Author: Rebecca Carcaterra

Box-Out triggers controversy: Habitat for Humanity cancels homelessness event

Advertisements for a Habitat for Humanity event called “Box-Out” sparked a wave of controversy last week. Students and faculty denounced the fliers’ lack of sensitivity towards homelessness as well as what seemed to be trivialization of a serious issue. The event was cancelled following the backlash and replaced with a benefit concert held on Friday May 2.

The proposed “Box-Out” event was intended to be an outdoor campout, where students would sleep in cardboard structures in order to raise awareness of the plight of persons suffering from homelessness. The original advertisement for “Box-Out” showed a smiling boy giving a thumbs-up in a cardboard box, with a subtitle reading, “This event will be fun!”.

Many felt that this incongruous display undercut the message of awareness about a tragic situation by portraying it as entertainment. The poster also advertised a prize for the “most creative structure,” which was also seen as offensive to many students, faculty and staff who thought that the struggle to find shelter was not something for college students to emulate as an exercise in ‘creativity’.

“In my three years here, I’ve never felt more ashamed of the campus,” said junior Tosaka Thao. Thao has known people, including his family, who have suffered from homelessness. “This took the cake. ‘Win a prize. You’ll have fun.’ I thought that was really insensitive. That really showed your place of privilege and tunnel vision.”

English professor Rebecca Richards drafted an initial response to the fliers in the form of an open letter, articulating the offense that many people were feeling.

“As a rhetorician I study how words and visual texts have material consequences, even if you didn’t mean it that way,” said Richards. “That definitely happened,although I do not think that was the intent,”

Habitat for Humanity sincerely apologized in an open letter to the student body. The reasoning behind the poster, according to event organizer Jillian Riley and Habitat for Humanity co-president Cory Baughman, was to entice students who largely come from a place of privilege into spending their Friday night learning about an unattractive issue.

“As a former RA and org leader, I know that to get people to come to particular events you typically have to offer something enticing. Our intention was not to trivialize or mock those living in homelessness,” Baughman said. “Our intention was to make this event attractive to many types of people to get the message out to as many people as possible, but we now recognize the complications with this strategy and have learned our lesson.”

“They wanted to make it fun,” Thao said. “But there’s a few things you can’t do in a nice way. You can’t talk about sexual abuse, for example, in a nice way. And you can’t talk about poverty in a nice way.” However, both Thao and Richards emphasized that this controversy doesn’t reflect on Habitat for Humanity’s general work.

“It was one mistake. They have a good heart,” said Thao. The benefit concert that replaced “Box-Out” raised $70 in donations, featuring campus bands Sikk Dood and Toast and speaker Northfield Community Action Center administrative director Kathy Bjerke.

One thing that everybody involved stressed was the importance of open and honest dialogue about important and uncomfortable issues.

“Students should be aware of [homelessness], and know that this can happen to anybody. It happens for many reasons,” Bjerke said. Oles interested in joining the fight against homelessness can join Habitat for Humanity, which is always welcoming new members, or volunteer at the CAC, which has volunteering jobs with a variety of commitment levels available.


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Language learning influences critical reflection on self

Language, identity and global citizenship were all on the table when prestigious speaker Virginia Scott spoke in Viking Theater on Thursday, April 24. Scott, chair of the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University and a professor of French and applied linguistics, lectured about the importance of the second language, the impact it has on the sense of self and the attitudes that lead to a positive or negative language experience.

The event was sponsored by the linguistics department and all of the language departments, resulting in a packed auditorium.

“I don’t know if Vanderbilt would have gotten this turnout,” Scott said.

The event counted as a cultural event credit for many St. Olaf departments, so students could receive credit for learning about the importance of the language they study. The event was also open to the public, which brought a number of Northfield community members as well.

Scott opened the presentation with a few words spoken in Danish. She lived in France, Madagascar, Kenya and Denmark as a child, and so she picked up the ability to speak English, French, Danish, German and some Spanish and Italian. However, she would hesitate to call herself “fluent” or “bilingual.” She argued that these words are subjective and arbitrary.

“I want everyone to rethink bilingualism,” she said. “Language learning is a lifelong pursuit.” Not only is language learning a continual spectrum of progress, but Scott also maintained that learning is more than verb conjugation and vocabulary. It is about language awareness and the power that comes from communication.

“One of the things that struck me when I was learning a language was that sense of excitement that comes with communication with different language groups,” she said. “Where is that exciting sense in the classroom?”

Scott wants to remove the sense of disempowerment that keeps students from connecting with the passion of learning languages. It is vital, she noted, that students learn to feel comfortable in the sometimes awkward zone of learning.

“Language education places critical reflection about oneself, one’s own language,” she said. She added that the ability to converse with people of different cultures is an essential part of becoming a global citizen. In order to accomplish this goal, Scott proposed that students strive for their ideal second language L2 selves. Each person’s L2 experience is unique and individual and can be affected by numerous factors.

“Every single person has a unique language background residual in the sense of self that colors who you are as a language user,” Scott said.

Being future-oriented helps L2 users, as they can see the potential incentives that future language use will bring and are more motivated to work to achieve that state. The ideal L2 self thinks critically about the nature of language and has realistic expectations.

Scott’s talk sought to inspire Oles to realize the importance of language learning and of having a motivated attitude and looking into the future.

“The L2 feels empowered in being aware of the role of language in your life and in society and being able to envision,” Scott said. “That is key to global citizenship, without ever having to leave campus.”

The presentation may have been particularly appropriate for students with what Scott called rich language backgrounds – experience with other languages and understanding of the importance of language and how crucially it can be linked to identity.

Scott’s book “Double Talk” offers further insight into her ideas. Students interested in language-centered events can also contact the Linguistics Department or any one of St. Olaf’s language programs.


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Fly a Little Higher raises cancer awareness

The Lion’s Pause hosted a truly special event on April 4: the inspiring Fly a Little Higher Benefit Concert. The concert was a moving testament to the message of light and love that 18-year-old Minnesota musician Zach Sobiech inspired in so many before passing away from osteosarcoma in May 2013. Featuring speakers, performances and even a whimsical bubble machine, the event was a successful fundraiser and a celebration of a remarkable life.

The idea of a benefit concert was first introduced by first-year Sammy Brown ’17, Sobiech’s best friend and bandmate, with the help of St. Olaf’s Cancer Connection SCC club.

“I came to St. Olaf, and during the co-curricular fair I saw that St. Olaf had a cancer connection club,” Brown said. “Some not-so-great things had happened in the last three months, and it was weird not having friends and family, so I thought, ‘This could be somewhere where I can feel comfortable with those feelings.'”

SCC strives to provide a supportive environment for those touched by cancer as well as fundraise for various organizations, so the club proved a perfect outlet for Brown’s idea to have a benefit concert for her friend.

“I envisioned it, and they executed it,” she said. “I told them what we’d done in the past, and they did all the hard logistical stuff.”

The event ended up being very successful, raising over $1,000 and attracting 250 people. Sobiech’s parents Rob and Laura attended and spoke.

“We were so blessed by the amazing turnout at the fundraising event,” Laura said. “It was a beautiful Friday evening after a long, hard winter, but the room was full of college students willing to listen to what we had to say. I love seeing young people sacrifice for something bigger than themselves – it gives me so much hope for the future.”

Also in attendance was Justin Baldoni, director of the award-winning documentary “My Last Days.” The documentary, available for viewing on YouTube, has garnered 12 million views. SoulPancake and Wayfarer Entertainment, the documentary’s production companies, were in town to film a one-year-later follow-up documentary to “My Last Days,” which will feature the benefit concert. Love Your Melon, a charity Sobiech worked with that makes hats for cancer patients, was also present to sell merchandise.

The first hour of the concert was a Wellness Center swiped event and started with a screening of “My Last Days.” Brown closed out that portion with her new single “How to Go to Confession,” accompanied by fellow first year Claire Belisle ’17 on the violin, and then a rendition of Sobiech’s song “Clouds.” The audience joined in on the emotional song as bubbles floated out of a machine and tears welled.

“That was one of the best moments of the night,” said SCC co-president Kelsey Mullen ’14.

After a short break, the campus bands Appomattox and Sikk Dood performed and the night wound to a close.

“We were very pleased about the event.,” Mullen said. “We were very excited to be working with other groups that are very passionate about their work. I think for everyone, the takeaway message was positive.”

The name of the concert, Fly a Little Higher, was inspired by a lyric from “Clouds” and is also the name of Laura Sobiech’s memoir, which will be available on May 6. Brown recommends the book to those interested in gaining more insight into Sobiech’s life.

“A lot of people commented on the videos, ‘Wow, I loved that, I wish I actually knew you,'” Brown said. “The book has tons of detail; it’s very personal. It’s going to have pictures, too.”

Oles interested in supporting the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund can visit the website at

“You can donate and buy both of our CDs and my single and other stuff: necklaces, t-shirts, prints,” Brown said.

A significant portion of the proceeds from iTunes music and Laura Sobiech’s upcoming book will also go toward the fund.

Brown expressed her profound gratitude to the students of St. Olaf for making this concert a success.

“I personally was very touched by everyone who showed up,” Brown said. “I’m so proud that St. Olaf raised almost a thousand dollars. It’s not an easy thing for a college student to spend money if it’s not for a Cage cookie. So way to go, St. Olaf, for seeing the things that matter and making a difference. This is such a crazy, weird experience having these two worlds collide – it’s weird seeing my best friend through the eyes of my roommate or my friend from class – but I am thankful for it, and it’s cool seeing [Zach] having a continuing influence.”

That influence was strong at the benefit concert.

“Changing the world is done with the small things in life – the little choices we make each day. I want the students at St. Olaf to know that I am truly blessed by their kind words and dedication to making this world better,” Laura said.

The celebration was proof indeed that with optimism and love, all of us can “fly a little higher.”

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Why are we still paying Bieber any attention?

We live in a world of crazy news stories. Planes vanish out of thin air. Wars are started and ended. And Justin Bieber totally got a new tattoo! Also a DUI! And he was really a brat to his bodyguard. Or was it his lawyer? Will this hurt his music career? Wait, does Selena approve? Will his Twitter work in jail?

Justin Bieber has always been an over-exposed individual. Ever since his swoop of hair appeared in our collective consciousness back in 2008, the Biebs has inexplicably captivated our attention, perhaps more than his musical talent would justify. But after his January arrest for drag racing under the influence, a tidal wave of baby-faced mugshots that seems truly unprecedented flooded the world.

Why, exactly, do legitimate news sites feel the need to cover every new development in a 19-year-old’s immature antics? Surely there are some more relevant stories being shunted aside for this constant Bieber bombardment. There are buildings exploding and governments in turmoil – a myriad of real and pressing problems people need to be informed about. Why so much coverage for the toothy grin and petty crimes of a singer? The answer is, of course, that the public wants to hear about it. So why does the public have this ravenous need for every detail of Bieber’s disrespect and entitlement?

A possible answer comes from an unlikely source: former teen star and current non-Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio. In a New York Times interview in 1995, DiCaprio hit on a phenomenon that may still ring true today. “People want you to be a crazy, out-of-control teen brat. They want you miserable, just like them. They don’t want heroes; what they want is to see you fall,” he said.

Maybe this obsession with Bieber’s downfall is not so unrelated to the disturbing news stories of today. In a world of insecurity and chaos, it could be that watching a wealthy young man fumble brings a certain sort of schadenfreude. Even the attractive hotshots are not immune to the difficulties of life. Whether or not this is true to the extent that DiCaprio proposes, there is no doubt that ever since the days of “Baby,” most of the public has absolutely loved to hate Justin Bieber.

That this arrogant singer is behaving in a fairly terrible manner is not a question. One needs only complete a brief Google search to discover the extent of his entitlement, arrogance and outright disrespect for the law and for others. However, all of us behave in ways that are kind of terrible at times.

Bieber hasn’t committed any heinous crimes or proven himself a threat to the community, things that would warrant extensive news coverage. He is just a common petty criminal with an attitude problem. There is no reason for the intensity of the scrutiny which surrounds him. And if he is truly a struggling, confused little boy like his lawyers and best buddy Usher keep insisting, then perhaps the public should award him a little more empathy and leave him alone. It would do everyone some good.

Rebecca Carcaterra ’17 is from Glenwood Springs, Colo. She majors in English and sociology/anthropology.


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First-year Sammy Brown to release single

It is common knowledge that St. Olaf is overflowing with musical talent. This is a college that prides itself on the musicality, creativity and soulfulness of its music students. And this year’s first-year class brought with it a student who exemplifies all three of these characteristics: singer-songwriter Sammy Brown ’17, whose debut single “How to Go to Confession” will be released for distribution Nov. 5.

The song was inspired by her close friendship with Zach Sobiech, her bandmate whose single “Clouds” was a viral hit on YouTube last spring. Sobiech, who was diagnosed at age 14 with osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone cancer, passed away in May.

“It was just something I felt like I had to do. I did [it] for myself,” Brown said.

A member of Manitou Singers this year, Brown has always relied on music and considers it therapeutic. “It was just a way to get everything out without talking about the heavy stuff,” she said.

Brown’s friendship with Sobeich has been influential in her own development as a musician. Music came naturally to both of them from a very young age.

“Zach got a guitar when he was twelve,” Brown said. “We always just sat around the campfire. We’d go busking. Our moms said to start recording it, which we did at Zach’s guitar teacher’s [studio]. We did that, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did our own?'”

The result of these recordings was a song called “Blueberries,” and from these roots grew their band, A Firm Handshake, with the addition of friend Reed Redmond.

According to Scott Herold, CEO of Brown’s record label Rock the Cause, A Firm Handshake’s album Fix Me Up rocketed to top album in the nation on iTunes, surpassing albums by Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons and Macklemore. It also became the number 20 record in Billboard’s Hot 200.

“I met Sammy at a concert for Zach Sobiech last winter,” Herold said. “Rock the Cause had just released Zach’s goodbye anthem ‘Clouds’ worldwide. She was running around the concert barefoot like some wild pixie. The album was really more a way to have something for family and friends to have a record of Sammy, Reed and Zach creating music together. The family grew worldwide.”

Brown has a similar view, acknowledging that the band started out as a way to preserve the music for family members then blew up in an unexpected way. “How to Go to Confession” already has a fanbase of friends and strangers awaiting its release. Brown hopes that this will lead to more song profits, 25 percent of which will contribute to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, which has already raised close to one million dollars for cancer research.

“How to Go to Confession”was recorded in June and has a slightly more produced feel than the folksy acoustics of “A Firm Handshake.” According to Brown, the song also has a bit of a Celtic vibe. Brown draws on musical inspirations such as Ed Sheeran, Regina Spektor, Stornoway and the Beatles for her poetic, acoustic sound. As a songwriter, she said she appreciates “lyrics with a play on words and a poetry, like Paul Simon.”

Brown’s music definitely comes from the heart, not from a textbook. “I don’t know any theory, I’m not super fancy about it,” she said.

“She is in possession of a great gift. She can be a big star,” Herold said. “She has to decide if this is what she wants.”

For now, at least, Brown says she wants to focus on college. “I feel like it’s the thing to do,” she said.

Still, Brown has written a few more songs, and she might go to New York to work with other songwriters. She is also learning to play the guitar. Wherever Brown’s journey takes her, St. Olaf is lucky to have her unassuming, talented, “pixie-like” presence here on campus. Students can support Brown and gain some great new music by finding her on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon after the single’s release.


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