Author: Abby Grosse

St. Olaf Sentiments: October 17, 2014

In some ways, entering senior year is akin to waking up from a blissful nap as your roommate blares “All About that Bass.” It is harsh. It is a real paradigm shift.

Suddenly, your “LOL everything I do is just an experiment!” mindset gives way to “I can’t just ignore Piper Center e-mails anymore and wait, the GRE costs $200? How will I pay for Taco Bell?” For the last three years, fall has felt like a season of new opportunity, but now it’s more about the decay of your willpower and innocence.

Despite the onslaught of responsibility and pressure, there are some undeniable privileges that come with being a senior. Most of them are directly linked to giving yourself permission to not care about things. I’ve compiled a list of things that no longer matter to me now that I’m in my final God willing year of undergraduate education.

1. Eating alone. Underclassmen tend to assume that eating alone will irrevocably mark you as a leper. But admit it – there are days when you don’t want to talk to anyone. You just want to focus on your unidentifiable stir-fry from Bowls and three desserts, rather than shoulder the burden of small talk.

2. Impressing people. You have unlocked the secret of the universe, which is that literally no one cares if you wear elastic-waistband pants every day of the week. Literally no one cares if your obligatory class participation is an incoherent string of gibberish. Sweating the small stuff is not just unnecessary; it actually cuts into your valuable Netflix ‘n nap time.

3. FOMO. So-called “fear of missing out” is as inevitable as hunger, loneliness, physical pain, etc. But as a senior, you’ll find your FOMO steadily weakening, attaching itself only to the people and events that really matter. Senior year clarifies which friendships will prevail post-graduation.

4. Attendance. This may be a controversial point. After all, with tuition prices at an all-time high, an hour of class is worth more than 10 hours of minimum wage labor yeah, think about that next time you’re counting the seconds until your shift is over. Still, you are allowed to set a higher priority than class – be it for your mental health, a job interview or a day of fun YOLO adventures with your senior friends.

5. Pretending that we’re at Hogwarts. Kildahl is still an eyesore, Quidditch is still on the ground. And I have most definitely accepted that I am not the “Chosen One.”

6. Being well-rounded. We can all more or less agree that it is worthwhile to study a broad range of subjects. St. Olaf is probably sucking for you if you don’t. I’m finally at peace, though, with having two or three skills and being utterly mediocre at everything else. If I can’t do math beyond basic arithmetic, it’s fine, because I was born this way hey.

Though senior year is somewhat maddening – and sometimes I spontaneously break into a sweat because I’m terrified of what comes next – I feel free. Younger friends, that is what you have to look forward to. It’s not apathy, not a lack of motivation; it’s having the confidence and wisdom to discern what matters.

grosse@stolaf.edu

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Carleton medical amnesty case hinges on details

In late September, a Change.org petition began to circulate on Oles’ Facebook walls. Between “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” posts and cat videos was a letter pleading on behalf of a Carleton student faced with expulsion.

The petition outlines a series of events that took place on Sept. 15: a group of Carleton students took LSD in the Arboretum, one of them began seizing, then two others panicked upon witnessing the seizure. A sophomore in the group whose threat of expulsion prompted the campaign called for help, and the subsequent police investigation uncovered MDMA laced with meth in her dorm room.

The letter’s central claim is that if Carleton were to follow through with the expulsion, then it would set a precedent that discourages calling for help. Indeed, the petition title frames the issue as a simple action-reaction scenario: “Ask Carleton not to expel a student who called for help.” Action: student calls for help in medical emergency. Reaction: expulsion.

A key detail omitted from the petition is that the student caught with the drugs was already on probation for a drug-related offense, according to a story in The Carletonian. This is crucial for contextualizing the severity of Carleton’s disciplinary action. Another piece of glossed-over information involves the disconnect between the circumstances that triggered the seizure and the circumstances of the room search. The seizing student was tripping on LSD; the student who called for help was found to have MDMA laced with meth in her room. The possession offense that ultimately put expulsion on the table was unrelated to the events that endangered her friend.

Absolutely none of this is to say that medical amnesty is not important. It can, and does, save lives. But in this particular incident, a complicated case was manipulated to appear straightforward. If the student who called for help hadn’t been in possession of other drugs along with a history of substance violations, Carleton’s response would likely have been more forgiving. The students’ argument about setting a “disturbing precedent” is a stretch, at best. The letter reads like it invoked principle largely because it was the most convenient defense.

The petition did, in fact, garner more than the requested 1,500 signatures. It closed after receiving 1,957. Whether or not it had any bearing on the Sept. 26 decision to give the student a reprieve, we can’t be sure. In any case, the student is now facing a yearlong suspension rather than total banishment.

What we can take from this is that both drug policy and drug education need work, and not just at Carleton. Since drug experimentation is a reality for some college students, policy needs to be as unambiguous as possible, and always with the end goal of keeping students safe. Drug education also needs to expand in scope, because if the intellectual minds of a school like Carleton aren’t prepared for the consequences of use, then who is?

It’s unfortunate that it took a painful, terrifying night in order for these conversations to take place. Still, it has given us a valuable opportunity to take a critical look at the culture of substance use and discipline.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with a concentration in women’s and gender studies.

Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Lee House faces possible demolition: Prospect met with mixed feelings from students

French House residents were preparing for their year in Lee House on St. Olaf Avenue when they received word that water damage had rendered the building unlivable. Facilities staff found that a broken toilet had flooded the house before the final inspection of the summer.

“We’re not sure how long it ran; we discovered it on a Monday morning. It could have run all weekend,” said Peter Sandberg, Assistant Vice President for Facilities. “It was a small pipe, but it flooded the entire kitchen below, and got in the interior and exterior walls.”

While they inspected the water damage, staff discovered that the house’s existing infrastructure was subpar from the beginning.

“The sub-floor, we realized, wasn’t very good quality in the first place. When the walls came down, we saw that the wiring was pretty bad, and there’s no insulation. It’s a serious mess,” Sandberg said. The most immediate concern was for the house’s soon-to-be-residents.

“We got this e-mail about a week before we moved in,” Erika Meierding ’15 said. “We’re currently in Thorson.”

“We are trying to organize the move so that everyone is up-to-date and everyone has a fair say,” said Heidi Beckmann ’15, French House President. She feels that the College has handled the crisis gracefully thus far.

“We appreciate and are thankful for the way the College has handled and responded to the situation. They’ve given us so many alternatives,” Beckmann said.

“We’ve had a week and a half to process. It’s an unsettled feeling,” Meierding said. “You have to see some humor in it. The toilet literally exploded. For a while I was really upset, but then I was like, this is kind of funny.”

At this point, the College is inclined to demolish the house, though nothing is scheduled or confirmed.

“My group recommends that it come down and that we develop a green space. We met with the Buildings and Grounds committee, who agreed with the recommendation. If it does come down, we’re exploring the possibility of putting the wood to beneficial reuse,” Sandberg said.

A vocal group of students are concerned about the ethical implications of the house’s potential destruction. Alumna and two-year French House resident, Katelyn Hewett ’14, is spearheading an effort to save Lee House. She has been in contact with the Minnesota Preservation Alliance.

“I am trying to work up a student response against this and get the administration to consider other options, rather than rushing into the irrevocable decision of tearing down a 100-year-old house,” Hewett said.

Debra Steinberg ’17 has publicized the group’s reasoning via the St. Olaf Extra alias. The widely-circulated e-mail cites environmental and financial concerns, while emphasizing the house’s historic value. They ask for a “period of community reflection and response.”

Sandberg appreciates the sentimental attachment to the house, but questions the logic of some of the protesters’ claims.

“Is ‘old’ automatically historic?” he said. He suggests that Lee House’s identity as the French House is not deeply embedded in St. Olaf history. “It’s only been the French House for a relatively short time.”

The historical significance of Olav Lee a founder of the college and the Lee House’s namesake is also a topic of contention. He was noted for pioneering disability services at St. Olaf, particularly for the deaf. Yet his legacy is not heavily detailed in the official college archives.

“Olav Lee was on the faculty for many years, but we were unable to find out much about him in college history books, or online,” Sandberg said.

Still, the fact remains that the house is unlike any that would be designed today.

“I think it’s a shame that they would tear it down. You can’t just build another house like that,” Meierding said.

In response to the allegations of environmental recklessness in the “Save Lee House” e-mail, Sandberg insists that the College has a strong track record of conscientious renovations.

“We do try to be thoughtful,” Sandburg said. “Previous renovations of residence buildings show our commitment to doing things right. If this thing does come down, I wouldn’t want something to just go up in its place. I’d like to develop a more park-like setting; it would be a beautiful space. If we have the opportunity, we’ll try to do that well.”

The French House, as a concept, does still exist.

“We have been hosting events. We just haven’t had a house to put them in,” Beckmann said. “The French House is living on, with cheese and baguettes and berets.”

grosse@stolaf.edu

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Casual misogyny? Its still misogyny

It seems like just yesterday. It was 2011, and lady-rapper Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” was on rotation in my freshman dorm. The viral hit which would be brilliantly spoofed by Lil Wayne in due time carried the attitude that I wanted to embody: Gucci Gucci, Fendi Fendi, Louis Louis, Prada / Basic bitches wear that s— so I don’t even bother. Translation: I am so convinced of my own awesomeness that I don’t need status symbols. God forbid someone would ever consider me “basic.”

Urban Dictionary tells us that “basic bitch,” the alliterative diss, means “one who has no personality; dull and irrelevant.” It certainly did not die out with Kreayshawn’s fifteen minutes fifteen seconds? of fame. The phrase has lived on in pop culture and media. On the same day last week, the Vice homepage prominently featured two articles devoted to the insult: “In Defense of the Basic Bitch” and “The Basic Bitch’s Guide to Coachella.” The former was a sympathetic view of the generic, conformist lady, while the later was a searing, satirical critique of her obliviousness and lack of creativity.

Let’s take a look at the Coachella faux-manual, published through Noisey, which is Vice’s music subsite. Its leading photo depicts four white women sorority-squatting and smirking for the camera, flaunting their bleached hair, designer shades and fringed pseudo-hippie attire. So, a “basic bitch” is always female-presenting and performative, perhaps “trying too hard.” She may conform to every convention of stereotypical female beauty in the way we demand of all women, but she conforms just a little too much. It is so predictable, it’s ugly all over again.

The article proceeds to mock the “basic bitch” for her elementary knowledge of music and amateur festival behavior. She only knows the singles and gets uncomfortable when she hears OutKast songs that aren’t “Hey Ya.” She thinks Lana del Rey is relatable, and MGMT is okay when they stick to their poppy stuff.

For these sins, she must be punished; after all, one cannot attend Coachella simply to have a good time. One must have a deep, even spiritual connection to every B-side from the most obscure artists. One must buy authentic vintage clothing from the late 60s rather than pick up a crop top from Forever 21.

The aforementioned article is a stellar example of everything that is wrong with calling a woman a “basic bitch.” We are maligning women for completely victimless transgressions, for nothing more deplorable than a lack of elitist taste or visible individuality.

Am I reading too much into this? Well, I believe that any socially acceptable, derogatory term for a woman is worth examining because it informs our expectations and perceptions. Casual misogyny is still misogyny, and language still determines who’s in power. The people who label some women “basic bitches” are laying their own claim to elite culture, declaring themselves arbiters of the highbrow.

What it comes down to is that we have managed to create yet another no-win situation for women. I didn’t think it was possible, but we have laid out another manner in which women can fail at proper femininity – liking mainstream things including but not limited to One Republic, Ugg boots and LeAnn Chin.

I’d like for us to stop punishing each other for having individual tastes. I’d also like for us to stop creating useless criteria for the “right” kind of woman. It’s a natural thing to do, and Kreayshawn made it easy for me when I was a first year who wanted to feel like a special snowflake. But let’s make it less easy now.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

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Brands body image campaigns mask injustice

It’s taken decades of outraged, desperate pleas from countless people alienated by the fashion industry, but mainstream brands are finally starting to feature some progressive read: normal imagery. This year, American Eagle’s lingerie brand, Aerie, made the bold move to showcase un-Photoshopped models. The surge of appreciation via social media was a testament to our immense relief after so many years of frustration.

Last spring, mega-brand H&M incorporated plus-size model Jennie Runk into their beachwear campaign without labelling her or her outfits “plus-size.” Few companies would allow a larger model to casually coexist with the size 0s we’re all accustomed to seeing in advertisements, but H&M sensed the sea change in consumer tastes. Jennie Runk’s swimsuit photoshoot was a major leap toward normalizing women with a bit of a belly.

Both of these moves left me ecstatic – for about two minutes. I wish I could take them at face value and rejoice in their promise of increased inclusivity, but the truth is that these are shallow distractions.

Neither of these companies are interested in justice of any kind. I don’t just mean that they’re trying to generate buzz in order to ramp up profits; that’s part of it, certainly, but par for the course in retail culture. The real trouble is that their efforts to appear altruistic in the public eye distance us from the brutal realities of their labor practices. Both Aerie and H&M are two of the worst offenders in terms of underpaying factory workers and accepting horrifically low standards for their working conditions.

Aerie’s parent company, American Eagle Outfitters, outsources garment manufacture to Dhaka, Bangladesh. If the city sounds familiar, that’s probably because in 2013 it bore witness to the deadliest garment-factory accident in history. The Rana Plaza building was known to be unsafe, but its garment workers were ordered to show up anyway, with tragic consequences. The deaths of 1,129 people haunt the city, but this disaster wasn’t enough to prompt substantive change.

Indeed, American Eagle Outfitters signed an accord binding them to raise standards for factory conditions and compensate survivors and affected parties. Lo and behold, six months later, the International Labor Rights Forum reported that “very little compensation from the negligent parties … has reached the survivors and the families of the deceased.” Clearly, American Eagle Outfitters has trivialized the suffering caused by this unregulated sweatshop labor, even after signing an accord claiming the contrary.

H&M is actually the biggest patron of Bangladeshi sweatshops. To their credit, they didn’t do business with the Rana Plaza location. Still, their status as an industry giant renders them a major player in global labor rights. Rather than using their considerable influence to call for tangible change, they reinforce the existing system – characterized by starvation wages, long hours, unsafe factories and even child labor – with their multinational business. If you ever wondered how H&M can afford to price their T-shirts at five dollars and their jeans at 15 dollars, this might be a clue.

In November, H&M released a statement that they would commit to raising factory worker wages, even if it means bumping up clothing prices. Great! However, an increase from practically nothing to slightly-more-than-practically-nothing does not establish a benchmark for a living wage. Relative improvement in this business means very little.

So what does this all mean for an American woman who is overjoyed to see models who look slightly more like her? We can credit the progress in that particular arena, but we have to understand that our bodies are not the only bodies that suffer in this system. Body image issues are incredibly important, but no more important than the dehumanizing labor endured by garment factory workers. We need to recognize when “inclusivity” is exclusive – to the people we don’t see, whose labor structures our lives.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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