Author: Anders Mattson

Faculty in Focus: Professor Sean Ward

Professor Sean Ward of the English department is a fresh face on St. Olaf’s campus, having just defended his dissertation last spring. However, he has already found St. Olaf’s community to be rich with passion.

“There is an earnest attempt by the students at St. Olaf to try and understand texts and cultural objects that are very different than their own, and I appreciate the courage that students have shown here,” Ward said.

Ward grew up in western Montana, in both the college town of Missoula and in Helena. Though he was surrounded by literature from a young age, “the only reason I got into literature at all was [because] at a very young age, around five or six, I started listening to rap music,” Ward said.

From this seed Ward knew he had found something that would bloom into a growing love.

“The first time I listened to rap I understood that I was going to have a lifelong relationship with that musical form,” he said.

For his undergraduate degree Ward attended the University of Montana, which opened his eyes to academia and inspired him to become a professor.

“I discovered I wanted to be a professor while I was taking a 20th Century British and Irish Literature course,” Ward said. “The professor (Robert Baker) had presented literature in such a way that it came alive to me in such a way that it never had before. If there was one thing in my life I wanted to do it was be in a place where I could make literature come alive for other people, and continue to stay alive in me. That class was truly the initial spark.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree Ward moved to Toronto, where he received his masters.

“I initially went to the University of Toronto to study rap music,” he said. “My focus has shifted somewhat, but next semester I am teaching two courses on hip-hop culture.”

Ward saw Drake perform in his early days opening for Mos Def.

“I knew [Drake] from Degrassi and I was at a Mos Def concert buying scalp tickets and saw Jimmy from Degrassi come out of a car and I wondered, what was Jimmy doing there?” he said, “It turned out he was opening for Mos Def, and got booed off the stage. This was when he was very young in the game, but he tried to freestyle and it didn’t go very well.”

Ward’s passion for rap and literature comes not just from the music itself, but also from what the lyrics teach.

For his Ph.D., Ward attended Duke University and wrote his dissertation on war and literature.

“I think that literature and music present to us models of how people have lived together in the past, how we live together in the present and how we may live together in the future,” Ward said. “It is the social and political conscious and unconscious ideas that I’m most interested in.”

As a professor, Ward gets most excited about working with students and faculty.

“I think the opportunity to get very close to literature and other cultural forms socially together with students and faculty is the most rewarding part of being a professor,” he said. “Not just aesthetically how a text works, but the politics and social vision it gives. I love the social aspect of reading and discussing with those around.”

Ward brings new life into the classroom with his passion for community and discussion. He will teach a Topics course entitled Life After Total War during interim, and then will teach a Topics course on the 20th-century British novel and a first-year writing course on the hip-hop generation in the spring.

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Pepe appropriated by alt-right

Memes are a strange thing. There are memes about winter coming, about nearly every scene in SpongeBob and, my personal favorite, a dead gorilla. But of all the obscure and soulless memes, there is only one that’s stirring the pot of political discussion: Pepe the Frog.

As of Sept. 27 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has labeled Pepe a hate symbol in their database. The ADL has placed Pepe on their database as the result of a recent spur of memes by the political alt-right movement. They have begun creating white supremacist and racist memes using Pepe and spreading them on well-respected websites like “4chan,” “8chan,” and the highly regarded site “Reddit.”

In an article on CNN, CEO of ADL Johnathan A. Greenblatt stated: “Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users.”

While his use of the word hater is comical, Greenblatt emphasizes the fact that it is a minority of Pepe posts that are being used for the alt-right agenda. While the ADL clearly means well, Pepe is but one example of a host of racist and offensive memes found on the internet. If the ADL labeled everything that has been manipulated to be offensive a hate symbol, no pop culture symbol would remain untouched.

If you spend more than ten minutes on Reddit you will find something offensive, graphic or just plain weird. If you really try, you can find any character, image or meme “twisted” into something more offensive. The focus of the ADL on the Pepe meme is way too specific and I cannot help but wonder how politically motivated this action was.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign website stated that, “In recent months, Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right.’ They’ve decided to take back Pepe by adding swastikas and other symbols of anti-semitism and white supremacy.”

This statement makes Pepe sound like a weapon of mass destruction captured by an evil empire, but in reality it’s just a simple drawing.

As the creator of Pepe the Frog Matt Furie stated in an interview with “The Atlantic,” “I think that it’s just a phase, and come November, it’s just gonna go on to the next phase, obviously that political agenda is exactly the opposite of my own personal feelings, but in terms of meme culture, it’s people reapproppriating things for their own agenda. That’s just a product of the internet. And I think people in whatever dark corners of the internet are just trying to one-up each other on how shocking they can make Pepe appear.”

If everything that is used for shock value is deemed a “hate symbol,” things that are actually causing real problems will slip from the attention of society.

Because of this I do not believe the ADL should have placed Pepe on their hate symbol database. It is just an illustration being manipulated for a racist agenda. If they labeled every image on the internet that is similarly twisted, things like SpongeBob, Harry Potter and numerous other pop culture symbols would be labeled as symbols of hate as well. The ADL’s hate symbol database would be much larger if they took into account every single manipulated image like Pepe.

Anders Mattson ’19 ( is from Dana Point, Calif. He majors in English and philosophy.

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The role of contigent faculty in interdisciplinary work

St. Olaf values interdisciplinary learning as one of the central elements of the liberal arts. With over four conversation programs and a number of interdisciplinary learning communities, cross-departmental learning provides students with unique experiences away from their primary fields of interest. The bulk of these courses are taught by non-tenure track (NTT) faculty. This situation creates a double-edged sword for many NTT professors, as the preparation and coursework for their interdisciplinary classes takes time away from their personal field of research.

“For many of us, [interdisciplinary work] is the reason we got into higher education. It can be tricky, due to sub-fields taking different paths, but it’s like what you are doing as undergraduates, but what we do as jobs,” Assistant Professor of Religion Trish Beckman said. “It has a great parallel because I am curious about a lot of things. It’s just fun.”

Beckman teaches multiple courses in religion and also teaches in the Great Conversation. She has been an NTT faculty member at St. Olaf for over nine years and is an avid believer in interdisciplinary teaching and study. But she acknowledges that her work takes away from her personal research.

“Without question, I read really deeply into materials that are not in any way part of my research. If you spend six hours prepping for a book that has nothing to do with your research those are six hours you are not writing on your own work,” Beckman said.

Visiting Instructor of Asian Studies Caleb Boteilho is also a passionate believer in interdisciplinary teaching but understands why others may find problems stepping away from their comfort zone.

“My specialty is linguistics and education, so I have always found interdisciplinary teaching valuable. But, as someone in academia, I definitely see friction between professors and interdisciplinary work since they find it harder when they are in their niches,” Boteilho said. “Academia by its nature pushes you towards something small and esoteric. You first get your masters, then Ph.D., which pushes you further and further down the rabbit hole of that specific field. So by the time you come out, that is what you are most comfortable with.”

This is not the only issue that interdisciplinary work presents for professors.

“St. Olaf has a number of strong and promising interdisciplinary programs. But that challenge of providing resources and staffing these programs creates a persistent tension,” Associate Professor of History and American Conversation instructor Eric Fure-Slocum said. “Many of the interdisciplinary programs, and especially the conversations programs, rely on NTTs to keep these up and running. That’s certainly been the case for American Conversation and the Great Conversation.”

He also emphasized that interdisciplinary work is necessary for many NTT faculty members. By working in interdisciplinary programs, NTT professors have the opportunity to extend their contracts.

“A number of NTTs have considerable experience teaching these programs. Many NTTs are able, somewhat ironically, to offer continuity in these programs,” Fure-Slocum said.

Beckman echoed this idea.

“I think NTT professors are pressured into teaching any course they can get. But, interdisciplinary courses have trouble staffing, so they do not have the ability to say no because they need the job,” she said.

Beckman stressed, however, that she is passionate about the Great Conversation program.

“I am not doing this because of [the pressure], but because I love the Great Con program. I get to learn from different fields that I can find connections to my own. I am lucky in that, and it starts conversations about multi-year contracts.”

Fure-Slocum had similar feelings.

“I’ve enjoyed teaching in American Conversations and American Studies. Both prove to be an opportunity to work with great students and colleagues. And in both cases, I get to stretch myself as a teacher,” he said.

For professors, interdisciplinary work can add immense challenges, both in terms of time management and for NTT’s finding time for invaluable personal research. But at the same time, many of those professors find a passion for the programs at St. Olaf, even those outside of their comfort zone.

“The conversations programs or new interdisciplinary courses do take a good deal of time to teach. Since these courses often reach outside my main areas of training and research, I have to do additional reading, planning, etc.,” Fure-Slocum said. “But this is a welcome and often quite enjoyable challenge. I learn as much, if not more than the students do in these courses.”

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye

Faculty in Focus: Mary Titus

Professor of English Mary Titus is more than just an instructor. Like the many students she has taught at St. Olaf, she is on a lifelong quest of learning and experience.

“Teaching at the college level follows the seasons. It has this beautiful cycle of beginning in the fall, then moving to the spring and ending, and always new young people are arriving with hope and excitement,” she said. “There is something special about this cycle for someone who lives to be curious.”

Titus was born into a family of five in Washington, D.C. Her father, who was a professor at Dartmouth, previously worked at Los Alamos in the 1950s on bombs. She spent her her early childhood in Vermont before moving to New York state when she was eight years old. She left high school in the 11th grade to attend Schenectady County Community College, where she received her high school diploma. She then went on to The State University of New York at Fredonia. Titus admitted she chose this school because “at the time I was sort of a hippie, and I was planning to learn to make clay pots and live in the mountains, and I could get admitted to this school without an art portfolio.” During that time, she happened to take a poetry class for a general education requirement, which “opened my eyes to the English major.”

Titus attended this school for a year and a half until one of her professors told her, “‘You are really smart, you should go to a better school.’ This was a bizarre thing thinking back on it, but I took it to heart and then during the fall of my sophomore year I transferred to Skidmore College.” There Titus received her English degree and then chose to study at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for graduate school.

Titus found her main focus of study in Southern women writers, writing a book on Katherine Anne Porter as well as a number of published articles on Southern women writers, African writers and many more.

“I used to be very involved in women’s studies at St. Olaf and directed it for a period of time,” she said.

Recently however, Titus has been expanding into the field of objects and materialism.

“As I evolved outward, I started moving to publishing on food, domestic space, and more recently on collecting,” she said. “I have become more interested in the nature of stuff, more so than literature as I have aged.”

If you have ever taken a class with Titus, it is clear where her passions lie: the desires to continue learning and bonding with her students.

“A lot of people love to research and I do especially. Teaching allows you to keep learning constantly and having conversations with new people,” she said.

Titus has been a professor at St. Olaf since 1989 and truly believes in the liberal arts model.

“Because it is a liberal arts college, and I think because it is a little bit bigger, there’s an opportunity for professors to follow their intellectual interests and move into different areas,” she said. “If I was at a university, I would have arrived as a specialist in American South and never moved in different fields. But here, I have gotten to teach all sorts of ways and follow the development of classes, taken students around the world, and this is because of how much the school supports me. The feeling that I can express a desire to teach something and knowing the school will support me has been a wonderful experience.”

Titus will be on sabbatical for the 2016-2017 year, but if you are looking for a professor who is passionate about learning and engaging with her students, you know whom to look for in the English department upon her return.

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DiSCO makes technology accessible to all

DiSCO, the Digital Scholarship Center, is a brand new multimedia space on the fourth floor of Rolvaag Memorial Library. The space is the result of a collaboration between the li- brary and the IT department that intends to provide students with equipment and training for classes as well as creative projects.

Director of DiSCO Ben Gottfried explained that the space contains a variety of new media equipment and software.

“[There is a] common collaborative work space, two media production work stations with computers that have specialized equip- ment: Adobe, Final Cut Pro, Audacity audio, software you won’t find across campus,” Gott- fried said. “There are also two recording rooms for audio and video recording that are avail- able during staff hours.”

Gottfried also spoke about the lab, which is the new home of the large format printer pre- viously found in the media lab as well as the brand new 3D printer.

“We haven’t seen much use of the 3D printer yet, but art uses it consistently for visual proj- ects, as well as a music history class where they created a model of a baroque recorder which was then put together and usable,” he said.

He emphasized that they are planning to add a 3D scanner, which would allow stu- dents to scan objects to be printed with intri- cate detail. Although there is a fee for using this equipment, students can use them for all creative endeavors, not just classroom assign- ments.

Another feature of the DiSCO space is the new computer classroom. Gottfried explained hat this space is filled with immense potential for all members of the campus community.

“It is used for teaching sessions and work- shops as well as librarian-led programs. Stu- dents are also welcome to use it whenever it is open for a collaborative workspace,” he said. “That will be the space where we will host events, regular programs and workshops for students. If students want to learn about the equipment available for check out, that is the place [to go].”

Keeping availability in mind, DiSCO’s space will be open to students for the same hours as the entire library, while the printing and audio/

video rooms will be open only during staffed hours. Check out the website, disco, for hours and more information.

Gottfried made it clear that DiSCO is for students and their creativity.

“I know what this means to have this great prime location, and see how it is already start- ing to be used by students. When we designed this space we intentionally left space available so we can design it based around what stu- dents are interested in. From the beginning we have planned to leave room for flexibility, and already we are seeing amazing things that stu- dents are doing with the space,” he said.

A common concern with new media spaces is the inevitability of the technology becom- ing outdated, but Gottfried and the DiSCO staff have kept this in mind and plan to work on keeping the space updated with the newest technology.

“The goal for DiSCO is to keep thinking to the future and being flexible and responsive to students’ interest,” assistant in the Kierkegaard Library and head of PR/Marketing Eileen Shi- mota said. “DiSCO is part of a campus wide initiative to be cutting edge on technology, and I feel strongly that DiSCO will preserve this. Not just create a space, but maintain it in a for- ward direction.”

Shimota believes that DiSCO will have a large impact on the students and campus as a whole, providing students with technology for all of their creative ideas.

“DiSCO is a real statement about St. Olaf’s commitment to thinking forward. Liberal arts institutions sometimes seem to not be catching up with technology, but St. Olaf is leading the midwest movement on technology on cam- pus,” she said.

Gottfried shares these ideas and believes the primary focus is providing for all of St. Olaf’s students.

“The intention from the beginning was that this would be a student-centric space. It is in a very accessible place in the library, and we want students to be able to play and experi- ment with technology,” Gottfried said. “We want all students to feel welcome to be creative. We are excited to see what students do with the equipment, as well as what students want more of. We plan to be very flexible.”

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye