Author: Anders Mattson

Abolishing the check mark mindset

St. Olaf’s general education (GE) requirements are in the midst of an overhaul. On Thursday, Oct. 19, the General Education Task Force, formed by the faculty Curriculum Committee, held a student forum to give a progress report to the community. 

Religion Professor David Booth, who represents Interdisciplinary and General Studies on the Task Force, shared two of the main motivations behind changing the GE structure now.

“The faculty observed that the current GE, which is a distribution of requirements, encourages what some of our colleagues call ‘the worst box checking tendencies of students,’” Booth said. “It encourages people just to say ‘well I need one of those, check,’ and to end with a bunch of check marks but with no coherent education.”

The second reason Booth mentioned was the changes in faculty and student diversity, because the current GE system was implemented 25 years ago.

 “The college has changed in a lot of valuable ways, particularly our faculty and student body whose community is a lot more diverse than it was 25 years ago,” Booth said. “This diversity involves religious diversity, racial diversity and diversity of sexual orientation and gender identities.”

The GE Task Force was also influenced by the protests last spring, even though they began their work before those events.

“The college was engulfed in a lively conversation about diversity on our campus and how to live justly, well and equitably in a diverse community,” Booth said. “It is not that the GE renewal process was just a response to the events last year and the just protests of the Collective. But certainly those increased the sense of urgency for what we are thinking about right now.”

Over the summer the Task Force created three experimental models.

“At the end of this year the faculty will probably cast a vote to focus on one of those models, and spend the following year working out the details about what exact requirements will be defined in what way for that model,” Booth said. 

The first model is the course attribute model, which is a revision of the current GE system. Professor Jason Marsh serves as a representative of the humanities and reviewed the goals of this model. 

“We want to reserve what’s valuable in the current model. We agree that it needs changes but also has some value,” Marsh said. “The clarity of what you have to do is a virtue, and preserving that is great.” 

This model would cut the number of courses needed to finish GE requirements, while also introducing a hypothetical system of swipes for attending events, similar to how Wellness Swipes currently work. Another aspect of this model would be a wild card GE requirement, that would have students take a course outside of their major in their junior or senior year. Professor Donna McMillan, a representative for Natural Science and Math, explained further. 

“Even when you are specializing in your major you can keep curiosity alive,” McMillan said. 

The second proposed model, the common curriculum model, focuses on shared learning experiences. Professor Ariel Strichartz, humanities representative, provided details on how the common curriculum model works. 

“The common curriculum model shares some of the characteristics of the other models,” Strichartz said. “There’s increased integration and reflection. But what we really wanted to get at here was the opportunity for all students to get into learning communities in their first and senior year.” 

These learning communities will provide many GEs, while others will be obtained in a similar format to the current GE system. One goal that Sarah Freyermuth ’19,  a student on the GE Task Force, emphasized was inclusivity in the classroom.

“One of the big things is recognizing that every student comes to St. Olaf with a different background and cultural capital,” Freyermuth said. “So we want to make sure that is addressed in the first year experience and making sure that everyone can explain their background and understand others backgrounds.”

One significant difference from the current system would be to separate the GE requirement and the respective course grade.

The third model is called the reflective/integrative model. It puts the emphasis on student reflection and is the most radically different of the three proposed models. Professor Matt Richey, representing the math department on the task force, explained its unique aspects.

“A reflective portfolio would be a way to compile the experience in some formal way for an ongoing assessment by the student perspective and the faculty perspective to reflect on the GE curriculum,” Richey said. 

Richey brought up the possibility of a reflective essay each year that looks at a student’s experience in the GE curriculum over the course of four years. Another addition to this model is the idea of an artifact. With the artifact, GEs could be awarded outside of taking a course, through  an experience like an internship or project. 

As the GE Task Force continues to evaluate each of the proposed models and determine the pros and cons, they are seeking more student feedback through events similar to the forum. Freyermuth hopes that students will find more meaning in the future GE system. 

“[Students should] feel ownership of the GE system, since the current system is lacking,” Freyermuth said. 

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The Quarry promises expressive gallery opening

The Quarry, the St. Olaf literary and fine arts magazine, will host a gallery opening and magazine release party on Friday, April 21 at 7 p.m. in the CAD Groot Gallery. The event will feature student art along with readings of poetry and prose.

“The goal of this year’s show is to provide both artists and writers a professional-style gallery to showcase and perform their original work,” the Quarry’s executive editor Josh Torkelson ’17 wrote.

The Quarry has been a staple of St. Olaf for almost a century.

“Founded in 1923, The Quarry Literary and Fine Arts Magazine is one of St. Olaf’s oldest student-run publications,” the publication’s website reads. “The magazine features student produced poetry, prose, and visual art. The online platform also showcases student performance, dance, music, and new media.”

Torkelson explained the submission process for The Quarry, as well as the tasks of the editor team. “Submissions were collected through the month of February and into March,” Torkelson wrote. “All of the work submitted is juried by the five-person editorial team over the course of several days. It’s an incredibly labor intensive process, and a lot of factors go into it.”

While only so many pieces can be accepted into the magazine, the gallery show and online platform allow for more work to be shown.

“Inevitably, there is only so much room in a publication and many more talented artists and writers to showcase than we have space for,” Torkelson wrote. “Both the gallery show and the online platform allow us to display a larger quantity of work. I’d estimate that this year we received over 150 submissions, of which we were only able to publish and print 30.”

Torkelson believes that this year’s issue of The Quarry will be a powerful one.

“I think the current events and tensions in the world are very present in this year’s contributions. Much of the work in this year’s issue is unapologetic: a lot of it’s dark, even accusatory. Yet, there are also some pretty humorous moments. The 2017 Quarry is all about looking closely, reexamining and reevaluating the world around us,” he wrote.

Torkelson is glad to have such a large event that showcases literary and visual art alike.

“This is the first large gallery show that the publication has had, as far as I’m aware. The decision to hold the magazine release party and readings in conjunction with a gallery opening was motivated in hopes of providing an equal footing for both the art and literature involved within the publication,” Torkelson wrote. “In previous years, we’ve held a magazine release party with readings from contributors, but the art seemed to take a secondary role in that context. Within a gallery, we can display both the art and literature on the walls on an equal footing, the way they are presented in the publication. It also gives contributors experience performing and as gallery-showcasing artists.”

The opening will begin at 7 p.m., with readings from poets and authors at 7:30 p.m. The pop-up show will also run from April 18-23. The Quarry editors will also be tabling in Buntrock Commons to distribute this year’s edition.

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Arts Center renamed

Dittmann Center has officially been renamed to be the Center for Arts and Dance. On March 9, President David Anderson ’74 emailed a video message to St. Olaf students, faculty and staff announcing the removal of former St. Olaf professor Reidar Dittmann’s name from St. Olaf’s art building after administration was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations by former students against Dittman. Shortly after the video announcement, Anderson formally released a statement detailing the name change.

“St. Olaf is renaming the art building that in 2002 was named in honor of Professor Reidar Dittmann, a valued member of the St. Olaf faculty who taught from 1947-1993 and passed away in 2010,” Anderson said. The change was made in response to the formation of an independent Title IX Working Group last spring to review St. Olaf’s policies and procedures surrounding sexual misconduct.

“This process also resulted in several alumni coming forward to report that they had been victims of sexual assault and misconduct committed by staff and faculty during their time at St. Olaf. Many of the accounts involved alumni who were students of the College decades ago, but who finally felt open to sharing their experiences after observing a change in St. Olaf’s culture,” the statement read. As a result of this investigation, the college said “…we received credible evidence that Professor Dittmann engaged in sexual misconduct during his time at St. Olaf.”

The process leading up to the name change began last year.

“Allegations of sexual misconduct were made a year ago, but they were made anonymously in emails and blog posts, so we couldn’t investigate and act on them,” Anderson’s statement read. “Since then, the College has invited victims to come forward and continued to investigate these allegations on its own. In February the College was able to secure credible evidence that misconduct had occurred, and that led to the action we have taken.”

A number of news sources have reported on the change, including the Star Tribune.

“St. Olaf College is taking the unusual step of removing the name of a once-beloved professor from a campus building because of what it calls ‘credible evidence’ of sexual misconduct over the course of several decades,” the Star Tribune article read. Anderson, however, does not characterize the move as unusual.

“It’s not unusual for organizations to rename things when they have good reason to,” he said. “Yale University, for example, just renamed one of its residential colleges, and the City of Minneapolis is being lobbied to change the name of Lake Calhoun. But it’s true that St. Olaf doesn’t normally change the name of a building.”

The Star Tribune also reached out to the Dittmann family, who denounced “the process used to indict our father posthumously; the haste with which the college reached its conclusion; and finally, the public humiliation our family is experiencing as a result of the college’s communications of their actions.”

General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 refuted this claim.

“[The decision] was not made hastily by any means,” Lehmann said. “I understand the sadness and disappointment that the family is expressing. I am very confident that the process was thorough and fair.”

Many students supported the name change but felt that there was still more to be done to change the culture of secrecy surrounding sexual assault and misconduct. On March 12 at 10 p.m. a group of students staged a piece of performance art in response. Emily Newman ’17 was one of the members who planned the display.

“We hung gray shirts outside of the Center for Art and Dance,” Newman wrote. “This was an act of performative art. Although we support the removal of Dittmann’s name off of the building, more needs to be done to support survivors of sexual assault. It’s not just about big gestures, but listening to the stories of survivors (such as Madeline and the gray shirts last year). Articles such as one written in the Star Tribune focus on Dittmann’s family’s distress. When conversations focus on the accused, the rights and feelings of those accused of sexual assault are elevated above the rights and needs of sexual assault survivors. We wanted to draw attention back to the experience and needs of sexual assault survivors.”

Public Safety took down the gray shirts at approximately 9:20 a.m. the next morning.

“We have been extremely sensitive to hearing from, understanding, and listening to wishes of victims,” Lehmann said in response to criticisms like Newman’s. “The name on the building itself could have been done in a less public manner, but as President Anderson has said that would be inappropriate and wouldn’t be transparent, which is something we’ve strived to be. The removal of the art was not something that was elevated to the administration, it was something Public Safety did to enforce what, from my understanding, is a long standing practice.”

Together, the Dean of Students and a group of faculty are working to find a space for students to express their opinions without breaking college policy.

Anderson has confirmed that the college is aware of and addressing other cases of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.

“Over the years there have sadly been other cases of misconduct by faculty and staff that the College has been made aware of, and they have been addressed as the College has been made aware of them​,” Anderson wrote. “Anyone with concerns about this matter is sincerely invited to communicate them to the College.”

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Visiting speaker explores life and death

The 38th annual Eunice Belgum Memorial Lectures were held on Thursday, March 9 and Friday, March 10. This year’s lecture series was entitled “Meanings of Life and Death” and was given by Edward Langerak, former chair of the philosophy department and now Professor Emeritus at St. Olaf.

The Eunice Belgum Lectures are held each year to honor the memory of Eunice Belgum ’67, a St. Olaf graduate in philosophy. Belgum also received a Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard, then taught at Trinity College and the College of William and Mary before her death in 1977 at the age of 31.

According to St. Olaf’s website, “The lecture series was established in the hope that Eunice’s tragic death would not end her impact on the profession, teaching and scholarship she loved so much. While the lectures may be on any topic, the philosophy department makes a special effort to choose topics in areas of special interest to Eunice, namely ethics, philosophy of mind and feminism.”

Langerak graduated from Calvin College and went on to earn his MA at the University of Michigan and his PhD from Princeton University. He taught at St. Olaf from 1972 until 2011, though he is still active in the St. Olaf community. He and his wife have led five student semesters abroad, including a trip to India in 2015.

The first lecture on March 9 focused on the “Meanings of Life”. Langerak organized the lecture around “The Myth of Sisyphus,” an essay by Albert Camus based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus eternally rolling a rock up a hill. Langerak then explored more philosophers and theologians, including Richard Taylor, Joel Feinberg and Susan Wolf, who addressed the myth of Sisyphus and its relation to the meaning of life.

Philosophy major Jacob Rothermel ’19 found the lecture very relevant and appreciated that Langerak looked at both his own views on the meaning of life as well as those of others.

“I enjoyed the way Professor Langerak guided the lecture with varying claims that led to his own view on the meaning of life,” Rothermel said. “Also, I thought what he had to say about the meaning of life hit hard, especially for a liberal arts student who experiences existential crises all the time.”

Langerak left time at the end for questions, and a reception followed.

The second lecture on March 10 was dedicated to “Meanings of Death.” Langerak followed a similar structure but this time presented views from theists and secularists on the meaning of death. Langerak cited philosophy department chair Charles Taliaferro’s essay “Why We Need Immortality,” bringing in a Christian perspective and arguing that the conversation between such disciplines is relevant to St. Olaf and the philosophy world even now. He read excerpts from Taliaferro’s essay that countered another essay by Grace Jantzen.

“Ms. Jantzen makes no suggestion that God is bored with either Godself or the world … If God has reason not to be bored or weary of a deathless life, why could not you and I find everlasting life of value in virtue of even a minute participation in the goods that God delights in?” Langerak read.

Both lectures can be found on the Eunice Belgum Memorial Lectures page on the St. Olaf philosophy department’s website.

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