Author: Emily Stets

FDA tightens reins on misused painkillers

In an effort to control prescription drug abuse, the FDA recently announced its recommendation for stricter controls on pain relievers, such as Vicodin, that contain a substance called hydrocodone. The FDA has become quite concerned with the misuse of prescription drugs over the years, but critics worry that this move will create further obstacles for those dealing with chronic pain.

While this action merely announces a recommendation, its potential consequences have engendered a spirited debate in the medical community. Refills for these medications would not last as long, so patients would have to visit the doctor more frequently. Patients would also have to physically take the prescription to the pharmacy.

The move to restructure regulations on these pain relievers reflects the FDA’s response to rising numbers of deaths due to prescription drug overdose. According to the New York Times, prescription drugs account for about three quarters of all overdose deaths.

Aside from the danger of pain medication abuse, this recommendation also sheds light on society’s view of chronic pain. In most situations, our body’s natural reaction to pain is to recoil. Our evolutionary response immediately processes the harm, and we find ways to avoid it.

In this day and age, a common method for avoiding pain is drug use. Many people incorporate painkillers into their routines, whether they are athletes popping 12 Advils a day for stress fractures or someone taking Tums for every stomach discomfort. These individuals build up a tolerance to pain medications and adjust to the dosage after two to three months, after which point the dosage must increase in order for them to feel the effects.

In some instances, the effect of taking pain medication is merely psychological: One might feel the relief just from merely swallowing pills, whether or not it is the proper time and place to take them.

This is not to discount those who experience chronic pain. While some chronic pain may not have a concrete, identifiable cause, that does not make the pain less real. I merely suggest that we turn our attention to the role of emotion in pain. Our emotions can have amazing physical effects on the body, including weakening the immune system, which makes an individual more susceptible to common illnesses such as a cold or the flu.

In our anxiety-ridden culture, it is no surprise that stress manifests itself physically, but we must also remember that it can indicate internal turmoil. In processing chronic pain, the emotional response can override the sensory.

I find myself siding with the FDA’s recommendation in this case. Though pain is a gnarly topic to unravel, its subjectivity should not prevent us from setting regulations for pain alleviation methods. Individuals can become addicted to certain prescription drugs for chronic pain, and the death toll from the resulting overdoses should make us cringe.

I also stand in opposition to our culture’s view of pain. Most people’s reaction is to shy away from pain, to cover it up. While certain instances of chronic pain necessitate the use of prescription drugs, the drugs’ authorization should not be a knee-jerk reaction. Perhaps doctors are too quick to continue a prescription refill, as they have no way of measuring or quantifying the level of their patient’s pain.

There are more holistic methods to approaching pain, including, but not limited to, art therapy, psychotherapy, methods of stress relief, acupuncture and sleep tracking. Our medical model restricts individuals to drugs only, while the psychological basis of pain is still untapped territory.

With the suggestion that our minds play a significant role in pain, perhaps restricted access to painkillers will motivate individuals to examine chronic pain without the veil of narcotics.

Emily Stets ’15 stetsec@stolaf.edu is an Opinions editor from Northfield, Minn. She is a CIS major in Creative Outlets and the Medical Model.

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Female self-confidence in transition

Most people would agree that young people have ample time to explore their identities in college. While it may sound like a calm, peaceful process, the word “explore” hardly does justice to the nights of pain, mornings of headaches and heartbreaks and days of drudgery. “Finding your identity” is anything but a passive process. It is painfully active, characterized by learning to understand the nature of vulnerability with others and making many mistakes along the way.

Yet it seems that once the doors close on that fourth year of college, most people have it figured out. They finally completed their major after switching three or four times, settled into a group of friends that cares about and supports them and gained at least a hazy picture of what the future will bring. It all seems to makes sense, doesn’t it? Most college first years come in with nervous anticipation and finish their undergraduate years with a firmer hold on themselves and on reality.

However, a recent study at Boston College seems to contradict this idea. The study, administered by the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment at Boston College, focused on two surveys taken by female students: one during their first year and the other while finishing their senior year. Despite reports of high academic achievement from many of the women in the second survey, most respondents gave themselves weaker self-evaluations.

Is this cause for surprise? This nature of women’s self-esteem probably is not, as many females struggle with self-esteem issues throughout college, manifested visibly through a variety of eating disorders, and high rates of general anxiety and depression. Yet is the timing of this “weakened self-esteem” cause for concern? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Let me explain.

The undergraduate years are supposed to prepare individuals to contribute to the world. No matter what sector they enter and in what capacity, most students will gain the critical thinking skills needed to function in the “adult world” from college. Most of these lessons actually take place outside the classroom.

During college, students learn just as much from social interactions with their fellow students as from lectures that discuss “social interactions” and psychology. In this way, the college experience itself is a laboratory for students to study and experiment in their environment.

Women in particular seem quite vulnerable in the college environment, not because men have impenetrable self-esteem, but because the nature of male and female manifestations of internal distress differ. While women may enter college feeling confident in their abilities and excited for their futures, they are suddenly surrounded by people exactly like them. And that seems to make them just like everybody else. The homogeneity of high-achieving students at prestigious colleges and universities puts undue stress on each person to out-perform and outshine other students in order to avoid being ordinary. This can lead to feelings of isolation and can destroy self-worth.

But are these experiences entirely destructive? What these women at Boston College experienced is neither unique nor inherently more negative than the average female’s college experience. Feeling uncharacteristically ordinary can make women wonder what is unique about them. Indeed, these feelings will not disappear in adulthood. Job interviews, promotions and applying for positions all ask the individual to identify their abilities. What makes them, out of many others, uniquely qualified for the job?

I do not deny that these feelings of being “ordinary” a socially constructed “sin” can overwhelm some women in dangerous ways. I am merely suggesting that this painful road to finding one’s “identity” may be especially difficult in the early years of college. Upon futher reflection, struggling in the beginning leads students to become more comfortable with themselves later on.

Instead of leaving college feeling that they have their lives figured out, perhaps these women are attempting to articulate the state of life they are in: the “decreased feelings of self-worth” might not signal a negative phase, but rather a transitory one. These women might no longer have delusions about how wonderful they are, but neither do they feel they have nothing to contribute. They might just be in a place where they’re trying to figure out where they belong.

I hesitate when I come across studies that decry “society” for ruining the self-esteem of women. A little adversity may be exactly what everyone needs to succeed. With technology, testing and encouragement, we will all meet our own struggles in one way or another. Instead of crumbling beneath the weight of difficulties, we might change our perspective and see the challenges college presents as strengthening women rather than destroying them.

Emily Stets ’15 stetsec@stolaf.edu is from Northfield, Minn. She is a CIS major.

Graphic Credit: EMMA JOHNSON/MANITOU MESSENGER

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Limestones unveil new album and members

Anyone who has been at St. Olaf during the past few years will probably remember gathering in a cramped stairwell or lounge in their first-year dorm, craning their neck and straining to hear the Limestones sing. As St. Olaf’s official male a capella group, the Limestones advertise their concerts with small performances in many places around campus.

This is a particularly noteworthy year for the Limestones, who are set to release a new album at their spring concert. The campus eagerly awaits the album because the Limestones have not released a recording for three years.

“We’ve re-worked some songs from the fall concert and added some new ones,” said Evan Quinnell ’14, a Limestones member. “We wanted to keep a diverse set for the new album.”

The new album, Down to Earth, includes classics from the 1970s, some Christian pieces, country songs, pop songs and even some songs from previous albums that members particularly liked. There are also old favorites that the Limestones perform at concerts, such as “Malt-O-Meal song” and a piece called “In the Light.” “Malt-O-Meal” represents a classic Limestone’s song that is related to Northfield and St. Olaf. “In the Light,” is an example of arrangements of popular tunes that play to the group’s strengths.

The work for this album began long before spring break 2013, during which the Limestones spent 70-80 hours recording the album, often spending over 10 hours each day in the studio. Last fall, the group met the week before classes began for “Camp Limestones.” There, group members proposed pieces for the year, and everyone worked to narrow down the list of songs for the year’s performances.

“Working with the group was fun. It honestly brought all of us a lot closer together,” said member Kaya Petersen ’15. “There were inevitable disagreements between people, but overall I think we were better friends by the end.”

The group used a method called single tracking to perfect the vocals on the album. While some past recordings had all the Limestones singing around a few microphones, single tracking involves one person recording their part alone in the booth. The lone singer usually has a mini-file to listen to – a skeleton of the melody – so they know where they are in the song. Once done, all the parts are mixed together to create the full song.

“The best part of the experience was listening to our product at the end of the day,” Petersen said. “The track wasn’t completely mastered or anything, but hearing it come together for the first time was really cool.”

The Limestones used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the majority of the production costs for the album. Kickstarter is an online fundraising site that provides artists an opportunity to aquire capital for potential creative projects. Through the campaign, the group raised enough funds so that the new album would not place next year’s ensemble in debt. The Limestones have also offered pre-orders of their album as additonal advertisment.

All the hard work that went into the album’s production will culminate at the Limestones’ upcoming spring concert. Along with the release of the album, the group plans to incorporate the new members for next year into the concert. Though the Limestones are losing four members, the addition of Greg Martin ’15, Charlie Baird ’16 and returner Isaac Sorenson ’14 abroad in Ireland during the current academic year will bring the total up to seven members.

For more information about the Limestones, check out their website at www.thelimestones.com or follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Their spring concert is scheduled for Thursday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pause.

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Race Matters tackles discrimination

Project increases dialogue surrounding tough issues

DANIEL BYNUM/MANITOU MESSENGER

Do those Race Matters posters outside Stav Hall make students uncomfortable? The ones featuring students’ faces with words spelling out “racism,” “prejudice” and “white guilt” across their faces?

The posters are meant to cause discomfort. At the very least, they are meant to increase awareness on campus, which is one of the initiatives of the Race Matters campaign. The campaign is spearheaded by the senior sociology/anthropology majors as part of their senior capstone project. When asked how they wanted to integrate their four years at St. Olaf into a project, the class of more than 30 students responded unanimously with the idea for a campaign surrounding racial issues on campus.

“The goal of this campaign is to initiate conversations about issues of race and racism,” Hilary Zander ’13 said. “In part, it’s related to recent campus events, as well as the lack of administrative initiative we have seen.”

The campaign took place in two parts. The first phase occurred on Thursday, April 11 in Buntrock Commons during community time. Members of the Race Matters campaign displayed their posters – with original stories photoshopped onto their faces – on the wall near the main stairwell in Buntrock.

During this time, some students, staff and faculty had “Race Matters” or “Hate Racism” written on their faces by campaign members. Others took photos while holding signs displaying the slogans or a similarly worded phrase. Members of the Race Matters campaign have displayed these photos – along with the official posters – in a collage on the second floor of Buntrock Commons and on Facebook.

The Race Matters campaign was inspired by the Un-Fair campaign in Duluth, Minn., an anti-racism effort focused on the role white people could play in addressing racial disparities in Duluth. The senior sociology/ anthropology majors decided to modify the Un-Fair campaign to fit the St. Olaf community.

“We didn’t want to focus just on white privilege or racism, as we found it isolated certain groups of people,” Justine Frederick ’13 said. “The idea was to make a project where everyone has something to say.”

The second phase of the Race Matters campaign was a discussion panel held on the evening of Monday, April 15. Students packed the Buntrock ballrooms to hear professors from many disciplines speak on racism. From Assistant Professor of Sociology Theodore Thornhill to Instructor in Education Sarah Swan McDonald, faculty and staff came together to illustrate the idea that race transcends curriculum.

The panel began with a clarification of certain terms decided upon by the sociology/anthropology majors, such as “colorblind racism,” “systematic and institutionalized racism” and “white privilege.” After professors described their backgrounds and personal investment in the ideas of the Race Matters campaign, moderator Shelby Ferreira ’13 alternated between prepared questions and those asked by audience members.

Topics traced the trends of racism through history at St. Olaf. Some panel members, including Assistant Professor of English Joan Hepburn, provided a long-term perspective on campus life.

“Enthusiasm for issues surrounding race and ethnic studies has waxed and waned over time,” Hepburn said.

Other questions made it clear that students are eager to be involved in this process of addressing issues of race on campus.

“What can I do?” came the echo from the student body.

Many professors reiterated the power of student voice in effecting change. Bruce King, assistant to the president for institutional diversity, said, “The college responds to student needs.”

Assistant Professor of English Jonathan Naito reminded students that they “have the power in a tuition-based institution.”

Naito also noted that students leave a legacy in their short time at St. Olaf. For better or worse, he said, we are marked by what happens at our college. Breakout session after the panel, primarily led by sociology/anthropology majors, discussed certain areas of racial inequality on campus.

“The point,” Zander said, “was to get deeper into conversation with what has been happening on campus.”

The faculty on the panel reiterated this idea, encouraging students to continue dialogues with one another.

As spring semester winds down, the honest dialogue concerning racism on the St. Olaf campus continues. The group will leave the posters up after the campaign has ended as a reminder that these issues affect everyone at St. Olaf.

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Glorifying our athletes

I remember the day Lance Armstrong admitted to doping. I remember because I wanted to tear off my Livestrong bracelet – the one I’d been wearing for more than seven years – and snip it into a million pieces. For some reason, his betrayal felt deeply personal.

Many citizens of South Africa and the global community experienced a similar reaction after learning of Oscar Pistorius’ murder charge. The news that the inspiring sprinter had killed his girlfriend shook millions who put faith in the athlete. Pistorius’ road to the Olympics began when he petitioned the South African Olympic Committee to allow him to participate in the able-bodied Olympics, maintaining that his prosthetics gave him no distinct advantage while racing.

In 2012, Pistorius became the first double leg amputee to participate in an able-bodied Olympics, running in the men’s 400-meter run and the 4×400-meter relay. In addition to a rigorous competition schedule, Pistorius actively supported the Mineseeker Foundation, a charity that raises awareness for land mine victims and provides prosthetics for victims.

Armstrong’s name is no less well-known, even to those outside the cycling world. After a diagnosis of testicular cancer that spread to his brain and lungs, Armstrong underwent extensive chemotherapy. Soon after remission, he founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation and went on to win the Tour de France seven times in a row.

Both Armstrong and Pistorius became symbols of resilience in their arenas. They overcame tremendous obstacles and inspired millions of people, and for that, the world glorified their existence. Yet, both fell.

This seems to be a common theme today: Raise someone to heroic status, and watch him or her fall. One of the many political cartoons about Armstrong ran in the Star Tribune not long after his admission to using performance-enhancing stimulants. In the cartoon, Armstrong was riding a bike, decked out in Livestrong attire and pulling a small wagon of his medals. The question remains for both Armstrong and Pistorius: Will these scandals negate the good they have done?

The outlook certainly seems bleak. When someone searches “Lance Armstrong” or “Oscar Pistorius” on the Internet and the first search topics are “doping” and “dead girlfriend,” one can be sure the legacy will be tainted. The longevity of the articles and the pages of arguments of those defending their heroes and those condemning them will always remain archived somewhere.

In this case, we might step back and reconsider the concept of athletes as heroes. True, they exhibit mental ferocity and physical strength beyond the scope of the average person’s capabilities. Yet their strengths also expose weaknesses in daunting places: Armstrong fell victim to a doping system that provided the only way to succeed on a professional level. Pistorius’ assault and petty criminal charges question his status as a representative of South Africa.

The fact that these men cemented their pedestals in the world only paved the way for their downfalls. Parents saw them as role models for their children. Children were captivated by men like Pistorius and remembered the name “Armstrong” when they flaunted their Livestrong bracelets.

People fall short of their potential every day, yet their so-called “everyday mistakes” on a small scale never shock us so much as the accumulation of events on a large scale. In reality, we have no idea how we might act in such a situation. Our disillusionment suggests that we are allowed to be fallible, but our heroes aren’t.

We all want to believe that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary feats. Yet we fail to remember that within every person is the capacity to fall from grace. The world may have lost hope in Armstrong and Pistorius, but hopefully it will recover to place its reverence in an idea rather than a person who embodies this idea.

ecstets@stolaf.edu

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote