Author: Nina Hagen

“Mixed Messages” utilizes creative curating

A new exhibit sponsored by the Chinese and Asian studies departments opened in Dittmann Center’s Flaten Art Museum on Nov. 1. The show, “Mixed Messages: 20th Century Chinese Prints,” explores the transition “from Confucianism through Communism to Consumerism” in China during the 20th century, according to the St. Olaf website. Professors Karil Kucera art history and Asian studies and Ka Wong Chinese and Asian studies co-curated the exhibit with help from their Visual Culture in Modern China and Foreign Language Across the Curriculum classes.

Traveling clockwise around the gallery, a viewer observes an evolution in the prints: traditionalism of the early 20th century, a transitional period in the 1910s, mid-century political criticism and propaganda, mixed messages from the 1960s and late-20th century modernism. The chosen prints effectively capture the political and cultural foci of each period and map a shift from intense nationalism to tentative globalization in the rapidly developing country.

“All of the works in the show were donated by Professor Emeritus Richard Bodman and his wife Hongyuan Lang,” Kucera said. “He collected the works over the course of the 1980s and 1990s during his visits to China.”

Bodman, whose focus at St. Olaf was Chinese language and literature, donated the works in 2011; this was when Kucera began planning the exhibition that opened two years later.

Bringing in their students as co-curators has allowed Kucera and Wong to spread out responsibilities among many people.

“Professor Wong and I worked on the initial selection of works,” Kucera said. “The students worked on exhibition labels, which [Director of Flaten Art Museum] Jane Becker Nelson and I then edited.”

Kucera and Wong’s students also played a role in designing the exhibit’s layout. “[My students] chose the quotes that are up on the walls, and the FLAC students did the translation of the Chinese titles into English,” Kucera said.

The exhibit’s bilingualism plays the dual role of cultural manifestation and learning tool. Further, the descriptions of each piece help to illuminate the messages of the works by pointing out Communist propaganda and the intermingling of idealism and realism.

The rising influence of globalization on Chinese culture is highlighted in the exhibit through increasing Western influence on the prints as the century progresses. The country’s modernization is visible in the transition from mid-century conformity to late-century allowance for creativity and self-expression, as well as in a mixture of the traditional with the “radically new” at the end of the century.

Before the end of the exhibit’s run on Dec. 8., Bodman will return to campus to give a lecture called “The Art of Chinese Politics,” which will take place in Dittmann Center 305 at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15.

Kucera and Wong’s students will also be giving tours of the gallery twice during the semester and are currently working on preserving the exhibit online by documenting the images. They are also creating a video that, according to Kucera, will “flesh out some of the background on the images” through its historical perspective.

The museum tours with the student curators will take place on Nov. 21 during community time 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. The museum will also have extended hours during Christmas Festival for those outside of the immediate St. Olaf community. Those hours are: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 7 and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 8.

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Olaf Cancer Connection hosts breast cancer panel

On Thursday, Oct. 17, St. Olaf Cancer Connection SCC put on its annual Breast Cancer Panel. The event, which took place in the Trollhaugen room in Buntrock Commons, was held in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. SCC President Emily Olson ’14 and Co-Vice Presidents Kelsey Mullen ’14 and Jackie Rath ’14 introduced a panel of St. Olaf parents who discussed their experiences as breast cancer survivors and caregivers.

The event began with an attempt to show a TED talk by cancer biology researcher Kristi Egland, who uses her own breast cancer cells in her efforts to develop a blood test for breast cancer detection. Although technology glitches prevented SCC from showing the clip, Olson recommended the video as an inspiring showcase of a survivor who acknowledges her struggle with her disease and uses the strength she gained from the experience in her work.

Dana Lamb, mother of Brittani Lamb ’14, and Kristen Kemp, mother of Sarah Kemp ’14, spoke on the panel as breast cancer survivors. They were joined by Chuck Rath, father of Jackie Rath ’14, who shared his experience as a caregiver for his wife during her struggle with breast cancer.

While both Lamb and Kemp are in remission after battles with cancer, Kemp described the experience as the “kind of thing that never really goes away.” They each talked about their appreciation for the huge amount of support they received from family, friends and fellow churchgoers during their illnesses and said that learning to accept help from others proved invaluable to maintaining good spirits and hope.

Rath began by professing his awe for survivors of breast cancer and shared with the group the challenges he faced as caregiver for his wife. Though his “world was rocked” by the diagnosis, he said that the experience was not completely negative. Their struggles brought their family closer together and made them appreciate the small things in life.

All three panelists responded to a student’s question about how their experiences with illness affected their faiths. They said that, while they could have blamed God for their suffering and lost their religions completely, their faiths were instead strengthened, and they often felt God “in their corner” during the trying time. Lamb mentioned receiving a prayer shawl from her church that she wore during treatment, which reminded her of the support she received throughout her time as a cancer patient.

In response to a question from an audience member interested in pursuing a career in medicine, the panelists discussed how medical staff should treat cancer patients. While a warm and comforting bedside manner is important in improving the experience of a patient, they said that being funny is just as crucial. The panelists claimed that finding humor in a difficult situation does wonders in terms of improving morale and making a patient feel comfortable. The experience, they said, does not need to be completely negative.

With regard to dealing with the illness of a family member or friend, the panelists said that everyone should be allowed to deal with their grief differently. Not everyone can be a caregiver, which does not make their support any less important. Also, while patients should not always be bothered with the trivial, everyday problems of their family, they should not be completely left out of their family’s lives.

The panelists effectively captured the common struggles inherent in dealing with breast cancer and also gave hope by focusing on the positive outcomes of their journeys. The sign near the door to Trollhaugen for the American Cancer Society bearing the inscription “Celebrating Survivors!” aptly describes the tone of the evening, which was meant to be inspiring rather than depressing.

SCC has several more events planned for the semester: The Lungstrong 5K will take place on Nov. 3, and the annual gift drive for pediatric patients will occur in December. St. Olaf’s annual Relay for Life will take place again in the spring. These events are ways to both increase awareness of and work toward a cure for this disease. Such efforts can, as the panelists said, truly make a huge difference in the life of a breast cancer patient, caregiver or survivor.

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Disillusioned Millennials tend to leave church

A recent CNN editorial written by Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” explores the reasons Millennials have recently been leaving the church. Contrary to the assumption of some Christian leaders, who, according to Evans, think that this “hip” generation only requires “edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall [or] a pastor who wears skinny jeans” to renew their faith, Evans argues that the issue is rooted firmly in politics and culture.

Young adults often consider the church behind the times in more ways than one. It is sometimes seen as old-fashioned, unwelcoming and unaccepting. Some say the church is too political, while others say it is not concerned enough with social justice issues. The church, said to be built on the foundation of hope and love, is sometimes thought to be exclusive, judgmental and even hostile. Because of these perceptions, a generation of young adults is turning away from the church as an institution.

So how can Millennials find their way back? Evans suggests that the church needs to make more of an effort to acknowledge current events and update sermons to account for the changing religious, economic and sociopolitical landscape rather than simply attempting to add a “cool” factor that fails to accomplish anything. I agree with her. Churchgoers are looking for more than loud music and an impressive light show. They want to use their faith to make a difference, and they are searching for institutions that will not repress or ignore their desire to do so.

Because we live in the age of social media, our generation uses a multitude of methods to share our opinions about current issues. Consequently, our generation feels less intimidated about sharing what we think, questioning things that don’t seem logical and arguing against the status quo. This sentiment directly contradicts the church’s mind-set of belief based on faith and honoring traditions of the past. Many Millennials feel stifled by the Christian church’s way of thinking and yearn to help the church understand and appreciate other mind-sets.

Evans’ editorial brings up a valuable point: the Church needs to make more of an effort to include current issues in the values of the religious community. Young people want the church to express views about life and faith that correspond with their own.

The idea of inclusivity is one of the most important aspects for the church to consider. If the church changes its focus from retaining its members to including people from all walks of life, Millennials may feel more inclined to give the institution a second chance. Giving younger churchgoers an opportunity to share their perspectives through small group meetings or online forums may be a good way to start this process.

Religion is meant to welcome rather than ostracize. It is meant to lift people up and make them feel loved and appreciated rather than unworthy. Our generation expects the church to support a message of love and acceptance. Many Millennials are dismayed by the prospect of having to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. They see a choice between compassion and holiness as an unacceptable component of Christian faith.

I found myself identifying with the majority of Evans’ points as I read her editorial. Because I am not very religious, I often have a hard time accepting the church’s messages, but I see value in attempting to widen the church’s perspective. The transition from tolerance to acceptance requires a change in outlook, which Millennials will be happy to provide if the church gives them the chance to do so.

Nina Hagen ’15 is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a women and gender studies concentration.


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Cultural Conversation examines classism

The year’s first Cultural Conversation, held this past Wednesday, explored class identification and classism among St. Olaf students. The event was the first of a series of monthly discussions facilitated by the Multicultural Affairs office. Led by Professor of Statistics and Education Sharon Lane-Getaz, this first conversation asked students to honestly discuss their experiences within their social class and the impact their class identification has on their daily lives.

Lane-Getaz began the conversation by asking students to “make the room a safe space” and agree not to share anything said with anyone outside of the discussion. This helped participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with what, for many people, was a group of strangers.

Lane-Getaz said that the group’s collective goals that day would be to come up with working definitions of “class” and “classism” and to discover the students’ true class identities. Lane-Getaz specified one’s class identity as something one is born into.

“No blame, no shame, no credit,” she said. “Knowing that people are born from classes different than your own is part of being human.”

Post-discussion, participants were challenged to return to everyday life and treat everyone equally. Classism, Lane-Getaz said, “allows us not to be able to accept certain people for who they are. While class identities are important for individuals to remember, they should not color how we perceive others.”

Lane-Getaz first asked participants to go to one of six numbered stations around the room depending on how they answered four questions:

1. Identify your social class at age ten based on your parents’ level of education.

2. What type of work did your parents do when you were ten?

3. What was the status of your family home at age ten? For example, did your parents rent a home, own a home or own a home with the ability to trade up?

4. Consider which stations you occupied the most and decide on your social class.

Once the students formed groups based on identification with one of six given social classes low-income/poor, working class, working-middle class, professional-middle class, upper-middle class or owning class, a discussion of class strengths and limitations began. This allowed students to put their thoughts and feelings about social status into words and decide how their lives have been affected by class distinctions.

Finally, participants regrouped and began sharing with each other the advantages of living in the lower, middle and upper-middle classes. This focus on the positive reflected the overarching theme of this cultural conversation: to learn to accept class distinctions and celebrate people for who they are regardless of their station in life.

In her parting message, Lane-Getaz charged students with the responsibility to raise consciousness about this particular issue. She stated that most Americans believe we live in a classless society, and that 80-90 percent of people consider themselves to be in the middle class without understanding the implications. She mentioned as a great consciousness-raising tool.

In the coming months, more Cultural Conversations will be held on campus. On Oct. 23, Professor Kristina Media-Vilarino will facilitate a discussion entitled, “Is It Really Necessary to Feel Uncomfortable?” In November, Professor Ibtesam Al-Atiyat will talk about “Islam in the U.S. and Islam and the U.S.” With their wide purview and the broad range of perspectives among their participants, this semester’s conversation series promises to be both informative and thought-provoking.

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Introvert personality deserves attention

In 2012, Susan Cain’s bookQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” turned out to be one of the year’s unexpected bestsellers. Months after its publication, a video with excerpts from her book was uploaded to YouTube and has since gained over 1,400,000 views. Why has her work gained so much critical and public attention? Because it boldly disputes the widespread notion that success goes hand in hand with extroversion.

The video, called “The Power of Introverts,” discusses the social dominance of what Cain calls “the extrovert ideal.” This ideal puts special value on extroverts because of their bold personalities and great people skills.

Extroverts’ proclivity for quick decision-making and risk-taking wins them admiration from their friends and co-workers and often results in success in their professional and social lives.

Conversely, Cain says, introverts are overlooked because their inclination for slower, more conscious decision-making and contemplation results in their being labeled “boring” and “lazy” by their peers. Furthermore, because they often value self-reflection and “recharge their batteries” by spending time alone, introverts are discounted as antisocial. Indeed, because introverts are so often misunderstood, they tend to be undervalued in our society.

With her book, Cain hopes to rectify these false assumptions and remind the world that introverts are just as capable of success as extroverts, though the world may have to change its way of thinking in order for this to happen. Essentially, Cain says the difference between extroverts and introverts is chemical.

Indeed, a huge factor in the different behavior displayed by extroverts and introverts in social situations has to do with their reactions to outside stimuli.

Extroverts tend to thrive in social situations and are very receptive to the level of outside stimulation inherent in socializing.

On the other hand, introverts often enjoy social situations but tend to be overwhelmed by the level of outside stimulation involved and may respond differently than extroverts, perhaps by leaving early or talking to only a few people.

This brings up an important distinction: that between introversion and shyness. “The Power of Introverts” notes that shyness is a fear of social disapproval and humiliation, while introversion is a preference for situations that are not overstimulating. Interestingly, there is such a thing as a shy extrovert – someone who has to overcome fear or anxiety to be social and appears confident when they do. This proves that there is no such thing as a “pure extrovert” or a “pure introvert.”

Cain’s video definitely speaks to many of the challenges faced by introverts in an extrovert-focused society. Her statements about the introvert’s overstimulation in social situations and their equal appreciation of socializing and spending time alone both create a picture of what introversion is like and emphasize the duality inherent in the nature of introversion. Her work is at once thought-provoking and illuminating.

With ideas like these in mind, Cain hopes to change the way our society thinks about introverts and give them a chance to have the same social and professional success as extroverts.

As a society, it is our responsibility to remember that all individuals are different and that one type of personality should not be valued over any other because of its relative adherence to social norms. When given the proper chance, both sides have great things to contribute.

Nina Hagen ’15 is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English.

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