Author: Jessica Moes

NBA owner punished severely

On April 29, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement asserting that Donald Sterling, manager of the Los Angeles Clippers, would be banned for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA. The ban was instituted in response to a leaked recording of certain racist comments made by Sterling in private to his former mistress V. Stiviano, including a statement that he does not want her bringing black people to games. In addition to being banned for life, Sterling was also fined 2.5 million dollars – the maximum amount allotted in the NBA Constitution for similar offenses.

The comments by Sterling and the subsequent punishment from the NBA initiated a widespread conversation between political pundits, NBA fans and an extensive number of social media users on the role of First Amendment rights in private conversation. It also raised concerns regarding the extent to which Sterling’s comments could affect Clippers management and the irony of racially-motivated comments in a minority-dominated industry.

The heart of the issue at hand tends to err on the end of that first point: the role of private conversation in corporate interests. This issue is not a new one – it has been debated before Sterling and will be debated again. Instead, what complicates this issue is its impact on an organization like the NBA, which, while privately-owned, is excessively public in interest. It can come as no shock that, while Sterling’s intentions were never meant to be made public, an industry that relies so much on the entertainment dollars freely-spent by millions of Americans must work within its own best interests in lieu of a public backlash. When Sterling signed a contract that stipulated that his employment was contingent on a wider collective ownership’s approval, he signed away any right to fight an issue of this accord.

One can argue that Sterling is the victim of poor circumstance and tied hands, and that whether or not he intended his words to be public, the fact that they became so is worthy of condemnation. It has been made widely known that the comments Sterling made in relation to this particular incident were by no means his first of a similar nature. We live in a culture where racially- or otherwise-charged comments are not widely approved of or tolerated, and where one small recording can virally reach a plethora of stakeholders instantly. While First Amendment rights may legally absolve Sterling of repercussions for his statements, the same can not be said of a larger corporation’s interests.

And yet, it is difficult, in a small way, to not feel a small tinge of sadness for Sterling. Sure, his comments are repulsive and his attitude inexcusable, but in terms of managing his team, Sterling has not been accused of any wrong-doing. As of press time, there are no accusations against him from team members or other employees for racial discrimination or for making racially-charged statements in their presence the single exception is a case regarding the potential wrongful-termination of former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor – for which Sterling was legally found not guilty. While the team has made it publicly clear that they do not approve of the statements made to V. Stiviano, there has been no legal precedent to his stepping down.

Instead of acting in response to a fair system whether legal or internal, the NBA allowed the mass media pundits and social media inflammatories to serve as jury for Sterling’s case. Even though Sterling’s comments are atrocious, and the action taken against him is, at this point, irreversible. The ease with which a few key players on the wider interweb were able to complicate and ultimately decide a case like this puts a precedent on future controversies that any employee of a company even those not as public in nature as the NBA should be wary of.


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Putnam offers light-hearted approach to lyric theater

The spring lyric theater production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a bit untraditional when compared to past campus productions of lauded operettas and intricate musicals like “Candide” and “Into the Woods.” But that does not mean that the quirky and modern one-act musical comedy will struggle to find resonance with a musically-adept college community like St. Olaf.

“We have a very capable team,” said co-director Denzel Belin ’15 before a weeknight rehearsal. “We have a lot of different backgrounds – music, theater, production – but we have enough faith in one another to challenge each other and explore the potentials this musical offers.”

“Besides, this show offers a lot of interesting truths that reflect well in a St. Olaf audience,” co-director Natalia Romero ’15 added. “These characters are all major caricatures but have small moments where they crack, where we can see their truth. We’re sort of like that as college students: seeminlgy perfect and afraid to show our flaws.”

“Putnam,” which is a completely student directed, acted and produced show, centers on a fictional spelling bee at Putnam Valley Middle School in which six ambitious adolescents Maddie Sabin ’17, Jordan Solei ’15, Jessica Lawdan ’15, Ashley Kershaw ’16, Gabe Coleman ’17 and Charlie Platt ’16 compete for the top prize under the guidance of three odd and delightful adults RJ Nunez ’16, Zach Jackson ’14 and Kat Middeldorp ’15. Throughout the bee, each of the contestants is pushed past their limits and forced to come to terms with some of the more intimate aspects of their lives.

Belin and Romero began discussing the potential for “Putnam” last summer, when they decided that they wanted to apply to direct the spring lyric theater production. Both have experience with directing and theater Belin, a theater major, has worked on “Albert Herring” and “Extremities,” and Romero, a music education major, worked on “In The Heights” last fall, and knew they wanted to pursue something more modern. Directors for the student-directed lyric theater spring production apply for the position with the music department in the fall and begin putting the show together early in the spring semester.

Over that time period, Belin and Romero have been able to really think about things like character development and musicality, care and precision that comes through in the final production, especially in the musical performances by Middeldorp and Jackson and committed characterization by Platt.

“I’ve been pulled more vocally here than I ever have before,” said Maddie Sabin ’17, who plays Olive Ostrovsky. “But I know that everyone here believes in our ability to put together a really amazing ensemble performance.”

One of the more interesting quirks of the show is that it requires the participation of four real audience members who are invited on to the stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters. During my observation of the “Putnam” rehearsal, I was one such participant – called to the stage, asked to spell and create questions, sure, but also encouraged to dance and participate as if I were one of the characters in the actual musical. Whether it stems from persistent practice or an innate ease, the “Putnam” cast showed that they are both comfortable with and encouraging of the improvisational potential of such audience interaction. By the end of my time on stage, I was completely at ease and immersed in the experience, just as invested in my own chances of winning as I was in the other characters’.

“Audience participation adds another dimension of difficulty for our actors and immersion for our audience,” Belin said. “It allows us to showcase the sheer talent our cast really has.”

This unmistakable talent makes “Putnam” a must-see for musical theater fans, whether or not one is heavily invested in the more classic approach to lyric theater. A cohesive blend and complicated technique from extensively trained actors push “Putnam” into the same technical field as its more classic predecessors.

“Watching this show come together has been better than I had anticipated,” Romero said. “This cast pushes this show into something more amazing than I first knew was possible.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed in Urness Recital Hall in Christiansen Hall of Music on May 9 at 7:30 p.m. and May 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. There are no formal tickets for the production, but seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.


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Senior Shows highlight cumulative artistic experience

The second Senior Art Show opens this weekend. For the 18 students exhibiting, the show will highlight four years of advancement and self-discovery in the arts. The exhibit follows on the heels of 18 other students’ first senior show, which included disciplines like photography, woodcarving, animation and ceramics, among many others.

“We are often surprised at the technical leaps made by students in this work and are even more often impressed with the ability of students to draw upon their broad liberal arts background to create a body of work with strong conceptual underpinnings,” Professor of Art Mary Griep said.

The senior shows are a part of a capstone course for studio art majors consisting of advanced studio work, a visiting artist series, weekly critiques and discussions with faculty and peers. Class sessions also cover such topics as preparing a resume, documenting one’s work and framing and producing exhibition announcements and posters.

Finally, each student’s studio work is shown in one of two senior exhibitions in the Flaten Art Museum during late spring. The art students are responsible for developing a concept, creating a body of work and preparing it for installation. A smaller sampling of their body of work is exhibited in the senior show at the end of the academic year.

“Because students do not specify a specific medium, there is a huge variety of what students end up focusing on,” Aubrey Tyler ’14 said. “The senior show is a pretty good representation of the diversity of St. Olaf’s art program. There are many pieces that might not fit into one category or medium but that combine experiences from many different classes.”

“It’s a very self-guided synthesis,” Annelise Brandel-Tanis ’14 said. “You have to be able to take ownership of it in front of whoever might come into the gallery, so in that way I think it functions very well as a capstone project.”

Tyler and Brandel-Tanis, both double majors in studio art and environmental studies, created bodies of work that blend many of the areas they’ve worked in over the years. Tyler’s work for the second show integrates pottery and ceramics with gardening and natural materials, and Brandel-Tanis, who exhibited during the first show, created a multi-layered exhibit of both 3D and 2D works focused on human ecology.

“There are a lot of full days and weekends spent in Dittmann. A lot of us were here for spring break too,” Tyler said. “Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of planning. I had to take three trips to IKEA to get the shelves [for my exhibit]. It’s easy to forget that when you’re looking at a show. This is months of planning coming together.”

Despite the hard work, however, the final exhibits are about more than just completed products.

“While the art major is focused on making things, or at least on how students present their ideas materially, having something that students and faculty can come together and talk about is always the most important part,” Brandel-Tanis said.

The second Senior Art Show will open on Sunday in Dittmann Center, with an opening reception from 2-4 p.m. The reception will include statements from the exhibiting senior art students as well as refreshments. The show will stay open until May 6.

The final Flaten exhibit for the school year will be the All-Senior show, which will open on May 12 and close on May 25, with a closing reception on May 25 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. before commencement.

The Flaten Art Museum is open Monday-Wednesday and Fridays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m, and from 2 – 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Slam poets sharp and witty rhymes resonate with audience

On March 8, Lauren Zuniga, an internationally-recognized slam poet and teaching artist, performed a selection of her spoken-word poetry to a small group of students in the Lion’s Pause. The event was sponsored by the Student Activities Committee SAC.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Zuniga is the voice of the Oklahoma City Community College’s “Now is Power” campaign, has served as Activist-in-Residence for the University of Oklahoma and was voted “Best Local Author” by the Oklahoma Gazette. She is the author of two poetry collections, “The Nickel Tour” and “The Smell of Good Mud.”

Zuniga often uses her poetry for social activism, and her spoken-word pieces tend to echo personal experiences and hardships. Her life story manifested itself in some of the poetry that she presented on campus as well, including intimate details regarding her family and her sexuality.

“The show really centered around her life story,” said Maddy Gamble ’15, a member of SAC. “It made sense, because poetry is founded and inspired by aspects of one’s life. Zuniga talked about being married to an African-American man with whom she had two children. Eventually, they ended up getting a divorce, and I think it was mainly because she realized she was gay. It was because of her very interesting life that she was able to address issues that often get brushed under the rug at St. Olaf.”

These topics, which included drugs, sex, homosexuality, race, gender roles, identity, unfair legislation and abortion, enabled Zuniga’s poetry to really resonate with the audience.

“I’m normally not a huge fan of poetry, but her passion and creativity was very inspiring and infectious,” Gamble said. “But that’s why SAC decided to bring a slam poet to campus: She provides an alternative form of entertainment that St. Olaf students are not exposed to frequently.”

SAC’s next sponsored event for students is the March 16 St. Patty’s Day Scavenger Hunt. More information is available on the group’s Facebook page.


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SustainAbilities program attendance hints at apathy toward environment: Turn-out at events like Olympics calls commitment into question

This past Sunday, a small number of St. Olaf students attended the SustainAbilities Winter Olympics in Tostrud Center, participating in team events like an outdoor relay which included snowshoeing, a sled pull and a biathlon, dodgeball and the basketball game “Lightning.” All visitors, team members and spectators alike, were able to play on a variety of inflatable obstacle courses, eat SustainAbilities-provided food out of mugs which have since been donated to the Cage and sign a petition spearheaded by the Environmental Coalition that would encourage the study body to vote on whether or not St. Olaf should become a carbon-neutral campus.

Carbon-neutrality was a prevalent theme during the event. When teams signed up, each had to choose from a list of countries that they could represent at the games. Unknown to the team at sign-up, the actual carbon footprint of their corresponding country would be held against them during the events for example, blindfolding one team member. Teams could “off-set” this carbon footprint during the week before the Olympics by posting photos of team members engaging in sustainable activities like carpooling, going trayless or recycling to Facebook.

Though they came in at a huge disadvantage, Team U.S.A. won the award for “Most Sustainable” at the end of the evening. According to Katie Myhre ’16, the Hilleboe and Kittelsby Hall representative for SustainAbilities, this outcome proves “that even though the U.S. has a huge carbon footprint, it is indeed possible to change our behavior for the better.” The first- and second-place teams were awarded coffee tumblers for their commitment to sustainability.

While events like the SustainAbilities Olympics are fun and public in nature, they only scratch the surface of what the organization is attempting to accomplish on campus.

SustainAbilities is funded via a grant from an anonymous party. The grant, which funds the Environmental Conversations program along with SustainAbilities, was written by the late Professor of History, Environmental Studies and American Studies Jim Farrell in response to a 2011 campus-wide survey in which 94 percent of first-year students said that at a place like St. Olaf, they expected to learn to live sustainably in their residence halls.

“Many students at St. Olaf, especially juniors and seniors, misunderstand what SustainAbilities is and how it functions,” said George Brand ’14, SustainAbilities student representative coordinator and representative for Ytterboe Hall. “Our purpose is to teach St. Olaf students how to live sustainably in residence halls. Our goal is to demonstrate and educate students on environmentally-friendly living practices in the hopes that students will leave St. Olaf with a better understanding of the natural world and the environmental issues our generation faces.”

Each residence hall on campus has a SustainAbilities representative who hosts an event each month for their dorm. Some representatives have hosted fieldtrips to the Northfield Recycling Plant and to local harvest festivals or have coordinated planting sessions and D.I.Y. laundry detergent mixing. In addition to individual dorm representatives, SustainAbilities also has a small marketing team to help advertise these and other campus-wide events, including an Iron Chef Cook-Off, the 12 Days of SustainAbilities and, of course, the SustainAbilities Olympics.

Many of these small-scale events, including the screening of three notable environmental documentaries over Interim, have poor attendance, a result that Brand attributes to a lack of conscious activism on the part of St. Olaf students.

“Although 94 percent of students may claim that they expect to live sustainably while at St. Olaf, I’ve found that a far smaller percentage of students are actually willing to do so,” he said. “Part of the struggle with SustainAbilities and environmentalism as a whole is that it’s much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. A student may say they want to live sustainably on a survey, but it’s much harder for students to remain committed to this priority when they’re in such a busy college atmosphere.”

This is the second year of the two-year grant program, and while the future of SustainAbilities is thus far unknown, Brand expects the program to persist in some capacity because of how integral it is to creating responsible and committed citizens of the world – something St. Olaf strives for.

“SustainAbilities is about changing the way people think about their place in the world,” Brand said. “It’s not about getting people to go trayless or meatless. It’s not about shaming people into air-drying their clothes or riding their bikes everywhere. SustainAbilities is trying to change the culture of environmentalism from being an esoteric stereotype into being a mainstream commitment and, ultimately, a priority.”

Photo courtesy of Kelly Meza Prado

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