Author: Amy Mihelich

Faculty in Focus: Professor Whitlach

Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics Lisa Whitlatch studies the ancient world, but her expertise and dedication to her students makes it all seem brand new.

Whitlatch graduated from Trinity University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mediterranean studies. She completed her Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy degrees in classics at Rutgers University and received her Ph.D. from the same institution in 2013. After teaching at her Alma Mater, Trinity University, she came to the classics department at St. Olaf. This is Whitlatch’s second year on the Hill, and she has gained an appreciation for the nuances of our unique campus.

Whitlatch’s primary academic interest is in Latin poetry – specifically, poetry that focuses on ancient hunting. She most often looks at works by Ovid and Lucretius.

“I look at how hunting is used as a metaphor in poetry to think about knowledge and education, and whether knowledge is something that you can acquire, that’s something finite or if it’s something that is subjective – and we are never full able to obtain that,” she said.

Recently, Whitlatch published an article titled “Empiricist Dogs and the Superiority of Philosophy in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura” in Classical World. Interested students can find the full text of her piece on Project Muse.

Whitlatch studies both Latin and Greek, and although her research focuses on Latin poetry, she finds Greek to be the superior language. Latin, she believes, is a relatively simple, lovely and more direct language; however, the limited vocabulary gives less opportunity for compositional freedom. Greek, she argues, is objectionably better because it is more complex and contains a larger vocabulary. She finds that people who write in Greek have opportunities for more freedom and more nuance.

Although she enjoys research, working with students is Whitlatch’s favorite part of her job. She noted the rigor of St. Olaf’s classics department and acknowledged that it demands a great deal from the students who participate in the language classes. She feels that the work is worthwhile because students become proficient in Greek and Latin in a short amount of time. Whitlatch enjoys teaching such motivated and eager students.

“The students bring a lot to the classes, and it’s been a real pleasure to have classics students come in and meet with me outside of class,” she said. “I’ve also gotten to do a few independent studies with students, which I wasn’t able to do at my other schools. I’ve gotten to work with students on projects that they want to do and help guide them through their research.”

Whitlatch teaches a variety of classes, including Beginning and Intermediate Latin, Intermediate and Advanced Greek, Mythology, The Golden Age of Greece and her an interim class of her own design about the appearance of animals in Roman society.

One aspect of teaching at St. Olaf that surprised Whitlatch was musical intuition of students and staff.

“I was at chapel very early on, and I was there with Anne Groton, James May and some of the other professors,” she said. “Not having much music experience prior, when we got to the verse where everybody started singing in harmony, I remember thinking, ‘What is happening?’ It sounded gorgeous, but everyone was singing different things than I was!”

After her first few weeks on the Hill, Whitlatch became significantly involved in music. As a member of Collegiate Chorale, she enjoys singing with women from many areas of the community, and she looks forward to their upcoming performance on May 11. She also plays handbells in the choir at St. Dominic’s Church in Northfield.

When she isn’t teaching or attending rehearsal, Whitlatch spends her time volunteering at an ESL program through the Dakota Plains Adult Basic Education initiative. She also enjoys action shows and admitted to marathoning “Daredevil” over spring break. Another of Whitlatch’s passions is fiction writing. Not only does she enjoy it, but has also been a way for her to stay in touch with friends from grad school. She writes fantasy and science fiction and shares her work with her online writing group.

As the academic year comes to a close, Whitlatch encourages students to persevere.

“Right now I think everyone’s goal should be to survive the semester,” she said. “Survive the semester and be good to one another – that should be our goal for the next month. Let’s just work on that.”

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St. Olaf Sentiments: April 22, 2016

In just over a month, I will graduate from St. Olaf College. It’s been an incredible four years, and for the most part I am confident I will be ready for life beyond the Hill. I have learned a great deal – both inside and outside of the classroom. Still, I often wonder if I’ve learned enough. There is still so much I had hoped to discover before graduation.

For example, I was sure that by now I would have learned to like “adult foods” – specifically, cherry tomatoes. I’m still learning to not make a face when I eat them, despite the fact that they taste like sour, vegetable-flavored Gushers. I’m still discovering the best way to keep trying new things I don’t like, even when I know I don’t like them, in hopes that one day I will learn to appreciate them rather than tolerate them. I haven’t learned to like cherry tomatoes quite yet, but I’m optimistic that one day I will.

By now, I predicted I would have become a semi-professional ultimate Frisbee player. Nothing says “Look at me! I go to a small liberal arts school!” like tossing around a Frisbee. I thought that by now I would be able to will a Frisbee in any direction and to any distance I wanted. I’ve seen my peers toss the disc with ease through the obstacle course of hammocks and Adirondack chairs that is the quad. Whenever I throw a Frisbee, however, it seems that the plastic disc of disobedience has a mind of its own, and if we play during a high traffic time my participation often becomes a danger to the entire St. Olaf community. Vortex ladies – you are the real MVPs of campus. I haven’t mastered the art of Frisbee yet, but I’m optimistic that one day I will.

Giving and receiving compliments without experiencing emotional and physical discomfort – I thought by now I would be able to navigate these interactions with ease. I had no doubt I would have overcome the fear of vulnerability, and that I would be able to articulate to others how much I appreciate them without worrying they might reject my genuine attempt at kindness. I thought I would be able to accept a compliment rather than deflecting it or physically removing myself from the scene. I maintain that there are few situations more uncomfortable than sustaining eye contact while giving or receiving praise. I haven’t figured it out quite yet, but I’m optimistic that one day I will.

I hoped that by now I would be able to tell people I want to be a writer without feeling the need to justify myself. I thought that by this point in time I would be able to claim with confidence that I have not only discovered my vocation but am also in the process of self-actualization. Neither of these things are true. I’m still finding my voice, I’m still discovering how to tell stories that matter, I’m still finding the courage to show other people the way I see the world. I haven’t figured out how to claim my space as a writer quite yet, but I’m optimistic that one day I will.

With just over a month of undergrad remaining, it seems that I still have much to learn. I think I’ve surprised myself by realizing I’m not that worried about it. I remember PDA saying during opening convocation that our St. Olaf education would teach us to be “lifelong learners.” At the time, I found this promise incredibly cheesy, but now I see that it is true. There are still many things we haven’t quite figured out, but we can rest assured that we will continue pursuing the unknown for the rest of our lives. The desire to continue discovering, creating and processing information after our time on the Hill sets us apart. And for now, that is enough.

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Book salon dissects new Morrison Novel

On Friday, April 1, students met with Associate Professor of English Joan Hepburn in the Heritage Room to discuss Toni Morrison’s new book, God Help the Child. This event was the last of a three- part series hosted by the Africa and the Americas program.

Students began arriving shortly before 5 p.m., andhelped themselves to substantial refreshments. They crowded around four large tables to eat and introduce them- selves. A little after 5 p.m. the satiated stu- dents turned their attention to Hepburn for her introductory remarks.

Hepburn began with an introduction to the author. Toni Morrison is an American novelist, Nobel Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. She has published works of fiction, non-fiction and children’s litera- ture. In addition to her career as a writer, Morrison is also an editor, professor and lecturer.

The discussion of God Help the Child centered on the various traumas pre- sented in the text, ranging from how we allow prejudices to define our lives to how we the way we were treated as children impacts us as adults.

The audience was mostly comprised up of members of Hepburn’s classes. Before

spring break, the Africa and the Americas program provided free copies of the book to interested students, and several who had taken up the offer were in attendance as well. In addition, a few community members joined the discussion. Hepburn opened up the conversation by asking the students what they would like to talk about. After a few students offered sug- gestions, the group decided collectively to discuss the representation of relationships in the novel.

Each chapter is narrated by a rotating cast of characters. The main protagonist, Lula Ann, is a young woman who has broken into the fashion industry. Readers travel with her as she embarks on a quest to right many of the wrongs in her life. After facing horrendous discrimination in her childhood, most prominently from her mother, Lula Ann seeks to claim her space, right a wrong that occurred in her childhood and remedy a relationship.

“We learn that personal history involves not only what happens to you, but also to those who shape you,” Hepburn said.

The audience engaged in the discussion as they flipped through their books and nodded along with the comments, but they seemed intimidated by the size of the group. Hepburn skillfully guided the students through the discussion, asking

provocative questions when the conver- sations lulled and supporting student’s responses with evidence from the text.

“The thing that is courageous here has to do with risking love,” Hepburn said. “Risking love with parents, risking making real attachments to those in one’s life – it is about that vulnerability.”

This comment seemed to strike a chord with the students, and they began par- ticipating more actively in the discussion. Throughout the course of the evening, students discussed concepts of childhood trauma, family heritage, racial identity and the vulnerability of youth.

“Ultimately, this work is about the pos- sibility of finding healing,” Hepburn said. “It shows us that no matter how hard the struggle, how long the quest or how wide the distance, there is a way.”

The event lasted for an hour and a half, and students left with a greater understanding of the complex ways in which race, class and identity permeate American culture. Although there are no more salons on the calendar for this year, look for more events from the Africa and the Americas program next fall.

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Survivor Speaks Out

“Ask me how my school is protecting rapists.” A group of students has been wearing gray shirts printed with this slogan since Wednesday, March 30. They hope to draw attention to St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies and how their implementation has failed survivors, including Madeline Wilson ’16.

After reporting her rape at the beginning of this year, Wilson spent months dealing with case proceedings. She believes the ambiguities of St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies allowed for flawed logic in her trial.

“They said that because I was under the influence, my testimony didn’t count. But they won’t acknowledge that because I was under the influence I could not give consent,” Wilson said.

In addition, the perpetrator hired a private investigator to compile evidence for his case, which is a violation of St. Olaf ’s stalking policy. The private investigator contacted Wilson’s friends and employers, revealing details about Wilson’s case in hopes of acquiring character testimonies.

In the end, Wilson’s perpetrator was found to be not guilty, and now Wilson is speaking up for surviors of sexual assault on campus through a campaign that encourages students, faculty and administrators to better understand Title IX. On March 30, Wilson and a group of friends began sharing her website,, on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. The website outlines several ways the current sexual assault reporting system was insufficient during Wilson’s trial, and provides a list of demands she believes will improve St. Olaf ’s policies.

Within a few hours, the message spread across campus. Faculty, students and alumni read Wilson’s story online, and many were outraged with how administrators handled her case. According to Wilson’s website, the students in gray shirts hope to “change the culture of silence that surrounds issues of sexual assault on campus,” “protest the manner in which St. Olaf pro- cesses sexual assault accusations” and help survivors of sexual assault find ways to “take control of their narratives.” At press time, over 140 alumni have pledged to freeze all donations until the administration takes action.

On Thursday, March 31, Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld and President David Anderson ’74 sent out a joint statement. “While our policies and procedures already exceed federal and state mandates, we regularly make improvements, often in consultation with students, and we will continue to do so,” they wrote. “We also know that this is an area that is about people’s lives and the life of our community, and we remain committed to doing the best possible job we can do for the well-being of


The concerned students appreciated the gesture but continued to wear the gray shirts. On Friday, April 1, WCCO sent a reporter to campus to interview Wilson. That evening, CBS Minnesota aired sections of the interview on Channel 4 during the 10 p.m. news. St. Olaf ’s Title IX team invited the group of students to a meeting the following Monday. Since the segment aired, several other news outlets reached out to Wilson, including the Star Tribune, pictured above interviewing the student activists.

On Saturday, April 2, Anderson sent a second email to the St. Olaf community.

“While we have great confidence not only in the policies but also in the integrity and expertise of the individuals charged with carrying them out, no process is perfect,” he wrote. “We welcome the St. Olaf community’s attention to this very impor- tant issue, and we welcome dialogue aimed at improving the process. We want to make sure that our process is fully under- stood and that it is open to continuous improvement.”

Anderson also announced that he had invited the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Education Department to review St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies.

“We are inviting OCR’s review to ensure that our practices comply fully with federal standards and to demonstrate our commitment to transparency in our handling of these difficult cases,” he wrote.

The concerned students believe an affirmative verbal consent policy could help clarify cases such as Wilson’s. In an interview, Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld explained that while current St.

Olaf policy does not require a verbal “yes,” it does require consent.

“We’ve had an affirmative consent policy in place all along,” Beld said. “It hasn’t been as clear as it could have been. We haven’t changed the substance of our policy. What we’ve done is make it clearer and more explicit.”

The students in gray shirts would also like to revise St. Olaf ’s single adjudication system, and have looked to Carleton Col- lege’s panel system for inspiration. Beld warned that a panel might not solve as many problems as St. Olaf students may hope.

“Colleges that do have adjudication panels often have as many requests for changes in their processes as we do from our students,” Beld said.

On Monday, April 4, Wilson and the group of concerned students met with St. Olaf administrators to discuss their demands. While no concrete changes have been made to St. Olaf ’s policy, the administrators are taking the students’ concerns seriously.

“Moving forward we want to provide accurate information to people about what our policy does and doesn’t say, and we want to help them understand why it is written the way it is,” Beld said. “We want people to understand the seriousness with which we take any report of sexual misconduct and the deep concern we have for all of our students.”

Wilson and the other students in the gray shirts are looking forward to continued talks with administrators. They believe that the discussion has been productive, but it is far from over.

“Nowhere in either of those emails did they say ‘sexual assault is not tolerated on this campus.’ They still have not been clear or explicit about that,” Stephanie Hagen ’16 said, who was one of the students in the gray shirts.

On Wednesday, April 6, the Wellness Center, the Title IX Team and Sexual Assault Resource Network collaborated to host an event regrading sexual assault on St. Olaf’s campus. Although this event was scheduled before Wilson’s website went live, many students saw it as an opportunity to find clarity amidst the events of the past week.

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Vandalism incites wave of virtual activism

The St. Olaf community is still reeling after a vandalized poster sparked a series of heated conversations this past weekend. A defaced Student Government Association (SGA) campaign poster featuring Kyle Wilmar ’17 and Héctor Poveda ’19, SGA presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls, was discovered on Saturday, March 12 in a Thorson Hall stairwell. The perpetrator had burned Poveda’s face out of the image, leaving a charred mark on the wall and the rest of the poster intact.

In response to the incident, students took to social media and other forms of online communication to speak out against discrimination and imbalances of power and privilege on campus.

The incident was not the first act of hate speech Poveda has encountered during his campaign. Poveda – an international student from Colombia – explained that he had been sitting in Fireside on the afternoon of Thursday, March 10. He was working on homework with his headphones in when he overheard a group of nearby students say they would not vote for him because he is Latino. Concerned students saw a correlation between the poster vandalism and the discriminatory remarks made about Poveda’s campaign, and took to social media to express their outrage.

That evening, civil rights activist T.R. McKenzie posted pictures of the burnt poster on Facebook and Oles began sharing the post. At 8 p.m., he and a group of student activists met in an off-campus house to discuss a course of action. Led by Cynthia Zapata ’16, Udeepta Chakravarty ’17 and McKenzie, the students began planning a protest to stand in solidarity with Poveda and to call out racism on campus. Around this time, Chakravarty sent an email to the St. Olaf Extra alias explaining the situation.

“White students have been going around saying he isn’t qualified to be vice president because of his accent and his assumed lack of English proficiency,” Chakravarty wrote. “One of his campaign posters was vandalized; they burnt out his face but not the face of his white running mate making him the specific target. This was an intentional racist hate crime.”

The email explained that although the burnt poster may be an isolated incident, it is an indicator of social attitudes on campus.

“At this institution, there is an unspoken expectation from international students and people of color to provide domestic white students a diverse experience,” Chakravarty wrote. “In fact, students of color primarily exist on campus as tokens. A Colombian international student running for an executive position in SGA, an organization that presents itself as a ‘voice for the students,’ is viewed as a threat. Students of color are usually expected to run only for executive positions in the Diversity Celebrations Committee.”

The statement reflects SGA’s lack of diversity – this year, the only non-white coordinator served as the head of the Diversity Celebrations Committee. If elected, Poveda would become the first international student ever to serve on SGA’s executive team.

Students continued the conversation on social media by replying to the St. Olaf Extra email threads, sharing the picture of the burnt poster on Facebook and making bold, anonymous statements on YikYak – some of which cried out for justice and action in light of the “racist hate crime,” while others wondered if this was an act of “impassioned vandalism.”

Saturday night, just before 9:30 p.m., Wilmar and Poveda released a statement on their Facebook campaign page, explaining: “this is a campaign about ideas and change. This shouldn’t be about race. However, the racist actions of some Ole’s [sic] have brought up an ongoing issue that affects the wellbeing of Students of Color at our campus. Something that is unacceptable. St. Olaf, we are better than this, and this must change, there is not room for discrimination on our campus.”

The St. Olaf community became restless for a response from the administration. On Sunday, March 13, just after 5:30 p.m., students and faculty received an email from Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb and Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity Bruce King. The email, which served as the official statement from the college, outlined the incident and explained that “the motive for this act is unclear, but regardless of the motive, it both violates our Code of Conduct and diminishes us as a community. We are better than this.”

The statement promised that an investigation was already underway and encouraged students to continue conversation “in classrooms, residence halls, the dining hall and across our campus.”

At press time, the deans of the college had not replied to the Manitou Messenger’s request for a statement. When asked to comment, President David Anderson ’74 kept his response brief.

“I support the statement,” he said, referring to Eaton-Neeb and King’s email.

After receiving many questions from curious and concerned students, Wilmar posted on Facebook at 7:30 p.m. that he and Poveda intended to remain in the race.

“This is not the end of our campaign. It just means we have more work to do and more people to talk to,” Wilmar said. “We welcome the challenge, and we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t feel passionate about this community.”

At that time, over 24 hours had passed since the first report of the incident. On Yik Yak, students expressed frustrations that SGA had not yet reacted to the situation. Just after 9:00 p.m., the St. Olaf community received a statement from SGA. All nine members of the 2016 election commission, current SGA president John Bruer ’16 and vice president Will Seabrook ’16 signed the statement, along with the four candidates running for SGA executive office. Although SGA has a policy that requires them to respond to an incident such as this within twenty-four hours, the members took extra time to draft the email and made sure that the candidates approved it before sending the statement out to students and faculty.

Students tried to pinpoint the motivation for the hate speech via anonymous posts on Yik Yak, and a variety of accusations arose surrounding both the vandal and Poveda himself. Oles linked the incident to attitudes of white fragility and institutional imbalances of power, or personal vendettas and sexual assault accusations against Poveda. In an interview, Poveda expressed his frustration with becoming the target of verbal attacks on social media and anonymous platforms.

“I just can’t believe that there are some people who have this idea to say things about my personal life and about myself as an individual. I believe those people should get to know me first before they start talking about me as a person,” Poveda said. “I know I’m running for a political position at St. Olaf, but I believe I should be given an opportunity to show to the students who I am – because people change, people can be different, and what I’ve been doing this year at St. Olaf has shown the community who I am. I don’t want a few students to destroy everything I’ve been working for.”

On Monday, March 14, just before 9:00 a.m., Chakravarty cancelled the Facebook event for the protest scheduled to take place on Tuesday. Because of the previous night’s online discussion, Chakravarty and other student activists worried that if the vandal was a survivor of sexual assault, a protest would trigger them to feel unsafe. He also sent out a second email to St. Olaf Extra, acknowledging that it could not be proven that the hate speech was motivated by racism and issuing an apology for placing any students in a place of vulnerability with the proposed protest.

“Cynthia, T.R, and I issue an unconditional apology to the St. Olaf community and especially for triggering people in vulnerable positions,” Chakravarty wrote. “Our fight is against institutional racism, and we stand by our views and critiques of this institution. However, we have to honor principles of intersectionality and cannot press an agenda of justice that is uni-dimensional.”

The organizers stated clearly that they still intend to address issues of discrimination and racial injustice on campus, but that they also must respect the wellbeing of vulnerable students. Chakravarty stated that this is an issue of public safety and that St. Olaf as an institution must reevaluate avenues for discussing safety violations in all forms.

“We had to entertain the possibility that there are voices that we are trampling by putting forward this rhetoric – especially the voice of a survivor who is probably in a very vulnerable position – and we cannot advocate for that kind of justice movement, one that is not intersectional,” Chakravarty said.

Poveda has been receiving emails from current students and alumni expressing sentiments of solidarity and sharing stories of their own experiences with discrimination on campus. He has decided to remain in the race with Wilmar.

“Thankfully, I’ve been getting a lot of support from students. I’ve been extremely grateful for Emma and Sarah, the election committee, John and Will – all of them have been a great support for me and for Kyle,” Poveda said. “We’ve given our word to the St. Olaf community that we will continue running, and that’s what’s going to happen. I won’t let a couple of Oles who have decided to take time out of their lives to attack me destroy everything that we’ve been working on. And that is the most important thing.”

While professors are encouraged to talk about issues concerning race and discrimination on campus, Anderson sent an email to faculty on Tuesday, March 15 explaining that they cannot discuss specific students in regards to the recent events as the investigation continues. Although students were active on social media, limited action has been taken thus far to gather people together for face-to-face dialogues or in-person confrontations.

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