The Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) hosted a panel on April 19 with three members of last year’s Gray Shirt team. Continue reading “Gray Shirt team revisits campus in light of Dittman scandal”
Veselica, the international student dance ensemble on campus, held its spring concert beginning April 6 and performed five shows through to the end of the week in the Center for Art and Dance. The performance space, which doubles as a general dance studio for classes and rehearsals during the week, was transformed into an elegant space with pull-out bleachers, pastel lighting and a spacious stage.
Veselica (pronounced veh-SELL-eetsah) is a student dance company with a global perspective that strives to spread awareness of dance from around the world. After auditions each fall, the group rehearses twice weekly throughout the academic year, learning dance forms, choreography and traditions from around the world. They perform in a wide range of multicultural events, both on- and off-campus, spreading their knowledge about international dance as a pertinent art form.
The spring concert is Veselica’s main event of the year, for which members of the student dance group begin rehearsing in the fall semester. Before each number, an audio recording of Choreographer and Artistic Director Anne von Bibra informed the audience of the background, history and relevant contemporary context of that dance. These recorded segments of information about cultural traditions and costumes helped contextualize the entire performance and accomplish the dance group’s mission of spreading awareness of global dance forms.
“The show was a lot of work, but I love the group itself. Especially with the seniors, having their input and being able to add different elements into the dances [is really] fun. Our instructor Anne lets us change some choreography as well, so the creative aspect of it is really awesome too,” Veselica member Annie Caushaj ’19 said.
The students performed nine different dances, each from a different region of the world, such as Japan, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Mexico, Latvia, Norway, Hungary, India, Armenia and the United States. The varying styles, music and costumes of each performance demonstrated the diversity of dance, both traditional and contemporary, across the world.
During the latter half of the show, members of Veselica performed a Norwegian dance, during which Thea Lund ’19 sang a song in Norwegian. The audience was also fortunate to see an Armenian performance by members of Veselica and the St. Olaf Dance Company, which involved unique music and interaction between dancers.
Before the final song, audience members were invited to kick off their shoes and join several performers and von Bibra on stage to learn the steps of a Macedonian dance, Las Nodo. The entire audience participated, joining hands and enjoying the interactive portion of the concert.
“Basically we do dances from all over and I guess try to bring that cultural perspective into everything. We try to take dances from everywhere we can even though we’re very Eurocentric,” Caushaj said.
Several weeks ago I went to the third annual St. Olaf Posse Plus retreat and participated in two full days of workshops which explored the theme “us versus them” and the polarization of identity, politics, race, gender, sexuality and religion. For those who are unfamiliar with the Posse Foundation, the mission statement reads, “The Posse model works for both students and college campuses and is rooted in the belief that a small, diverse group of talented students – a posse – carefully selected and trained, can serve as a catalyst for increased individual and community development.”
St. Olaf became a Posse partner school in 2014, and since then has enrolled three “posses” in the St. Olaf student body, each consisting of around 10 students. Before we left for the retreat, it was anticipated that over 100 St. Olaf students would be in attendance, most of whom would be the guests of Posse scholars, broadening the mission to include all students who wish to discuss and connect through these topics. As students loaded onto the buses on Friday afternoon, it became evident that around half of the students who registered for the event would not be coming.
Later that same week I sat in my literature class and together with our professor we discussed the history of oppression in the United States. We began with the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, grazed over the conquest and enslavement of the Aztecs by the Spanish, touched on Huerta and Chavez’s farmworkers movement and puzzled through Vietnam, the Black Panthers and MLK. We arrived at the present day, touching on Trump’s immigration ban, on police brutality, on stolen land, on us versus them and on the retraction of civil rights from countless persecuted groups. We all had a sense that the current presidency is but the most contemporary point in the oppressive cycle that characterizes United States history.
After about an hour, we ended up pursuing the question that seemingly plagues every left-leaning student, myself included:
“What do we do next?”
Initially, this question struck a chord with me and I nodded along with my classmates out of desperation for an answer that nobody could give. After all, not everyone has the same understanding of the current situation and certainly not everyone will feel inclined to react in the same way. My classmates and I shared this feeling that while we vehemently oppose oppression and prejudice with every ounce of our belief systems, it can often feel impossible to ensure that such beliefs equate action.
Moving forward, several action-oriented ideas were put forth. The typical “call your senator, attend a protest” avenue dominated the list of proposed solutions, salient with the attitude that civic forms of resistance are the end-all-be-all of progressive pushback. In wake of these answers and a growing aura of desperation for a brighter tomorrow, a variation emerged:
“Once we’ve checked our two civic boxes, we are powerless to the forces that be.”
Over the next couple of days I processed this conversation, and while I agreed with what was said, something about it didn’t sit right with me in the context of U.S. history and the lack of student attendance at the Posse retreat. In the wake of hundreds of years of persecuted groups strategically fighting for their rights through both civic and grassroots strategies, this attitude with which we call our representatives, attend the women’s march and then wait for things to change disregards the fact that there is always and without exception more that can be done.
What I am coming to understand is that there is an unlimited number of valid and impactful ways to resist. Not everyone will be inclined to spend an entire weekend talking about the polarization of identity, and not every woman is going to be able to strike from work or class on “The Day Without Women.” However, as we discuss these topics in class and pursue a revolutionized future, it is essential to remember that historically, resistance has always been as much about grassroots empowerment as it has been about civic resistance.
Events on campus are constantly organized and carried out to facilitate discussion and connection across varying identities and issues. Over the past several weeks, Northfield community organizers have met in town with college students and Northfield residents to develop “planes comunidades,” and “planes familiares” concerning response plans for possible Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Northfield. Furthermore, St. Olaf and Carleton students have begun meeting weekly, coordinating with organizers and sanctuary churches in Rice County to facilitate hosting programs and walking school buses in the case that undocumented residents are deported and Northfield families are left in need of external support.
There are only so many legislators to call and protests to attend before becoming exhausted and hopeless, and it can be easy to feel powerless in the face of such overtly oppressive executive action. Moving forward, it is essential to remember that resistance stems from public pushback against the government, but also from fostering action at the roots of a community.
Avery Ellfeldt ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Denver, Colo. She majors in Spanish, communications and cultural studies.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, Associate Professor of Religion David Booth gave the 2016 Fall Mellby Lecture. Booth teaches classes at St. Olaf on Christian theology, feminist theory, religion and culture in a variety of contexts.
During her introduction of Booth, Professor of Religion Mara Benjamin spoke about Booth’s role and contributions at St. Olaf, as well as in her own career and life.
“[Through David I found that] theology was an enterprise that not only included, but necessitated difference and diversity. It was not the property of any one interest group or set of institutions,” Benjamin said. “It was a process of reflection on how we make our way in the world and through which we forge a just society.”
As Booth began his lecture, he introduced his topic of the North Carolina bathroom wars in the context of theology. The controversy is rooted in the debate over whether individuals who do not conform to the customary male and female gender binary should be able to use public facilities that do not match their biological sex. He initially addressed the importance of this particular subject in the wake of the election.
“The nation has elected a president, and in particular a vice president, who defends a supposed religious freedom of citizens to ignore certain civil rights of some of their neighbors,” Booth said. “Against my wishes, my remarks tonight may be too relevant.”
He argued that whether an individual is religious, atheistic or agnostic, theology can help both individuals and communities better understand the present and work toward a future where all people have equal access to what Booth called the blessings of life. He then presented his claim that the gender binary must be regarded critically, and that the stigmatization of gender non-conformers in the name of religion must stop.
“I plan to plead for your sympathy for the simple notion that every person ought to be empowered to live out a gendered identity that speaks to the truth of their own self understanding, without regard for whether that identity is comfortable to a customary strict binary of women and men,” Booth said.
Booth explained that politicians and citizens believe that public facilities should be organized based on biological sex because they find it the most logical way to order society. This system is also based on the belief that keeping biological males out of female bathrooms is an attempt to protect women from sexual assault in the context of their inferior position in the gender binary.
“In any case, one can hardly find a case of trans women menacing others in women’s restrooms, while reports are common of harassing trans bathroom users simply because they make them uncomfortable,” Booth said.
He emphasized that such an aggressive attack against gender non-conformers is the effect of this very hierarchy being defied.
“Men can be president. Whether women can be president we don’t know yet,” Booth said. “There are stakes and stakeholders in defending a binary gender order. The existence of gender non-conformers threatens the stakeholders in a gender binary order.”
He then continued to tie the everlasting debate over the gender binary, and public efforts to alter its ubiquity, to St. Olaf. He described how through the general education requirements, and the theology requirement in particular, St. Olaf aims to prepare students to clearly articulate and understand their own beliefs. Booth was also sure to emphasize that what is more pressing in the present are students’ abilities to converse with those who have differing ideologies, and that the BTS-T requirement is St. Olaf’s defense against religious ignorance and animosity. Booth introduced his belief that while some parts of the General Education (GE) requirements are beneficial to St. Olaf students, others need to be reevaluated.
“I hope that a new infusion of energy in our GE will respond to the remarkable transformations of the world our students will navigate,” he said. “In particular, the rich diversity of peoples and cultures, the increasing demand to recognize the real dignity and rights of previously marginalized people, and the enormous challenge, never more pressing than it is right now of sorting … the legitimacy of ideologically tainted knowledge claims.”
One of Booth’s consistent goals as a professor is to communicate some of the ways in which theology is an effective way to analyze and navigate the world, employing the public usefulness of theology.
“Theology is reasoning about meaning and truth. It seeks to clarify what the claims of a religious community mean. How do these claims fit together and constitute a total way of living? It proposes ways of thinking about what is true, in respect to the truths of history… [and] scientific inquiry,” Booth said.
His lecture informed the audience about the importance of the coherence of truths, whether they are religious, scientific, literary or historical, in order that religious claims and communities don’t mindlessly refute important knowledge about the reality of the world.
Walking out of the Halloween Pause dance several weeks ago, I stopped in my tracks when I felt someone grab my butt. I turned around and found the perpetrator standing behind me with a smug grin plastered across his face. He cocked his head to the left, followed directly by a self-assured nod in my direction. I shook my head and turned the other way, perplexed at the entitled expression he dared to maintain after touching my body without my permission.
In light of an alleged child rapist being elected to the highest political office in the United States, it has become clear that rape culture, as well as apathy towards it, permeates every aspect of our environment. As many of us know, sexual assault and the mistreatment of survivors runs rampant on college campuses across the nation. This truth has been confirmed week after week, as countless headlines flash across our newsfeeds detailing mishandled cases by university administrations, the criminal justice system and the 2016 presidential election.
While some universities have begun to acknowledge the gravity of this issue, administrative responses to sexual assault have continued to fail those who have been or will ever be affected by it. Many universities are now addressing sexual assault through the re-examination of campus alcohol policies. These reactionary measures are founded in the logic that if everybody at a college could be more aware of their actions and surroundings, students would be less likely to either commit or experience sexual assault. In 2015, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that alcohol played a role in 97,000 cases of sexual assault and date rape.
While alcohol clearly contributes to sexually aggressive behavior, changing relevant policies inherently places blame on the wrong component of this nauseating equation. For starters, reevaluating alcohol policies further perpetuates the idea that by drinking alcohol, the survivor placed themselves in a dangerous situation. This, in turn, negates all the work done so far to avoid blaming survivors for what others have done not only to their bodies, but to their minds and hearts as well. In regards to perpetrators, these measures imply that in many cases alcohol so severely inhibits the reasoning of sexually aggressive individual that they lose their respect for others, awareness of their actions and general morality. While alcohol is a powerful substance, drinking alone does not have the power to generate a sexist and aggressive individual. We must place blame on the culture that encourages sexual assault, not the perpetrator’s choice of beverage.
I take issue with this response because it suggests that universities are ignoring the fact that so many people – male and female – have accepted gender inequality and sexual violence as the norm. They have demonstrated this through employing an ideology that responds to sexual assault by encouraging students to drink less alcohol, rather than mandating perpetrators to keep their hands to themselves. This fails to address the overwhelming number of incidents that are rooted in male entitlement to female bodies.
What must be addressed are the mindsets of the individuals who have previously, or will in the future, assault one of their peers. This would entail educating entire college campuses about the intricacies and history of sexual assault through workshops and required classes. It is unacceptable that efforts to put a stop to rape culture through education have not yet been made on a nationwide scale. In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, I sincerely hope the pervasiveness of sexual assault has deeply disturbed those who have the power to reverse it.
This is not to say that reviewing alcohol policies is not necessary, as statistics clearly show the integral role inebriation plays in sexual assault. However, alcohol policy reform alone is not, and will never be, enough. When a university blames alcohol for sexual assault, they enable perpetrators to do the same.
Later that night at the Pause dance, I observed the same man who grabbed me stand on the sidelines of the dance floor watching women walk by, reaching out to touch them as they passed. It reminded me of when I was little, in a clothing store with my parents. When I saw something sparkly I would reach out to touch it and shortly thereafter be scolded for touching something that I didn’t own. I don’t understand why he felt as though he could touch anyone in that room whenever and wherever he wished. After watching this individual touch woman after woman, I had had enough.
He caught my eye, and replicated the suave expression that he had flashed me earlier. But as I walked in his direction, his entire demeanor shifted. The smirk was gone, as was his drunken posture once he realized I was approaching him out of disgust rather than flattery.
“Never touch someone like that again,” I said.
He readily bore a shiny smile, apologized and replied, “Are we good? I’m sorry. I had way too much to drink tonight.”
Avery Ellfeldt ’19 (email@example.com) is from Denver, Colo. She majors in communications, cultural studies and Spanish.