Author: Cassidy Neuner

StoGrow: money doesn’t grow on trees

The St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (StoGrow) and the Environmental House co-sponsored the Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 28 in the Art Barn. It was a celebration of the last harvest of the season featuring produce grown by students, lawn games and performances from three campus musicians and bands.

The organizers collaborated with Bon Appétit to create a seasonal menu featuring produce grown by StoGrow. The fare was considerably more exciting than your typical Stav dish. They served Creamy Kohlrabi and Smoked Cheddar Bisque, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seed Clusters and Fall Tomato Salsa with Crackers and Crostini. Fireside’s delicious hot cider was available to drink.

The event was the last for StoGrow for the foreseeable future, as the student organization was officially disbanded on Nov. 1 due to budgetary issues.

“We felt like we wanted to go out with a bang, we wanted to have a fun time,” Aubrey Olson ’18, StoGrow co-farmer along with Athena Stifter ’19, said. “[StoGrow and the Environmental House] have been talking about a collaboration for a while.”

StoGrow’s farmers are hoping that StoGrow will live on despite this setback. They are currently in talks with the Biology and Environmental Studies department to absorb StoGrow sometime during the spring semester. Olson highlighted the importance of StoGrow’s mission and its importance to the campus.

“It brings awareness of local fruits and vegetables to the campus community,” Olson said. “I know a lot of people tend to be in their own little bubble and just have what Stav provides, which is very unlike what is actually grown … people just aren’t aware of how food is grown.”

StoGrow had a bountiful harvest this fall. They gathered organic vegetables like kohlrabi, tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, butternut and acorn squash, radishes, beans and peppers. They had a very productive summer too and donated hundreds of pounds of produce to Stav Hall.

Even though the delicious food was the main focus of the event, there was also plenty of entertainment at the Harvest Festival. Kubb, a Swedish game where the aim is to knock over wooden blocks using sticks, was by far the most popular lawn game. There was also a notable performance by campus band Green Tree and the Blazers. Harry Edstrom ’19 serenaded the crowd with his acoustic guitar and duo Alex Hemmer ’18 and Danny Harrington ’19 rounded out the afternoon.

The event was a great way to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and highlighted a student organization that has suffered from the recent budget cuts that have affected many areas of campus life. Hopefully we see their return next spring so we can all enjoy more seasonal produce.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Asma Barlas on misinterpretations of Islam

On Thursday, Oct. 9 the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) hosted speaker Asma Barlas, Professor of Politics at Ithaca College. Barlas gave a speech entitled “Muslim Women’s Rights and Islamic Feminisms.” She used much of her speech to dispel common misconceptions of Muslims. Abdul Wake ’19, PAC coordinator, introduced Barlas.

“Today we are very, very excited to welcome Professor Asma Barlas,” Wake said. “She joined the Politics department [at Ithaca College] in 1991, and served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity for twelve years.”

Barlas began her career when recruited to Pakistan’s Foreign Service in 1976, but she was fired only six years later for speaking out against General Zia-ul-Haq, who had seized power from Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup. She then became an assistant editor of an opposition newspaper, the Muslim, before moving to the United States after receiving political asylum.

“I think you already know the title of my talk … and on the face of it, the title seems to suggest it’s going to be a pretty straightforward conversation about Muslim women’s rights,” Barlas said. “But actually nothing about this conversation is straightforward at all.”

Unlike many speakers that come to campus, Barlas wanted her speech to be more like a conversation and encouraged people to ask questions at any time.

“I have found it difficult as an observant Muslim in the United States to speak about Islam,” Barlas said. “And I think part of the reason, especially for people of your generation, is you only know my religion through the lenses of 9/11, 2001.”

Barlas explained that these beliefs were nothing new and have been around since medieval times.

“The earliest depiction of prophet amongst Christians was the antichrist,” Barlas said. “By the time Luther came on the scene, the real antichrist, he said, was the Catholic church, and the Pope. Mohammed is just an antichrist. So the prophet was downgraded to an antichrist.”

Nowadays, Barlas explained, the most common depiction of Mohammed is as a terrorist.

“These are very old, pervasive historical narratives about Islam that the West has chosen to tell itself over the course of a millennium and a half,” Barlas said.

Barlas then asked for students to provide common stereotypes of Islam that they have heard. The first mentioned was that it is oppressive to women. Another was that the Quran is the only scripture used by Muslims, when in reality there are other texts commonly interpreted as being part of the Quran. Barlas herself asked if anyone had heard that Muslims stone adulterers to death.

“Stoning is not mentioned in the Quran … actually it’s from the Hebrew Bible,” Barlas said.

This was a common theme of Barlas’s talk. Many of the things westerners associate with being part of Islam and written in the Quran are actually from texts that are not included in the actual Quran, but other texts that over the years have been interpreted as canonical. Jihad was mentioned as an example of this misinterpretation. As Barlas explained, within classical Islamic law, Jihad cannot be declared by just anyone, they must have the authority to do so. It cannot be declared against non-combatants or involve the killing of women and children.

“None of the stuff you see these days – often described as terrorism – actually fits into that model of Jihad,” Barlas said.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Vote Yes works to increase operating levy, renovate schools

On Nov. 7, Northfield residents will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on two issues pertaining to the Northfield public school system. First, increasing the operating levy. At the most basic level, the operating levy is the amount of money spent on operating costs in the Northfield public school system. The referendum proposes that the levy be increased by $470.15 per student per year for the next ten years. The second item on the ballot – which is contingent on the passage of the first – would introduce the implementation of the Master Facilities Plan, a $109 million project that would provide necessary capital upgrades throughout the district.

In an effort to sway voters to pass the referendum, Pasha Quaas and Amy McBroom are co-chairing the Vote Yes campaign. Quaas highlighted the long process of preparing the Master Facilities Plan to present to the public.

“The school district started [the process] about three years ago with an effort that they have called the Master Facilities Plan,” Quaas said. “And so they really took a deep look at all the district facilities and … figured out, what’s our short term goal, our medium term goal and what’s our long term goal? Are we meeting the needs … and what are the needs of the district that are outstanding?” 

Based on this analysis of the school district, it was decided that $30.5 million of this bond would go towards a new elementary school, the renovation of the old elementary school into a center for early childhood programming, the creation of a new media center and a new, secure main office entrance, all of which would be completed for the 2019 school year. $78.5 million of this bond would be used to build a new high school, to be completed by 2020.

“We are desperate for space in our early childhood area. That’s really the only place in the district that we have a sort of building wide space constraint,” Quaas said.

One of the current elementary school buildings, Greenvale Park, has breezeways and is not practical for Minnesota winters.

“The district has done what they can with creating temporary walls, and trying to put things up above the walls, but it’s still hard to learn and to teach in a building where there’s so much noise,” Quaas said.

Northfield High School is also deemed an unsuitable learning environment for students. Over the years it has undergone four major additions, but with little regard for design or functionality.

“[The new high school] is creating the most questions around town, because of the dollar amount,” Quaas said. “But our current high school is just not meeting the needs of students. There are very limited flexible learning spaces … our labs are incredibly outdated … it’s really difficult to keep temperate, so students start bringing their winter coats to school in September.”

While the bond is going towards long term projects, the operating levy, which is set to expire in 2022, is essential to the daily operations of the district. Minnesota’s Legislature has failed to keep up with inflation rates in funding public schools. An increase in the levy would allow the district to attract better teachers and provide more services to students.

There has been some concern over the financial impact this referendum would have on Northfield residents because the levy and bond would be funded through an increase in property taxes, which for the average property owner in Northfield would lead to a yearly propery tax increase of $532. 

“We have an opportunity right now, with interest rates at historic lows and construction costs going up 5 to 7 percent a year, and that means that if we wait even one year the total for these bond projects goes up $8 million.”

Considering that this is one of the biggest bond or levy proposals made in Northfield, the Vote Yes campaign has been working hard to ensure its passing by doing presentations at community organizations and retirement homes.

“I think there’s a perception in Northfield that we value education so much in this community that of course it will pass … but in reviewing past levy or bond referendums, they’ve always been close … they’ve been 52 to 48 percent … so there are thousands of people who vote no,” Quaas said.

Laura Schlotterback ’17, a volunteer for Citizens for Quality Education, highlighted the importance of this referendum passing for St. Olaf students.

“We’re here on the Hill to learn and grow, and education is so important for that. It’s really important to engage with the referendum as an important issue,” Schlotterback said. “Part of the reason [St. Olaf] can attract good professors is because of the good schools, and there are professors with young families who want to live here.”

Same day registration is available in Minnesota if students are interested in participating in this election, and students can vote in Buntrock Commons on Nov. 7.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote