Author: Kassandra DiPietro

Globalization of colleges often problematic

How racially diverse are college campuses? This question seems to be in the air this spring as affirmative action court cases, the date for committing to a college and the overall competitive nature of admissions have been in the news. For St. Olaf students, this conversation follows right on the heels of the diversity panel, where the true amount of diversity on campus was debated.

According to the New York Times’ writer David Leonhardt, the number of international students getting into Ivy League Colleges is increasing, making it harder for Americans to get in. While St. Olaf students were worried about the false representation of diversity on campus and wanted to see an actual increase, Leonhardt claims that having more international students is actually the problem.

In his article, he cites that ten percent of students in Ivy League schools are now international students, which is almost double what it was in the 1990s. By limiting the number of American students in Ivies, are we limiting our own society’s success? This doesn’t seem like such a startling statistic – actually, it seems a little low.

People have been claiming that the benefit of diversity is to expose American students to other cultures, an idea I have always found a little odd, as if the international students become ambassadors for their entire country just because it is different from the U.S. However, there is the simple fact that we are becoming more global. By opening our eyes to people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, we can shape our education more fully.

Furthermore, study abroad trips are on the rise, especially at St. Olaf, which has one of the top international programs in the country. Why not incorporate more perspectives in an environment where questioning stereotypes and pushing boundaries are essential?

What does it mean that this trend is happening in the Ivies more prominently than in other schools? Today, I’m not convinced that an Ivy League education is necessarily all that much better than an education from many other colleges. The idea of the “liberal arts” deems that the education should be different at every school and for every student, but quantifying that amount of learning becomes difficult.

In fact, the Ivies could probably stand to increase their diversity with international students because of their rich, privileged, “white boy” stereotype. Mourning the loss of this stereotype hardly seems like a detriment to the schools or their students’ learning.

The only concerning aspect in the increase of international students at Ivies is that it might only be pretending to solve a problem. The majority of international students are from well-off families and from the upper class in their own countries. So while administrations may think that they are “exposing their students to new cultures” by admitting international students, a lot of the time they are in fact filling their halls with similarly upper-class students from different hometowns.

Some large public universities, however, charge international students more to attend, which explicitly limits them from bringing in more international students overall. The ones that are able to attend come from the upper-class elite. So at the very least, the Ivies are encouraging a more global student population, but not necessarily a more diverse one.

Is it true that all colleges need to question what they mean by “diversity”? Maybe not, but there will be many more complications as we move toward a more global society if these problems are not addressed. Hopefully in the future, the playing field will be even and we won’t even need denotations of “people of color” or “international students” as markers of diversity. Colleges will be able to choose students solely based on what the college can offer the student and what the student can offer the college.

Kassandra DiPietro ’15 is from Appleton, Wis. She majors in English.


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PAC event focuses on Islam in U.S.

A documentary about the negative portrayal of Muslims in America called “The Muslims Are Coming!” played in the Lion’s Pause on Monday, April 21. The documentary was put on by the Political Awareness Committee PAC and the Diversity Celebration Committee DCC. Dean Obeidallah, the documentary’s co-producer and co-director, appeared at the end of the showing to answer questions. Obeidallah is a writer who has published stories with high-profile news outlets, including CNN, PBS, Al Jazeera and the Daily Beast.

“The Muslims Are Coming!” is both a documentary and a comedy. A Muslim stand-up comedy group travels around the southern United States giving free comedy shows on Muslim culture in the U.S. to increase awareness. According to one comedian, the group was using comedy to give the U.S. “one big Muslim hug.”

The documentary begins with a slew of news clips highlighting anti-Muslim propaganda, including one that states, “All Butterball turkeys in America were sacrificed to Allah.” These clips helped pointout the ridiculousness of statements made against Muslims.

The comedians hoped that through their work, laughter could bring about a catharsis for this painful topic. They toured in states without much exposure to Muslim culture, including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona and Utah.

The documentary also discussed some current examples of mass Muslim protests. Recently, people turned out full force in New York City to protest the building of a Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. The protesters claimed that it would encourage Islamic supremacy. Project planners said that it would in fact be the opposite, creating a place for Muslims to give back to the community.

The comedians also talked about false representation of Sharia law. News reporters announced worry that Sharia law would become law in the U.S. Muslim leaders, however, talked about how it is against Sharia law to establish the law in a place that is primarily not Sharia, so this would not be coming the U.S. any time soon.

To promote their tour, the comedians often took to the streets. One day they had an “Ask a Muslim” activity, and some people asked why Muslims have not come together to openly denounce the 9/11 attacks.

Soledad O’Brien, a guest star, was quoted saying, “If you are constantly trying to prove you are the model minority, it is exhausting.”

The comedians also put on “Hug a Muslim,” bowling with Muslims and a trivia game. In the trivia game, people had to guess if quotations came from the New Testament, the Old Testament or the Quran. Many people guessed the Quran when a quotation was really from the Old Testament, showing that many religious books contain violent phrases. It comes down to interpretation rather than content.

The group hoped to bring new insights to people in the U.S. by breaking down stereotypes. One comedian, Negin Farsad, who was one of the few female Muslims in the group, often had sexual sets with expletives, making her especially controversial. During one performance, a group of Muslim women wearing the hijab walked out on her set.

In the question-and-answer portion, Obeidallah wanted to highlight that “while Islam is the center of the film, what it is really about is freedom of religion for all religions in America.”

He stressed that “malevolence is really just ignorance.” The U.S. has an evolving face, and what is offensive one day becomes common the next. There is always a minority, but that the group changes.

“They will move past and find others to hate,” Obeidallah said.

A student in the audience asked how Obeidallah was able to be both Christian and Muslim, since his parents identified with these two religions. He answered that he found it hard to separate the religions since they were ideologically very similar. He didn’t like having to pick and felt he could be both.

“It is all about the path to God,” he said. “How you get there is not important.”

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Documentary connects chocolate, trafficking

“The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a film screened by St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery SOLAS on Thursday, April 24, drew attention to the negative practices involved in production and distribution of chocolate.

SOLAS provided free chocolate and coffee for those who attended the short documentary screening. In the film, Miki Mistrati, a Danish journalist, went to West Africa to investigate if child trafficking is still happening. Companies like Nestle, Barry Callebaut and Mars all signed a petition called the Harkin-Engel protocol, pledging that child trafficking would no longer occur in the production of the cacao plant for chocolate. However, Mistrati did find that child trafficking is still happening, especially in Ivory Coast, a country in western Africa.

Mistrati uncovered the inner workings of child trafficking in his documentary. Children are bused to the border of Ivory Coast and surrounded by traffickers on motorbikes. These traffickers would take them into Ivory Coast by a back route. Once across the border, more traffickers would sell the children to cacao farmers. A child would sell for up to 230 Euros, without negotiation. This price includes transportation and unlimited exploitation of the children, who very rarely get paid.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, and over 40 percent of cocoa is produced on plantations throughout Africa. Considering that people consume about 3 million tons of chocolate a year, cocoa production is a big part of Ivory Coast’s economy.

Mastrati met with Ali Lakiss, CEO and owner of Saf-Cacao, the largest cocoa exporter in Ivory Coast. Lakiss claimed that child trafficking was no longer happening because it is illegal.

“No children work in the plantations,” Lakiss said in the documentary. “Committees have investigated and shown that no children work on the plantation. It has been confirmed.”

Mastrati met with Tohe Malick, chief secretary of the Department of Labor in Ivory Coast. Malick claimed that the transportation that Mistrati was seeing was children vacationing with their families in the summer, since Ivory Coast is a tourist destination. Malick also believed that child slavery was no longer a problem.

Additionally, the documentary brought forward ways in which chocolate companies make a huge profit while producers of the cacao earn a fraction of this amount. The disparity could be one of the reasons producers turned to child slavery in the first place.

At a cacao plantation, the cacao plants are harvested and dried in the sun. They are then bought by intermediaries at one Euro per kilo. These intermediaries sell the plants to national exporters. The beans are washed, packed and sold, now at two and a half Euros per kilo. The companies turn them into cocoa powder or cocoa butter. One kilo of beans, which earned a farmer one Euro, can be made into 40 chocolate bars.

One of the takeaways for SOLAS is to be aware of the products that everyone uses. There are many companies that are beginning to raise awareness of how their supplies are made, but many others turn a blind eye to the injustices being done. At their presentation, SOLAS served Divine chocolate and Peace coffee. Both of these brands are Fair Trade companies, meaning the companies are aware of where they are getting their raw materials. Other companies, like Nestle, are leaders in using cocoa from suppliers who have child slaves.

“We are just asking you to keep in mind where your products came from and how they were made when you purchase something,” said Sarah Kretschmann ’15, one of the leaders of SOLAS. “Try to purchase Divine chocolate, which can be found in the bookstore, over Nestle products if you can.”

At the end of the screening, leaders of SOLAS had computers available for people to sign a petiton found on to stop chocolate companies from using slavery in production.

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New organizations honored for leadership

As the academic year finishes up, student organizations have come and gone. However, a few new groups have become increasingly prominent in the last couple years. At the Student Leadership Awards on Wednesday, April 16, these organizations and their student leaders were recognized for their contributions to the St. Olaf community.

One such up-and-coming organization is the Meditation Club, which won the Emerging Organization of the Year award. The club began last year and now has a room of its own in the Boe Chapel Undercroft.

This year, Meditation Club added around 100 new members. Between ten and 20 members attended their daily meditation sessions during chapel time. This attendance reflected a significant increase over last year’s participation.

At the end of last year, before they knew about the Boe Chapel renovation, club leaders Brian Plante ’14 and Andrew Wilder ’15 collected signatures on a petition to establish a meditation space in one of the Boe Chapel classrooms.

Soon, College Pastor Matt Marohl heard about the petition and expressed interest in the idea, intending to add it to the remodeled space. Club members were excited to hear that their dream room would become a reality.

“Upon completion, we helped Pastor Matt order the meditation cushions and design the space,” Plante said. “We’ve seen new members every day since we moved from the [Larson Hall] Burrow to the new Prayer and Meditation Room.”

The new room, located in Boe Chapel 010, is outfitted with pouffes and pillows, lamps and even a bathroom, making it perfect for the club’s daily meditation and also for individual prayer and reflection.

Meditation club is looking forward to getting its name out through the Emerging Organization of the Year award. Plante sees the club as a resource for stress relief, spiritual development, learning and making new friends.

“As college students we all need this, and so we want the club to be accessible to anyone who needs it, whether it’s to calm down, get to know oneself better or to heal from deep wounds,” Plante said. “[We want students] to know that we are a community sharing a journey together.”

For many people involved, meditation is more than just a student organization; it is also a way of life. Both Plante and Wilder have learned from meditation, from religious development to healing depression and anxiety, and they wanted to share that with the St. Olaf Community.

“Personally, I love meditation because it slows me down and allows me to develop an open, honest relationship with my mind and my emotions,” Plante said. “Really I find that relaxing with ourselves in this way opens up the possibility for profound surrender and developing a loving acceptance of ourselves just as we are.”

Another up-and-coming club to watch is Oles Combating Poverty. The group started at the end of last year and will be receiving the funds from this semester’s Caf Fast. Oles Combating Poverty is a club dedicated to focusing on solutions to poverty, in addition to raising awareness about the issue.

“Although there are multiple campus organizations promoting social activism, up until now there has been no organization focused entirely on fighting poverty while raising awareness of the issues which accompany it,” said Mudassar Sandozi ’15, a leader of the group. “Oles Combating Poverty aspires to fill that void. In fact, we are the only campus organization that has the word ‘poverty’ in its name and mission.”

The club sends money to impoverished countries through microfinance loans. Microfinance delivers financial services in the form of credit, banking or insurance directly to individuals. These individuals often lack the finances needed to get their business ventures off the ground or to expand their current sources of income.

Oles Combating Poverty currently uses organizations such as Kiva, a San Francisco-based organization, to distribute the money. Kiva gives donated funds to local organizations based in poverty-stricken areas of the world. These organizations actually distribute the loans.

All of the funds Oles Combatting Poverty receives from the Caf Fast will go to providing loans. Jack Frederickson ’15, another club leader, is excited for the funding from the Caf Fast because of the potential it provides for growth.

“One of the reasons we are so excited about this model is that 99.7 percent of the money given in microloans is paid back, enabling us to build a sustainable fund which will continue to grow and be distributed over time,” Frederickson said. “Therefore, the money we raise from Caf Fast will not be loaned out once or twice but will continue to be loaned out indefinitely, continuing to help individuals long after this year.”

The leaders are excited to continue to raise money, raise awareness about poverty and the resources available to fight it and expand membership at St. Olaf and in the Northfield community.

Amnesty International was also recognized at the Student Leadership Awards as the Student Organization of the Year. They are currently hosting Human Rights Week with events ranging from letter writing to a speaker from the Hope Center talking about human trafficking in Rice County.

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Model U.N. team succeeds at Wisconsin conference

The St. Olaf Model United Nations team recently won several awards at a conference they attended in Wisconsin, marking a significant first for this young team. The conference was at the University of River Falls over the weekend of April 3-6. Caitlin Connell ’17 won Best Delegate Honorable Mention, the second-highest award at the conference, and Ben McManamon ’17, Maggie Connell ’17 and Hannah Brown ’17 won Best Delegate Nominee, the third-highest award. Overall, the team received Best Delegation Nominee for their work representing Austria. They were in the top five delegations out of 58 teams, mostly from the Midwest, to attend the conference.

“We won several awards, but I am most pleased about the interactions we had with delegates from other schools,” Thomas Weihe ’17 said. “Most of them seemed very happy to have worked with us, and we were happy to work with them.”

This was the first time the team attended the Arrowhead Model U.N. Conference AMUNC at the University of River Falls, and they did not know what to expect. Typically, the team only attends one conference a year in Chicago. They plan to continue into the next academic year by again attending the Chicago conference and are bolstered by their success this year. They will add to their victories by bringing in new members, practicing more and hopefully attending more conferences next year.

“We hope to continue attending the conference in Chicago and the Arrowhead conference in future years,” Maggie said. “We really want to continue to develop the program by working more with our surrounding schools to run smaller simulations.”

Maggie’s twin sister, Caitlin, is also a part of the first year-dominated team. “We want to invest more in preparing for the tournaments so that we can get more out of them,” Caitlin said. “We have a team composed of a ton of freshmen this year, so we have a lot of time to improve and develop the team, which is really exciting.”

Model U.N. involves students representing a country by writing resolutions and negotiating for that country. They work to emulate the process of actual United Nations meetings and assemblies. For a conference, schools sign up for the country they want to represent before attending. Before and during the conference, students research how their country would respond to situations and prepare resolutions. They are also required to prepare speeches for opening remarks and arguments for their resolutions. Each person on the team is assigned to a different committee as a delegate. The committees range from environmental to economic to women’s rights councils.

The overall goal is to learn more about international affairs while developing writing and public speaking skills.

“I joined Model U.N. because I really love public speaking, and international politics are a huge interest of mine. This program has really given me better insight into how the U.N. works,” Maggie said.

The Model U.N. team was excited to have accomplished so much this year, but they are eagerly awaiting next year and the new talent and development it will bring. With this year’s success, the team will just have to wait and see where they go in future years. St. Olaf Model U.N. is one of three main competitive clubs on campus, along with Mock Trial and Debate, that involve both politics and public speaking.

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