Author: Jenny Huong Dao

PACON brings first year to a close

itical landscape, the Public Affairs Conversation (PACON) began at St. Olaf as a program aimed at fostering constructive discussions among students, enabling them to apply a new liberal arts perspective to political discourse both at St. Olaf and after graduation. PACON is a year-long program for juniors and seniors that consists of two semester-long courses and a paid internship. The program promises to develop students academically and professionally while providing them with a broad understanding of social issues.

PACON allows students to think about public affairs and issues in an interdisciplinary way. The program is designed to combine normative and empirical methods to approach these problems while incorporating the philosophical, historical and political facets of issues. Students who participate in the program actively engage in discussion forums and dialogues about the history and origins of contemporary political debate.

During the first course of PACON, students are assigned a book that links the contemporary debate to the philosophy of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Students consider and discuss liberalism, communitarianism, utilitarianism, feminism and ethical issues surrounding race.

The course also looks at the U.S. Constitution and other key historical documents and events.

“PACON is a good environment to engage with contemporary political issues in a way that does not often happen in class,” current PACON studen Nate Webster ’17 said. “What is interesting about PACON is that you not only get the theoretical background but also apply it to contemporary issues. Whereas in other classes you are often constrained by either subjects or you’re limited to just studying theory and not really applying it in relevant ways to current events. Because of that, I think it brings out more candid and more impassioned debates.”

The second course focuses heavily on case studies. Students use empirical and normative approaches combined with the historical exposition gained from the first course to examine each case. Course materials examining civil discourse are intertwined with these new methods of study, provoking disagreement and debate while enabling students to engage in discussion on a range of perspectives and topics.

“It is important that civil discourse is more than just polite, but civil discourse should be open, frank, [have] a searching quality, and constructive feedback. I think that a characteristic of a good liberal art education is that you do consider evidence, think historically and philosophically, normatively. And you also seek out opposing views,” PACON professor Dan Hofrenning said.

Outside the classroom, PACON places its students into paid internship positions that can be completed at any point in the year. Students work closely with the Piper Center to find internships with organizations involved in public policy, especially in government and nonprofit positions.

“What makes PACON particularly effective is that students are given a stipend to do an internship that deals with social issues,” Webster said. “Students are required to engage in the processes that they are studying in class, which I don’t think many other classes do.”

PACON is sponsored by The Institute for Freedom and Community. Although the Institute has secured the resources to financially support the courses, the content of courses is administered by St. Olaf faculty. The Institute also sponsors co-curricular programs and a series of lectures that connect to PACON courses. They have hosted a conference on political disagreement, a panel on the Iranian nuclear deal by Sen. Richard Lugar (R – Ind., Ret.), a discussion of racial injustice by Caribbean philosopher Dr. Charles Mills and another panel on capitalism and wealth by Chicago professor of economics Dr. Deirdre McCloskey.

“We hope to further the civic mission of the college,” Hofrenning said. “It’s not only a public affairs conversation, but really represents the perspective of a liberal art that the world needs. If you look at the political process in 2016, it’s those values of the liberal arts that are missing, and our belief is the more we can encourage our students to think of addressing these public issues when they leave the college then we will have been successful.”

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Faculty in Focus: Meet Professor Steve Soderlind

Professor of Ecocomics Steve Soderlind is popular on cam- pus for his cheerful demeanor and genuine care for students. He engages students with class materials through personal stories and random bits of humor. Soderlind believes that small, real- life anecdotes can sometimes be more effective for understand- ing than dry information written in textbooks. He identifies not so much as traditionally academic, but more whimsical and ex- plorative.

Soderlind was born and raised in Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a double major in math- ematics and economics and went on to obtain his Ph.D in Eco- nomics from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Before teaching at St. Olaf, Soderlind spent his time working as a carpenter and later as an IBM employee. Not a particularly academic person, Soderlind took a long time to acclimate into academia and become the thoughtful, scholarly person that he is now. When Soderlind came to St. Olaf he didn’t intend to stay for long, but he fell in love with the school’s history and tradition. In the 35 years that have passed since then, Soderlind’s apprecia- tion for the school has only grown. His teaching experience has helped him appreciate education as a meaningful endeavor and understand that school is a place where students can develop new skills and build relationships.

“I do care a lot about students, what they want to do in life and how they feel about the class, and I think my dedication and care for them does come off, and that’s genuine,” Soderland said.

To Soderlind, what makes education really worth it is study- ing what interests you and not just what interests the professors. His personal interests in economics tend to orient around consumer economics and urban affairs. Soderlind spends time weighing the pros and cons of tax systems and contemplating whether the current infrastructure is optimal. Soderlind is also a relativist, accepting that there is no one-size-fits-all economic

system or solution suitable for everyone.

His books Consumer Economics: A Practical Overview and

The Ascent of Regional Policy in Norway 1945-1980 reiterate this idea. In the former, Soderlind encourages people to know and think for themselves and to have the discipline to understand what works for them individually. The latter aligns with his in- terest in urban affairs. He uses Sweden and Norway as examples of countries that have implemented opposing public policy systems and argues that the best path forward differs for each country.

Soderlind is currently teaching his two last courses at St. Olaf College, Urban Economics and a seminar on welfare economics, both of which treat economics as a revenue and outcome of the world and integrate other disciplines such as religion, philoso- phy and sociology to help measure the efficiency of economic development.

When he’s not teaching, Soderlind enjoys biking and hiking with his wife. His spends the weekends kayaking with his friends or woodworking. When asked about future plans, Soderlind was excited to share that they are not yet fixed, but he knows what he wants to do. To him, the best plan is no plan at all. He enjoys working with children who are disadvantaged or facing tough situations alone. He also has a guitar he wants to play more.

Soderlind hopes all students at St. Olaf find their passions and create their own paths without limiting themselves with soci- ety’s expectations.

“Each of us is the most interesting conundrum in the world,” he said. He encourages students to appreciate life as a gift and not to succumb to the pressure of being good enough.

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A new channel for student activism

St. Olaf students have been active and responsive in their efforts to combat social injustice issues, both those exclusive to the St. Olaf campus and in the broader world. Past activities include the Black Lives Matter die-in, the 4th Precinct protests in Minneapolis, the No Room For Debate protests and the MLK posters incident. Campus protests, however, have differed in size, objective and level of success. Most of the time, these movements have been isolated and small due to lack of communication between activist groups. The Action Network was established earlier this year by a group of students who felt the need to create a more cohesive and systematic way to connect activist organizations on campus.

The idea of the Network started out when a group of students met and discussed campus protests during a corn roast event at the Wendell Berry house at the beginning of the fall semester. They shared a concern that protests on campus had been small since activists and organizers were unable to effectively communicate. As a result, the Action Network was designed to act as a forum for its members to share information and exchange support for one another.

“Action Network was launched beginning this school year but has managed to have meetings on a weekly basis and helped organize a few protests,” said member Cynthia Zapata ’16. “The main concern that we have right now is to maintain the Network over the years and not just dissipate at the founders’ graduations.”

Zapata, Claire Bransky ’17 and Claire Amsden ’17 are among the most active participants in the organization.

The Action Network connects campus activist groups from diverse backgrounds and interest fields. Many activist groups on campus such as Feminists for Change, Students for Reproductive Rights, StoTalks, Oles for Sanders, Oles for Hillary Clinton, Students for Education Reform and the Environmental Coalition are member organizations of the Action Network.

The main focus of the organization is on the eight major dimensions of identity, including socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age and religion, but the organization is open to providing support for groups specializing in other areas. There are also groups that focus on environmental issues and political identities. There is no hierarchy system in the Network, since it is a forum for member activist groups to discuss and connect.

One of the highlights of the impact of the Action Network was its participation in demonstrations against the Nov. 23 shooting of protestors in Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct Protest. Sam Wells ’17, who witnessed the shooting, emailed the Action Network alias to inform other members about the event and consult on possible actions. This conversation led to a timely on-campus protest that featured a demonstration in the quad.

More recently, the Network alias organizations discussed the MLK posters incident, in which one of the posters depicting historical racial injustice was torn down. A new change in the requirement for the Multicultural Studies-Domestic and Multicultural Studies-Global general education requirements has also sparked heated discussion among the activist groups in the Network.

The creation of Action Network means better communication between activist organizations on campus and more active debates on the most current issues. The Network promotes a more organized structure for campus activism and a more systematic way to raise awareness around campus.

Members meet once every week to build relationships and develop informed strategies to collectively improve their campus and community. The email alias is, and people can email the alias if they want to be added to it or get involved. Students who are interested in starting movements and want support can email the alias for that purpose as well.

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Deep End APO fills house with Five Women

Contributions from Julia Pilkington

On Friday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 7, Deep End APO showcased its latest production, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, written by Alan Ball and directed by Margaret Jacobson ’17. Performed in the Flaten Art Barn, the show was highly attended, nearly having to turn people away at both of the run’s evening shows.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress tells the story of five bridesmaids whose only common trait is that they are all forced to wear the same ugly pink dress at a wedding where none of them are actually friends of the bride. Under these and other uncomfortable circumstances, the women slowly reveal their surprising similarities and bond over shared experiences and revelations of their darkest secrets.

Written and presumably set in 1993, the show and its themes have the potential to come across as dated. It still felt relevant though, even 20 years removed from the show’s setting. It dealt with issues concerning consent, abuse, hook-up culture, perceptions of homosexuality, standards of femininity and masculinity and emotional trauma that are still relevant today.

Five Women’s bride, Tracy, surprisingly never appears on stage, existing only in the conversations between the other characters. In this way, Tracy is used as a representation of the stereotype of the ideal woman; seemingly perfect with good looks, a succesful career and an even more succesful new husband. Yet any actual physical manifestation of such perfection is elusive and only serves to make other women feel bad about themselves for not reaching the same ideals.

In retrospect however, it becomes clear that Tracy’s dream life is only a hollow illusion. Her life is directionless, and she is without any real friendship. In selecting her bridesmaids, Tracy had to resort to her only options: two friends to whom she has not spoken in years.

Tricia, played by Avery Baker ’19, acts as Tracy’s foil. She stands up for feminism and is always willing to defy the preconceptions that people have of her and women in general. In one scene, she and usher Tripp Davenport (Aaron Telander ’19) express feelings towards each other, and Tricia is able to get across what she wants without letting him and his assumption of her take control.

Mindy, the groom’s outspoken lesbian sister (Emiko Hinds ’18), is another strong character that confidently defies the expectations placed on her. This is exemplified in a scene where she mockingly imitates the Miss America pageant:

“I am just so thrilled to be poised on the brink of a fabulous career […] but most importantly being a good wife and mother and a good American!” Hinds (as Mindy) said.

The four other actors also contributed to the show’s quality with their intriguing characterization. Hannah Nilsson ’19 and Sophie Rossiter ’19 brought a lot of the play’s comedy with their portrayals of the bride’s sheltered, fundamentalist Christian cousin and her bitter former high school sidekick, respectively.

Conversely, Melanie Thompson ’19 brought Five Women to its dramatic peak as the bride’s angsty little sister with a dark secret.

Despite a successful staging, the show’s production did not come without its fair share of challenges. Jacobson originally intended to have Five Women be performed in Thorson lounge, before discovering ResLife’s new policy against multiple night performances.

Then, after switching venues to the Art Barn, the show’s 2:00 p.m. matinee was canceled and later rescheduled due to the State Cross Country Meet cutting off access to the Art Barn.

Opening night also faced a seating crisis, but Public Safety saved the day with a a last minute delivery of folding chairs.

Five Women was Deep End APO’s first and final show of the fall season, but audiences can expect more over interim and second semester.

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“No Camping” signs criminalize the homeless 

As the homeless population in America’s major cities has increased over the last decade, many politicians have made efforts to combat the issue by criminalizing it. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reported over 50 cities that impose ordinances against loitering, camping, begging and sleep- ing in public. New York, Denver, Honolulu and several other major cities in the U.S. have imposed a strict “urban camping ban” as a way to protect tourism. Recently, the city of Boise, Idaho was prosecuted for criminalizing people sleeping in public.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice deemed that in areas where there is a lack of shelter, any effort to criminalize sleeping in public would be unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment protects people who sleep in public when there is no alternative available. The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in 2009 were homeless people convicted under the city’s sleeping ban ordinance.

The DOJ’s ruling took effect immediately and was applied to all cities in the nation. Municipalities across America have adhered to the new ruling and reconsidered their homeless policies, specifically their anti- camping and anti-sleeping bans. Before the ruling, homeless people could find many of their daily activities labeled crimes, whether that activity be loitering, pushing carts or even taking a nap. New Orleans banned obstruc- tions such as tents and shopping carts in pub- lic spaces. In states like California, Arizona and Utah, “no camping” signs are prevalent and can be easily spotted on any street.

The motivations for these anti-homeless- ness laws are economically motivated. Large cities are pushed to allow large corporations to advertise in public spaces, effectively mak- ing many areas into tourist attractions. These wealthy areas have a would rather have a suc- cessful tourist business than allow their fellow citizens to sleep on the streets. In what seems like common sense, the rul- ing of the DOJ, “people should be able to sleep on the street when they have no other choice,” wakes America up to a moral question: Why do we push the homeless into shelters or pun- ish them for being visible in public? There are also many whose efforts to get the homeless off the streets stem only from an attempt to clean the streets cosmetically.

Peter Marin comments regarding this effort in his book Helping and Hating the Homeless, saying “Compassion is a little more than pas- sion for control.”

Despite new ordinances, set to help the homelessness problem, the issue is still one of the most prevalent and difficult issues in most American cities. Though attempts may be well-intentioned, these new policies serve only to veil the reality of the situation. With nowhere else to go, the homeless will be pushed out of the streets even further, and be forced into shelters or the very outskirts where safety is an even larger issue.

Jenny Dao ’17 ( is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science and economics.

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