Author: Avery Ellfeldt

Public Safety reports English department break-in

After discovering a suite door within the English department that appeared to have been tampered with on the morning of Oct. 18, Rolvaag Memorial Library staff called Public Safety to investigate the situation. After taking a closer look at the door, Public Safety concluded that someone may have entered the room without permission. Once inside the suite, it appeared someone had in fact tampered with the door and removed an item from the room.

“The cabinets were found open and the custodian stated he thought an iMac desktop computer was missing,” Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management Fred Behr said.

Public Safety examined other doors and offices in the English department nearby but found “no credible evidence” of tampering elsewhere.

“At this time, we believe the computer was last seen Friday Oct. 13 about 5 p.m. and discovered missing the morning of the 18 at 8:15. So far, the computer is the only item reported missing from the room,” Behr said.

After the theft was discovered, an email was sent to faculty and staff regarding the incident. While no other items are thought to have been stolen, Behr commented that “this remains an ongoing investigation.” Moving forward, Public Safety encouragesmembers of the community to keep valuable possessions out of plain view in offices and rooms, to lock doors to personal spaces when away and to report any suspicious behavior to Public Safety at (507) 786-3666. 

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Interfaith Coalition holds candlelight vigil in light of hate

On Monday, Sept. 11 the St. Olaf Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice hosted a candlelight vigil in response to the white supremacist marches that took place this past August in Charlottesville, Va. The vigil was planned as an effort to mourn hateful ideologies and unite the St. Olaf community across all faiths and non-faiths, wel- coming all community members to a space dedicated to healing and unity.

This past summer several members of the Interfaith Coalition attended a confer- ence hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core. At the conference, students from colleges and universities across the country navigated interfaith dialogue and discussed the best ways to promote this connecting mode of thinking on different college campuses.

“The weekend we were at this conference was also the weekend when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville,” Interfaith Coalition member Sophia Spiegel ’19 said. “It was really impactful to be in this seemingly safe bubble of open-minded people who wanted to promote peace and justice, and then to turn on the TV and see that this was happening.”

“People from all different college campuses at this conference decided to draft a letter stating that hateful ideologies will not be tolerated. We [also] pledged to hold a candlelight vigil on Sept. 11, the same day that white supremacists planned to march on campuses across the country.”

Integral to the Coalition is the belief faith has something to offer the world, no matter the form it takes. Spiegel explained this includes all religions as well as secular belief systems such as atheism and agnosticism. The St. Olaf students followed up on the pledge they took at the conference and along with other interfaith groups nationwide, held a vigil under the wind chimes outside of Boe Chapel. Many students attended the vigil, gathering together to both share and listen to one another’s thoughts, select readings and experiences.

“The intention behind that pledge was to create a space for people to fully realize that some people on this campus feel less safe than other people. [It was] a space to express suffering, a space to express difference in a way that encourages rising out of that suffering,” Spiegel said.

Many students passed by the vigil and stopped to participate. Candles lit the area as the sun went down and apart from the student or community member sharing, all in attendance remained silent.

The Peace and Justice portion of the Coalition is particularly important to its members, and Spiegel emphasized that simply discussing faith is not substantial in the context of such a complex and hateful political environment.

“Faith and active faith and an accepting faith are all intertwined,” Spiegel said. “It’s not a faith that excludes other people, this is specifically faith that includes faith of all backgrounds into their own spectrums. We really wanted to make sure that people who don’t adhere to a particular religion can also participate.”

To this end, many students shared both religious and secular readings, ranging from poetry to prayers in Arabic. Spiegel sang and taught those in attendance a song called “How Could Anyone,” which she grew up hearing at her Unitarian Universalist Church. The song preaches self-love and empowerment, repeating “how could anyone ever tell you, you’re anything less than beautiful” throughout the chorus.

“I come from a background where secular texts are read in church services, and where secular and sacred are entirely fused together, which I haven’t seen on this campus much before.” Spiegel said. “To be able to treat something secular as sacred is so incredible.” 

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Ceremony held in memory of Karan Patel ’19, beloved student

Karan Patel ’19 passed away on July 3, 2017. Widely recognized across the St. Olaf campus as a unique, welcoming and selfless individual student, Patel grew up in Chicago, Ill., and during his time at St. Olaf pursued a degree in mathematics in hopes of one day becoming a teacher. Patel was a St. Olaf Posse Scholar, demonstrative of his role as a leader in many contexts as well as his admirable commitment to academics and community. Patel was diagnosed with kidney cancer mid-summer and passed away six weeks later.

Patel was consistently engaged in meaningful conversations which served him well as the co-president of the Hindu Club on campus. Known for being passionately devoted to his Hindu faith, he often spent holidays and weekends at a Hindu Temple in Minneapolis, Minn. Patel was eager to discuss religion and the world with those around him and was always open to new ideas and intellectual exploration.

On Sept. 21, the college held a memorial service for Patel in Urness Recital Hall. Students, faculty, staff, family and friends gathered to honor Patel, as well as the many profound contributions he made to both personal and public life at St. Olaf and beyond. Assistant Professor Dipannita Kalyani sang a song entitled, “You Are The Ocean of Compassion,” and Professor Anantanand Rambachan spoke about Patel’s character, academic ambition and religious fervor.

Rambachan spoke of Patel in an email sent to the St. Olaf community shortly after his passing.

“When I visited Karan two weeks ago in Chicago, his illness had not dimmed his smile or his delight in conversation with one of his teachers. His time with us was brief, but his imprint in our hearts deep.”

A close friend of Patel’s, Martin Modev ’19, also spoke during the service, fondly sharing bits of their relationship. Modev highlighted Patel’s perseverance, loyalty and charming sense of humor. At the end of the ceremony, all in attendance were invited to place white rose petals at the base of a photograph of Patel, which was surrounded by his family’s offerings of a garland, light and incense.

As is St. Olaf tradition, an endowed scholarship was created in Patel’s name. Donations can be made in his memory to the Karan Patel Memorial Scholarship, and in the future will provide unrestricted financial aid to a deserving student. 

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New ADC guidelines restrict use of N-word in Pause DJ sets

Campus musician Paddy Mittag-McNaught ’20 was reprimanded for playing music classified as “inappropriate” during an event in the Pause held for first years on Sunday, Sept. 3. This event was a “Pause Open House,” and functioned to introduce first years to the venue and the various events – such as Pause dances – that typically take place there throughout the year.

“During the freshman dance [an assistant director of student activities] got somebody to walk up on stage and tell me that we were playing inappropriate music and that the song we were playing had the N-word in it ‘every other line,’” Mittag-McNaught said. “I was like, ‘Okay I’ll change it,’ but [the assistant director themself ] ended up walking up on stage later that night and threatening

to pull us off the stage.”

He had been playing “wokeuplikethis*” by Playboi Carti.

On Sept. 7, an email was sent to three campus DJs regarding new guidelines for music to be played at the 70’s (Throw)Back to School Dance which would take place on Sept. 8. The three DJs scheduled to play at the event were Wassim Askoul ’18, Jesus Caballero ’18 and Michael Wegter ’18.

The email read, “A few guidelines for the music: 1) No N-word – this is coming straight from administration so please avoid these songs, or you will be asked to change them (i.e. songs that have the N- word every other or every third word are not acceptable). 2) Remember that this is a 70’s dance, and therefore we are expecting about 90% of the music to actually be from the 70’s and the remainder to be 70’s inspired.”

When Askoul received this email from the After Dark Committee (ADC) coordi- nator, Sam Brunclik ’19, he decided to boycott the event.

“After I heard the commands, I decided to make a statement,” Askoul said. “They have an incorrect understanding of how to make the campus inclusive and safe.”

When Askoul did not arrive at the venue to DJ the event, Mittag-McNaught was notified and asked to step in and Brunclik verified that Mittag-McNaught was aware of the guidelines regarding music for the event. Mittag-McNaught and his friend, Stephon Mitchell ’20, DJ’ed the event during Askoul’s scheduled time slot from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.

“I wasn’t even supposed to DJ, I didn’t know anything about it,” Mittag-McNaught said. “Somebody didn’t show up so I got a call from the ADC Coordinator asking me to come and DJ. I came up and he just said, ‘Do you know the rules?’”

Mittag-McNaught, Askoul, Mitchell and Wegter each expressed skepticism regarding the expectations concerning theme adherence and N-word exclusion, calling into question why these guidelines were sent forth.

“It’s music, it’s art, it’s freedom of speech,” Askoul said. “I’m a person of color and that’s my music. You embrace it, you don’t control it, that’s not dealing with racism. The theme won’t change how people think, what they’re going to go and do.”

Mitchell, who performed with Mittag-McNaught during the Open House event, voiced similar concerns with guidelines that censor songs which contain the N-word.

“For me, I see music as an art of expressing yourself,” Mitchell said. “[Artists] are saying [the N-word] but they’re trying to spread a message with it, they aren’t just saying it to say it. You want to keep the artists in mind. Like NWA. They created these lyrics with a reason and want to get the point across of what they want to say.”

Brunclik and Student Activities Director Kris Vatter commented that there needs to be a broad conversation about these guidelines in the near future. They intend for this discussion to include students from a variety of backgrounds and that it will serve to decide the role of the N- word in music played at campus events. The music guide- lines for these first two events were meant to bridge the gap between the beginning of the year and this discussion to come.

“We’ve been having conversations about the content for a long time,” Vatter said. “We’ve drafted a few things but have not gotten this entire new student executive team in the same room at the same time since we got back. We need to decide as a campus what we are willing to expose people to, what we are willing to have people experience. I am seeing that that word affects other people. I was here in the spring, I saw the protests. I want to be respectful of the folks that were protesting and find out if, in fact, this word is wel-

come on campus, then where should it be?”

Last spring, a group of students and administrators were involved in a dialogue about similar topics and guidelines. Several campus musicians, the Music Entertainment Com- mittee (MEC) Coordinator, ADC Coordinator as well as a student on the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) were involved in this conversation.

“They pulled us all in when some of the things were happening on campus,” Caballero – also known as DJ Toasty – said. “They pulled me, Sal, Stephon and Paddy. They were like, ‘What do you guys think about the administration implementing this new rule?’ I brought up this point about how some people grew up with this kind of music, it’s a part of their culture, so by banning it from a certain place at St. Olaf, the campus is not being inclusive.”

Caballero reported that students who participated in this conversation were told there would be follow-up regarding this discussion at some point in the future. At press time this has not yet occurred.

Several campus musicians expressed interest in pushing back against these regulations to allow for freedom of expression and the celebration of music across genres and cultures. Brunclik commented that Pause dances are hired DJ jobs, not DJ showcases. Therefore, DJs are expected to follow the guidelines ADC sets for each event they host.

“DJ-ing was a black art for the first 50 years of its history and especially with hip hop, the voices there are primarily black too,” Wegter said. “As a white person in a historically black art, I don’t play the N-word a lot. You have to be really vigilant about what you’re doing with those words, rather than just excluding them.” 

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Working Group established with little transparency

President David Anderson ’74 officially agreed to the Collective for Change on the Hill’s Terms and Conditions of Negotiation on May 1, 2017.

On Aug. 30 the President’s Leadership Team (PLT) released an update regarding further steps the College has taken toward addressing the Collective’s demands and “creating and sustaining a welcoming, inclusive, bias-free environment at St. Olaf College.” Some of these steps include new and additional race and bias training for the community, an updated Bias Incident Reporting and Process and a new Interim Director for the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement. The College is also beginning a collaborative project called “To Include is to Excel” with an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Also included in the Collective’s Terms and Conditions of Negotiation was the creation of the Task Force on Institutional Racism, which met throughout the summer to discuss institutional and individual racism at the college.

The Task Force consisted of three students, two faculty members, two alumni and General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 of the PLT. In the spring, students applied to be on the Task Force by submitting applications to the Collective, who made these applications public. The student body then voted in a primary and final election, selecting Susu Almousa ’19, Atefeh Alavi ’20 and Yishu Dai ’18 to represent students on the Task Force.

“Our main task was to review the Collective’s demands that had been presented and to take into consideration those demands,” Almousa said. “Plus, [to consider] the PLT’s additional responses to them to see if we could make recommendations for change towards combating institutional racism.”

The Task Force met weekly throughout the summer on Tuesday evenings, where they discussed the 27 different demands brought forth by the Collective during the protests in late April and May of last spring. Each of the Collective’s demands address institutional racism manifested at St. Olaf in different forms.

The last month of Task Force meetings was devoted to developing a final document that would summarize the Collective’s demands, the Task Force’s discussions per demand, as well as their shared suggestions to the PLT. The report of the St. Olaf Task Force on Institutional Racism was finalized Sept. 1 and was sent to the student body via email on Sept. 24. Along with suggestions specific to each demand, the Task Force made one general recommendation to the PLT.

The report read, “One of our overall recommendations as a Task Force is the formation of a Title VI Working Group that will follow up on these policies and practices, as well as talk with various members and stakeholders of the College to gather information about current practices, policies and needs of the College relating to these issues.”

On Sept. 6, the PLT responded to the report via email to the St. Olaf community. The response agreed with the Task Force that a Work- ing Group should be created, and that because this group would form soon, it would be “premature to respond to the Task Force’s other recommendations.” While the Task Force did propose the creation of another working body to implement change in the near future, both members of the Task Force and the Collective voiced disappointment with the PLT’s response to the suggestions put forth.

“The assumption was that the Task Force report would be taken into consideration … it’s clear that [it] was not taken seriously or maybe even considered by the PLT or [President Anderson],” Task Force Faculty Co-chair Chris Chiappari said. “We spent the summer doing that [work] and the way in which the email was presented it made it seem like we were just talking to ourselves and not doing what we were supposed to do. That was disrespectful to the Task Force, the members of it and our work.”

On Sept. 25, Anderson informed the community via email that the The Working Group on Equity and Inclusion had been formed. The Working Group consists of college regents, staff members, alumni, faculty, guest faculty and two students. According to the PLT’s email response, one goal of the working group will be to address “activities that the Task Force did not undertake,” and will aim to include more voices in the conversation.

“When you comprise a working group you want to try and hit all the constituencies of the college,” Working Group member and Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity Bruce King said.

Representatives of both the Collective and Task Force also expressed uncertainty regarding how the Working Group was formed.

“We feel like it should have been a little more transparent in regards to who they were going to chose to be on the Working Group,” Collective member Ashley Smith ’19 said. “It was kind of like they created the group and didn’t tell students, students couldn’t apply, students couldn’t choose … It seems very much like it’s not for students to really have a lot of power and say in.”

Smith, a statement by the Collective, Chiappari and Almousa each touched on a lack of transparency and collaboration on the behalf of the PLT during this process. It was not anticipated that the Working Group would be selected solely by administration, as both the Task Force and the Collective believed more groups and individuals would be involved.

“Throughout our entire document we really stressed the idea of transparency and the ability to elect as a whole,” Almousa said. “We didn’t want the administration [to be] the sole people to pick the Working Group. We do believe that some sort of force needs to exist to ensure that change is occurring. But, we don’t agree with the way that it was done.”

Chiappari expressed similar concerns.

“There’s been some misrepresentation from the beginning on the part of President Anderson and the PLT … The way it was characterized by the PLT [is] just not true. They make it sound like we agreed on the working group they proposed,” Chiappari said.

In response, King emphasized that all members of the Working Group will be involved with other stakeholders at the college on these issues. In this way, Working Group members will serve as community representatives and channels for the expression of different voices and opinions.

“I can say that we’re going to be very hopeful and optimistic in terms of what the Working Group will do, hoping that they keep the recommendations in mind, because we did put a lot of time and effort into it and tried to take into account a lot of different voices when writing those,” Almousa said. “I can tell you that I personally felt a little hurt by the fact that it was a pretty blatant dismissal of our work.” 

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