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On Wednesday, Nov. 15, a table of representatives from the Rolling Meadows Mennonite Church sat on the second floor of Buntrock Commons at the base of the stairs to the cafeteria, passing out pamphlets. The materials varied widely in subject matter, with some as harmless as “The Gospel According to John.” Many of the rest, however, echoed hateful sentiments, most obviously one brightly colored card which read in large print, “AIDS: The Real Problem Behind the Scourge.”
This piece of writing, among several other pamphlets disseminated by the group, claimed that HIV and AIDS are divine punishments for an immoral lifestyle. Their writing claimed “The Real Problem is not HIV. It is one even more deadly. The Real Problem is often the sin of immorality,” continuing that “Many times AIDS is God’s judgement on immorality.”
Another piece, titled “What do you want from life,” showed an image of an arrow pointing from a cradle to a grave, and further explored the group’s definition of sin. “Sin leaves us unhappy and disappointed. Our sinful lives lack purpose and peace. And sin condemns us to death.” It then went on to assert that the only way to escape the punishment for sin was to accept their god.
A pamphlet titled “The New Morality or the old immorality,” featured a drawing of a young man with tattoos and a loose-fitting gold chain around his neck, looking around a deserted city street with “No Fear” etched into the wall behind him. The pamphlet claimed, “God speaks through AIDS. And people are paying attention…finally.” The pamphlet went on to provide what it claimed to be a direct message from God, which read “the new morality is nothing other than the old immorality that I have always abhorred. It is sin, and it results in death.”
The same packet also deemed various practices sinful and reflections of modern immorality, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, lust, bestiality and youthful lusts. Each section offered one or more Bible verses that the packet purported to prove the immorality of the practices. When addressing homosexuality, the packet claimed that “God condemns this sin. Because of this sin and others, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire.” This comparison was echoed in the piece regarding lust, which equated modern cities to Sodom and Gomorrah and claimed that byproducts of modern city life “stimulate lust, and a person who lusts in his mind soon sins in his deeds. The person who sins (whether in thought or in deed), will die.”
The group was quickly met with resistance from the campus, including several students confronting it for spreading hate speech. Cosi Pori ’18 was one of those who directly addressed the radical religious group, expressing anger at the impact the group may have had on students struggling with HIV or AIDS.
“I went back and gave a speech at them, and said ‘hey, the real problem is you guys [who are] perpetuating the stigma against AIDS and HIV, [making] people more afraid to live with it and come out having it. I took one of each [pamphlet] and the rest I took and threw in one of those recycling bins,” Pori said.
Another pamphlet, titled “True love…knows how to wait” featured two roses on the front and vilified premarital sex, specifically in regards to women. Offering purported testimonials from young women, the pamphlet claimed that men who engage in premarital sex with women are “guilty of destroying her longings and dreams.” Later on, it shifted the blame to women, claiming that “the man is not always the one at fault. Of course not! There are young ‘ladies’ who do not deserve any respect. They dress provocatively; they flirt; they are easy to have; everybody can hug them, pet them, or kiss them, and they do not resist. Young lady if this describes you, you are partly at fault for the consequences of your appearance and behavior.”
Pori also expressed their anger with the “True love” pamphlet and its equating of women’s value to sex and the blame it placed on women for dressing “provocatively.”
“On this campus, which already has so many problems with sexual assault, someone might have picked this up and read it, and that’s just ridiculous,” Pori said.
Pori also suggested a political motivation to the tabling, stating that when another student asked if the group’s presence had to do with the recent election of Donald Trump, they affirmed that it was related.
After a relatively substantial student response, the Mennonite group was asked to leave campus and President David Anderson ’74 sent out a message condemning the group and affirming that they would not return, despite having apparently been on campus before.
“…they have apparently been on campus before without us being aware of their message. This tells me that we need immediately to undertake a review our of policies relating to permitting outside groups on campus towards the goal of having a more rigorous and robust screening process so that an incident like this does not occur again,” Anderson wrote. “I apologize on behalf of the College to everyone who was hurt or who, like me, was offended by this group’s words and acts. They do not represent who we are, and I am grateful to the students who called them out.”
Many received the message well, but expressed frustration at Anderson’s apparent lack of knowledge of the hate-group’s previous presence.
“I was very impressed with how fast it all got handled, but what was weird to me was that in PDA’s email he said he had no idea about it and that it has happened before. I was told by other students and alumni that they remembered this group,” Pori said, expressing concern with the possibility that the administration could remain unaware of such a situation.
Greg Kneser, Vice President for Student Life, offered some explanation for the group’s repeat appearances.
“About five percent of the groups simply ask for a table and are charged a small fee, as this group did,” Kneser said. “We do not ask to see materials for pre-approval or interview them to see what they intend on discussing, in the same way we do not do this with student groups. If there are complaints, we deal with them immediately. The Mennonite group will not be welcomed back to campus, which has happened to other groups in the past.”
He also offered an explanation as to how St. Olaf’s screening process for outside groups might be reformed.
“Our goal in all of this is to keep the campus an environment where there is a free exchange of ideas and that students and others will have access to services, commerce, ideas and opportunities for engagement outside of the ‘bubble’ that lots of folks talk about,” Kneser said. “In order to achieve that balance, we will have a policy in place so that any groups who wish to interact with our community agree to abide by the values of St. Olaf College, in much the same way that student organizations are expected to act. They will have to actively sign off that they understand our expectations before being rented or granted a space. We are drafting that language now and will share it with the community when we are done.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, St. Olaf students awoke to the reality that Donald Trump had won the presidency of the United States. Many were blindsided and immediately began planning events offering like-minded students a place and time to process the events.
In the morning, a large number of students gathered in the Buntrock Commons Crossroads, where they spoke about their frustrations and fears with the present political climate and its possible future impact.
“When we were all in Crossroads we were talking about a lot of things, we were talking about love, empathy, compassion, equality,” Tia Schaffer ’20 said about the gathering. Seeing that unity inspired her to schedule a candlelight vigil later that night. The vigil, which began at 10 p.m. in the plaza outside Buntrock, emphasized peace and inclusivity, offering a sense of community to those struggling.
“With this election, although it separates a lot of us and has tensions high all over the country, what I wanted people to understand is that at the end of the day, before all of these traits and characteristics that make us different, we are still human, and I think that where humanity has fallen short is this idea of compassion and love,” Schaffer said. “I do believe there is a lack of that in the world overall, and I feel like if people had more of a sense of that, the world wouldn’t be as crazy and as hateful as it is.”
The following day, Thursday, Nov. 10, there was a protest titled “Speak Out for Change” in the Buntrock Crossroads at 11 a.m. The demonstration provided students an opportunity to share personal stories and frustrations and offer ways in which students could enact change in a political environment with which they are dissatisfied.
The demonstration was preceded by a dance performance that offered spectators an expressive reaction to Trump’s victory.
As the dancers cleared out, protesters began to chant “power to the people,” with claps reverberating as the chanting spread through the building. As people quieted down, a student addressed the crowd, informing them that there was security present and that, if they wanted, they could take a sign from a pile. The signs, when placed on a dorm room door, signify that those who live there are willing to offer refuge to students who feel threatened elsewhere.
As the protest progressed, individual students emerged from the crowd and stood on a bench to address those present. Cosi Pori ’18 took the floor and affirmed fellow protestors.
“We are all afraid, all right. But the fact that we are all here, and the fact that we are all in this space together and that we are all paying attention, that should make them afraid and they should fear us,” Pori said. “The greatest threat is the moderate, the greatest threat is the people who stay silent and who choose to do nothing in times of trial.”
Pori also referred to a message sent from President David Anderson ’74 to the student body, in which Anderson recalled a promise he made in a speech to the class of 2020.
“I promised new Oles that they would be safe at St. Olaf, but warned that they may not always be comfortable,” Anderson wrote.
Pori took issue with the message.
“I, as a queer trans non-binary person, am not uncomfortable. I am in fear. The audaciousness of this president to say that we might be uncomfortable is disgusting. It is disgusting,” Pori said, elaborating upon their frustration with the administration’s use of messages as a primary means of addressing campus issues.
“I don’t want a message, I want him here. I want him here right now, or I want a better president,” Pori said.
As the protest grew, students filled up the bottom floor of Buntrock and a growing number pressed up against the railings on the second and third floors to see and hear the speakers standing on the bench. There were also several interruptions, including one heckler yelling “Trump” as a student spoke and others cutting through the crowd towards the Pause while expressing disdain for the protest.
Other students also expressed anger, such as Demetrius Brown ’18, who preceded his speech with a chant of “Dump the Trump.”
“I am black, I am gay, and I am here to stay. I don’t give a damn who the president is, this is not the white man’s land, we will not be driven from it and I beg you all in these dark days just keep your head up,” Brown said. “I don’t like that this place forgets that politics involves ethics. I do not have to listen to your f***ing position if it is oppressing me.”
As the protest ended, one student led the crowd with a call and response of “It is my duty to fight for freedom. It is my duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” With each repetition the chant grew louder until it stopped and the assembly slowly dissipated.
Later that day, Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton sent an email to the student body with the subject “I am concerned.” In the email, she quoted a message she had sent earlier in the year, condemning hate crimes. In the new message, she added that she upheld the previous sentiment in the current context of election results.
“To turn your fear into angry, hateful speech and threats aimed at any members of this community who did or might have voted differently from you is unacceptable,” Eaton wrote.
A number of students took issue with Eaton’s email, inciting a series of charged emails over St. Olaf extra. Among the students frustrated was Pori, who expressed respect for Eaton but also dissatisfaction with the email, arguing that it did not fully reflect the reality of marginalized students on campus.
“All of the rhetoric of fighting hate with love is only being directed at us, and only being said to those who are dissenting. No one is telling the Trump supporters to do that, no one is telling them to be loving and open,” Pori said.
Eaton defended her original message with a call for campus dialogue.
“We have got to remember that we are a community that has to continue to remember to support each other, and to understand that absolutely we have differences and absolutely we have issues that need to be addressed. We are not a perfect community, but to be threatening, whether you voted one way or voted the other way, is wrong,” Eaton said. “What would be an ideal situation is that if as a community we had a conversation about what it is that we are afraid of.”
As the post-election week continued, other students also offered space dedicated to processing the results and looking forward, including Jack Langdon ’17 and Adam Sanders ’17, who gave a concert in Boe Memorial Chapel on the night of Saturday, Nov. 11. Langdon performed “Find” by Eva-Maria Houben on organ and was then joined by Sanders on euphonium for an improvised performance of a chant by Hildegard von Bingen. Langdon shared his desire to offer a meditative space for students reacting to the election.
“We wanted something that everybody could come to and experience in a different way and it wasn’t about a climax or prescribing an experience,” Langdon said, “but it was about this is a space that we are designating as a time for peace and solidarity and the hope was that everybody would get something different out of it … Although music is not the most important way to resist and to protest, it is a part of the whole superstructure of culture as a whole, and if you start ignoring responsibility to act all the way down then it is just not going to work out. If anyone wants to have any hope of changing things they have to change the whole idea of how they live.”
As part of the fundraising campaign “For the Hill and Beyond,” St. Olaf has launched “Bring Ice Home,” an initiative that aims to raise six million dollars for the construction of an on-campus ice arena in what is currently the field house in Skoglund Athletic Center. At press time, “For the Hill and Beyond” has met 62 percent of its 200 million dollar goal and “Bring Ice Home” has met 30 percent of the six million dollars it must raise.
The “Bring Ice Home” campaign has been largely advertised on the St. Olaf website and social media. This includes the rink’s own webpage, which features virtual tours of the proposed rink along with student testimonials to the value it would have for the St. Olaf community.
“We’ve had a lot of buzz about it. We feel like we have a lot of momentum right now,” athletic director Ryan Bowles said. “A lot of people are working really hard to promote this, to solicit and identify donors. It’s been a true team effort in that regard.”
He emphasized that there was no definite deadline on the fundraising, but that they aimed to raise the funds quickly so they could start construction.
“Once we raise the funds, 12 to 18 months would be construction time,” Bowles said. “Probably closer to 12 months is what we think.”
The rink may also have some revenue-generating power.
“We charge game tickets and we charge concessions now for some of our programs, so that would continue for sure,” Bowles said. “I think there would be rental opportunities, but our primary responsibility is to make sure that it serves the entire St. Olaf community.”
He continued to describe the arena’s benefits for the existing curling club and broomball teams, giving them an indoor facility on campus to practice and compete. He also noted the utility of the arena for the hockey team’s recruiting.
“We will be able to attract the talent, in our men’s and women’s programs, that will allow us to be top 10 in the country,” Bowes said. “But I also think it will help overall recruitment to the campus. This ice really benefits all 3,000 students.”
However, the arena would come at a cost. Many of St. Olaf’s athletic groups, including the tennis and soccer teams, a number of intramural and club sports teams and several classes use the field house when the weather does not permit outdoor practice.
Scott Nesbit, the coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams, addressed the current situation, noting the difficulty of holding tennis practice on the floor of Tostrud Center because the surface causes balls to bounce too quickly.
“You couldn’t play any games, you couldn’t do any point situations,” Nesbit said.
One possible solution to the problem that Nesbit addressed is a plan to resurface the floor of Tostrud to make it more conducive to tennis. While this would help the tennis team in the immediate future, there is also a proposal in the Framework plan to eventually construct another field house on the land behind Skoglund to accommodate the lost practice space.
“You can say we are adding this rink, but really it is taking away more than it gives … there are going to be more people who lose out than gain,” Nesbit said. “But in the long run, it is going to be much better. Club teams and intramural teams are going to get a nicer space, tennis teams are going to get a nicer space.”
Despite the prospect that the space would ultimately be filled with superior facilities, Nesbit expressed concern at a possible interim period between the beginning of the ice arena’s construction and the creation of alternative practice space for displaced teams, clubs and classes. He referred to a time earlier in his career at St. Olaf before Tostrud existed as a practice space. He recalled that only having the field house for indoor practice gave club and intramural teams little to no chance to reserve practice times.
“Classes were in there the whole time basically, and then as soon as 3:30 hit, the teams went in there until 11:30,” Nesbit said.
Among the teams to feel the immediate impact of the loss of the field house as a practice space is Vortex, one of St. Olaf’s Ultimate Frisbee teams. Tulsa Douglas ’18 and Aidan Zielske ’18, both members of Vortex, expressed their concerns about being displaced by the ice arena.
“There would be half the space that there is currently for indoor use in the winter,” Douglas said. “Basically, there wouldn’t be any time for club sports.”
“For us, the frustrating part is that we just wouldn’t get to practice, and we’ve gotten fifth at national three years ago and third last year and for us we are competing at a very high level,” Douglas said. “If we lost a whole chunk of our year it would definitely be detrimental to our team.”
“We consistently perform well, push ourselves, practice constantly and travel across the country,” Zielske said, adding that she felt those efforts often go without recognition.
Douglas and Zielske both emphasized that they did not oppose the construction of the ice arena in principle, but were opposed to the project so long as they were not offered an alternative practice space.
“It will be cool to go to hockey games, but when it says it will benefit all 3,000 students, it will actually hurt us more,” Douglas said.