Author: Amy Mihelich

Seniors plan cross-campus “Totem Fest”

While there is no shortage of creativity, talent and dedication to artistic development on campus, there are not always accessible opportunities for students to both create and appreciate art in its various forms. In May, Memo Rodriguez ’16 hopes to change that by introducing the “Totem Festival” – a weekend long celebration of art on campus.

The Totem Festival will serve as Rodriguez’s senior capstone project. When he began thinking of ways to culminate his work within the theater major, Memo was inspired by the creativity of his peers.

“For a long time I’d been thinking about devised work and interdisciplinary collaboration, so I’d been thinking about doing a show or something like that,” Rodriguez said. “The idea just kind of came through talks with people – just seeing how talented people are across the board.”

Rodriguez began brainstorming ways to incorporate the artistic talent of the St. Olaf community. He researched events that could include display, performance and audience participation.

“I was looking around on the internet and I found South by Southwest,” Rodriguez said. “The festival is made up of a wide array of people, and even though it is an industry festival you still get people who aren’t in the industry coming to it. I thought: St. Olaf could use something like that.”

At this stage in the planning process, much is yet to be determined. Currently, Rodriguez plans to host the festival the weekend of Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1. The St. Olaf community will have an opportunity to show off their talents through art, music, literature, dance and theater. The events will take place around campus, and Rodriguez hopes the festival will help Oles see new spaces as venues for artistic creation.

Rodriguez acknowledged that many students do not consider themselves as members of particular on-campus artistic communities, and he hopes Totem will allow the St. Olaf community to come together in innovative ways. He explained that breaking into artistic circles can be daunting.

“We [in the theater department] have these shows, and we get people to come but part of the reason attendance could be bigger is that there is a lot of intimidation that comes with going to theater shows — I think it’s the same with going to art shows or concerts. When I go to theater shows with non-theater people they always say something like: ‘I don’t know if I’m smart enough to go to these shows,’” Rodriguez said. “So the festival is trying to get people from different disciplines to come together and make this cool festival to welcome all people and take away that feeling like you need to earn your spot there.”

The name of the festival comes from Antonin Artaud’s idea that there are latent forces in every form “unreleased by contemplation of the forms for themselves, but springing to life by magic identification with these forms.” Rodriguez, inspired by this philosophy, anticipates that the Totem Festival will bring out art on campus from unexpected places.

Rodriguez wants the festival to be a highly collaborative project. He has already begun connecting with artists of varied mediums on campus, in addition to developing his own performance piece. He is working closely with Maya Gorr ’16 and Les Poling ’16 to develop the more formal structure of the event.

“Totem is basically Memo’s brainchild and passion project,” said Poling. “He 100 percent believes in collaboration and universality when it comes to art, so to see him throw himself into this idea and give all the time and effort he has to make it happen is really inspiring. This is a vision that he absolutely buys into and he is working pretty much all the time to make it reality.”

“I hope that Totem will bring together different art in non-traditional spaces and help students realize that art and theater aren’t restricted,” Gorr said.

As the project progresses, Rodriguez hopes to continue working with more students.

“I think the most exciting thing about Totem is that it holds the possibility of a total collaborative celebration of our college’s creativity that isn’t limited to one specific discipline or genre or whatever,” Poling said. “A lot of times people and their work go unnoticed because of the separation in different branches of art and the lack of a universal platform that isn’t limited to ‘music,’ ‘theater,’ ‘poetry’ and so on. I hope that Totem opens everyone’s eyes to the huge variety of creativity and art that has always been around.”

Performing a play, organizing a meal, hosting a water balloon fight – these are just a few ideas for events Rodriguez hopes to include in the Totem Festival. Students who are interested in participating or who have questions about the project can contact him at For more information on the festival in general, check out the website,

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Faculty votes to revise MCD requirement

On Thursday, Feb. 11, St. Olaf faculty passed a resolution that will change the expectations for the Multicultural-Domestic, or MCD, General Education (GE) requirement.

The new Intended Learning Outcomes, or ILOs, call for students to gain “not only [familiarity with] cultural differences and their contributions to a multicultural society, but also a clear understanding of how these differences have been shaped by power, privilege, and inequality.” Students will continue to learn about contrasting cultures in the United States, but now they will also consider how “race and ethnicity manifest themselves in U.S. institutions and intersect with other forms of structured inequality such as gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.”

Not only will students learn about these topics, but they will also “use concepts and tools of inquiry from at least one discipline to critically analyze race and ethnicity in the United States” and develop “the ability to reflect critically on how race, ethnicity, power, privilege, and inequality shape their own experiences and the experiences of others.” The complete list of ILOs can be found online at

Discussions about changing the GE have been going on for over two years. In October 2014 the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution calling the faculty to reconsider the MCD and MCG (Multicultural-Global) GE requirements. Specifically, the resolution requested curriculum revisions that would help students better “understand, communicate, and interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences.” Additionally, the resolution suggested that the revised classes should equip students to “understand how structural inequalities, power, and privilege impact our everyday relationships and interactions.”

The faculty formed an ad hoc committee to discuss the revision of the MCD. This committee included two faculty members: Associate Professor of English Jon Naito and Assistant Professor of Sociology Ryan Sheppard. Three students, Sam Adams ’15, Sasha Mandle ’16 and Sophia Mickman ’16, made up the rest of the committee. Together, the committee members conducted research, talked to other faculty members and drafted a new resolution to present to the faculty.

“Throughout the process the majority of faculty who teach MCD courses have been clearly in support of the measure,” Naito said. “There were some questions about how individual classes might fit within the discussion of power, privilege and inequality, but once faculty learned more about it they were largely on board.”

After several drafts and revisions, they presented the resolution at the faculty meeting in December and held a vote on it this week. After some discussion, the resolution passed with a majority vote.

The initiative and success of the resolution was heavily driven by students. Drawing on the original resolution passed by SGA, the committee drafted a document that addressed the concerns of the student body.

“We felt we had to be true to the resolution. When we think about power, privilege and inequality we need to have a clear sense of what we are talking about. We were trying to create a clear and common purpose for MCD courses,” Naito said.

SGA Curriculum Senator Andrew Parr ’16 pointed out the importance and influence of student voices.

“Frankly, the student body is the reason this change happened at all. I am not sure that many current students were fully aware of how quickly this change happened,” Parr said.

Sheppard expressed similar sentiments.

“The students provided the initial impetus for the change, and they brought passion and creative ideas,” Sheppard said.

Support from faculty was also crucial in the drafting and revision process.

“Jon [Naito]’s leadership was crucial,” Sheppard said. “He’s focused and collaborative, and he’s gifted at listening to input and objections and responding thoughtfully. We ended up with a revised MCD that we can embrace as a step forward for the college.”

Many faculty members agree that these changes will help students engage more critically with class material. Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak explained that the changes will lead to a more rigorous curriculum.

“When we have a program that encourages people to study material in a broad way, we need to make sure the way we go about that is still rigorous,” she said. “We have to find that sweet spot between appropriately broad and also having intellectual rigor. This change is a nice move in that direction.”

Naito agrees that the revised curriculum will encourage new ways of thinking.

“The MCD is taking out a clearer position on our institutional values and is saying that studying cultures beyond the dominant culture is not merely a question of thinking about these cultural differences in a vacuum but recognizing these differences – these issues of power,” he said.

The changes will take time to implement and will not retroactively affect GE credit for current students. Students who have taken an MCD course need not worry.

“I hope students understand that just because courses bearing the MCD GE as of Fall of 2016 will have to meet a new set of requirements, this will not remove any credit for MCD courses they have already taken,” Parr said. “I think if students compare the old Intended Learning Outcomes with the newer ones, they will find more detail and conceptual connections in the revised ILOs.”

Sheppard is looking forward to the next set of challenges.

“We now move to the next phase of this change, which is to provide support for faculty members as they adapt to the revised MCD requirements – materials, workshops, etc.,” Sheppard said. “At this point, it’s all about implementation.”

The ad hoc committee will now begin compiling resources to assist faculty in the reimagining of old classes and the creation of new ones. Workshops will be available during the school year and the summer for faculty to receive support during the curriculum transition process.

“Over time, we hope this work alone will change the conversation around race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender on campus so that students won’t think of these as things they can study or not study as they choose,” Naito said. “Rather, they will be able to think of them as necessary to study as part of a larger system – as having a relationship to present day life in the U.S. as well as in the past.”

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Acclaimed poet brings work to life

A.E. Stallings spoke before a full audience on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:00 p.m. in Viking Theater. The event was open to the public, and students, faculty and poetry enthusiasts alike crowded inside the venue to hear Stallings’ poetry come to life.

After studying classics in Athens, Ga., Stallings moved to Athens, Greece in 1999. She has published three collections of poetry. She received the Richard Wilbur Award for her first collection, “Archaic Smile,” which was published in 1999.

Stalling’s work has also earned her several fellowships, including one from the MacArthur Foundation in 2011. In addition to her poetry, Stallings has distinguished herself through her translation work, specifically through her translation of Lucretius in rhyming Fourteeners, titled The Nature of Things.

Stallings began by reading several impressive poems, including: “The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons,” “Handbook of the Foley Artist,” “Sestina: Like” and “First Love: A Quiz.” With each poem, she completely embodied the language through her posture, facial expressions and cadence of speech.

Often, when a piece concluded, the thoroughly enraptured audience did not realize the poem had come to an end – Stallings let her words diffuse throughout the silent room for a moment before punctuating her piece with a sip of water.

She finished the reading portion of the event with “Lost and Found,” a mini-epic that detailed a mother’s constant search for missing items in her house. After that, she talked about her translation work. She explained that she got into translation through a university assignment. Stallings had the option to compose a hendecasyllabic poem in Latin or write a translation of a classic text. The audience chortled along with her as she justified the decision she made:

“Poets are lazy, otherwise we’d be novelists,” Stallings said. “So I translated the poem and never stopped.”

A question and answer portion concluded the event. Although a few audience members asked questions, most asked Stallings to read more poetry, and she graciously agreed to read a few requests. A few highlights included “After a Greek Proverb” and “Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther.”

Stallings dedicated two days to working with St. Olaf students. She performed poetry, visited classes, hosted questions and chatted with students about her poetry, translations and knowledge of mythology. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, students studying English and classics gathered in the Norway room for cider, cookies and conversation with Stallings.

As a formalist poet, Stallings writes about modern ideas in traditional forms. Sonnet, ghazal, villanelle and sestina are just a few of the traditional forms in which her poetry takes shape.

“All poetry is experimental,” she said. “There is a lot more similarity between formalist and avant-garde poetry than we often think. Both have arbitrary formal restraints,” she said. “I am interested in the technique – how it opens up creativity.”

She went on to explain that although critics of formalism argue that certain structural patterns limit formalist poets, emphasis on certain themes and topics limit avant-garde poets today. Great poetry emerges when artists create new material within these confines of form and content.

Stallings explained that her best advice for young poets is to write as much as possible and to write about topics and ideas they like. She also recommended that poets read the work of other writers.

“Read a lot of poetry,” she said. “Memorize it so that it becomes part of your brain. Then you can embody it.”

Stallings has certainly mastered the embodiment of poetry, and her visit inspired St. Olaf students to fully dedicate themselves to whatever activity or subject area in which they are interested.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Documentary unmasks male stereotypes

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, students gathered in Tomson 280 for a screening of “The Mask You Live In”, a documentary about harmful conceptions of masculinity in the media. The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, St. Olaf Democrats, the Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) and Feminists for Social Change all co-sponsored the event. Created by the team that produced “MissRepresentation,” a film that considers similar issues about conceptions of femininity, “The Mask You Live In” blends the personal and professional in its exploration of what boyhood is and how we talk about it in modern-day culture.

Beginning with a series of newsreel clips, the film quickly establishes a personal tone in how it addresses the exceedingly broad concept of American masculinity. “The Mask You Live In” is somewhat unique in this respect. One of a few films of its kind, the documentary lends itself to comparison with “Tough Guise,” another non-fiction work that focuses on the same topic. However, while “Tough Guise” and other documentary works of its kind focus on the academic aspects of gender theory, “The Mask You Live In” roots itself in the individual stories of boys and men struggling to express a concept both intimate and alien. The stories that these men tell, stories of isolation, insecurity and fear provide the bedrock for the film’s emotional credibility.

The most poignant of these stories do not come from the psychological experts or cultural critics, but from the single fathers, the teachers, the football coaches and the men imprisoned for violent crimes. These men speak from what are traditionally considered to be the bastions of masculinity, but the stories that they tell drastically diverge from these traditions. The father talks about his fear, the coach about the irrelevance of competition and the prisoner about the empty nature of his crime. These figures, so supported by the conventional understanding of masculinity, undercut these conventions with a powerful display of honest vulnerability.

The documentary also includes expert testimony from academics such as Michael Kimmel, scholars such as Philip G. Zimbardo of the Stanford Prison Experiment and other influential experts such as Joe Ehrmann, founder of Coach for America. These expert testimonies not only provide analysis about representations of masculinity in the media but also support the sentiments expressed in the anecdotes. Because the scholars come from a variety of academic disciplines, they provide a well-rounded, scholarly critique of modern masculine stereotypes, the pressures boys and men face to fulfill these stereotypes and the prominence of gender performance in American culture.

While “The Mask You Live In” features interviews with boys, parents, academics and other experts in the field of gender studies, it also focuses heavily on statistics. In the discussion that followed the event, some students found the quantitative evidence useful to conceptualize the scope of the social issue, while others found that the approach – as feminist scholar Audre Lorde would say – used the “master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.” Using statistics (which have traditionally been a patriarchal tool) to reimagine masculinity silences the individual stories of those whom the numbers represent. The statistics never cite sample sizes, populations or the methodology behind their construction. Although concrete numbers provide powerful statements about the quantity of men who have experienced trauma from contemporary conceptions of masculinity, they undercut the humanization of the individual the testimonies had created.

The event was open to the public, and students, faculty and community members comfortably filled the theater, despite the relative lack of advertising. No poster campaign preceded this event; instead, all publicity came from word-of-mouth and a series of emails. Approximately half of the attendees were males, a notable statistic in its own right.

“The Mask You Live In,” a film that has been lauded as a gender critique about men and for men, attracted a wider range of students than many other events hosted by organizations concerned with gender and sexuality over the past few years. The film lasted approximately 97 minutes, and a brief discussion followed. Professor of English Rebecca Richards facilitated the conversation in which students and faculty critiqued the film’s social implincations, bringing the documentary into a relationship with St. Olaf campus culture.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

An app with all the answers

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy way to find out the dinner menu in Stav Hall, if Skoglund was still open and where Flaten House is located? Well, now, there’s an app for that. On Sunday, Nov. 28, an ambitious and self-motivated Ole released a new iPhone application for St. Olaf students called All About Olaf. Drew Volz ’16, a computer science major, is working to make campus-relevant information and news more easily accessible for St. Olaf students.

Volz began developing the application during his sophomore summer. After completing a few summer courses he was looking for a project to fill the remaining month before returning to the Hill.

“I thought that I would like to try getting involved in iPhone programming,” said Volz. “It really started out as a white screen. I wasn’t anticipating for this project to become this big.”

He began creating a map of the St. Olaf campus, which featured labeled campus buildings, residence halls and houses. A GPS feature allowed users to view their current location with respect to their destination. From there, the project grew to include other useful tools to improve student life on the Hill.

Now, almost a year after the project began, Volz has developed a fully functional iPhone application that students can download directly from the iTunes App Store. The app also provides instant access to the St. Olaf Directory, the Student Information System SIS and three college news sites, among other things. Do you need to look at the bus schedule? The app has it. Do you need the number for Safe Ride? The app has it. Do you want to check out the “Hi Mom Camera” live feed? You guessed it: the app has it.

One of the most useful features of the app is the “Schedules” tab. Not only does it include links to the hours of operation for the main buildings on campus, but it also features a stoplight indicator that tells users at a glance if the building or service of interest is open.

“I was tired of getting to the Caf and finding out it was closed,” Volz said. “A lot of this app was inspired by a bunch of little pet peeves like that.”

Volz was intentional about collecting feedback before making All About Olaf available to the public. A test group of 19 peers downloaded the app several months ago and has been providing Volz with useful, constructive criticism.

“Their feedback has helped develop and shape the app, and smoothing out some of the problems has given it a much better chance of success,” he said.

The test group’s suggestions have helped Volz improve and refine the app. From fixing a glitch when accessing SIS, to adding a twenty minute warning feature to the “Schedules” tab, Volz has made several savvy alterations over the past few months. Additionally, Volz has sought advice from several of St. Olaf’s faculty and staff in hopes of targeting student needs.

“It has been a journey because I have spoken to so many administrators here,” Volz said. “They have all contributed ideas. Everyone had something in mind for the app, and through gathering people’s different ideas the project came together the way it did.”

Currently, the application is not officially supported by or associated with the college. Volz has agreed not to use any official logos. Because the college did not sponsor the creation of the app, it is unlikely that it will adopt it for official use. Regardless, as Volz hoped, students are finding the application useful.

“It has so many resources that I frequently use – SIS, the directory, the Stav menu, etc. – all in one place, and that place is on my phone, which I nearly always have on me,” Madisen Egan ’16 said.

Although he currently works five jobs, with Webmaster for Student Activities Committee SAC being one of them, Volz developed this application completely on his own time. His main goal was to make a useful app, and he has therefore decided to offer it free of charge.

“I’ve been doing this all on my own. I’ve put this much work into it and I want people to use it,” said Volz. “I don’t want to charge people for it. If I put it out there for money, it is almost like not putting it out there at all.”

At this time, it appears that All About Olaf is off to a successful start. In the first day and a half of availability, the app received 356 downloads and 10 five-star ratings. Within the first five days, it had been downloaded 625 times. In only one day, the All About Olaf Facebook page garnered 110 likes.

Volz has several plans for future improvements. Although he already went through the tedious process of reviewing, editing and uploading every individual entry in the St. Olaf dictionary, he hopes to create a submission section for students to record other Olaf-specific vocabulary. He is also working on making the map searchable and more interactive, in hopes that it will be useful for visiting students and alumni alike. Additionally, Volz is considering working out an “Ole Offers” tab, which would allow local businesses to advertise and offer deals for students.

“I hope it helps people,” said Volz. “That is the end goal: to make people more informed about what is going around them. Providing news and information is definitely the purpose of the app – but if being more informed ties us together in some way, that would be a great thing that could happen.”

Download All About Olaf for free from the iTunes App Store, and check out the companion Web site, which explains several features of the app in detail:

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote