Author: Sam Botz

Womens History Month falls short of goals

Women’s History Month is just around the corner, and there is no better way to celebrate than by realizing that it’s no less patriarchal than the rest of the year.

Commendable as it may be to make a nationwide effort to dispel ignorance, Women’s History Month has become an annual reminder of the exasperating inequalities that continue to persist between straight, white men and everyone else. In fact, the observance perpetuates the idea that women’s history exists along a timeline separate from History with a capital H and can be harmlessly overlooked for the majority of the year.

Studying women’s history, much less celebrating it, means facing a fact that Virginia Woolf bitterly realized long before gender equality seemed feasible: For most of history, Anonymous was a woman. We tend to define women’s history through what it lacks: names, dates, triumphs, failures and, most importantly, recognition.

Since grade school, our history textbooks have been decidedly masculine, written by men and about men to reinforce a particular vision of time’s passage that we know by heart by the time we get to college. To be a woman in history was to be anonymous until someone with an XY chromosome decided their name was worth adding to the annals of tradition.

Early American feminists recognized this problem. The concept of Women’s History Month dates back to the 1910s, when women still could not vote and society had no qualms about its overtly patriarchal character. Somehow, over a century later, a single month dedicated to women’s history is still seen as a sufficient effort to reverse masculinist records of history.

Let’s face it: things like [Fill in the Blank] History Month exist to make us feel as if we’re being truly inclusive, without any real commitment. Here at St. Olaf, ideas imbued with warm fuzzies like “inclusive,” “diverse” and “accepting” are the sort of buzzwords we’re drawn to. Yet it would be far more productive to accept how much we have to grow as a learning community. Yes, there are wonderful classes being taught across campus focusing on women’s and gender issues, but what good do they do when they’re primarily taken by people with a personal stake in the subject, rather than by those who have the most to learn from a different perspective? Similarly, how can such issues be taken seriously when they are continuously sidelined in other classes in favor of more traditional narratives?

This is what’s really at stake when we promote Women’s History Month: genuine inclusivity. But I know, and I’m sure you know, that the people who really care about women’s history go out of their way to celebrate it, illuminate it, get mad and get messy and make it relevant and real as often as they can, not just for a conciliatory month handed over by the government as an apology for centuries of neglect.

I don’t want to get trite and proclaim that every day is women’s history day, because we know that’s far from the truth. History is too complex, convoluted and completely beyond seamless comprehension to suffer such simplification. If anything can be gleaned from the time-honored, textbook-friendly lineup of Dead White Men, it is that one narrative will never be enough to explain where we are now and what lies ahead.

One of the first British historians with more estrogen than testosterone, Catherine Macaulay, insisted that history, real history, has no sex. In a way, she’s both right and wrong. History may be genderless, but the people who write it are not. Fortunately, history can be written by more than one voice. To see that happen, however, we will need much more than a single month.

Sam Botz ’14 botzs@stolaf.edu is from St. Joseph, Minn. She majors in English and history.

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Audiences storm Kelsey to see ‘The Tempest’

Despite gloomy gray skies and freak April snow showers outside, the audience of St. Olaf’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was, with a single blinding bolt of lightning, drawn into a fantastical world of romance, redemption, mischief and magic. From the brilliant and evocative acting to the gorgeously immersive set, the play conjured up a “brave new world” unlike anything ever seen on the Hill, showcasing an immense amount of hard work and talent.

“The Tempest” tells the tale of the rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero, who has spent years exiled upon a deserted island, plotting to restore his young daughter, Miranda, to her rightful throne. With skillful powers of illusion and a gift for manipulation, Prospero conjures up the eponymous storm that sets into motion a chain of events culminating in wrongs righted and, of course, a blissful wedding. This brief summary, however, does little to capture the rich and strange complexities that Director Dona Freeman brought to life upon Kelsey Theater’s stage.

“The Tempest” is bursting at the seams with energy and life, much of which is conveyed through Shakespeare’s masterful use of the English language. This presents a bit of a challenge for some productions, but the cast took this dialogue-heavy play brilliantly to task by keeping the energy on stage electrically alive and impossible to ignore. Supported by an eerie and dreamy soundscape, the ensemble cast created a production that breathed new life into traditional interpretations of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays.

One immediately gains a sense of Freeman’s simple, yet evocative vision within the stunning opening scene; the audience sees the storm not through the eyes of the sailors who face it, but from the perspective of Prospero’s faithful servant, the spirit Ariel. She is responsible for casting the ship to the bottom of the sea and bringing Prospero’s usurping brother, Antonio, and his royal retinue to the island. Here, and throughout the play, the magic unique to “The Tempest” is suggested rather than straightforwardly exhibited. The show shies from any showy special effects in favor of carefully crafted theatrical illusions that prove all the more visually delightful. Clever use of lights and sound contribute to a world where larger-than-life flowers drift from the sky with the wave of a hand and five airy spirits can become a single fearsome harpy with the aid of driftwood. “The Tempest” enchants by hearkening to a magic the audience can readily appreciate: the magic of the theater.

Working with an incredibly gifted crew was an unbelievable acting corps whose vitality and chemistry on stage sparkled. Joshua Woolfolk ’13 tackles the weighty responsibility of embodying Prospero, arguably the main character of the play, with laudable finesse. Often portrayed as an embittered and fierce man seeking vengeance, Woolfolk lends the character a measure of quiet power and grace rarely pulled off effectively. His use of magic is understated, while the titular storm he creates seems more a fateful act of reconciliation rather than a wrathful and merciless act of retribution. His tender relationship with Miranda and his heartfelt address to the audience at the play’s end garnered sincere admiration and applause.

Also notably refreshing was Tasha Viets-VanLear’s ’15 portrayal of Prospero’s naive and inquisitive daughter. Viets-VanLear plays Miranda, the only female islander, with a touching innocence unexpectedly imbued with a dash of pluck and self-determination. She fearlessly calls out the moral ambiguity of her father’s actions and enters into her admittedly speedy relationship with Ferdinand – performed with charming wide-eyed wonder by Isaac Rysdahl ’14 – as an equal, direct and unfussy, despite her unfamiliarity with the world at large.

One of the production’s most memorable interpretations of “The Tempest” was through its portrayal of Ariel. Made up of five individuals instead of a single being, Becca Hart ’14 gave a showstopping performance as the lead spirit. Her delicate and fierce physicality lent itself brilliantly to the role. Along with her four reflections, portrayed by Emily Anderson ’16, Siri Hammond ’13, Katie Hindman ’15 and Haley Olson ’16, Ariel moved about the stage in seductive synchronization. Along with Maxwell Collyard’s ’13 brutally poignant Caliban, whose unpredictable ferocity and hilarity rendered the character beautifully sympathetic, Ariel emphasizes the complex dynamic between power and enslavement that is touchingly resolved by Prospero at the play’s end.

As one of Shakespeare’s final works, Prospero’s renunciation of his magic is often read as the playwright’s farewell to the theatrical world. St. Olaf’s production of “The Tempest” highlighted this through its sincere celebration of the beautiful artifice of theatre. The show was a gift to experience and truly “such stuff as dreams are made on.”

botzs@stolaf.edu

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Dr. Steven Miles 74 presents Gordon Allport Award

A liberal arts education challenges students not only to pursue their passions, but also to bring these passions into the world in ways that challenge conventions and improve everyday life. Each year, the psychology department awards students for attempting to do just that.

The Gordon Allport Award, established in 1983, honors those who enrich their personal lives through their educational pursuits and promise to leave the world a better place than they found it. On March 7, students and faculty gathered to congratulate winner Robin Stramp ’14 and celebrate the spirit of the award with a captivating lecture from notable bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles ’74.

As a recipient of the St. Olaf Alumni Achievement Award, Miles is an exemplary Ole whose life work has been devoted to exploring current dilemmas in the bioethical field. Furthermore, he is widely regarded as a go-to authority on the ethical issue of physician involvement in torture interrogation, one of the main focuses of his Allport Award lecture.

Miles’s address to the department, entitled “Military Psychology and the War on Terror: Lessons from Abu Ghraib,” proved an intriguing, eye-opening and at times horrifying glimpse into the abusive interrogation techniques employed by American physicians as part of the war on terror. The lecture owed much to his recent detailed examination of over 60,000 pages of previously unreleased government documents, which are described in greater detail in his latest book, “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror.”

Miles began the presentation with the infamous photos of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib and asked, “Where was the medical staff when these pictures were being taken?” The question established the context of his unique investigation. Rather than simply pinning the blame on the prison guards, Miles holds the physicians and psychiatrists, employed by the government in internment centers, morally responsible for much of the atrocious torture these photos depict.

Miles admitted his research helped him uncover what he already expected to find. His access to the Department of Defense’s classified files revealed thousands of cases of prisoner abuse justified, and often times encouraged, by a medical professional.

Wading through heavily-censored documents laden with dense military jargon and intricate cross-referencing, Miles discovered how the Department of Defense manages to elude the international protocols of the Geneva Convention. The presence of a trained physician during an interrogation supposedly gives torture a level of credibility and safety.

Despite recent CIA research on coercive interrogation, which proved that the threat of death rarely leads to prisoner cooperation, torture continues to be used on prisoners of war in high security prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, partly due to the increase in what are known as enhanced interrogation techniques.

These forms of torture, often developed by on-site volunteer psychologists and psychiatrists, focus on breaking down an individual through psychological practices, from sleep deprivation to induced hypothermia, in order to push the prisoner to confession.

Miles observes that this blatant misuse of medical knowledge often has a psychological toll on those participating in it as well, especially for those who maintain silence despite witnessing atrocities for the sake of keeping their jobs.

“The risks of speaking out are high, perhaps,” Miles said, “but you will certainly sleep better at night.”

The Allport Award commemorates the life of Dr. Gordon Allport, a professor of psychology at Harvard University whose profound faith in the inherent goodness of humanity inspired one of his students, Professor Emeritus Olaf Millert, to establish an award recognizing Oles who embody Allport’s views on the limitless potential of humankind.

While being a well-rounded and academically excellent student certainly helps, self-nominated Allport Award candidates are women and men within the psychology department who have faced adversity and worked beyond typical psychology niches to explore innovative possibilities within the field.

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Unpaid internships create dilemmas for young job-searchers

Though the Hill is still blanketed in snow with few signs of spring arriving anytime soon, campus is already preoccupied with planning for summer vacation. For both seniors and underclassmen, the impending months mean leaving the safety of our “bubble on the Hill” to join the teeming thousands of twenty-somethings searching for employment. Many students will wait tables and supervise campers, while others will seek internships all over the country. These students will work just as hard for corporate firms and non-profit organizations, in publishing houses and hospitals, but instead of a paycheck, their labor will only earn them another few lines on their resume.

KATIE LAUER/MANITOU MESSENGER

As a college student, the pressure to find internships has never been stronger. Only the fittest survive in the current job market, rendering the slightest amount of previous experience a serious asset to one’s future career. Still, despite the Piper Center’s efforts to keep our inboxes inundated with opportunities, the perfect internship is notoriously difficult to find. Between strenuous application processes and accidentally missing deadlines, finding work experience is not for the faint of heart. It is also not for those with slim wallets, since two-thirds of the internships currently available are unpaid according to postings on http://www.internships.com.

In a way, the lack of financial incentive makes perfect sense. As a learning experience, an internship provides students with first-hand skills for a future career. This exposure is generally unobtainable in classrooms or lecture halls. While an intern may not be at a desk, he or she is still a student with a great deal to learn – unlike, say, a fry-cook or cashier. Instead, students apply for an internship not so much to work, but to learn how to work under the guidance of experienced professionals.

And yet, internships often ask for a considerable amount of effort to be devoted to tasks that, at first glance, appear more menial than meaningful. While the importance of knowing how to fix a jammed printer cannot be understated, it is difficult at times to feel the long-term payoff for working overtime without pay week after week.

Recently, the boom in unpaid internships has led to questions of whether these work experiences fall within the legal bounds of current labor laws. Regardless, many of us are willing to work for nothing in exchange for the experience of taking part in the daily thrum of a company, even if it means sacrificing the greater part of our summer and sanity.

This brings up yet another issue. Because internships eat up the majority of the work week, they tend to render it impossible to juggle an actual paying job on the side. While an inextricable prerequisite for many high-paying careers, internships present a catch-22 to lower-income students, especially those who want to work in fields like politics or journalism that traffic in unpaid internships. Oles who normally spend their summers earning enough money to keep on top of tuition and loan payments find themselves at a permanent disadvantage to their peers who can afford to work without pay. While there are certainly paid internships out there, they are few and far between – not to mention that they tend to go to those with previous internship experience.

Most college students believe they need to sacrifice their summers and their salaries for the “experience” they will gain from a tenuous position at the rock bottom of the corporate pyramid. The other benefit of an internship is the possibility of getting a foot in the door. While guaranteed full-time unemployment might as well stay a pipedream, the possibility of future connections made through careful social networking remains.

Our lives are becoming less like “Choose Your Own Adventure” and more like user’s manuals. The chance of a perfect entry-level job seems to be going extinct; it is clear that now, more than ever, we will have to work harder and dream bigger than ever before to “make it” in the world.

Like college, an internship should be, first and foremost, about self-exploration, a chance to figure out what works and what does not, what brings you joy and what you could do without – not about settling into a set career from here to eternity.

The difficulties of internships abound; while an exciting opportunity of firsthand experience, unpaid internships and the sheer competitiveness of applications bar many students from even applying for these coveted chances for resume-building. Until they are a feasible option for more students, employers should keep in mind that a student’s passion and strong work ethic can be discerned from a minimum wage job just as easily as it can from even the most impressive of unpaid internships.

Sam Botz ’14 botzs@stolaf.edu is from St. Joseph, Minn. She majors in English and history.

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Annual fall orchestra tour concludes well

As the majority of students packed for an all-too-short fall break, the St. Olaf Orchestra prepared for a week of everything but relaxation. Friday, Oct. 12 signaled the beginning of the ensemble’s annual fall tour. More than a hundred Oles embarked on a whirlwind trip across the country to perform at eight venues before returning home on Oct. 21 for the final home concert.

While we here on the Hill have been struggling to reinvest ourselves in classes and studying, the St. Olaf Orchestra has been playing their hearts out in theaters, high schools and colleges in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Wisconsin. Having a two-hour long performance every night for eight nights in a row is in itself an impressive feat, but the work that went on behind the scenes is perhaps the most definitive proof of Ole Orchestra’s passionate commitment to its music.

“We travel on the bus for five to seven hours a day, rehearse a bit at our concert venue, have dinner, give a concert, sleep and repeat,” Sally Gildehaus ’14 said. “It’s crazy, but so worth it.”

The long bus rides from state to state definitely tested the instrumentalists’ mettle at times, but it was also part of the unforgettable experience of being on tour with one of St. Olaf’s finest music ensembles.

Sophia Butler ’15, a new member to the orchestra this year, described the trip as a wonderful experience. “I have met so many fabulous people and gotten so close to the community we create as an ensemble,” she said. “Between the hours spent on the bus every day and homestays in towns, I have had so many cool conversations and shared a lot of unforgettable moments on this tour.”

Gildehaus agreed. “I’m learning all the awesome, funky traditions the orchies hold dear; it’s been quite the learning experience coming together as a group. The support has been amazing.”

Overnight homestays and dinners in exciting places like Hershey, Pennsylvania – the chocolate capital of America – brought the music ensemble together in more ways than one, while each night’s performance solidified new, closer friendships through the unforgettable experience of creating awe-inspiring music together.

“Every single one of our performances this week has gotten tighter and more expressive just as we have become a tighter community learning about each other,” Butler said.

This year’s fall tour repertoire centered on dance, ranging from fiercely romantic ballets to sultry Mexican folk dances, with works from nations as far-flung as Finland and the Czech Republic in between.

Butler summed up the program as a musically diverse and distinctive experience. “We don’t have one central piece really, but many eclectic orchestral dances which give us plenty of opportunity to move with each other on the stage and revel in fun moments within each piece.”

Performing the same pieces each night presented its own unique trials, but the orchestra’s high-caliber musicians were always up to the challenge. Despite not being in a classroom, Isaac Behrens ’14 found a wealth of learning experiences while on the road.

“I’ve particularly loved orchestra tour because of the kind of learning that’s demanded if we are to grow over the course of the trip. As the week goes on, it gets more difficult to keep the music fresh; even when I have a passage down cold, I have to figure out how to make myself concentrate even more,” Behrens said.

“Tour is hard, but investing in the ensemble and building so many friendships makes it rank as one of the best weeks I’ve ever had as an Ole. It’s been a blast,” he added.

Fall tour traditionally ends with a home concert in Skoglund Auditorium, where the musicians’ friends and family welcome the instrumentalists home and get to hear the culminated effort of the past week’s rehearsals, concerts and shared experiences. The result is an awe-inspiring performance bursting with heart that only a close-knit group can create. As Gildehaus explains, “Tour has a magical way of doing that.”

botzs@stolaf.edu

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