Author: Megan Hussey

Guest lecturer defends, praises humanities education

This past Thursday, Nov. 2, David Perry – a Medieval History Professor at the University of Minnesota – gave a talk to the St. Olaf community entitled, “Study Humanities, Save the World.” Curious Northfield community members, St. Olaf professors and students filed in to the Center for Art and Dance to hear just how to answer that awful question asked over every family gathering: “What are you supposed to do with that (major)?” 

Perry, a former professor of St. Olaf, has had a very winding career path himself. Though he considers himself mainly a scholar and humanist, he has in the past few years been pursuing journalism. He is a regular columnist for Pacific Standard, and is a contributing writer for CNN, The Atlantic, The New York Times, among many more. 

Abby Wollam ’20, a humanities major, attended the talk because she wanted to hear about how her field of study can benefit her beyond graduation: “When I saw the title of the talk I was intrigued because you often hear people question the value of majoring in something like history, political science or ancient studies which has always made me a little fearful and question my own life choices.”

A recurring theme throughout his talk was taking the skills he had learned in his education as a history major and applying them in more practical ways to his life. 

Using personal examples from his life, Perry told the audience about when he found out his son had Down Syndrome. 

“The depths of my ignorance about it were essentially endless. I didn’t know what it meant for him in the long term,” Perry said. Next he did what he said “any of us would do.” He educated himself. 

“I knew how to know things,” Perry said. “I knew how fields of information worked, and I knew how to apply myself.” He used his research skills to access all sorts of information to fully understand the depths of the disability. “I’ve always felt very grateful for my education and that it prepared me to make this huge shift in my life.” 

Wollam was intrigued by his talk, and really appreciated his engagement with the audience through his incorporation of popular culture into the talk. “The biggest takeaway that I got from this talk was the reiteration of the idea that it really isn’t about what you study but about the tools and skills you acquire.”

St. Olaf students may do well to remember that not everything in life is determined by what you major in here. Instead, Perry believes that, “The best tool we have developed as humans is to learn how to learn.”

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Referendum voting should be restricted for students

When we turn eighteen, as American citizens, we have earned the right to fill out a ballot and have a say in our government. Our democracy stands for the people and by the people, so all people have a say in what goes on in their respective towns. College students are the youngest age of people able to vote in America, with the average ranging from 18 to 22 years old. It is an exciting time for young adults. I remember the first time filling out a ballot and the sense of pride that came along with it. However, I believe that as only temporary residents of Northfield, St. Olaf and Carleton students should be limited in their voting rights if they do choose to vote here.

Many college students choose to vote absentee in their hometowns (which presents its own issues of respresentation) yet many also register to vote in Northfield. Voting in Minnesota in general is extremely easy, with same day registration available. This is wonderful for encouraging people to get to the polls to do their civic duty. No problems arise when thinking of presidential or congressional races, as those are on a much larger scale of representation and the policies implemented by those individuals do impact college students. 

A case can even be made when voting for the mayor of Northfield. It is considered a “college town” after all, so one would hope the mayor of Northfield takes the interests of students into account when making decisions. However, when discussing the upcoming referendum vote in Northfield that concerns investment in the public schools, students should not be allowed to vote, as they do not pay taxes in the town of Northfield. 

On the Northfield Public Schools website, it states that, “On November 7, 2017, Northfield Public Schools residents will be asked to vote on two important election questions.” These questions concern the overall infrastructure investments of the schools and the operating budget of individual students. There is a proposed plan for the new elementary school, and a proposed plan for the new high school. The total amount projected for the elementary school projects is $23.5 million, and the total amount projected for the high school projects is $78.5 million. The website goes on to explain, “The District recognizes that approval of these two referendum questions will raise taxes for residents.” Students are considered such “residents,” yet do not pay taxes in the town, so are not impacted in the same way that others will be. 

In short, students will be able to vote in this referendum if they are registered to vote in Northfield, yet will not be impacted at all by the outcomes. We will not have our taxes raised (we don’t pay any here) and while investing in public schooling systems is wonderful, the good majority of us do not have children that use these schools on a daily basis. I believe the solution here is to allow students in Northfield (or any other college town, for that matter) to vote for specific candidates and policies that will affect them as students. Students should not be able to vote on policies concerning taxes and investments in public infrastructures.

I realize there is no easy solution to this problem, but one may be to simply consider what type of citizens college students should be, and how citizenship type may restrict the person’s right to vote. For instance, if college students were labeled as “temporary citizens” of whatever town they resided in for the four years of undergraduate studies, some of those voting priviliges may be limited as a temporary citizen. Permanent citizens could be those that plan to stay in an area longterm (over five years) who then would have all the voting privileges when considering referendums and taxes. 

There is no good answer, and considering some of my solutions would involve an entire ratification of our Constiution. I am not saying voting needs to be heavily restricted, but I believe tax referendums especially need to be reconsidered. Leaving home for college is a relatively recent phenomenon, so our government must consider what it means for the individual towns impacted by it. 

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Trigger warnings are important and necessary

This past weekend, someone made a snide comment about suicide in front of me. He then proceeded to mock the fact that people seem to be “triggered” by his words. Little did anyone know around me just how “triggered” I was. 

I will admit that before this experience, I really didn’t understand the seriousness and depth of a trigger warning. Older generations like to mock them, calling Generation X and millennials “liberal snowflakes” or overly sensitive leftists incapable of engaging in debate. 

But why should a victim of a trauma be expected to engage in a debate about it? No one should be forced to talk about something that causes distressing memories to pop up. This is why trigger warnings are extremely important and necessary. 

The problem seems to stem not with what a trigger warning really is, but with the stigmatization of mental illness in general. 

Our good friend Urban Dictionary defines a trigger warning as “a warning before showing something that could cause a PTSD reaction.” The website’s definition goes further to explain that “commonly used as a joke, its meaning has unfortunately depreciated, drawing more stigma to mental illness.” 

I don’t know many people who understand mental illness well that would have a problem with that definition, and why it is often necessary. 

Mental illness is real, and it is very scary. It’s the worst kind of pain; it’s a pain you cannot escape. Why our society still does not view a mental illness as the same as a physical one is beyond me. 

By making fun of trigger warnings, you are essentially saying someone’s mental illness is a joke. 

This past spring, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) hosted one of their few conservative speakers, Christina Hoff Sommers. Her talk was about who stole feminism (spoiler: it was liberals) and proceeded to rip apart people who need trigger warnings. 

Many people were berated for leaving the talk after some of those comments. However, it is very unfair for someone to associate trigger warnings with extreme leftists. 

Trauma doesn’t affect just one political party, gender, race, etc. Sure, some marginalized groups are definitely more susceptible than others, but the fact is that anyone can be traumatized by an event in their life. 

Unfortunately, college students (who overall tend to be more liberal) are a group that seems especially affected by trauma. First years pick up everything in their lives and start over in a place they don’t know, with people they don’t know. Some have never lived away from home for an extended period of time before. You can’t expect everyone to be perfectly fine with that change. 

I try to be open now about what happened to me my first year. For months, I would go to class and come back to my room and cry for hours. I was not okay. And for the first time in my life, my mind went to a very dark place. 

I try to talk about it now so people (especially first years) know that it’s okay to not be 100 percent okay in college. It is a huge change, and change affects everyone differently. 

It got a lot better, and I’m really happy with who I am and where I am now. But that doesn’t erase the painful memories. I guess I just have to be okay with being a “liberal snowflake” for being triggered by someone mocking suicide. 

It is not up for anyone to decide how a particular trauma impacts someone’s life. It is not okay to joke about things like sexual assault or suicide and then wonder why people are triggered. 

Trigger warnings, despite the negative connotation associated with them, are absolutely necessary and were invented so that everyone’s experiences and emotions can be accepted. 

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye