Author: Julia Pilkington

Desk jobs crucial to meet work awards

Over spring break, student work study awardees found their desk options to be shrinking once again. Skoglund Center student workers were contacted and warned that the south desk position was no longer available. This means that students who rely upon this position to fulfill their work study hours in full or in part need to find other jobs for the rest of the school year to compensate for the lost funds. This is not the first time this has happened this school year, either – front desks in dorms have shifted back their starting hours to 3 p.m. instead of noon and there are caps on how many hours students can work if they are first years. For first year dorms, this has proven to be a challenge.

This cut in work study hours and positions makes me question the school’s role in helping students fulfill their financial aid packages. These packages are arranged by the administration for students as they enter St. Olaf their freshman year and are guided by a hefty set of regulations to ensure students stay within their allotted set of hours. Given that it is the school who coordinates these limits and the individual amount of hours each student can work, it does seem as though they have a responsibility to assist the students in finding existing work positions for the rest of the school year.

The school made the decision to cut hours over halfway through the year and placed students in the awkward position of trying to find enough work until the end of the year to satisfy their work awards, yet not too many hours that they would get in trouble and go over their award. By making this change before the end of the school year, the school has further complicated this issue and offered no solutions to the students who bear the consequences of having fewer hours.

That also assumes that all of the students who previously worked at the Skoglund south desk or other positions modified this year would be offered new positions in response. However, the number of jobs that are still open for hire are limited, while those that are still hiring have already given away all of their shifts. This leaves students on substitution lists for work that cannot promise enough hours to meet their award by the end of the semester.

To accommodate budgetary costs, it may seem like front desks are an easy place to cut hours. Workers can often bring homework or read things on the internet for fun – it’s not usually a strenuous job. Yet the presence of the front desk worker can shape students’ experiences. For RAs and JCs, desk workers provide a strong supporting role when they are on duty, functioning as someone who can direct residents to Residential Life staff for help as they generally know which staff members are in the building. They can also direct emergency responders in the event that an RA or JC cannot leave to find a Public Safety officer. Being a desk worker is a job that doesn’t do a whole lot – until it does.

Similarly, by not opening the front desk until 3 p.m., students’ access to dorm games, cooking and cleaning supplies are cut off for several hours a day. This sounds like a minimal consequence, an inconvenience at best, but for students with limited meal plans who rely on cooking their meals in the kitchen with the pots and pans provided by the front desk, the shorter hours are more than a hassle. Desk jobs, while often slow and tedious, are useful and necessary for many students.

If desk workers’ hours are cut, then the school ought to help them find new work study openings. As their employer, the school has the best knowledge of what jobs are open and for how long. Even if they choose not to work with the students individually, it would be helpful if they provided students with suggestions and resources to find the new work on campus.

Julia Pilkington ’17 ( is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English.

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John Keller offers insight on immigration law

On Tuesday, March 28, St. Olaf hosted Executive Director of the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota John Keller. He provided an introductory review of immigration law for students and members of the Northfield community in light of President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration and on travel from majority-Muslim nations.

“The purpose behind the event was twofold: We wanted to equip people directly affected by the [travel] ban with the knowledge and background they needed so that they could get their questions answered,” Student Government Association (SGA) President Emma Lind ’17 said. “We also wanted to provide a platform so that people who aren’t directly affected might be able to help their friends, families and loved ones who are so they can be a resource for them, as well as hear about what people need to consider if they are affected by the ban.”

Amid a flurry of concern from faculty and students about Trump’s executive orders, Lind and SGA Vice President Sarah Bresnahan ’17 worked with student multicultural senators to formulate an educational response for the St. Olaf community. They also collaborated with the executive board of the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement (CMIE), who agreed that bringing an immigration law expert to St. Olaf would be helpful. They coordinated with the St. Olaf Office of Human Resources and leadership of Carleton’s student government to set up the event and spread the word. Karem Muksed ’17 of Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees worked to bring Keller to campus.

“I think it’s St Olaf’s responsibility to make sure all of its community members are well equipped to deal with what’s happening nationally, especially when something comes out, such as the executive orders and the travel ban, that affects the wellbeing of students,” Lind said. “I see it as our school’s responsibility to help in whatever way is possible.”

Before the event, a box was placed in Buntrock Commons to receive anonymous questions. A link on the Oleville website allowed attendees to submit questions online with their phones or with iPads that SGA stationed around the event space. Papers were also available for attendees who preferred to write their questions. Muksed screened the questions before handing them to Bresnahan to read to Keller. The opportunity for attendees to remain anonymous was critical for the event coordinators, as they wanted people to feel free to ask any question without fear of judgment or being singled out.

Upon entry, attendees could pick up several handouts detailing legal resources and their constitutional rights and procedures for confrontations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Keller lectured students and community members on the immigration law system, various legal statuses, DACA, the flaws in the system and attempted solutions. He then explained the core consequences of Trump’s two executive actions on immigration, one border-based and one “internal,” and the two attempted travel bans. Keller wrapped up with an explanation of immigrants’ personal rights as well as logistical plans to have in place in the event they were to be detained and deported. Afterwards, he answered questions.

One of the most significant pieces of advice Keller gave to those impacted by the recent developments in immigration law is that they must know their rights and not open their door if ICE arrives without a warrant signed by a judge. Additionally, he gave advice on how to prepare in the event they are confronted by ICE officers. These steps include family preparedness plans, a refusal to say or sign anything without an attorney present, setting aside money to pay for bond – as one has the right to ask for bond and its reduction – and hiring a lawyer.

Individuals not directly involved can assist by using social media for advocacy and education, Keller offered. This includes making or sharing crowdfunding pages to raise money for bonds for families. They can also work with student groups and faith communities to increase awareness of how the immigration legal system operates, and they can volunteer with pro bono groups.

While the lecture explained the legal framework, Keller admitted that during the past few months, the laws have changed faster than ever before, meaning that anything could be subject to change. He thus encouraged those impacted by the laws to have a confidential conversation with an attorney in order to understand how the laws affect them directly. They can call the Immigrant Defense Project’s free legal helpline at 212-725-6422.

The audio recording, PowerPoint and handouts from the lecture will soon be accessible on For further research into immigration legal resources, Keller recommended the websites for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the National Immigrant Project and the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM). For information from a government source, go to, the website for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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Myswyken musical to produce popular “Potter” parody

On Tuesday Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lion’s Pause, the Myswyken Salad Theatre Company will remind us of what we need to do before finals: get back to Hogwarts and dance again! For one night only, the student theatre company will perform “A Very Potter Musical” (AVPM), a fan-made comedy musical created by a theater group from the University of Michigan called “StarKid.”

StarKid first performed AVPM in 2009 and uploaded the entire show in 23 segments to YouTube so that it could reach beyond their university’s audience. The original songs were written by A.J Holmes and Darren Criss (yes, the Darren Criss from Broadway and “Glee”). It quickly went viral, beloved by fans and often ranked in comparison with “Potter Puppet Pals: the Mysterious Ticking Noise” in terms of the most popular Harry Potter fan-made material. Act 1, Scene 1 of AVPM has 13,055,421 views.

The show combines key plot points of the seven Harry Potter books, weaving them together with poignant songs that speak to the deeper ways in which the stories resonate with viewers, and wild comedy that continually shocks and endears the audience to characters that perhaps have been deemed less lovable in the novels and movies. Harry and his friends must navigate their time at Hogwarts while confronting caricatures of characters and circumstances that can pop up from any of the seven books in the series.

AVPM spins well-known characters into new relationships and personalities. One of the most notable additions is the chemistry between a Jane Austen-loving and flower-planting Professor Quirrell and a shirtless Lord Voldemort who enjoys tap dancing in a sparkly cape. The actors playing these rolls are tied together back-to-back and proceed through the acrobatics of the show together with plenty of scenes for bonding.

“I think Quirrell and Voldemort have the best plot of anyone because they’ve got this great romantic subplot that goes through every single romantic comedy trope, and it’s the funniest part of the show,” Bjorn Long ’19, who plays Professor Quirrell, said.

Josh Horst ’19, who plays Lord Voldemort, agrees.

“The relationship between Voldemort and Quirrel is, I think, the hidden gem of the show. People don’t expect to see it, but they always end up enjoying it. I think that Bjorn Long and I are going to take it to the next level,” he said.

Another fun spin on characters is the development of Ginny Weasley, as many readers of the original Harry Potter series objected to her portrayal in the films.

“My favorite thing about playing Ginny Weasley is that she’s kind of shy and awkward and quirky, but gets to sing these really powerful belting songs and it’s different from what I’ve done in the past,” Annika Isbell ’19, who plays Ginny, said.

The student directors, Avery Evangeline Baker ’19 and Katie Howrey ’19, chose the show to liven things up after the group’s heavier show last spring, “Middletown.” They explained that Myswyken will be expanding on the changes to the Harry Potter world that the original production made.

“We’re just adding our own touches to it. I think we’re making a lot of the jokes – when Katie and I went through the script last spring, we found places that we thought were improvised by the original cast anyway and we said ‘Go for it,’ and you improvise. Our blocking is different, our character interpretation is different – we really wanted to make this show our own. Our interpretation of Cedric is very different, our interpretation of pretty much all the characters has a different twist, just interpreted by the actor,” Baker said.

“We’re definitely making it our own but everything that everybody loves about the original is in this version,” Isbell said.

As it is a musical, there are songs ranging from the angsty heartache we recognize from the Cho Chang/Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley dynamic, to the contemplation of what it means to be in a community, and even a song to a dragon. Senior dance and theatre major Gabby Dominique ’17 has been helping to choreograph the dance numbers. In a movement rehearsal, she described one of the song’s dancing style as “Pokemon and High School Musical combined.”

“‘A Very Potter Musical’ is like a profane, acapella mashup of the seven books of Harry Potter and the eight movies, with some R-rated humor and contemporary references that are in regards to the college where we are and the life that we are all living right now,” Horst said.

Isbell reached out to potential viewers who may not want to come in the event they are not familiar with the book series or movies.

“Even if you don’t know anything about Harry Potter, it will still be a funny experience. But if you do know things about Harry Potter, be prepared to have the best time of your life,” Isbell said.

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Christmas Fest introduces streaming option

On Dec. 1 through 4, all five departmental choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra collaborated in their annual “Christmas Festival,” better known as “Christmas Fest,” performing a two hour program of Christmas hymns centered around the theme “Light Dawns, Hope Blooms.”

“I think especially with what’s going on the world right now, it’s really nice to have this big thing that so many people are a part of, with so many students coming together, making a show that is so positive,” Manitou Singers member Melanie Nevins ’20 said.

The road to the Christmas Festival is a long one. Musicians partake in months of rehearsals and must learn a collective 26 pieces, then return to campus early from Thanksgiving break in order to jump into final rehearsals. The stress, compounded by the workload of the end of the academic semester, can cause some students to get sick or joke about needing to live on tea, honey and lemon water to avoid illness.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it,” Nevins said.

One feature that made this year’s performance distinctive was the new online streaming option. Audiences had the option of purchasing a live stream or video download of the final performance in addition to buying tickets and attending in person.

According to the St. Olaf blog, the streaming was coordinated with the help of “10 HD cameras throughout the performance space, each individually controlled from new, high-tech video studios in Skifter Hall, an Emmy Award-winning director/producer team and 17 skilled broadcast technicians, including 11 current St. Olaf students and three alumni.”

One of the cameras was positioned on a robotic black arm that swiveled above and around musicians to attain pre-planned shots for the stream and video compilation. However, this arm at times distracted and partially obstructed the views of those seated in section five, the section farthest to the right and nearest to the St. Olaf Orchestra.

Interestingly, while the festival typically sells out two weeks before opening night, this was not the case this year – possibly due to the presence of the streaming function.

This year’s theme “Light Dawns, Hope Blooms” was drawn from one of the five premiere performances of the night: Mack Wilberg’s “Light Dawns on a Weary World.” The song details hope for a better future world, paraphrasing Isaiah 55:12. The inside of the front cover of the program states “… Out of darkness, light dawns. The first rays of dawn are enough to stir our soul … We watch as the light overtakes the darkness … With the dawning of light, hope blooms … There is hope in the dawn, for the light of the day nourishes all living things … With this light, in Christ, we see anew … we see the world. And it is good. We see our neighbor. And we are filled with love … we live in this hope.”

This year’s theme in some ways acts as a sequel to last year’s theme, “And on Earth, Peace.” With core hymns such as “It is Well,” 2015’s Christmas Festival, which occured not long after the Paris and Beirut attacks, reassured its listeners that one day eternal peace would come and peace could be found in the meantime. So if last year was a moment of healing and resilience in a hurting world, deriving hope from stars seen in the blue twilight before sunrise, then this year’s festival was the moment of daybreak – when dawn finally comes, and we are boldly encouraged to move forth in action and faith, knowing that such hopes will be materialized and protected, despite what obstacles may come. Dipping into the introspective, only to come bursting out in joy, confidence and courage, the 26 songs created an empowering emotional journey for listeners.

The setlist proved nostalgic for the members of the senior class of 2017, who recognized John Ferguson’s arrangement of “Prepare the Royal Highway” and Carolyn Jennings’ “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain” as the opening two vocal pieces of their first Christmas Festival performance in 2013. According to Minnesota Public Radio, this arrangement of “Prepare the Royal Highway” held its world premiere during the 2013 Christmas Festival. Seniors who sang in Manitou Singers their freshmen year first sang “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain” under Sigrid Johnson, in her penultimate Christmas Festival.

“It’s weird, especially because ‘Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain’ was the piece that opened Christmas Fest to me, and now closes Christmas Fest. And by having it directed by two different conductors, Sigrid Johnson my first year and Dr. Therese Hibbard – yes, they both bring different feelings and emotions into it but it’s just one song, the text,” St. Olaf Choir member Vanessa Lopez ’17 said. “Just having it, going through it, just makes me reminisce on the memories of where I’ve been, where I’ve gone, and life after this.”

Aside from the aforementioned Wilberg piece, four more pieces premiered for the first time in this Christmas Festival: John Ferguson’s arrangement of “The Hills Are Bare At Bethlehem,” “In My Arms” by Philip Biedenbender ’16, “His Light in Us” by Kim André Arnesen and André J. Thomas’ arrangement of “Shout for Joy!”

Per tradition, the program closed with “Beautiful Savior.” Amidst thunderous applause and cheering, the four choral conductors and the orchestra conductor took the stage together and bowed, only to have to return due to the insistent clapping by the audience. After their second set of bows and acknowledgement of the orchestra and choir members, the conductors left the stage and folded into a group hug.

For some seniors, the culmination of up to four years of hard work and fond memories is a strange one to confront. Christmas Festival will be performed once more in March 2017 for the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), so it is not entirely over.

“[It’s an] overwhelming wave of emotions … It’s bittersweet. It’s a lot of work, but the thing is, even though the journey was hard to get there, it’s just that journey … it’s so savored and I cherish every moment of it. Of the pieces, of the messages it brings and how it connects together as a whole for this particular topic,” Lopez said.

The Christmas Festival audio tracks and video are now available for purchase on the St. Olaf website.

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