Author: Sam Carlen

Behind the scenes of St. Olaf’s grounds crew

St. Olaf College has five miles of roads, 11 miles of sidewalks, 100 feet of elevation change and 300 acres of groomed campus. St. Olaf’s grounds crew tends to these massive swaths of land, caring for natural tracts and concrete thoroughfares alike.

Broadly speaking, the grounds crew takes care of everything outdoors, from sidewalks and parking lots, to trees, shrubs and flower beds. The grounds crew is also responsible for composting, maintaining the athletic fields and natural lands, storm-water drainage and moving equipment across campus. 

With winter on its way, the grounds crew’s work becomes more critical by the day. Many students will soon appreciate plowed sidewalks and salted roads on their way to class. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy groomed ski trails winding through the natural lands. The grounds crew has also taken part in recent preparations for Christmas Fest, moving equipment down to Skoglund and transforming grass fields into overflow parking space.

With a veteran staff of nine employees, some who have been at St. Olaf for over 20 years, the grounds crew possesses unique insights into the College’s past and future. 

Some of this knowledge arises from odd, chance encounters with the College’s history. For instance, during the construction of Regents Hall, the builders and grounds crew uncovered timbers from an old chapel that had previously burned down and been buried. 

“That’s one thing I’ve put together over the years, as we discover the hilltop of the campus has been modified by man for quite a while,” Assistant Director of Facilities Jim Fisher said.

Over the years, Fisher and the grounds crew have had to repeatedly accommodate sweeping overhauls of the campus’s buildings and layout. For example, the predecessor to the Center for Art and Dance (CAD) used to exist where Regents Hall currently stands. CAD used to be the Student Center – before Buntrock Commons was built – complete with a bowling alley, Cage and dining area. Tomson Hall was the science building, and parts of Christiansen Hall of Music housed administrative offices. 

“The Buntrock parking lot was not a sheet, it was actually tiered down the hill,” Fisher said. “All the excavation from Buntrock Commons was pushed out to make a level parking lot rather than a tiered parking lot. What we see right now on St. Olaf campus has changed a lot in 25 years, let alone 150.”

There used to be a ski jump on the hill by Thorson Hall. Although it was taken down several decades ago, the footings remained and the hill stayed open for sledding, leading to some grisly accidents. One of Fisher’s first actions at St. Olaf was to close this hill to sledding by planting trees and foliage. 

“It was just too tempting and too many trips to the emergency room with broken arms and broken noses, with students sliding down where the ski jump used to be. It was not very wide, but it was very steep,” Fisher said.

Grounds crew also has unique background knowledge regarding the renovation of Holland Hall. 

“For the first 20-some-odd years here, I kept getting complaints that water was getting into the basement of the building, and when we started excavating we discovered that sometime in the 60s they bermed dirt up against the wall of Holland Hall,” Fisher said. This led to groundwater leaking into the building. 

“That’s why there’s more, what appears to be more building exposed now, but it’s actually taken back more to the original flavor of what was there,” Fisher said. Reverting Holland Hall to its original design presented some logistical challenges. For instance, the original Holland Hall was not accessible, leading to the need for the long, drawbridge-esque pathway on the north side of the building.

According to Fisher, proper maintenance of the outdoor facilities has dramatically extended their lifespan. 

“Doing proper maintenance on some of these things, the track for instance, the outdoor running track is 28 years old right now, and just by doing proper maintenance on it, that’s probably two to three times longer lived than most outdoor artificial running tracks,” Fisher said.

Fisher and the grounds crew foresee a number of renovations happening in the future. Most immediately, a number of dormitories need remodelling, although more drastic projects may be on the horizon. 

“Buntrock is coming up on it’s 20th birthday sometime not too far down the road, just a couple more years here. It’s going to need some remodelling,” Fisher said.

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Cornel West delivers speech on self-examination

Dr. Cornel West delivered a wide-ranging and impassioned speech in Boe Chapel on Friday, Oct. 27, condemning America’s “spiritual blackout” and urging self-examination. Appearing as the Political Awareness Committee’s (PAC) fall speaker, West’s talk concerned personal character, education, politics and social justice. He is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University, and is known across the country as a provocative and distinguished intellectual. 

According to PAC Coordinator Abdul Wake ’19, PAC invited West in order to gain a fresh perspective on politics from a fiercely non-partisan polemicist and celebrated scholar. 

“He’s also very critical of the standing that this country takes, that of the reigning political ideology, that of neoliberalism, that of neofascism,” Wake said.

West’s speech was the first PAC event for which attendees were required to obtain tickets. Last spring, Angela Davis’ speech attracted far more attendees than Boe Chapel had room for, prompting PAC to create an attendance cap for West’s appearance. Wake explained that the Music Entertainment Committee’s (MEC) ticketing of concerts provided an example for PAC to follow.

West’s speech focused heavily on personal character, education, American moral decay and the power of love. Grounding his message was an exhortation to the audience to engage in critical self-reflection aimed at uncovering one’s moral and spiritual principles.

“You have to discover who you really are: not the spectacle, not the image,” West said. “What kind of litmus test will you meet in terms of the moral and spiritual criteria?”

West tied his overarching message to the concerns of PAC, arguing that personal character and unbreakable principles must come before political action. 

“What kind of human beings will we choose to be? Who’re you gonna be, what kind of legacy, what kind of witness? That’s the question when you talk about political awareness, you don’t start with public policy,” West said. “You don’t start with ideology, you don’t even start with analysis. You start with ‘what kind of person are you?’”

West bemoaned the role models and celebrities worshipped by younger generations, denouncing them as market-driven and superficial. 

“Where’s the morally latent exemplars who cut against the grain, who raise the most fundamental question, and, most importantly, [are] willing to take a risk for something bigger than their careers?” West said.

In West’s eyes, such a perspective marginalizes you in our current society, particularly in one uncomfortable redressing historical wrongs. 

“America has been in denial of the funk of its own stuff … Never believe the lie that slavery is the original sin of America,” West said. “Slavery was the second one, it was the treatment of our precious and our priceless indigenous brothers and sisters.”

To West, one of the crucial components to building character is interrogating beliefs through the Socratic method. West urged students to embrace this kind of self-scrutiny and analysis as they advance through college. 

“When you graduate from St. Olaf, it doesn’t necessarily mean that St. Olaf has been through you unless you have been Socratized. I’m talking about that deep education,” West said.

West argued that deep education, combined with personal cultivation of moral character, can counteract the nihilism and selfishness ailing society.  

“We’re living in a moment of spiritual blackout, which is a moment of the relative eclipse of integrity, of honesty, of decency, of courage,” West said. “These days, too many young folk are taught what? The end of life is to be the smartest in the room? How empty, how hollow, how shallow. Let the phones be smart, you’ve got to be wise.”

West traced Trump’s election to this “spiritual blackout”, and condemned what he perceives as a materialistic and rapacious societal ethos filling the spiritual vacuum. He ended his speech with a return to his central message of cultivating personal character and laid out some words of guidance. 

“Confront oppression. Integrity, intellectual integrity: tell the truth, no matter how popular. Spiritual integrity: stay on the love train … I’m talking about love of truth.”

West concluded his talk with 45 minutes of answering questions from the audience on a wide range of subjects. Audience members posed questions on race and Black Lives Matter, the Minneapolis mayoral campaign, political activism, West’s criticism of President Obama and many other topics.

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Meet Damian Waite, new AC in Kildahl and Rand

For Damian Waite, newly hired Area Coordinator for Rand and Kildahl Halls, working at St. Olaf College was a bit unplanned. Growing up in Jamaica, Waite never expected to attend college, let alone move to the U.S. Yet here he is, a newly minted hire sitting in his Rand office, his cheerful smile and welcoming demeanor lighting up the room.

A whirlwind of chance events landed Waite on the Hill, starting with his journey to the U.S. for college.

“College was really very incidental,” Waite said. “I was very studious in high school, and I went to one of the top high schools in Jamaica. Even though I did very well in high school, no one ever told me that college was my next step.”

College first surfaced as a real possibility when Waite traveled to Minnesota with the Key Club, a service organization associated with Kiwanis International.

“I was on the district board and came to the U.S. for conventions, and had friends in Minnesota, and they said, ‘Have you thought about going to college? Let’s do some touring.’” Waite toured and applied to Bethel University and the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, and eventually decided to attend Northwestern after receiving a generous scholarship.

From there, Waite received his B.S. in marketing with a minor in finance from Northwestern, earned a Master’s of Public Administration from Hamline University and received a Master’s of Social Work from Boston College. He also spent several years on J1 research scholar visas at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Virginia Tech.

“At Virginia Tech, I did an IRB-approved research project on what were the characteristics of global citizenship as it relates to how we are educating college males,” Waite said. “It’s a long-term interest of mine, this idea of global citizenship.”

After Waite’s J1 visa expired, he moved to New York and applied for asylum. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Waite faced the threat of violence and discrimination in Jamaica.

“If you know about Jamaica, there’s a lot of homophobia. It’s still evolving as a country as it relates to the rights of its citizens. When it comes to crime and violence, that’s a number one issue.”

Waite’s asylum was granted, and he began working in the hotel industry in New York as a night auditor and manager. He was especially involved in scrutinizing the finances of the hotel, forecasting occupancy rates and paying the bills.

While chance encounters brought Waite to the U.S. and eventually to St. Olaf, the job of Area Coordinator seems to be a natural fit, in line with what Waite enjoys most.

“I’m sort of coming back home in terms of a career change. I made a conscientious decision that I wanted to return to student affairs, which was where I felt most comfortable in terms of my own skill set.”

It is evident the Waite is deeply passionate about working with college students to create social change, and hopes to help foster community at St. Olaf. As Area Coordinator, he is charged with that very goal, in addition to the more day- to-day tasks of supervising Resident Assistants and Junior Counselors and coordinating Hall Council.

“I’m hopeful that my own impact on residents in Kildahl and Rand is that we can engage in a community where we will be civil with each other, where we will learn from each other and where we will draw the best out of each other,” Waite said.

St. Olaf’s global focus also appeals to Waite, given his long-term interest in global citizenship.

“St. Olaf is a global-minded college. The majority of the students will travel overseas during their academic years, and so what better university to rejoin than a school that has a global-minded focus?”

So far Waite has been enjoying his new job. While he approached the residential nature of St. Olaf with some initial hesitation, he now sees the benefits.

“I think residential campuses have a really neat opportunity to really foster strong communities, that when turbulence comes, it can withstand that turbulence because the people are so interconnected.”

Waite was impressed by the early enthusiasm for Hall Council, appreciating that so many people wanted to get involved and has enjoyed overseeing such different dorms. Even though he arrived on campus after most of the other staff had moved in, he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the welcome he’s received.

“I always say that you can know if you’re going to succeed in the first few weeks of any job just based upon how people receive you, how people welcome you, and the reception here has been much greater than I ever imagined.” 

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St. Olaf defends DACA

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, St. Olaf College administrators issued a swift response to the bombshell announcement that the Trump administration would be rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, proclaiming that the college would “protect our students to the extent we are able under the law.” In the response, the college expressed concern over the negative impact the White House’s decision may have on St. Olaf’s DACA participants – often referred to as Dreamers – and pledged support for enshrining DACA protections into law.

Established in 2012, the DACA program created an application process in which undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children could obtain a “deferred action” commitment from the federal government which would temporarily shield them from deportation. DACA provided these individuals with two year, renewable work permits and social security numbers. Under the Trump administration’s new policy, the federal government is no longer accepting new DACA applications, and will no longer renew permits after March 5. As a result, DACA will slowly wind down as participants’ permits expire.

The Office of Marketing and Communications team began crafting the college’s statement shortly after the announcement, with input from the President’s Leadership Team and President David Anderson ’76.

“There was deep concern for the welfare of Dreamers on campus, and there was an immediate desire to get a response out so that our position was crystal clear,” St. Olaf General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 said.

The college’s position of support faces some formidable legal obstacles. The college has a limited ability to prevent Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from carrying out deportation proceedings against any undocumented students on campus, and would need to comply with any court orders or subpoenas.

However, according to Lehmann, the college is nonetheless “not required to and not inclined to cooperate in identifying individuals or assisting with any efforts that would result in deportation of students.” Furthermore, few administrators at the college know the identities of DACA participants, likely hindering any hypothetical ICE operations.

Another constraint facing the college’s support efforts relates to financial aid. Under DACA, participants receive a social security number that allows them to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While Dreamers are not eligible for federal financial aid, completing the FAFSA allows colleges to assess their financial need and award their own aid packages. Without the FAFSA, Dreamers’ access to aid would be severely curtailed. Employment and financial aid through St. Olaf work awards would also be prohibited.

There are still some options for Dreamers seeking financial assistance. Minnesota has state-level aid available to Dreamers through the MN Dream Act. Passed in 2013, the legislation offers need-based grants, low-interest student loans and a number of other aid options to qualified applicants.

Beyond financial strain, the Trump administration’s decision creates new uncertainty for the lives of DACA participants, a fact decried in the college’s response. Professing concern for the “peace of mind” of Dreamers, the statement emphasized that “all of the resources of the college are available to support these students at this difficult time.”

The college provides a number of services to help DACA participants. Even before the DACA news broke, the Dean of Students Office and the Piper Center had been offering academic and career support to undocumented students. The Boe House also offers a number of mental health services for students struggling with the stress of the DACA repeal.

Bruce King, Chief Diversity Officer, noted that it’s not just Dreamers that face an anxious future, but also the friends and family of DACA participants. He also emphasized the way that the DACA decision strikes at St. Olaf as a community, and implored people to shift their mindset.

“I think it’s important to stop thinking about DACA as something that is happening to them, but as something that is happening to us,” King said. “I think that this DACA issue, immigration bill, all these things that are happening external to us, we’ll be ok if we continue to keep caring about each other as a community.”

The news cycle surrounding DACA has been head-spinning. While the repeal of DACA is currently underway, President Trump continues to gesture towards ‘revisiting’ the issue. News broke on Wednesday, Sept. 13 of a political deal wherein Democrats would support more non-wall border security funding in exchange for legislating the provisions of DACA. While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the contours of the deal Thursday night, the White House subsequently denied agreeing to a deal, and all parties later clarified that no actual agreement had been made.

Closer to home, a solidarity march and rally was held by Cannon Valley Indivisible on Sunday, Sept. 17 in downtown Northfield in support of immigrant and minority communities. Hundreds of college students and local residents marched through Northfield to show their support for these communities recently under attack. 

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SGA Executive Team discuss policy and plans for the year

Student Government Association (SGA) President Jauza Khaleel ’18 and Vice President Tim Bergeland ’18 will readily admit they have had a busy few weeks. From over- seeing the fall elections to prepping for the start of Senate, the beginning of the year has been frenetic for the new SGA executive team. When their attention is not captive to the hectic challenges of setting SGA in motion, Khaleel and Bergeland work on refining a reformist vision for this year’s SGA. With aspirations for making SGA more responsive and empowering, Khaleel and Bergeland have big plans in store, though many of the details still need to be fleshed out.

SGA is divided into nine branches, the Senate and a number of other offices. The branches consist of many committees students have heard of, such as the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) that brings

political speakers to campus, the After Dark Committee (ADC) that organizes Pause dances and the Student Activities Com- mittee (SAC) that arranges weekly movies. The various branches are charged with organizing many of the events near and dear to students, carrying out vital responsibilities and funding student organizations. The Pause – and its pizza – is also a branch of SGA.

Each branch of SGA has a branch coordinator, all of whom work closely with Khaleel and Bergeland.

“I think a lot of my work is helping people make their jobs easier,” Khaleel said. “People can always brainstorm with me for events, and brainstorm in terms of financial stuff.” Khaleel and Bergeland also frequently meet with Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser, Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton and President David Anderson ’74 to discuss various student issues.

While Khaleel’s job tends to focus on working with the branch coordinators, Bergeland spends much of his time overseeing the Senate and facilitating its discussion. “The Vice President is the person who is chairing the Senate,” Bergeland said. “Basically what I do is facilitate the conversation and prepare the agenda and everything. The Senate is a forum for student issues to be heard and discussed and contextualized within St. Olaf, and turned into proposals to communicate to administrators.”

This fall, Khaleel and Bergeland hope to begin instituting various ideas for improving SGA. First and foremost, they hope to make SGA more accessible by holding office hours in the Cage. Once a week a representative from SGA will be in the Cage to field questions and address student concerns.

More fundamentally, Khaleel and Bergeland hope to make SGA more action-orient- ed and responsive to student needs, particularly when it comes to countering what they view as the regressive policies of the Trump administration.

“Things are changing very rapidly for students here under the Trump administration,” Bergeland said. “With the DACA repeal and … the reworking of a lot of Title IX stuff, a lot of what we have been discussing now is moving forward and how … we best empower students in resisting a lot of these injustices. Then for those who are directly affected, how can we best support them?”

Currently SGA has two official initiatives:

It’s On Us, which seeks to prevent sexual assault, and the Greater Than Campaign, which seeks to create a positive atmosphere surrounding mental health. Khaleel explained how they hope to revamp SGA’s initiatives to be more active and far-reaching.

“[We’re] looking at ways that we can make these initiatives move from beyond information dispensing,” Khaleel said. “How can we think more about ‘how can we make Pause dances a lot safer?’, ‘how can we change the way we talk about mental health?’, talk more about how it’s something that’s embedded in the St. Olaf culture? And even in terms of race, looking at ways that SGA can be more supportive for students of color, and of all different diverse backgrounds.”

Bergeland agreed.

“One of Greater Than’s goals is ‘how can we become more intersectional in the way that we think about mental health?’” Bergeland said.

Khaleel and Bergeland also have a number of plans for improving SGA’s racial sensitivity and supporting the Collective for Change on the Hill. One of these changes is a new implicit bias training required for all SGA Senators, run by a restorative justice group from Minneapolis.

“It’s thinking about how to empower us in pursuit of striving for racial justice, fighting for racial justice, challenging our own implicit biases,” Bergeland said. “I think it’s really important for Senators to hear. How can an anti-racist framework be applied and imbued in all of these different services we’re offering?” They also hope to meet with the Collective, though a meeting has not yet been planned.

While these new executives have an expansive vision for changes to SGA, they have not yet hammered out most of the details. As of now, they have been working with branch coordinators on the fall’s biggest events, including the MEC’s fall concert and PAC’s fall speaker. 

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