Author: Cathrine Meeder

Students voice diverse perspectives on climate issues

On Monday, Oct. 24, St. Olaf students gathered outside the Cage to celebrate the International Day of Climate Action. The celebration, hosted by Environmental House and International House invited students to offer diverse perspectives on climate issues. Those perspectives were then synthesized to help create a work of art reflecting human connection through the environment.

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Dancers push “Beyond the Boundaries”

The phrase “dance major” typically evokes images of a student in a studio, memorizing choreographed phrases of turns, jumps and steps. In true liberal arts fashion, however, St. Olaf’s dance department opens up opportunities to use dance as a tool for students to explore personal interests. “Beyond the Boundaries,” the upcoming senior show, reflects these expanded options with the wide variety and uniqueness of each piece.

Eight seniors are currently taking the Dance department’s required senior seminar with Artist in Residence in Dance Anthony Roberts. The class focuses on career development and includes a large final capstone project that the students have been working on all semester. The seniors had the opportunity to select three faculty advisors, one of whom works outside the dance department.

“[Chairing a faculty committee] can be an intimidating aspect for the students, but they realize we’re there to help them,” said Roberts, “It also involves faculty outside of the dance community and brings in new perspectives.”

A few students chose to work with area choreographers to create solo dance pieces, but others elected to work on a research project and presentation or choreograph a dance and set it on fellow student dancers. This year, the audience will go on a “dance crawl,” watching the performance portion of the show in Kelsey Theater before proceeding to Dittman Center Studio One for the remaining performances.

While the department provided guidelines for the capstone, students were given much freedom in deciding what they would do and how they would do it. They were in charge of every step of the process, from conception to putting the pieces together into a show. Time management presented challenges for many of the already busy seniors.

“The hardest part is juggling everything and having to set your own schedule; we’re so used to deadlines for everything,” Anna Bertel ’16 said.

However, the free structure of the projects allowed plenty of room for individual creativity. Each student picked a theme that related to their personal interests.

“Initially, I was like, I don’t really know what to do, but then I realized I just needed to go to my passions,” Kate Roy ’16 said.

Roy’s interactive piece reflects her background in psychology by combining positive psychology concepts to encourage the audience to play, move and be creative.

Calvin Knickerbocker ’16 also chose to get the audience involved in his piece, but by using a bell that audence members can ring to influence his dancing.

“Even if I don’t necessarily care what [the audience] thinks about my dance, I care that they’re present. I get more enjoyment out of the fact that they’re engaged,” Knickerbocker said.

Other pieces range from a group dance, choreographed by Cecilia Wall ’16, to presentations of research around how dance affects children on the autism spectrum, sexual assault victims or occupational therapy practices by Tatum Holland ’16, Julie Hagn ’16 and Bertel, respectively. Four of this year’s eight seniors opted to do non-performance pieces, an unusually high ratio. The students proposed their projects in the spring of their junior year, and have been developing their ideas since.

“For me, the most rewarding part has been watching my cast of seven dancers grow throughout the process,” said Wall, “I don’t know where I’d be without them; they bring so much energy and so many new ideas.”

C. John C., a solo piece performed by Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16, has raised some controversy on campus for its intended use of the confederate flag symbol. Klatt’s description of the piece, which was choreographed with the help of Twin Cities artist Stuart Pimsler, reads as: “portraying Cecil John Rhodes, John Caldwell Calhoun, and issues with colonization, race and power. Through my work I have also tried to push art to be political and to make a statement, questioning what role each of us play in society. I have used my own abilities as an actor, singer and dancer to go beyond the boundaries by exploring the way dance and art can be performed.”

For many of the seniors, the capstone project has indeed gone far beyond the usual boundaries of dance. The involved process inherently fosters new skills, as the dance majors have found with many of their experiences in the dance department. As Roberts expressed to the class, their projects are never really complete; the process is continual.

“It instills a lot of skills in you without you knowing it: leadership, innovation, passion, creativity,” Hagn said.

“Beyond the Boundaries” will certainly be a fresh, engaging display of Ole talent and personality for all audience members. The performance will be presented on Dec. 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Kelsey Theater. The show is free and open to the public; no ticket is required.

meeder@stolaf.edu

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A.I. education neglects social needs

On the surface, the implementation of computer-based education systems in schools may seem like a good idea. In fact, textbook company McGraw-Hill has recently marketed a new program for learning mathematics, ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces), to elementary classrooms. Teachers who adapt this new system do not teach; rather, they are available to help students when they have questions while working individually on computers to complete the lessons. McGraw-Hill cites studies showing ALEKS to improve test scores among the majority of students.

Already, one important issue arises from ALEKS. If the main point of the program is to raise test scores, what does that say about what we value in education? As a country, we have focused more and more on raising test scores; school funding is often determined by test performance. “Teaching to the test” has proved widely unsuccessful in actually helping students gain a full understanding of material.

While ALEKS is surely a powerful assessor of student’s abilities and can adapt learning to an individual, the program comes at a great educational cost to students. First, the questions are presented only one way. Teachers often explain concepts using multiple terms to aid in the understanding of many different types of learners. A software program simply cannot add the same personal instruction that a teacher can.

“The best of today’s artificial intelligence can’t begin to approach the aptitude of a human teacher when it comes to relating to students, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and delivering the instruction they need,” Slate writer Will Oremus said in “No More Books, No More Pencils.”

Second, the computer program teaches concrete math skills, such as adding and fractions. While it is undoubtedly important that students have these skills, these functions can all be performed by computers themselves. In today’s age of technology, it is more important to understand how and when to use certain tools than to understand how to carry out the same functions that the technology does. This ability requires critical and creative thinking skills, which computers inherently cannot teach students.

Finally, ALEKS has not been deemed a success in every case. Some students, particularly those who are already high achievers, did not see any improvement in their test scores after using the program.

The failings of programs like ALEKS go far beyond educational value. Schools need to serve the whole student, not just their mind. Children spend most of their formative years in a school building. An important role of the school is to accommodate the needs of the whole child, not just their mental abilities in a subject. Students also have emotional, social and physical needs. How can a computer program meet any of these?

Contrarily, plopping a student in front of a computer for hours a day causes major damages to their overall health. Everyday, developmental psychologists find more evidence of the dark side of our culture’s growing fascination with technology and our sedentary lifestyles. From diminished social skills to externalizing locus of control, overusing technology can negatively impact students permanently.

Students need quality social interactions, both with peers and teachers. If they are to be active contributors to society, interpersonal and critical thinking skills are absolutely imperative. Working on a computer individually allows no room for collaboration in a group setting. Research shows that, for many students, teaching and learning from their peers yields higher levels of comprehension of material, as well as building comprehension skills.

More than that, interactive learning is critical to student’s personal health. Current generational issues, from obesity to anxiety, can be traced back to increasingly sedentary activities and less social and physical activity. Schools that introduced physical-learning based lessons and/or incorporated exercise into their daily routine often successfully increased student engagement, health and academic performance.

I agree completely that the American education system needs work. While I respect well-informed efforts to change current strategies, replacing teachers with computers creates far more problems than it solves. Textbook companies like McGraw-Hill know that textbooks and testing are failing our students, so they look for ways to save themselves.

ALEKS costs less for the company to produce, doesn’t need constant new editions and requires a purchase of an individual program for each student. Because the access is non-transferrable, teachers need to pay for all new accounts yearly, resulting in higher gross profits for McGraw- Hill. Why are we selling our student’s educations to corporate companies?

The use of computer programs instead of teachers implies that teachers aren’t as qualified to teach as they should be. Perhaps this is true in some cases; we’ve seen scary trends of inexperienced and/or uncaring teachers in our public schools. However, implementing computer learning programs isn’t solving this problem, and it points to larger issues within the current system.

Computer programs may be effective as minor supplements to instruction, but they cannot and should not replace teachers. Why aren’t we working on raising teacher salaries and standards, narrowing the education gap in urban areas or increasing physical activity during the school day? Until these issues get solved, let’s forget about pumping money into flawed technologies just to inflate test scores.

Cathrine Meeder ’17 (meeder@stolaf.edu) is from Three Lakes, Wis. She majors in English and psychology.

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Breast cancer panel

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. To bring this to light during breast cancer aware- ness month, the St. Olaf Cancer Con- nection (SCC) hosted a panel on Oct. 27 with four local breast cancer survivors who shared their personal experiences.

The annual event opened with a short introduction and educational video, de- scribing breast cancer facts and detection information. SCC provided information- al packets from the American Cancer Society for all in attendance. The focus of the event then turned to the stories of each survivor.

“The personal perspectives on cancer are so much more moving and real than just reading cancer facts or hearing it from a class or a doctor,” SCC president Ellen Sutter ’16 said. “Cancer is so preva- lent in our society but often, people don’t know how to handle it when someone they know gets cancer.”

The first speaker, Marcia Peterson, opened by describing how just how prevalent and unexpected a breast cancer diagnosis can be. A Northfield resident and former staff member at St. Olaf, she was diagnosed at age 52, despite having no family history of breast cancer. As the other panelists would later attest, cancer is often not detected by a mammogram, but by self-examination.

The wide range of cancer’s impact was demonstrated also by Marcia Warring, another panelist who, while on vacation, was diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day her husband was diag- nosed with colon cancer. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, one in two men and one in three women will develop some form of cancer over their lifetime – the disease impacts nearly ev- eryone in some way or another.

SCC is a group of students that aims to raise awareness, fundraise for cancer re- search and support those affected by can- cer – both at St. Olaf and in the North- field community. The panel fit in with the organization’s mission by highlighting the personal side of the disease, as well as educating participants.

The stories of the four panelists over- lapped in some general areas, such as the failure of mammograms to detect

the cancer, emotional hardship during and after treatment and support received from family and friends. However, each experience was totally unique in regards to the course the cancer took and how it affected the victim. Each adopted an in- dividualized mentality to help them deal with their situation, whether it involved faith, family and/or humor.

“You need love. You need support. you need people to say, ‘you’re going to do this’,” survivor Brenda Larson said.

The discussion of dealing with life’s unexpected difficulties, whether personal or those of a loved one, proved to be very relatable. On subject of support, some panelists stressed the importance of be- ing intentional and aware with support- ing a loved one going through a difficult time.

“Everyone is very different and re- quires different types of support,” panelist Kirsten Kemp said. “Take your cues from them.”

Incredible stories of support certainly arose in the survivor’s stories, from little gestures of compassion to life-changing favors. Audience members were touched by the compassion, optimism and strength evident in the stories told in a genuine manner, with humor added ap- propriately.

“Cancer gives you gifts,” Warring said. “When I go to get a mammogram now, I only have to get one boob squeezed. But mostly, you realize the small stuff doesn’t matter.”

From finding joy in life’s simplicities to reevaluating their lifestyles, the women all came out of their battle with bits of wisdom that they openly shared.

“Panelists often tell us that participat- ing in the panel was therapeutic for them, because they finally got to talk honestly with an interested audience. It is our hope that their honesty, emotion and advice hits home better than any informational pamphlet could,” Sutter said.

SCC plans to continue fighting for cancer victims, starting with their STO- vember campaign this month. Students are challenged to raise money for the Relay for Life in April by going a month without shaving their face, underarms or legs. To learn more about SCC’s upcom- ing events, contact sutter@stolaf.edu.

meeder@stolaf.edu

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Student actors shine in The Vampire

Although Halloween is still a week away, some St. Olaf students recently donned medieval costumes, British accents and smears of fake blood for the performances of The Vampire, which ran Oct. 14-16. The opera was the first of the season for St. Olaf Lyric Theater, a company run by the St. Olaf Music Department and led by Professor of Music James McKeel.

The Vampire was written in 1828 by German playwright Heinrich Marschner. The Lyric Theater performed an adaptation tailored for modern audiences by John J. King of Boston, with song lyrics in everyday language and names modeled after Twilight characters. The St. Olaf production cut out parts of the script to make the show appropriate for audiences of all ages.

The play opened with Lord Collins, played by Harrison Hintzsche ’16, entering a vampire clan’s meeting, led by Aro (Vivian Williams ’16). Collins desired immortality as a vampire and agreed to the conditions that he must bite 29 young women in 29 days, before the next full moon.

The plot proceeded to center on Collins’ efforts to fulfill his mission. Myrtle Lemon ’17 played his first victim, Lucy; she was subjected to his charms and responded with dramatic arias of indecision before finally giving in to the vampire’s seduction. The rest of the cast stepped in to lament her death and express their fear of a bloodsucker on the loose. As Collins preyed on women daily, the pattern of seduction, death and remorse was repeated and highlighted by outstanding songs full of emotion that kept the performance engaging and saved it from being repetitive.

Miller LaMonte ’17 directed and conducted the music ensemble, accompanied by pianist and music coach Jared Miller ’18. The music score complemented the play beautifully, performed by the strong voices of the student vocalists, many of whom are majoring in Vocal Music Performance.

Audiences were invited to reflect on gender roles as the opera unfolded. The relationship between Collin’s assistant, Jonathan Parker (Nick Swanson ’16) and Della Swan (Samantha Noonan ’17), displayed the tension between men’s expectations and women’s freedom. As the plot developed, Parker finally realized that “a woman is not a husband’s/father’s property; a man’s got to treat her properly,” as the whole cast belted in an upbeat group number which was endearing, albeit somewhat kitschy.

The Vampire also challenged the traditional concepts of sexuality by casting Aro as a female married to Jane (Katie Jonza ’17). While the relationship between these two characters remained fairly unaddressed, it contained plenty of jesting, adding more direct, playful humor to the indirect irony of the play.

“[John King’s] adaptation of The Vampire was meant to be a parody of Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all that. The plot’s not similar, but it is still poking fun at them,” Jonza said.Collins grabbed the spotlight for most of the show as a misguided businessman, gaining both sympathy and contempt from the audience. His foil Muffy, perhaps the most notable woman in the play, played by Erica Hoops ’18, entered after the first act as a fiery vampire killer with a personal vendetta against vampires (sound familiar?). She emanated determination and independence, appearing as a headstrong feminist way ahead of the times.

Despite only having five short weeks to rehearse the opera before opening night, the cast appeared very well-prepared and put on a quality show. The only aspect that took away from the aesthetic was the challenging, extended set changes the actors had to complete between scenes. Seeing them out of character for such a period of time provided unwelcome breaks in the flow of the opera that could have been easily solved by using a stage crew or more manageable set design. Nonetheless, the merit of the vocal and theatrical performances gave plenty of entertainment that all audiences could sink their teeth into.

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