Author: Kristen Sykes

Activist tells students to look beyond binaries

Last Friday evening, LGBT educator, speaker and award-winning activist Robyn Ochs gave a lecture hosted by the St. Olaf student group GLOW! Gay, Lesbian Or Whatever. Ochs began and ended her presentation “Beyond Binaries” by recognizing the complexity of human beings and therefore of sexual orientation. GLOW!, a student group dedicated to welcoming and affirming the identity and expression of all genders and sexualities, asked Ochs to speak on behalf of their group for pride week. Ochs led an interactive presentation on gender, specifically focusing on gender binaries and how to “map” sexual orientation.

Ochs addressed her belief in intersectionality. This concept explains that every human being has multiple types of identities, and therefore each identity affects how the person experiences their other identities. For example, Ochs identifies as a woman, an activist, an educator, a feminist, a secular Jew, a U.S. citizen, a bisexual etc. Intersectionality seeks to eliminate the classification of people into simple categories based on certain identities; instead, it encourages individuals to acknowledge and embrace the complexity of identity.

“Intersectionality shapes everything,” Ochs said. “When I don’t think about it, I get stupid. When I don’t think about intersectionality, I make assumptions.”

Ochs continued by giving a short history of the way society has tried to understand identity as it pertains to sexual orientation over the years. She discussed various models of sexual orientation that try to “map” attraction. In the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey conducted the first large-scale study on sexuality in the United States. Though he only surveyed males in his preliminarystudy, Kinsey discovered some revolutionary findings. Most significantly, he learned that sexuality exists on a continuum.

“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual,” Kinsey wrote regarding his survey’s results. “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats … The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

Ochs proceeded by presenting two other sexual orientation models formed over the years by Fritz Klein and Michael Storms. However, she critiqued all three models because of their fundamental flaw.

“They are all based on the assumption of a gender binary,” Ochs said. “All of these models are based on something that is not stable, so it is our challenge now to modify, to adapt and to change them.”

Ochs then began the interactive portion of her presentation. She conducted her own study on sexual orientation using the lecture audience members. All of the students present filled out a survey that questioned them about their sexual history and sexual preferences. Each question could be answered with a number ranging from 0-6, with 0 meaning complete attraction to the other gender and 6 meaning complete attraction to a similar gender. After filling out the anonymous survey, each participant handed in his or her sheet of paper. Ochs then passed out all of the surveys randomly so that each student held someone else’s identity in their hands.

Ochs spread out sheets of paper with the numbers 0-6 across the front of the room and asked everyone to stand on the number their person delineated as their sexual orientation number. A 0 meant the person was completely straight, a 6 represented someone who was completely gay, and the numbers 1-5 referred to anyone in between. Immediately the students spread themselves out on their respective numbers and created a sprawling fan of sexual orientations. Each number had at least one person standing on it, thus proving Ochs’ argument that gender and sexuality exist on a continuum. Ochs said that no matter how many times she performs this survey, regardless of the participants involved, she has never seen a binary result with participants only claiming to be a 0 or a 6.

This activity highlighted Ochs’ point that gender always exists on a spectrum, leaving room for anyone to identify on a different number on any given day. Only three people in the group represented someone whose sexual identity remained fixed. The majority of the group represented people who fluctuated between attraction to members of the same or opposite sex.

Ochs used this interactive study to reveal the complexity of sexual orientation and identity. She emphasized that labels cannot adequately categorize people because sexuality is always up to change and adaptation. Some people maintain one sexual identity their whole life, but most people float across the spectrum.

“People aren’t labels,” Ochs said. “They are stories: long, complicated stories.”

At the end, Ochs had every participant share one concept, new learning or significant memory they would take away from this presentation. Students slowly spoke up and revealed how empowering this presentation had been for them.

“It’s not wrong to be muddled and confused,” one student said.

Most listeners left with some significant takeaway regarding sexuality, attraction, identity and gender binaries. When Ochs was asked what she hoped to convey most through her presentation, her response was simple and straightforward.

“Identity is just the door,” Ochs said. “If someone wants to know you, they need to knock on your door and ask to know more.”


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Cross country teams earn ticket to NCAAs: Men finish first at regionals; women get at-large bid

St. Olaf hosted the NCAA Division-III Central Region Cross Country Championships on Nov. 16. With the home advantage, the St. Olaf men’s team was victorious for the second year in a row, placing first out of 26 teams. Central College men’s team put up a strong fight, finishing second overall, just ten points behind St. Olaf. Meanwhile, the St. Olaf women celebrated third place. After the women received an at-large bid, both the men and women qualified for the national meet.

Grant Wintheiser ’15 finished the men’s 8K race second overall in 24:39. Jake Brown ’15 followed close behind, placing third overall and crossing the finish line at 24:47. With this time, Brown ranks fourth in the all-time St. Olaf 8K record book. Wintheiser still holds the second place spot. Brian Saksa ’14 placed sixth overall with 25:06, earning him the tenth spot in the Oles’ all-time 8K record book.

Jake Campbell ’15 finished 18th with 25:36 followed by Calvin Lehn ’14 with 25:38. Dillon Davis ’14 and Phillip Meyer ’15 trailed close behind, placing all seven St. Olaf runners in the top 25 of the race.

“Being the seventh runner, I could see the string of St. Olaf guys in front of me,” Meyer said. “I just thought, ‘We are crushing it right now.'”

The St. Olaf women placed third behind Carleton College and Wartburg College. Noelle Olson ’17 finished second overall with 21:30, earning her the third-place spot in the St. Olaf 6K record book. Jorden Johnson ’15 finished fourth with 22:05. St. Olaf was the only team to place two runners in the top five of the meet.

“I really wanted to have a great race by going out there and feeling strong doing the thing that I love,” Olson said. “I think that I accomplished that goal, but only with the help and encouragement of my whole team and coaches.”

Michaela Banz ’15 finished third for the St. Olaf women and 27th overall with 23:21, followed by Allison Trezona ’17 with 23:43 and Grace Wilson ’17 with 23:54.

The St. Olaf runners attribute their success in part to the home advantage they had by being able to race on the Ole natural lands.

“It’s really cool to be able to run on the same paths that we train on,” Saksa said. “Experiencing pain on the workouts helps you experience pain in the race. It helps to break the barrier.”

The teams also rely on camaraderie to help them through each race.

“Personally, when I’m in pain in the last mile, the only thing that pushes me is knowing that I’m running for my team,” Brown said. “I just keep telling myself, you’re doing this for the Oles.”

Both teams will compete for national titles next week at the NCAA Division-III Championships in Hanover, Ind. With encouraging results from the regional meet, the St. Olaf men and women look expectantly toward the race to come.

“I’m really pumped for nationals,” Brown said. “Something that’s always been in the back of our heads is to give it our best shot and try to win the national championship. We’ve trained hard, and we’re ready for a big finale to the season.”

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Mens cross-country runs over competition

The men’s cross-country team celebrated a resounding victory on Oct. 19, winning the Jim Drews Invitational by more than 50 points. All five St. Olaf scorers placed in the race’s top 11 finishers.

Grant Wintheiser ’15 finished the 8K race third overall with a time of 24:53. Brian Saksa ’14 came in close behind at 24:59, earning him fifth overall. Calvin Lehn ’16 ranked seventh with a time of 25:20, followed by Jake Brown ’15 with 25:23. Finally, Jake Campbell ’16 secured the last scoring spot for the team, placing 11th overall with 25:28. This race marks a significant success for St. Olaf. The Oles beat University of Winconsin-La Crosse, previously ranked second, on their own stomping grounds with a staggering 55 points.

UW-La Crosse placed second in the meet followed by Central College, Iowa Central Community College and Luther College. This race provided the St. Olaf team with the highest caliber competition they will face until nationals on Nov. 23. The victory encouraged optimism for the rest of the season.

“We are all super pumped to be ranked high,” Jake Brown ’15 said. “At the same time, we are both conscientious about other quality teams behind us and dedicated to our own improvement in each consecutive race, hopefully culminating with our best at nationals.”

The team counts on Wintheiser, the defending MIAC individual champion, to lead them to more upcoming victories. Still, he depends on the noteworthy performances of his teammates.

“I do feel a little bit of pressure, knowing that I am depended on to finish close to the top in all the races we go to,” Wintheiser said. “But having a group of talented guys surrounding you makes it a small problem because I know that if I have an off day they will be able to make up for me.”

The team also won the St. Olaf Invitational on Sept. 21 and came in second behind UW-La Crosse on Oct. 4 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugold Invitational. Currently, the St. Olaf men’s cross-country team ranks fifth in their division. The men attribute their triumphs so far this season to the immense dedication and effort put forth by each member.

“We’re ranked higher nationally than we have been in years, and it’s a testament to the hard work that accompanies our talent,” Phil Meyer ’15 said.

The team also relies on the close-knit community for encouragement and motivation. Meyer believes a large part of their success stems from investment in one another.

“Whether it’s running a challenging workout with a group out on the natural lands, downing pizza on the bus back from a meet or fulfilling goofy traditions, we enjoy each other’s company,” Meyer said.

The support these Oles demonstrate for one another has undoubtedly contributed to their success this fall. If their performance thus far is any indication, the team may have much more to celebrate at nationals next month.

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Résumé-building distracts from meaningful experiences

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought about my funeral before. I’m not being morbid; I’m just being honest. Sometimes, I find myself pondering how people will react to the news that I have passed, what they will say about me when I’m not there and how they will feel when I’m gone. I think that we all have, to some extent, imagined how we will be portrayed after death.

I hope to be remembered as a loving daughter and as a faithful friend. However, as exams loom before me in the near future and unwritten essays accumulate, I strive only to be a diligent student. It seems that, especially in college, an institution dedicated to preparing us for our future, we prioritize homework over friends, extracurricular activities over coffee dates and exam preparation over chapel time. To put it simply, we live for our resume, not our eulogy.

It’s a scary realization. But try asking yourself this: if you were to pass away today, what would people say? She was such a dedicated student. He participated in ten campus clubs. She won nearly every cross-country meet. These are valuable merits to strive for, but to what avail? What do these statements say about your character? What do all of these statements say about the person behind the activities and experiences you put on your résumé?

As college students, we feel the pressure of society’s demands. We feel like we are expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA, participate in an assortment of extra-curricular activities and be the president of at least one, be in a varsity sport and volunteer with any spare time we might have. Additionally, we are expected to lead active social lives. We blindly accept these challenges without a second thought because this lifestyle is our perceived norm. We believe these credentials are necessary to gain acceptance into a prestigious grad school or to get hired for our dream job.

However, there comes a point when we stretch ourselves so thin trying to “live the college dream” that we end up sacrificing who we are for what we do. Still, most of us remain blissfully unaware of this treadmill of activities and responsibilities we are running on, constantly speeding up without actually moving anywhere at all.

The drive for overachievement is a fundamental flaw in today’s society. Building a resume stems from a focus on tomorrow, while building a eulogy emphasizes the significance of today. Yes, grades matter and they are vital in gaining access to the next stage of life, be it grad school, an internship or a career. With that being said, there must be a balance between creating an impressive résumé and establishing personal character.

Such advice sounds great in theory, but how do we go about actually living for our eulogy? First, I think it involves letting go of the pressure of work, at least temporarily. You will never be your best self while you are overwhelmed by stress.

Second, it’s about time we learn to engage in conversations. Try suppressing the need to glance at a phone every two seconds. And as important and potentially riveting as study dates with a biology textbook can be, try prioritizing interactions with humans over those with inanimate objects. Though it can be easy to forget, especially in an academic environment, relationships satisfy something in us that can never be completely fulfilled through books or interviews.

To live for your eulogy involves learning to be present. It requires us to concentrate on today. The greatest gift you can give someone is your time and attention. The little conversations and friendly exchanges throughout the day may seem miniscule in comparison to the urgent need to write your five-page essay, but I assure you, they add up. Let the needs of tomorrow worry about themselves and instead, appreciate the blessings of today.

I’m not suggesting that you spend your time romanticizing death and all its glory, but I am asking you to think long and hard about your priorities. The present moment is all we are guaranteed. So while you reformat your résumé, take a moment to think about the status of your eulogy.

Consider whether the activities filling your schedule are stress-relieving or stress-inducing. Contemplate what in your day actually brings out your best self. The author, philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman put it best: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Kristen Sykes ’16 is from Prairie Village, Minn. She majors in English.


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Autumn activities abound in Northfield

A refreshing breeze drifts through campus, stirring red and gold leaves across the Hill and signaling autumn’s arrival. With the change in season comes an inevitable change in fashion, food and, best of all, festivities. Hooray, fall is finally here!

But as classes become more routine and schedules fall into place, it can be easy to get caught up in mundane day-to-day happenings and forget all about the blessings this season has to offer. So cut yourself some slack, take a study break and try out a few of these fall fundamentals in Northfield:

Fireside Orchard and Gardens

Head due west on Highway 19, and within ten minutes, through your left window, you will spy a rustic red barn. Though it is easy to miss the entrance, Fireside Orchard and Gardens is worth making a U-turn. Right beyond the parking lot sits a charming shop brimming with homemade goodies including apple spice cake donuts and an assortment of fudge and caramel apples. Outside, lines of apple trees extend as far as the eye can see. The ripe fruit beckons you to come pluck it off a branch and munch on it as you tour the orchard. Once you have filled a bag with fresh fruit or purchased a pastry from the store, you can plant yourself on a bench amidst the whimsical rose garden and picturesque pond placed right beside the orchard. And if you’re on a tight college budget, don’t worry, there are guaranteed free smells.

Take a Stroll

As cliché as it may sound, the best way to welcome in the new season is to take a nice, long walk. Northfield is home to the Carleton Arboretum and the St. Olaf Natural Lands, and the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is a mere 20 minutes away. Wake up early one morning, put on some walking shoes, sip coffee as needed and take a stroll. Breathe in the fresh, crisp air as you meander across campus or through the arboretum. Appreciate the way the sunbeams twirl and waltz across the vibrant leaves. This dancing display of light and color comes but once a year, and it is best seen in the early morning. And, of course, pay attention to the quintessential sound of fall: that of fallen leaves crunching under your toes. Ah, the joys of autumn.

Show Some School Spirit

Throw on a St. Olaf sweatshirt and attend a sporting event. Go to a football game and stay through the end. Sing the school fight song when our team scores. If football is not your thing, go to a cross country meet, a soccer game or a volleyball match. The point is to show that you are proud to be an Ole. Finals are but a distant threat, and the weather won’t get any better than this, so you have no excuse not to show up and cheer on your athletic classmates. Who knows, maybe that guy or gal you’ve been secretly crushing on will take note of your impressive fan support. It’s truly a win-win.

Picnic Outside

Things you’ll need: a blanket, some finger food to munch on, a friend or a good book and a themed dessert perhaps a caramel apple from Fireside. Choose a nice, shady tree, preferably one that has already shed its green leaves and replaced them with a brilliant array of warm colors. Spread out your blanket and enjoy this outdoor oasis. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, activities like hammocking or flying a kite are must-haves in any successful picnic. You could even invite some extra friends, throw some tennis rackets and apples into your picnic basket and play a game of Apple Shmear. And once again, for anyone hoping to impress that certain someone, let me remind you that nothing says “pick me” like a romantic picnic amidst a field of flowers.

Organize a Rake N’ Run

For those who have never heard of this fun fall activity, you literally do just what the name suggests: rake someone’s yard for them and then run away and move on to the next house. All right, so I’ll admit that at first this may sound a smidge lame or too tiring an activity for a Sunday afternoon. But what’s not to like about spending time outdoors with friends and all the while helping someone in need? Plus, if you’re of the “but what’s in it for me” sect of the population, this would count for community service hours. And in case you’re still not convinced, remember that this gives you a perfect excuse to do the one thing without which no fall is truly complete. At some point during the rake n’ run adventure you can take a break, channel your inner seven-year-old and catapult yourself into a cushy pile of leaves. Hooray for fall!

Yoga in the Park

Every Saturday at 10 a.m., free outdoor yoga classes led by Melissa Sharpe are offered at Way Park, just off St. Olaf Avenue. People of all ages and flexibility are invited to join for a relaxing hour of yoga. What a perfect way to start your Saturday of studying, especially before – dare I say the dreaded “m” word – midterms strike. Participants are encouraged to bring their own yoga mat if possible.

Photo by Abbey Thomsen

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