Author: My Khe Nguyen

State Senator explores Minnesotan politics

Earlier this year when MN State Senator Kevin Dahle made an appointment with the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) to speak at St. Olaf, he thought he “would come as a Senator expecting another term.” Instead, Dahle is now in his final days of office after losing a close election to Republican challenger Rich Draheim.

Dahle’s talk, titled “Trump’s election and the future of campaign politics,” took place on Nov. 29 in Buntrock Commons’ Heritage Room. Dahle began with a brief account of his political career. He has taught Advanced Placement (AP) Civics and Government for almost 33 years, and for more than 20 years he has resided and taught in Northfield. Over the span of his career, Dahle has won two elections and lost two, and he shared his insights on the role of voter turnout and independent candidates.

“We know what the turnout is going to be, we know what percentage we would like to have,” Dahle said about the dynamics of winning a campaign. “It is a matter of getting that extra number of supporters to vote for you.”

On independent candidates, Dahle shared his experience from the 2010 election. Dahle and the Republican candidate were separated by less than two percentage points at 42 and 44 percent, respectively, while the third-party candidate took 14 percent of the votes.

The spoiler effect the independent voter would have in the election was clear in the campaign’s early stages.

“I knew I was in trouble when he was in the debates [saying], ‘You know, I agree with Senator Dahle,’ or, ‘You know, I could not have said that better than Senator Dahle,’” he related. Dahle wanted to ask, “Then why are you running?”

Dahle answered several questions from students later on in the discussion. One student asked whether Minnesota could turn from a reliably blue state and Democrat stronghold to a swing state within the next decade. While conceding that the last election was “a surprise to many people,” Dahle expressed doubt that Minnesota would undergo such a reversal.

“You cannot assume the state is going red because I cannot believe that Trump is going to be able to fulfill the promises he made,” Dahle said. “He made a lot of promises. And he cannot turn around the economic [forces] that have been so hard on so many people.”

On the other hand, Dahle expressed a degree of uncertainty for the future, since “people want change.” The next presidential election, according to him, is going to be “huge” in many ways, and he wondered if Trump would run again, and if so, how successful he would be.

Many questions from students concerned education, specifically how the landscape of public school might change following Trump’s election. Dahle first clarified that the question applied at both the state and federal level and that he personally did not worry about education at the federal level, given that the overwhelming majority of education policies are enacted at the state level. For example, states hold power for multiple aspects of education such as licensing teachers, funding schools and setting the academic standards for graduation.

Nevertheless, Dahle cautioned that there will be changes at the state level now that many state legislators are Republicans who may have different goals and ideas on how to allocate the budget. All of these proposals are then subject to public judgment and could even be argued before the State Supreme Court. Because of all this, according to Dahle, there could be relatively few changes to education at the state level in the short term, but in the long-term “we might see some changes.”

Another question concerned civic education and whether it should be required in schools. According to Dahle, Minnesota currently offers AP courses in politics, economics and global studies. Despite teaching AP civics and government for a large portion of his life, Dahle took an oppositional stance on this matter. Civic education, he believes, is more than factual knowledge and deals with “how to be a responsible citizen.”

That being said, Dahle supported public school civic education in “a better model,” without elaborating what exactly such a model would entail. As a start, however, he suggested integrating civic education into extracurricular activities or civic organizations.

At the end of the talk, Dahle expressed his concern for the current situation. Referring to his colleague on the current trend of nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment, he said “we need to do something.” Yet, he is still optimistic about the future, stating that though we might be in a wrong direction at the moment, we can be taken back in the future by another leader.

Meanwhile, Dahle appreciated St. Olaf students’ participation in the event and advocated for more involvement of younger generations in politics.

“I hope that this election to you means something,” Dahle said. “Whether it is good or bad, it makes you want to stay involved.”

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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Sex trafficking survivor shares story, talks prostitution laws

When Jennifer Gaines ran away from home at the age of 14, she did not expect to become involved in prostitution. Neither did she expect to eventually become an officer for Breaking Free, an organization that advocates for sex-trafficking survivors, after nearly 30 years of work as a prostitute. The St. Olaf community had the opportunity to hear her sad yet educational story on Nov. 16 in the Black Ballroom in Buntrock Commons. The event was sponsored by St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery (SOLAS).

According to Gaines, prostitution includes three stages: recruitment, initiation and enslavement.

“There are many ways women get recruited into prostitution,” Gaines said. “Some get in by force, drugs and alcohol, torture, or generational prostitution.” Generational prostitution, she explained, is when girls are born into families where all women are involved in prostitution.

Child runaways are especially at risk of recruitment into prostitution. According to Gaines, within 48 hours of leaving home, one third of children who run away are lured to prostitution.

“I ran away from home when I was 14,” Gaines said. “Literally within 48 hours I was approached by a trafficker.”

Gaines also discussed sex traffickers, and how they don’t always conform to society’s understanding or perception of them. Her trafficker, she said, contradicted typical depictions.

“Everybody liked him, he had wonderful social skills,” Gaines said. “He would take over the room when he came in. Very charming. If you had not known what he was doing, you would have liked him too.”

During her recruitment, Gaines was taken to bars and praised as a princess. Often, her recruiters attempted to depict prostitution as a path toward a life of luxury and ease, and a life that could enable women to take care of their families.

“There is a reason traffickers go after children,” Gaines explained. “It is because they can be programmed. They can be brainwashed.”

After a few unsuccessful months of attempting to recruit Gaines into prostitution, the trafficker made up a dramatic event in an effort to manipulate her.

“He told me that his gang members were after him, and he needed $400 by nine o’clock at night. If he did not have this money, they would kill him,” Gaines said. That is when she was sold into prostitution.

Gaines, who now works for Breaking Free, provided thoughtful reflections on various aspects of prostitution. First, she broke the myth that legalizing prostitution would make it safer for women.

“I worked in regions where prostitution is legalized and I was still raped and I was still beaten,” Gaines said. “What happened is that traffickers, whenever they found out that prostitution in a region is legal, they fled the law by bringing their girls with fake IDs. It is safer for the men but not for the women. So that’s a myth.”

Second, she offered useful information regarding prostitution in Minnesota. According to Gaines, the FBI identified Minneapolis as one of 13 cities where a significant number of children are recruited into prostitution. She believes part of the reason behind the growth of prostitution in Minnesota is because people come to the state for its “great welfare system” in order to escape poverty, and poverty is a source of not only women in prostitution but also traffickers.

“I often heard my trafficker and his friends amongst each other and they would say things like, ‘You know, I got into pimping because that was my only option. Because in my neighborhood, the only options were prostituting, pimping, being a rapper or selling drugs.’ So depending on your skill set, maybe you should pick pimping,” Gaines said.

On the other hand, Gaines expounded on the advances Minnesota has made regarding legal counters to prostitution, including the advanced law that sufficiently covers the kaleidoscopic forms of prostitution, and the Safe Harbor Act, which states that women under 18 years old engaged in prostitution will not be criminalized, but instead provided with shelter and services.

According to Sophie Rossiter ’19, co-leader of SOLAS, this is Gaines’ second visit to St. Olaf. This time, the talk was more focused on the issue of sex trafficking within Minnesota and the underlying causal mechanism rather than a general view. The organization is also planning to bring in other speakers to connect different perspectives on sex trafficking in the Twin Cities.

The discussion received positive responses.

“I have been to Gaines’ presentations before and they are always fascinating,” Katie Bickley ’18 said. “I learn something new every time and I am really glad she is back on campus.”

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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Trump victory cannot be blamed solely on lack of civic education

This election cycle has brought up new concerns and claims about problems in United States politics and society. One of the concerns that has been widely shared is the fear that our public education system is failing our children. People are characterizing the United States’ population as ignorant and unaware, saying that the ubiquity of racism and sexism in this country is due to a lack of civic education in public schools.

It is easy to trace every prevalent social issue back to education. Indeed, education is the most effective way to significantly change society for the better. Through education it is possible to prevent outdated ideologies from being transferred to new generations. This gives younger United States citizens and residents the ability to do more than just argue with adults, telling them their beliefs are wrong. But I would argue that civic education is probably not the most significant contributing factor to Trump’s victory.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines civic education as “all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities.”

The Joe Foss Institute put it more concisely: civic education is the teaching of “how our government works and who we are as a nation, preparing them to exercise their vote, solve problems in their communities, and engage in active citizenship.”

Those who agree with this idea typically believe that a lack of civic education leads to ignorance of national values, and that this is the reason why Trump won, despite the fact that he defied some of those very same values. In 2015, eight states – Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin – passed laws that require students to pass some version of the citizenship test given to immigrants in order to graduate from high school.

I don’t think that the requirement of civic education in schools will mold individuals to be well informed citizens as much as these supporters hope. Historically, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have required some amount of education in civics. Before 2015, only eight states administered statewide standardized tests specifically in civics and American government. These included California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Among these, Ohio and Virginia required civic tests for high school graduation.

When we look at the election results, six out of these eight states went red, pushing Trump further toward his presidency. Ohio and Virginia split the ballot with the former going red and the latter going blue. So despite the fact that Ohio, along with many other states, require civic education for high school students, it is clear that civic and U.S. governmental knowledge does not always guarantee support and advocacy for what many consider to be American values.

Another piece of evidence that Trump’s election cannot be blamed on the lack of civic education is the Constitution Day survey conducted by the Center for Civic Education on awareness of the constitution. According to the survey, although few Americans think they know a lot about the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, there is widespread agreement on the basic ideas they contain.

What this means is that voters supporting Trump were likely well informed of national values upheld by these governmental documents.

So, what we must focus on instead is the reality that all individuals have the right to interpret these values on a personal level. Civic education alone cannot be held responsible for creating inclusive and open-minded individuals, since its main mission is not to inform students of a universal interpretation of national values. This is because ultimately, civic education does not have the power to alter personal interpretations of commonly held beliefs.

Another argument from supporters of increased civic education is that schools fail to create an equal environment for all students. Racism and sexism in schools are the source for those viewpoints in society.

I respond by saying that the argument which blames ineffective civic education for Trump’s election neglects the interactive relationship between education and society, in which society is the reflection of education and schools reflect the realities of society. As a subset of real life, schools are heavily shaped by actual society. This means that creating a perfectly equal environment within schools is impossible, as the greater society is nowhere near equal. What schools should aim to do is arm students with the knowledge and motivation necessary to fight inequality.

I firmly believe in education as a catalyst for change in the world. However, a lack of civic education may not have been the specific reason for Trump’s victory. After examining the role of civic education in schools, I raise the question: have we been too desperate to impose our values on others instead of arguing with the people who hold them?

My Khe Nguyen ’19 (nguyen7@stolaf.edu) is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science.

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Political strategy integral to democratic government

On Oct. 4, the vice presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana took place at Virginia’s Longwood University. The candidates continued their intense dispute over a myriad of topics, one of which was Mexican immigration.

Kaine brought up Trump’s past racist remarks about Mexicans, specifically when he characterized them as “rapists” and accused them of “bringing crime” to the United States. In response, Pence said “you whipped out that Mexican thing again,” indicating his frustration at critics’ tendency to focus on Trump’s racist and sexist comments.

The Latino community took issue with Pence, seeing as he downplayed Trump’s hateful and racist rhetoric concerning Latinos in the U.S. Many felt that he neglected to consider the implications of Trump’s statements.

One of my main concerns centers around a political environment that so quickly discards vocal opposition to racism. Pence and other politicians often write off Kaine’s condemnation of racist comments as a political strategy instead of acknowledging Kaine’s superior moral values.

Both sides of this dicussion are focusing on the wrong aspects of this debate. Rather than being concerned about the speakers and discussing the way their speeches were delivered, they should pay more attention to the potential effects these speeches can have on listeners.

The Latino community had a slightly different set of concerns. Many felt that their interests were being taken advantage of by Kaine to score points in the debate. Kaine’s repetition of Trump’s racist remarks during this event could be interpreted as a calculated effort to appeal to Latino voters. Though repeating his remarks several times could be seen as a way to purposefully fuel his own agenda, Kaine was emphasizing that the racism of a presidential candidate must not be tolerated.

Political debates are not battles between heroes and villains, but between debaters who use strategic methods to win. These strategies include attacking the opponent’s weaknesses and defending oneself by any means necessary. Kaine made a valid point when he mentioned Trump’s remarks multiple times because his ultimate goal was to win the debate. Pence’s rejection of Kaine’s remarks was necessary for him to do his job as a formidable debater.

We know that the statements made in the vice presidential debate, or any other political debate, are made because the speakers ultimately need to gain listeners and supporters.

Condemning politicians like Pence who write off legitimate accusations of racism as political maneuvers upholds the moral fortitude of the United States. However, this also has the potential to hinder freedom of speech in this country and does not actually help eradicate racism.

It is unfortunate to see political leaders so readily dismiss racism and sexism. Political debates are a platform for candidates to gain favor by saying what the people want to hear. The only way to stop politicians from dismissing racist remarks is to convince their supporters that they are not acceptable. Society should promote political discourse outside of national events in order to foster a deeper understanding of these statements.

In short, I believe that calling out Trump’s statements, whether strategic or not, is a part of democracy. What we need to do in response is voice our opinions in a democratic manner, no matter which side of the issue we support.

My Khe Nguyen ’19 (nguyen7@stolaf.edu) is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science.

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Guest-artist Anton Belov hosts vocal masterclass

On Oct. 3, the St. Olaf College Department of Music was honored to welcome guest-artist Anton Belov. The recital took place in Urness Recital Hall at 7:00 p.m.

A Russian artist and graduate of Juilliard Opera Center, Belov has appeared in various concerts throughout the United States and earned a high reputation. A brilliant performer in all opera, oratorio and concert repertoire, Belov’s legacy includes over sixty recitals throughout the United States in places such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Belov has won first place in eight vocal competitions, among which are the George London Competition, the Young Concert Artists International Competition and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He is also a prolific author on Russian lyric diction, and stays active in academics as assistant professor of music at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.

There were a total of five pieces presented in the recital. These were “Der Wanderer” with David Gindra ’18 (baritone) and Benjamin Kerswell ’18 (piano); “Connais-tu le pays” with Mary Katherine Maney ’17 (mezzo-soprano) and Jared Miller ’17 (piano); “Deh, piu a me non v’ascendete” with Eric Spradling ’18 (tenor) and Thomas Pearson ’19 (piano); “Per pieta, bell’idol mio” with Olivia Schurke ’18 (soprano) and John Carson ’18 (piano) and finally “The Vagabond” with Julian Gruber ’19 (baritone) and Nicholas Love ’19 (piano).

The recital was as much educational as it was artistic. After each performance, while praising the students for their “gorgeous” voices, Belov gave each of them comments as well as some tips, together with quick practice. Occasionally the audience, mostly Ole voice faculty and majors, was asked to interact in the lesson.

Anton Belov spent a lot of time on improving singing technique. In almost every performance he stressed the stance of the singer and how they should transfer vitality into every single note. In Gindra’s recital, he advised the singer to take risks, to avoid safe sound and to make his voice “naked” before people.

“It’s OK to sing dangerously,” Belov said.

In Gruber’s performance, he gave good advice about not trying to sing when you are sick, especially on important occasions. If you have an audition with an important person, Belov believed you should cancel it.

“Know why? Because if you go to an audition with a very important person and he hears you once, he will not have time to hear you again. You did not sing well, the first impression is everything,” Belov said.

At the Q & A session, many interesting questions were posed. For example, Belov was asked about how he starts a piece and responded that a good place to start is the translation. Belov emphasized the importance of understanding what you sing.

“You should know what you are singing about, and you should care what you are singing about,” Belov said. “Never sing about stuff that you do not care about. Just never do that. That is really boring.”

He continued by giving examples of how understanding the lyrics will deeply change the perception of the singer towards the song, drawing from a wide range of knowledge from middle age religious emblems to German philosophy. According to Belov, his passion for poetry was partly because of his father, a poet and literature teacher.

At the end of the recital, Belov briefly mentioned a summer program operated by him and his colleagues called Atlantic Music Festival in Maine. The four-week program of intense training will provide participants with necessary skills for graduate school admissions as well as the professional level. Further information can be found at atlanticmusicfestival.org.

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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