Author: Avery Ellfeldt

Dialogue dismantles stereotypes

By Avery Ellfeldt

Staff Writer

On Friday, April 26, students, fac- ulty and staff gathered in the Trollhaugen dining room for the De-Stereotype Me event led and organized by Jabri Whirl ’18 and Don Williams ’18. The event incorporated several methods used in Sustained Dialogue, a forum for discussion of social issues. Whirl and Williams are both Sustained Dialogue moderators and wanted to demonstrate with DeStereotype Me that St. Olaf is more of a community than most people think.

“As Sustained Dialogue moderators,

we’ve learned a whole way to approach having people talk about these topics. It’s hard to talk about identity because you don’t want to devalue somebody else’s aspect of identity. Using Sustained Dialogue methods, we’ve cre- ated this event to get more people involved [in these discussions],” Whirl said.

As members of the St. Olaf community arrived to the event, they picked up a sheet of paper that randomly sorted them into dialogue groups. After a short introduction, group members were asked to introduce themselves and play a game called “Who Are You” with a partner. The purpose of the activity was to have participants get to know one another before taking part in dialogue that would likely include difficult topics. The activity partially paralleled the idea behind the event as a whole. Whirl and Williams think the St. Olaf community needs to work on building relationships on campus through dialogue so that when controversy arises there is a foundation on which to move forward.

“There is definitely a way to make connections and build more long last- ing, friendly relationships. Then, when these topics of race or policy [become relevant], we’ll be more prone to have productive dialogue,” Williams said.

After introductions, participants were asked to define what a stereotype is to them, what stereotypes they have faced, how they have overcome them and what advice they have for others. Through this dialogue, group members both were introduced to new stereotypes and were able to realize that many people, despite their differences, are often stereotyped similarly.

Throughout the first 40-minute session of conversation, participants delved into the complexities of stereotypes and their effects on individuals and communities.

“We use [the word] ‘dialogue’ instead of ‘discussion’ because the heart of having a dialogue is using your experiences and active listening to understand both or all sides of the story to find common ground to make change for all parties and identities,” Williams said.

Williams and Whirl also wanted a visual component to reinforce the event. In the week prior, they interviewed and filmed several students talking about stereotypes around campus. The students defined stereotypes and addressed the varying effects they think stereotypes can have when they go undiscussed.

One of the main purposes and results of “De-Stereotype Me” was to acknowledge that stereotypes do exist and are placed on everybody. Whirl and Williams want to emphasize that stereotypes do not have nearly as much power if those affected by them choose to acknowledge and see past them rather than ignore them.

“The purpose of the documentary is to really show that regardless of background, and regardless of identity we can have the same stereotypes put on us. We really want to open the eyes of [St. Olaf] to show that we are more of a community than we think we are,” Williams said.

The final portion of the event was a pledge that all participants and St. Olaf community members have the option to sign. The pledge was written not just to demonstrate a desire for more dialogue and cross-campus relationships on the part of the signatories, but to be the first piece of action and change. Williams and Whirl welcome everybody connected to St. Olaf to sign the pledge and hope that as a community it could be the first step toward more productive dialogue about stereotypes. To access the pledge, visit

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Red and blue divide reimagined

On Monday, April 18, political journalist and author Dante Chinni visited St. Olaf to discuss his take on the state of the presidential primaries.

Chinni attended Michigan State University and received his bachelor’s degree in journalism and history. After years of working for many publications, Chinni now works at the Wall Street Journal, PBS NewsHour and WNYC radio, analyzing and integrating data with election results and consumer data. Currently, a majority of his work surrounds his innovative idea to divide the United States into 15 unique communities, each defined by an intersection of political, demographic and geographic characteristics. Chinni wrote about the political trends of these communities in his 2010 book titled “Our Patchwork Nation.” Since then, Chinni has expanded on the project to produce a compilation of 3,100 counties identifying which of the 15 categories they belong to. Chinni uses this data with the Wall Street Journal, NewsHour and WNYC, and much of it can be found on the project’s website

One of the main components of Chinni’s work is the belief that the country cannot simply be broken down into the two political parties that many believe divide our nation so cleanly. Chinni analyzed each of the 15 catagories to see what types of behaviors are associated with each. Some of these behaviors include how residents vote, where they shop, what they eat and where they work. He named the categories based on defining demographic characteristics. For example, the “African American South” can be distinguished by its large African American population, “Graying America” by its high percentage of people over 65, “Evangelical Hubs” by the strong presence of evangelical Christians, “College Towns” by their large colleges and universities, and so on.

“We know enough about America to know it’s more than cities, suburbs and rural areas. It’s much more complex than that,” Chinni said.

He began his presentation by showing a commonplace United States map colored with red and blue, highlighting the geographical party lines many United States citizens and politicians are familiar with. Chinni said citizens are affected by factors besides demographics, and viewing politics in the U.S. as a binary of two parties with no subcategories or other considerations is simplistic.

“We’re trying to talk about how community is about the place you live in. It’s a collection of different kinds of demographics and beliefs that create this map, which is how I see the country,” he said.

Chinni’s data analysis reveals that people’s environments affect their choices, beliefs and personal politics. The American Communities Project has developed a complicated map, showcasing thousands of counties in different colors to demonstrate which ones are similar to each other and why. Chinni’s motivation for the idea was traveling, when he often found that many cities on opposite sides of the country are almost identical because of the multipolar characteristics that define different areas of the nation.

“These segments are not just about demographics, it’s about where they live and how they see the world. That’s why the consequences of this election are really important,” Chinni said.

By exploring how politics, voters and the two party system work, Chinni broke down some of the general ideas concerning party lines in order to determine why the lines have been drawn the way that they have. He then discussed several presidential candidates, including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, analyzing their campaigns. He mentioned that Sanders is without a doubt the most popular presidential candidate in almost all “big city” counties. However, he has also seen that one reason Sanders cannot pull ahead of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is because he cannot secure enough minority votes.

“I think Bernie tends to think that economics is what is shaping inequality, but I think minority communities aren’t completely sold on that,” Chinni said.

Chinni has seen that minority populations acknowledge the role economics plays in inequality, but that racism and culture are large contributors as well. Without geography, culture and socioeconomics, the intricacies of politics in regards to Sanders and Trump lose extremely important context. Regarding Trump, Chinni suggested that the majority of his votes come from areas identified as the “African American South.” He clarified that this does not mean Trump voters are African American, but that many of his supporters are white citizens living in or near counties identified as such.

To further explore Trump’s appeal as a candidate, Chinni discussed the 15 unique community categories, which provide a better understanding of the habits and beliefs of his supporters. Chinni argued that Trump has given a voice to ‘secular populists.’ He defined secular populists as people who are generally uneducated and irreligious, attending church on a less than weekly basis. This information has allowed Chinni to better understand Trump’s success in the election so far.

“The community in which you live generally says a lot about you, what you see, who you speak with and how you understand the world – all the way down to your consumer and media choices,” Chinni said.

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Vic Mensa concert controversy explained

Each year the Spring Concert draws a large crowd, with students eager to see the artist that the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) brings to campus. Rapper Vic Mensa performed on Saturday, April 8, attracting both students who had never heard of Mensa and those who are long time fans.

Unlike many concerts before, Mensa’s social activist platform heavily influenced the dynamic of the event. Inspired and informed by the Black Lives Matter movement, Mensa rapped two songs that addressed racism in the United States.

“When I listened to him speak, I saw a man who wasn’t just trying to make money, [but] an artist who uses his music to reflect the world around him and voice the pain and suffering that People of Color face in this country,” Dillon Cathro ’17 said.

Mensa’s song “16 Shots” references Laquan McDonald, a black teen from Chicago who was shot 16 times by a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke. One excerpt from the lyrics reads, “We all know it’s cause he black/ Shot ’em 16 times how f**ked up is that?” In another song Mensa addresses the water crisis in the predominantly black city of Flint, Mich., where citizens unknowingly drank lead poisoned water for over a year.

“When Vic Mensa did the song ‘16 Shots,’ he laid down in the same position that Laquan McDonald was in after he was shot by the police,” Samantha Wells ’17 said. She heard people shout, ‘Get up and keep singing.’

Other students reported raising their fists in solidarity with Mensa during these songs, only to be jostled so violently they could not hear or see the artist convey his full message. On Sunday, April 9, campus awoke to a tangible tension in the air and signs filling the bulletin boards of Buntrock Commons in protest of several events that transpired during and after the concert. Yik Yak was also proof of discontent, plastered with yaks expressing various points of view.

“We wanted to make sure we brought in an artist that we would be able to say something about, support and stand behind,” MEC coordinator Emily Nyberg ’16 said.

The morning after the concert, students woke up to find hand-made posters around campus calling out concert-goers. Rumors began to circulate that Mensa shortened his performance because he felt that students respected neither him nor his message. Nyberg has confirmed that Mensa was only scheduled to perform for 45 minutes and did not leave the stage out of frustration or anger at the actions of the crowd.

Regardless, many students feel that, as a primarily white student body, St. Olaf has a responsibility to absorb and learn from Mensa’s message.

“I didn’t hear about the people shouting at him on stage until afterwards on Yik Yak,” Nyberg said. “To me this was very disheartening. When you bring in an artist, you want him to be respected, and I think that says a lot about our community’s inability to completely respect an artist.”

Some students felt that too many audience members were not perceptive to the meaning of the performance, showcasing their apathy toward racial injustice by being overly intoxicated, rowdy and sexual during Mensa’s songs.

In response to the police audio played from the day of McDonald’s death, one Yik Yak post read, “I was so drunk and high that the radio part confused me and I thought someone at the concert had been shot … but I just kept being lit anyways.”

Similar actions and attitudes during the concert were perceived as a sign of complacency among the student body when it comes to the message Mensa was communicating. In response to this post and similar statements, Oles have initiated a new discourse on privilege in the context of the event.

“After the concert I was lightheartedly asking people, ‘Would you ever protest with Black Lives Matter after seeing such a display?’” Wells said. “Several laughed in my face and said no. I asked them if they understood what he was saying and they replied, ‘Yeah I totally understood,’ so I asked if the performance changed [their stance on the movement]. To this, students answered, ‘No, I just don’t think it’s that important.’”

Wells feels that although some white students have the privilege and ability not to understand issues of racial injustice because they will never be personally affected by them. She believes that too many St. Olaf students are personally affected by these very same issues for them to go unnoticed, unacknowledged or not acted upon.

In widely viewed Facebook post, Udeepta Chakravarty ’17 wrote, “He will rap for a group of people who will sing along to his songs but are in denial of the experiences that inform his music.”

The controversy following the concert has left students confused about who is upset, why they are upset and who is to blame. While many students directed their anger at white apathy to racial injustice, others accused the activists of overreacting.

One Yak asked, “can’t we just be like other schools and say ‘Oh, that was a fun concert’ or ‘oh, that concert sucked’ and move the f**k on?”

The sentiment of this Yik Yak post parallels a nationwide discussion about increasing sensitivity among college students. Both students of color and allies within the community have voiced frustration and anger with this view.

“Man, I am so tired of being told that I’m too angry or too sensitive,” Cathro said. “Don’t you dare tell me that I’m overreacting when y’all ruin the one concert of the year that spoke [to] my experience as a brown man in this country.”

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Tennis teams sweep Cardinals at home

Saturday, April 9 was a successful morning for both the St. Olaf men’s and women’s tennis teams.

The women beat Saint Mary’s University 8-1, continuing their seven match win streak. The Oles won five out of the six singles matches, with each athlete jumping to significant leads by the end of the matches. Captain Lisa Hall ’16 won her singles matches 6-1 and 6-2. Almost all other singles sets ended with similar scores, showcasing the team’s dominating form. Maya MacGibbon ’16 came out victorious in an intense match, winning in straight sets 7-5 and 6-2.

“Maya had an incredible singles match,” Hall said. “She was the last one on the court so we were all able to watch her. The fight and determination that girl has is so inspiring.”

The women’s success continued into the doubles competition, with all matches ending in an Ole victory, with scores of 8-5, 9-7 and 8-3.

“The girls are my second family, and are constantly supporting each other,” Hall said. “When teammates aren’t playing they are constantly cheering each other on, which contributes to great success on the court.”

The men’s team had an equally successful day of competition, ending their match against Saint Mary’s with an 8-1 victory. All six singles matches went to the Oles, with set scores varying from narrow to landslide wins.

Mike Schroeder ’16 defeated the Saint Mary’s No. 3 singles player in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-2. Ben Carlson ’16 secured the victory in the No. 1 slot, defeating his opponent in a tight matchup with scores of 6-4 and 6-3.

In the doubles competition, Christian Beck ’18 and Danny Hogan ’18 secured the No. 1 match with a final score of 8-4. St. Mary’s took the No. 2 doubles spot, but the Oles quickly fought back during the No. 3 match and secured an easy victory.

After a successful beginning to their season, the Oles hope to carry this momentum through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. Both teams will take on cross-town rival Carleton College on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in what should be a close matchup between two of the MIAC’s strongest teams.

The Carleton men enter the meet atop the MIAC with a 12-6 record while the women sit in second place behind St. Olaf with a 9-3 record. This late season matchup will be an important opportunity for both teams to secure their a high seed in the conference standings as the MIAC playoffs approach.

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Vic Mensa brings social justice message to spring concert

Saturday, April 9 was a highly anticipated night for Ole students. The Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) brought hip-hop and rap artist Vic Mensa to the Lion’s Pause for the Spring Concert. Students paid five dollars for admission. Oles filled the venue early, as the show was completely sold out.

The doors opened at 7:30 p.m. and the event officially began at 8 p.m. with Mensa’s opener, St. Olaf student Ross Nevin ’17. Referred to as “DJ Ross,” Nevin entertained the students with a well-received and upbeat set until 9 p.m., when Mensa came on stage to begin his performance.

“Personally, being from Chicago, [the concert] was great because they had a rapper from where I grew up,” Jose Campos ’19 said. “He went to Whitney Young, a school that I know and that my cousins went to. It was cool because I felt at home.”

One song that particularly stood out to students was Mensa’s “16 Shots.” Last October, Mensa marched in protest against the Chicago Police after footage was released of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting down 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The song refers to the 16 gun wounds found on McDonald’s body, all fired by Van Dyke 30 seconds after arriving on the scene. A new energy entered the crowd when Mensa played this song, showcasing some of the student body’s sentiment toward the situation and support of Mensa and his message. While many related to Mensa and were moved by the message of the song, others reported a different reaction from some students.

“The song had a powerful message, but I feel like some people didn’t hear the message clearly,” Campos said. “Some were too intoxicated to appreciate the meaning, [while] others shouted out some really disrespectful things.”

With a majority of Mensa’s music informed by experiences with racism and activism for the Black Lives Matter movement, a clear sense of social commentary weaved the show together. As Campos alluded, while some students felt the power behind Mensa’s lyrics, there was some fairly tangible tension that related to a performance regarding race relations on a primarily white campus.

The intense energy of the whole event was overwhelming for some, but exciting to others who were taken in by the lyrics, music and atmosphere of the concert. Students packed Pause completely, leaving little room for dancing or socializing, but those who were there for the performance found that the full venue did not affect the music or performance. Some students did, however, voice a disappointment in the length of the show, as Mensa was only on stage for 45 minutes.

Overall, the 2016 spring concert was a lively, packed and upbeat show. With a performer many St. Olaf students connected to because of their shared home and/or social justice interests, the concert was widely attended and talked about. Mensa clearly made an impact on the student body, and students anticipate intersectional dialogue to follow the event.

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