think applies here.
Until meaningful action is taken regarding the alcohol policy, Lutefest – just like its namesake – continues to be a tradition so soaked in preservative albeit ethanol instead of lye, that it will continue being consumed for years to come.
Chris Bowman ’13 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Bemidji, Minn. He majors in English and biology.
Graphic by Emma Johnson