Author: Avery Ellfeldt

Civil rights activist Huerta calls students to action

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, civil rights activist and American labor leader Dolores Huerta came to campus to speak for the fall Political Awareness Committee event. The Lion’s Pause was packed with excited St. Olaf students, faculty, staff and Northfield community members by the time Huerta began her talk.

Throughout her life, Huerta has played an integral part in many efforts to improve the rights of marginalized populations in the United States. She began her activist career in Stockton, Calif., where she worked as a lobbyist for a branch of the Community Service Organization. It was there that she met César Chávez, with whom she organized what would later become the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Through the UFW, Huerta fought for the rights of farmworkers, eventually playing a key role in the Delano Grape Strike, one of the most prominent strikes in history. As a result of the strike, American consumers boycotted non-union grape companies, resulting in better working conditions and labor agreements for over 10,000 workers. Huerta has spent her life acting on her belief that all people are equally deserving of humane treatment and equal opportunity.

“I have always felt discriminated against [and] I have always felt inferior,” Huerta said. “As a person of color, I can tell you [racism] has always been here.”

Huerta demonstrated how deeply her worldview is rooted in United States history. She discussed numerous historical struggles, movements and tragedies, from genocide of American Indians during the colonial period to slavery.

“These are the things people have to learn, so that they know the history of the contributions of people of color [to the United States] … This country was built by people of color,” Huerta said.

Citing the fact that the White House was built by slaves, Huerta spoke about how her work has been shaped by the oppressive foundations of the U.S. She adopted this belief into her life’s work, beginning as a union organizer and continuing her career into the present as a public speaker and as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Her passion for and dedication to her work began when she was exposed to the inhumane conditions of migrant workers.

Huerta used her life experiences to contextualize current social and political events in the United States. Born in 1930, Huerta has lived through some of the most transformative periods in U.S. history. From immigration reform to social security for public workers, Huerta has covered many of the most controversial and integral issues that threaten the rights and welfare of United States citizens on a daily basis. She emphasized the importance of labor unions when it comes to protecting workers from what she referred to as the “corporate powers of greed.”

“If it were not for labor unions, we would not have a 40 hour work week, we wouldn’t have minimum wages [and] we wouldn’t even have public education,” Huerta said. “[However], if our minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living, it would be 30 dollars an hour. There is no reason why people working really really hard should not have a comfortable life.”

To move forward as a country, Huerta argued that the United States needs more widespread education concerning these issues. The reality is that the world is changing, and inequalities will continue to be challenged by those affected by it.

“One of the reasons we have this huge ignorance in our society is because we don’t have ethnic studies in our schools,” Huerta said. “Ethnic studies, women’s studies and labor studies should not be electives, they should be requirements.”

Huerta believes that as it stands, the U.S. population is not aware enough about the intricacies of inequality in its own country. She challeneged audience members to become involved in social justice in any way they can.

She said it is okay that not everybody wants to go into activist work, as all occupations have value and importance. However, she advised that if everybody could just find one issue to be passionate and active about, change could be a much more attainable goal.

In closing, Huerta reminded the audience of the importance of selflessness and sacrifice.

“[No matter what you want to be], don’t just think about being a millionaire, because as much as you can earn, you can only eat three meals a day. Think about the legacy of justice you leave behind.”

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Campus efforts to combat racism fall short

When I go home on breaks, I usually tell my friends and family that my school is not very diverse, but that we’re working on it. I tell them that people care enough about ignorance to confront it, and that St. Olaf students do not allow racism on campus. Lately, however, I’ve begun to fear that this regular report will have to change. Racial slurs projected during Vic Mensa’s performance of “16 Shots” last spring, neglected sexual assault survivors and all too frequent hate crimes have plagued our campus for the past two years.

During the week of Oct. 3, two incidents of hate speech were reported on campus. The N-word was written in Mohn Hall on a white board. Later that week, the very same word was written on a slip of paper and placed in the St. Olaf Muslim House’s “Ask a Muslim Anything” submission box in Buntrock Commons.

In the context of campus events and the current political atmosphere, I think we, the St. Olaf community, feel as though we are aware of and active in regards to current social issues. We watch the presidential debates and disagree with Trump, and discuss outright racist campus events with professors in our classes. Most of us maintain the position that there is no room for racism or hate on our campus. But despite these efforts to interact with the world as conscientious St. Olaf students, we cannot ignore certain truths about the social climate of our college any longer.

It is natural to feel confused, angry and sad for our community in response to outward racism. It also feels appropriate to place total blame on the anonymous individuals responsible for these acts, attributing the hate currently permeating our campus to the actions of a select few. But by blaming the anonymous few, we also avoid the reality that we are all responsible for our home, we are all responsible for representing St. Olaf and we are all responsible for the safety, well-being and freedom of our peers. As a community, we have a tendency to become so fixated on the nature of the hate acts themselves that we neglect to address the gravity of both their origins and repercussions.

We must acknowledge that the recent actions of several students have directly targeted, marginalized and isolated members of our community. The fact that someone on campus had the audacity to voice their racial prejudice illustrates that there is an underlying tolerance of bigoted behavior among the rest of us. The continued ostracizing of students of color from within the student body demonstrates our unmet responsibility to object to, and effectively prevent, the future marginalization of our peers.

In response to these hate crimes, administration is removing anonymous forums of communication from offices and buildings to prevent future unidentifiable acts of hate. While this is a genuine attempt at preventing similar events from occurring in the future, the removal of anonymous drop boxes only eliminates one platform of racist expression rather than addressing the intentions and attitudes behind these incidents.

As a next step, we must ensure that no member of our community remains under the impression that racism will be tolerated on the Hill. Last year, Madeline Wilson ’16 demanded that the St. Olaf sexual assault policies be reassessed through her “My College is Protecting Rapists” campaign. Wilson’s efforts resulted in the formation of a Title IX working group. Her campaign demonstrated that even at a college many dearly love, sometimes it takes the explicit acknowledgment of a painful reality to begin the process of change.

Tia Schaffer ’20 makes an excellent example of what an active student response to racism on campus should look like. After the first hate crime took place, Schaffer took it upon herself to communicate how hate crimes affect our campus. She did this by enticing people into Buntrock Commons with loud culturally black music and encouraging them to declare solidarity with the black community at St. Olaf. Oftentimes when tensions arise on campus, an email from administration comes and then the event quickly fades from campus-wide discourse. Not only did Schaffer take the initiative to address campus hate crimes beyond President Anderson’s email, but she did so alone and as a first-year student.

The reality is that a large portion of our student body remains uncomfortable in the place we should all be comfortable calling home. Several students reported that Schaffer’s table elicited a feeling of “belonging,” which until that point they had yet to experience at St. Olaf. Though confronting racism can be uncomfortable, it is our job as a student body to work against it. If we continue to consider ourselves a college that is inclusive of all students, faculty and staff, we must fulfill these claims by directly challenging racist and marginalizing acts.

Several weeks ago my classmate said something that struck me as particularly troubling. He described being at an elementary school and having an eight-year-old girl stare directly into his eyes with anger.

She told him “my mom doesn’t like black people, so I don’t like black people.”

“That little girl wasn’t taught to be afraid, she was taught to hate,” my classmate said.

Most of us don’t hesitate to acknowledge that hate is being spread in our country. If we hope to graduate from St. Olaf well-equipped to address prejudiced attitudes and systems, we must stop allowing this very same hate to be literally written on the walls of our own home. For a college that claims to be a 300-acre residential campus populated by social justice warriors, it is about time we take a page or two from Schaffer’s book.

Avery Ellfeldt ’19 ( is from Denver, Colo. She majors in communications, cultural studies and spanish.

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SUNY strives for equal education access

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) system decided to stop asking high school applicants questions concerning their criminal histories. Affecting over 300,000 applicants at 64 campuses annually, this new admissions policy is an attempt to step away from institutionalized inequality in higher education.

SUNY made a bold choice to be the first university system to exclude criminal history requirements from the initial admissions process. The Center for Community Alternatives argues that there is no statistical difference in crime rates between schools that ask students about their criminal histories and those that do not. However, skeptics are concerned that the removal of questions about past felony convictions will drastically decrease safety on campuses, placing collegiate communities at risk.

To address such worries, SUNY has taken the measures necessary to eliminate potential risks. Some uncertainties center around sexual assault and the possibility that an increased number of assailants will be admitted into schools without the knowledge of the universities. However, sexual offenders are obligated to report changes in address to the city that they live in, which would then report that change to the college they plan on attending.

In regards to convictions other than sexual assault, applicants are only asked about their criminal record if they apply for on-campus housing or study abroad programs. As a result, past convictions will only affect how, and to what extent, students can interact with campus communities. This limits the negative impact a student’s past can have on their level of education and future financial stability.

The idea behind the less intrusive and more inclusive application is founded in the self-evident reality that the United States criminal justice system is both skewed and corrupt, convicting people of color disproportionately more than white people. According to the Department of Justice, one in five Americans have some form of a criminal record, with a disproportionate amount being people of color. This means that about 20% of the American population has been unjustly disadvantaged by criminal record requirements in college admissions for far too long.

SUNY has recognized that most students with criminal records who apply for college have already satisfied the sentence that resulted from their conviction, as they are not likely pursuing higher education from behind bars. These students should no longer be continuously penalized for past mistakes that have already been accounted for. SUNY’s decision is based on the fact that if criminal histories are permitted to affect the college enrollment of minority students, those specific incidents will remain limiting factors throughout the entirety of their lives. The new policy halts the practice of allowing criminal records to severely impact people of color more than, and longer than, the majority of Americans.

SUNY made an indisputably positive change that should be mirrored by university systems nationwide. In an era of efforts to increase the diversity of universities, many programs have been established to decrease achievement gaps that parallel race and class lines. Outreach programs, like TRIO and Reaching Our Goals (ROG) at St. Olaf, are successful in encouraging first generation students to apply for college. However, if one of the first questions on college applications requires reporting of past misdemeanors, the work of such programming is negated.

Criminal inquiries on applications have the power to deter first generation students from applying before having even written their admissions essays. Should a student have the determination to overcome this invalidating portion of the application, there is a large possibility that past misbehavior will result in rejection anyway. The requirement of prospective students’ criminal histories on college applications is entirely hypocritical amidst efforts to diversify staggeringly white campuses. These questions directly contradict the purpose of an application – to demonstrate ability, integrity and ambition.

In a post-industrial age, an undergraduate degree has become integral to living above the poverty line. Limiting college accessibility for people of color in college admissions has, and will continue to, play a sizeable role in perpetuating income inequality. The cycle of poverty that affects 13.5 percent of the United States population, according to the United States Census Bureau, is seen in this pattern of adolescents commiting felonies, being denied admission to universities and subsequently being confined to minimum wage.

Economic inequality is at an all-time high, and access to higher education has the power to break the cycle of poverty. A college education must not remain regulated by past behaviors attributable to disadvantaged environments, and while concerns for student safety are valid, the prioritization of these concerns is discriminatory. The removal of criminal history requirements from all college applications is an imperative step towards equal access to higher education for all.

Avery Ellfeldt ’19 ( is from Denver, Colo. She majors in communications and cultural studies.

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Former Black Lives Matter activist lectures on ‘self-reform’

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) and the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) brought public figure Rashad Turner to campus. At 5:30 p.m. students filtered into the Black Ballroom for his lecture titled “Don’t be an Educated Fool.” Both student organizations were enthusiastic about the event, seeing Turner as an ideal speaker to inform students on matters relevant to PAC, CUBE and the greater campus community.

“[Turner is] a really big name in the Twin Cities, so I’ve heard a lot about him from Facebook posts and friends,” PAC event planner Siri Ericson ’17 said.

Turner is a St. Paul native and was a key figure in the Twin Cities Black Lives Matter movement until his recent resignation. He attended Hamline University where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and is currently finishing his Masters in Educational Leadership at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. He has dedicated his life to community building and social justice in St. Paul from multiple angles.

Raised in St. Paul by teenage parents and his grandmother, Turner’s childhood greatly informed his current involvement in political and social issues.

“When I was about two years old my father was killed,” Turner said.“[Because of this] I grew up playing cops and robbers, thinking that someday I could catch the bad guys and keep other kids’ fathers from being killed.”

Motivated to help his community by keeping others safe, he pursued an internship with the police force and a degree in criminal justice. What he did not expect was that his friends’ and family’s opinions would not mirror his own when it came to his decision to go into law enforcement. Turner explained how while growing up his grandmother ensured he would have limited exposure to law enforcement, so his lived experiences with police differed greatly from those of his friends. This combination of circumstances motivated him to be a community safeguard once he was older. Turner maintained these dreams throughout his time at Hamline until he began police training after graduation.

“As I was going through training, there were plenty of people who had this mindset that policing was mostly overseeing and controlling people,” Turner said. “I had this new understanding of why my friends had pushed me to the side.”

Through his experience in police training, he realized the importance of macro-practice and activism when it comes to issues of racism. Turner eventually switched career paths and became an integral member of Black Lives Matter in the Twin Cities. He led rallies in Minneapolis and St. Paul focusing on the systemic realities of racial oppression.

During his lecture, Turner spoke about many of the issues he focuses on in his work. From police brutality to charter school reform, one of his main ideologies is centered around the importance of inner change in the context of activism. He believes that in order to improve race relations in your school, your state or the nation, the primary step is navigating your own implicit biases and eliminating them.

“If we’re going to make change in the world, we have to start with ourselves,” Turner said. “You have to have a level of integrity that forces you to do the right thing at all times.”

Through the lens of self-reform, he emphasized the importance of thinking for yourself amidst a socialized culture. He spoke about the power of imposed ways of thinking and argued that if we cannot interrupt the imposition of others’ ideas on our own, it is impossible to move forward. Turner discussed his recent decision to shift career paths again, resigning from Black Lives Matter St. Paul. He realized that he had not been maximizing his potential to positively impact those around him through his involvement. Turner acknowledged that leaders in race relations have continuously battled the same issues dating back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He believes that since then there has not been much progress and that policy must be revised to achieve advancement. Turner feels that Black Lives Matter began and remains a campaign for awareness concerning racial injustice, but that a next step is in order.

The event was well attended, with the tables full of students from all over campus. In closing, Turner reminded students of the difference that smiling at others on the way to class can make. He noted that this is key to building community and trust on any scale. He personified this mentality after the talk, engaging with students in dialogue for over an hour.

“Whatever you’re going to be, you have to keep at the front of your mind that what you’re doing isn’t for you,” he said.

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Prez Ball brings high-class to Hill 

On Saturday, April 24, Oles donned their heels and suits for the annual President’s Ball. Held in the Black and Gold ballrooms, students began arriv- ing at 8 p.m. ready to dance and enjoy themselves on a Saturday night. The ballrooms and halls were decorated with strings of lights and fabric, adding a romantic feeling to the event.

As students gathered on the third floor of Buntrock Commons, there was plenty of entertainment available to keep everyone busy. By Stav Hall, the Student Government Association (SGA) set up a photo booth. Students waited in a long line to have their pho- tos captured with their friends in order to remember the fun night. There were picture frames and fuzzy boas for those who wanted to take less formal photographs as well.

The live music was a favorite component of the night. A mixture of upbeat, jazzy swing songs and slower more classical songs provided a good variety of music and dancing styles. Many students seemed to have expe- rience dancing to the various music genres, teaching others their moves as well as giving a good show. While some seemed to be aware of what they were doing, many were beginners at more classical dancing styles. Fortunately, this did not stop everyone in atten- dance from enjoying themselves and wearing out the dance floor for several hours.

At intervals, the dance would give way to short performances. The Ballroom Club impressed many with their performance, as did a student a cappella group, keeping everyone interested in the ball as the night progressed.

Outside the Trollhaugen ballroom were refreshments for students. Water, cupcakes and crackers accompanied live entertainment outside of the main dancing floor, allowing a nice, few- minute escape for students to cool off and rest. Near the refreshments area and in other parts of Buntrock Commons, many students took pho- tos, chatted and hung out when they were not dancing. SGA did a great job making sure that nobody was bored, providing something for everybody to do.

Many students enjoyed having a chance to go to a fun and highly anticipated event right on campus, especially during such a high-stress season of nearing finals. The classy, entertaining atmosphere was greatly enjoyed, and the event was the perfect night to kick off spring on the hill.

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