A few weeks ago the Manitou Messenger published a front page article on how the 2016 presidential election has caused St. Olaf’s campus to become a hostile environment for many conservative students, particularly for those who voted for Trump. In the following weeks national news outlets picked up the story, and over spring break, vice president of the St. Olaf College Republicans Kathryn Hinderaker ’19 went on Fox News to elaborate on her experiences at St. Olaf as a conservative.
The campus’ political atmosphere wasdivided between those who criticized Hinderaker’s actions as reflective of the privilege and entitlement of some students, and those who praised her for speaking out on behalf of those whose opinions have been underrepresented at this college. I can’t deny the hostility that has been directed towards conservative students, nor can I say that this should be overlooked. Nevertheless, two points must be taken into consideration.
The first is that President David Anderson ’74 sent out a message emphasizing tolerance to the student body directly after Hinderaker’s appearance on Fox News. This action on administration’s behalf reveals an inconsistency with respect to the college’s choices regarding what campus controversies they choose to address. In light of the fact that there have been multiple anonymous hate crimes directed toward students of color and other orientations on this campus, it seems strange that the administration hasn’t faced these events head on as they did with Hinderaker’s statement.
This is distinct from my aforementioned criticism of privilege and entitlement, since the administration’s response demonstrates that there is an existing shortcoming in the way that the divided student body is being addressed.
What is more important, however, is the way that Hinderaker’s action will only serve to further divide the student body’s beliefs, which had already been cemented with the debate following the article written by Griffin Edwards ’17 regarding Angela Davis as the Political Awareness Committee spring speaker. As soon as the article was published, there were two different responses. Some students chose to write articles for the Messenger in response, engaging in civilized and logical debate on the issue. Other students chose to focus on Edwards as a person, and suggested that his article reflected a Neo-Nazi ideology. This second type of response seems to be based on a quote that was taken out of context or entirely misunderstood.
I cannot say with absolute certainty whether it was a coincidence that “Under the Radar” was picked up by national news outlets, or whether it reflects an ongoing “culture war” that has been bubbling on campus since the election. The fact that Hinderaker decided to go on Fox News and elaborate on the article further makes me concerned that the ideological gap on campus will continue to grow. The divisions that we may hope to mend will eventually be made final.
I do admit that these events have become a catalyst for discourse and debate on campus on a variety of topics, from free speech on campus to what privilege and entitlement mean. However, I am not certain that this is the most important issue we could be focusing on when there are other issues outside of the St. Olaf microcosm that demand both our attention and our immediate action. To talk is easy, but to act is difficult. This statement has become a cliché in our daily lives. But up until now, all I have been seeing is no more than mere shouting matches that have born few fruits. All they have done is dismantle the flimsy notion of community that many students advocate for, and instead they reinforced the idea that our campus is a microcosm. Each of us decided to live in a particular environment where we surround ourselves with peers and activities of our own liking, which in turn reinforces our own particular notions and beliefs.
As someone who will graduate this semester, I deeply hope that this will not remain the norm in the months following my departure. I hope the new student leadership will bring about the change they have campaigned for. Until then, the best that I, and the rest of us can do, is to stop arguing, roll up our sleeves and do our part in the days ahead.
Sam Pattinasarane ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in Asian studies and political science.