Author: Avery Ellfeldt

The Greater Than Campaign fights stigma

This school year, a student-led subcommittee on mental health called The Greater Than Campaign has caused a substantial buzz on campus. The campaign originated within the Student Government Association (SGA) as a subcommittee of six senators. Since its formation, many students have come together to work towards increasing mental health awareness at St. Olaf.

“I knew that we wanted to do a student initiative this year. The greater SGA team talked about having a campaign for mental health and we knew that this was a very, very important student issue that is something more than just [what] the students can take on,” Committee Leader Kelsey Henquinet ’16 said.

Committee members initiated the campaign with the belief that mental health is a significant issue. The name Greater Than, coined by committee member Julie Johnson ’19, captures the goals and ambitions of the campaign. The committee wants to show students that they are ultimately greater than their struggles and that it is okay not to be happy all of the time.

“On this campus we are so stressed out all the time, and the idea of the perfect Ole is so strong. That can push us in a dangerous direction as though anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is wrong or doesn’t fit in,” Henquinet said.

The group meets weekly to discuss changes that need to be made as well as how they can encourage people to have healthy conversation on a daily basis. One of the main issues they are examining is the stigma that is often associated with mental illness. They want every student to become comfortable discussing and addressing these issues. Through these discussions, they hope that struggling students can feel more confident seeking the help they need openly and without embarrassment.

“I think so much of the stigma exists because we don’t know how to talk about mental health. When you get to college, you’re so much more at risk of developing an issue or to know someone who is struggling. We don’t know as students and as young people how to handle it all the time,” Henquinet said.

To diminish the stigma and offer students the support they need, the committee is already utilizing as many different people and offices on campus as possible. The committee members want to provide a way for students to find and access mental health resources on campus.

“The great news is that we have a lot of resources,” Henquinet said. “There seems to be a disconnect between these resources and the student body in general, [so] we really want to connect students to those resources.”

As the committee moves forward, it will continue to address both students and staff in order to foster a campus environment that welcomes the discussion of such difficult topics. The subcommittee is actively working with administrators, resource offices, professors and students to address the issue. They want to encourage students to talk openly about the reality of mental illness so that nobody feels alone, and so that people on campus have a better understanding of how to handle issues with mental health.

At the same time, they want students to know that nobody is solely responsible for the health and safety of their friends, and often professional help is both necessary and accessible.

Already gaining momentum this spring, The Greater Than Campaign is ready to prove that as a campus we are #GreaterThan the stigma surrounding mental health.

ellfel@stolaf.edu

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Physical Theatre Exploration capstone project to combine theater, dance in “devised play”

Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16 and Ash Willison ’17 recently held auditions for Physical Theatre Exploration – a project that they are producing for Swenson-Klatt’s senior capstone. Willison is a theater and English double-major with a concentration in film studies, and Swenson-Klatt is a theater and dance double-major. The project is focused on combining movement and theater, blurring the distinct lines that arts programs tend to draw between different disciplines.

“We somehow started talking about physical theater and that we are interested in the ways it can tell stories with a different potential. It came out of a passion for loving both dance and theatre and not really being content with the art that’s been created here [so far],” Swenson-Klatt said.

When Swenson-Klatt and Willison came up with the idea for the project, they wanted to push those in the arts to venture outside of their comfort zones and combine different art forms. Over the past two years they have gotten caught up in classes and college life, but Swenson-Klatt’s capstone project gave them a reason and motivation to pursue their idea.

“The purpose of this project is to show that theatre is more than listening. I think that we tend to segment the arts into that dance is for moving, art is for seeing, and theater is for listening. We need to make art more of an all inclusive experience that applies to all of our senses,” Willison said.

The duo got their idea for this project about two years ago, when they met and began discussing theatre and the arts at St. Olaf and beyond. Both agree that the arts are not meant to be divided, and that story telling is most effective and powerful when including different forms of creation and performance. Group auditions were used to include a wide variety of students and were informal so that creativity and ingenuity were not limited.

“On our audition form, we kind of said ‘any movement background, any shape, size, skill level.’ It’ll not only be Ash and I [overlooking] it, but a group of students bringing their own particular voices as well,” Swenson-Klatt said.

Thirteen students will be working on the project, each contributing their own ideas to the final product, a process that is known in the theater world as “devised work.” Because physical theatre is such a fluid concept, Willison and Swenson-Klatt are not entirely sure what exactly their show will look like in the end.

“One path would be to take a text everyone knows,” Swenson-Klatt said. “We’ve kind of played around with the idea of using some ancient Gree k texts or maybe even a fairy tale which have some universal messages. Then [we will] kind of break that apart and deconstruct it. Another idea would be to completely make something up on our own.” Both are excited to see where the project leads, as well as if it could possibly evolve into an annual or permanent concept at the college.

“At this point I think I’m more excited for the process as opposed to the product, and also seeing how this will role into next year and seeing if this becomes a club or a company,” Willison said.

Both would love to see the arts at St. Olaf become more interdisciplinary, encouraging students to create more open-ended and multidimensional art.

ellfel1@stolaf.edu

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Celebrity arguments distract from feminist goals

In October of 2014, pop singer Kesha filed a lawsuit against her music producer, Dr. Luke, charging him with sexual assault and battery. Kesha claimed the abuse had occurred over the course of 10 years, beginning when she was 18 years old.

According to Kesha, Dr. Luke had “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused [her] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life.”

The case has recently garnered huge public attention, as on Feb. 19, 2016, the New York Supreme Court declared that Kesha would not be released from her contract with Dr. Luke. The court said that the star’s sexual assault allegations were not enough to remove her from the contract and that she is consequently not permitted to work with any other producers.

In response, feminists are taking the matter into their own hands. Many are speaking out on the devastating reality of our societally skewed attitude towards women and sexual assault. Demi Lovato, a self-proclaimed feminist, has been extremely vocal about the situation, particularly through her Twitter account. Taylor Swift also showed support, donating $250,000 to aid Kesha with legal expenses. In addition to fervently expressing her opinion that the court decision was both unjust and sexist, Lovato was further agitated by Swift’s actions.

In response to Swift’s donation Lovato tweeted, “take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about [it], and then I’ll be impressed.”

Lovato expressed her frustration at what she perceives as “throwing money” at these issues, suggesting that it does nothing to ensure women like Kesha will receive justice. Lovato, and many of her supporters, are of the opinion that opening a dialogue on issues such as these is the only way to find a solution Meanwhile Swift and her supporters believe that the monetary donation was effective in taking action rather than “just tweeting about it.”

Both celebrities identify as feminists, and they live up to this title by supporting Kesha in the face of the alleged, long-lasting abuse by Dr. Luke and inaction of the courts. While passionate and sometimes vulgar, Lovato’s tweets have effectively guided the attention of thousands to the issue.

On Feb. 25, Lovato tweeted, “Women empowerment is speaking up for other women even when it’s something uncomfortable to speak up about.”

While Swift’s donation is a strong demonstration of support, I agree with Lovato: to achieve equality between men and women we must open up a dialogue about sexism. Because she is in such a position of influence, Lovato’s strong opposition has served to draw attention to the severity of this situation. While Swift has also used her influence to show support for Kesha, her actions demonstrated that she is on the defensive rather than the offensive when it comes to feminism and women’s rights.

If we expect patriarchal cultural norms to change, we must take action to prevent sexual assault. While Swift was not in the wrong to show support through a financial donation, a strong public statement would have been more impactful.

This whole debacle draws attention away from the real issue. Lovato has good intentions, but she made a mistake by attacking Swift. If strong American female influences continue criticizing one another over the proper way to advocate for social justice, a solidified feminist approach to such events will be unreachable. Celebrities such as Lovato and Swift are responsible to collaborate and support one another on issues such as these. Such aggression is counterproductive and distracts from the agenda at hand.

We need to acknowledge the gravity of the Feb. 19 court decision. The New York Supreme Court ruled that sexual, physical and emotional abuse allegations are not enough to enforce measures that ensure victims will not be subjected to the same treatment again. A musical contract was valued higher than a woman’s safety. What would be enough to guarantee the abuse stops? When will female safety take priority over male profits?

Avery Ellfeldt 19 (ellfel1@stolaf.edu) is from Denver, Colo. Her major is undeclared.

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Urban photographer to lecture in Dittman

On Monday, March 7 at 7:00 p.m., St. Olaf College will host a lecture by photographer Noritaka Minami in Dittman Center 305. Minami is a visual artist based in Chicago, but he was born in Japan. Minami studied studio art and visual studies at the University of California, continuing his career as a professor of photography at Harvard University, Wellesley College, UC Berekely and UC Irvine.

Minami’s main focus in his art is to investigate, commemorate and make permanent history and historical sites through photography. A current project of his, titled “1972,” beautifully captures the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, Japan. This tower was built in postwar Japan in the 60’s. It is made from removable living capsules ten square meters in size, and its architectural style was named “metabolism” as it was supposed to represent progress and harmony.

While it was a possible future of residential architecture when it was built, today the building remains one of a kind. With possible demolition facing the unique architectural creation, Minami decided to document the site so that its historical and cultural importance would not be forgotten. These photos were collected in a book published by Kehrer Verlag, a German publisher that specializes in books of fine art and photography. Minami’s book received the distinction of winning the 2015 Deutsches Architekturmuseum Book Award.

Minami’s work is highly regarded in artistic communities around the world, and this event will be worth attending for all interested in photography, history or art in general.

The lecture is open to the public, and admission is free of charge.

ellfel1@stolaf.edu

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Revised SAT favors upper-class whites

From its invention in 1923, the SAT has been flawed by favoring white, male, upper class students. Aimed at determining who is ready for and deserving of a college education, entrance exams hold a significant amount of power in regards to students’ futures. While the aim of The College Board is to “expand access to higher education,” both the preexisting exam and a newly redesigned version have not accomplished this goal.

According to the Education Writers Association, “The board set a benchmark of 1,550 as the score they say at which there is a 65 percent likelihood that a student will have a college freshman year GPA of B- or higher.”

Scott Jaschik, an editor at Inside Higher Ed, reported that in 2015, white and Asian American students were the only groups to exceed this score. One of the biggest concerns surrounding the SAT regards whether it can predict college success at all, or if high school grades are a better measure of preparedness. The other pressing issue is that the on-average lower SAT scores of bilingual, lower class and non-white students are sometimes enough to deem them “unfit” to attend university.

The College Board, which created the SAT, has recently redesigned the exam, raising concerns from many who are involved in the college application process.

The new exam entails much more reading comprehension than the previous iteration, incorporating material a full grade level higher in difficulty. This means that the math section is comprised of more in-depth word problems and the English sections have been fused with advanced passages from higher level texts.

Basically, this means that students must wade through more intricate and complex writing before attempting to answer the questions at hand.

Bilingual students are expected to suffer the most as a result of this redesign. While bilingualism has been shown to enhance cognitive development, oftentimes academic proficiency is not transferable between languages. A study published by Harvard in 2015 explores this idea, suggesting that the SAT contains questions that disadvantage students who either do not speak English as a first language or are in a lower class.

They suggest this is done by using language that white, middle or upper class students would generally be more familiar with as a result of their school environments. This puts non-white students at a clear disadvantage because oftentimes the language, vocabulary and information tested is not common in their everyday experience.

The disadvantage of the new format will also likely extend to low-income students whose reading comprehension skills have been impaired by poorly funded schools, less exposure to high level vocabulary and lack of access to high quality tutoring services.

According to University of Kansas researchers, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, “Children from high-income families [are] exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare.”

While students should be expected to demonstrate high levels of understanding in all disciplines, this changed test will serve to widen pre-existing achievement gaps due to language and create a rift between students of different backgrounds.

A common argument for the SAT is that proficiency in English should be a prerequisite for higher education. These exams and admissions requirements have made it evident that colleges want students who can read and write well.

Considering this standard, why should we penalize students who are capable of speaking one language for lacking proficiency in their second langauge? How can we critique students from low-income families for lacking the resources students from high-income families may have access to?

There is no doubt that English skills are vital to success in the United States. However, while applying the same standards to all students sounds like an equation for equality, we must not ignore that factors like race, income and primary languages play a vital role in exam success. If college admissions continue to be so heavily based on these scores, the exams must be modified to expand access to higher education for all.

Is there a way to measure intelligence according to diverse, wide and rich bases of understanding and experience? If not, are we going to continue administering tests to benefit those already benefitting from the system? Moving forward, it is important to consider what exactly is being measured through these tests. It is not effective or egalitarian to measure students’ strengths and weaknesses via universal standards that are based on the language, backgrounds and experiences of a white society.

Avery Ellfeldt 19 (ellfel1@stolaf.edu) is from Denver, Colo. Her major is undeclared.

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