Author: John Seabloom-Dunne

St. Olaf Sentiments: April 15, 2016

Sunday, April 10 was National Sibling Day here in the U.S. I’m sure that many, if not most, of you are already aware of this fact. A Snapchat filter and a small tidal wave of Facebook posts served to remind those of us who hadn’t already been prompted by well-meaning parents to send a text or a call to an older brother, younger sister or other person of genetic similarity.

I myself have a younger brother with whom I share this most minor of calendar events. His name is Grant. People say that we look alike, and I’m inclined to agree.

Now, Grant and I recently had a chance to sit down and spend a few hours tossing around what passes for news in a small Midwestern family – Mom’s new book club, the changeable nature of high school crushes and the eagerly anticipated family trip planned for this summer. All of these were examined, turned over and dealt with in turn. Eventually we got into a discussion of the beginnings of his college search, and all of a sudden I found myself at a loss in terms of fraternal advice.

Don’t get me wrong. I remember all of the well-meaning advice I received when I was his age: my teachers urging me towards AP classes, my grandmother reminding me that my career path would likely change regardless and my father asking if I had finished filling out the FAFSA and if I had considered how much money I could save by living at home. Most of all I remember almost everybody telling me in a unified voice to “follow my passion.”

Much like myself at his age, my brother found this last piece of advice particularly unhelpful. How could any 17-year-old (or 21-year-old for that matter) know enough of him or herself to recognize the “passion” or “vocation” powerful enough to guide the next four years of someone’s education, let alone provide a sense of the direction for the rest of his or her life?

I get it. This whole conundrum is exactly why liberal arts colleges get marketed as they do. Take four years and explore a variety of fields. But all of this open exploration is still meant to one day lead the way down the second floor Tomson hallway to the Piper Center and a plan for post-graduation that can be summed up in a quick phrase.

The truth is that we head off to college in an effort to better ourselves, to broaden our minds and hone skills. But some days I wonder whether or not we’ve even begun to discover these selves we’re meant to better. How can we when we’ve barely started our lives that will stretch out across more days and hours and minutes than any one person can count? How can we know what’s best for ourselves or for those around us that we love? And why do we ask ourselves to know these things in the first place?

Maybe this is the wrong way of thinking about it. Maybe my grandmother is right when she says that everything will change and that no high school or college student is playing with particularly high stakes. But as I sat across from my brother, grasping for words to articulate my supposed experience and justify my choices, the stakes certainly seemed high enough.

seabloom@stolaf.edu

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St. Olaf Sentiments: February 26, 2016

Last Saturday, I marched into downtown Northfield with the majority of the senior class. As is tradition, we celebrated the fact that there are (roughly) 100 days left of our time here at St. Olaf by being obnoxiously loud in the Crossroads and marching down Ole Ave in search of cheap beer and school-sanctioned tomfoolery. Some of us may have started the whole process a little earlier in the day, but, out of my deep respect for the school’s dry campus policy, I’ll refrain from commenting.

Besides, what struck me most wasn’t the sight of an incalculable wave of my peers bearing down on the Cannon River bridge. I wasn’t shocked by how loud we were or how excited. I didn’t bat an eye at the sight of people, for whom I have the utmost respect, face-planting in the snow on the side of the road. For a lot of students, the 100 Days March is the beginning of the end and the first time we have to face the fact that we’ll soon be quitting Northfield forever and moving on to new places and new lives. Of course, we’re all going to feel the need to cut loose a bit.

No, what really caught me by surprise were the families who came out of their homes and watched the march. The vast majority of them seemed to take the whole thing in good humor, laughing and in one case handing out drinks to us as we passed by. More than anything else, this fact has stuck in my head these past few days. As I walked, I realized that they step outside and watch us walk every year. For the people who live along this particular street, the 100 Days March isn’t the culmination of a four-year stint at college but an event that has been incorporated into a yearly cycle. We were not the first seniors that have marched into town, and we certainly won’t be the last.

I mentioned as much to one of the people working at the Reub for the duration of the 100 Days March event. He talked briefly about how nothing that had happened over the course of the night was anything he hadn’t seen before. What, for many of us, has begun the culmination of our time in this town and at this college is, at the same time, a routine event to be accounted for, managed and often enjoyed year after year.

I think this disconnect between event and routine embodies the relationship between us as students and the larger Northfield culture we participate in, often without thought or recognition. Sure, there are exceptions. People take on tutoring positions, become PCAs, or take on off-campus jobs. Nevertheless, I’d feel comfortable saying that most of us, most of the time, pass through Northfield with only the most cursory of interactions.

Now, I’m not making a call to action. I’m not demanding that we abandon the Hill and burst the infamous St. Olaf bubble once and for all. The bubble, cliché though it is, exists for a reason, and the vast majority of students are here to study, graduate and leave. And that’s fine. It really is. However, meeting and connecting with new people never gets easier, and meeting someone when you’re on the cusp of leaving quickly becomes tinged with bitterness. It’s tough to reach out when you know how difficult maintaining that relationship will be in the coming months.

I know that, looking back, I’ll never regret learning a name or trading a joke. Instead, I’ll regret the times I decided not to ask someone’s name or shoot the breeze in the line at a coffee shop.

I can only speak for myself, but I wonder if everyone else feels the same.

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Fox and Coyote brings energy to Art Barn

A little before 8:00 p.m. on Friday Nov. 13, a small but attentive crowd began to gather inside the Art Barn behind Skoglund. They came down from the hill in order to see the two bands MEC had brought in for an evening show: St. Olaf’s own duo, Single or Married, and the Twin Cities-based indie folk quintet, Fox & Coyote. They didn’t have long to wait before Mary Haasl ’16 and Isaac Maier ’16 took to the corner of the floor marked out by by cables and microphones as an improvised stage.

Although their set consisted mostly of covers of well-known indie songs like Family of the Year’s “Hero” and Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You,” Single or Married brought their own unique subdued harmonies to the performance. The duo came most alive as the show went on, relaxing, joking with the crowd and performing an original piece before closing out their set. This audience member looks forward to when Single or Married will bring more of their original songs to the stage and give themselves the creative space that their talent deserves.

The buzz of conversation filled the Art Barn during the interim between acts. Additional people filed in, and the crowd moved nearer to the stage as the members of Fox & Coyote took their places. Fox & Coyote jumped into their set without a pause, playing with an energy and warmth ideal for an otherwise chilled fall night. The group balanced their energetic sound with a couple of their more contemplative slower-paced songs.

“We have a bunch of Friday night songs, but we have some Sunday afternoon songs too,” vocalist and one of the founding members of the band Ryan Evans ’12, said between songs.

This type of tongue-in cheek banter continued throughout Fox & Coyote’s performance and furthered the casual intimacy that a small space like the Art Barn encourages. The band’s enthusiasm and easy excitement were reflected by the increasingly tangible investment of the audience.

Not only students, but several alums and individuals who had made the trek down from the Cities made up the audience. While this may be out of the ordinary for such a small-scale performance, Fox & Coyote’s local ties and origin as a St. Olaf band attracted a diverse crowd.

Many of the students present were well aware that all but one of Fox & Coyote’s current members previously attended St. Olaf.

“It’s really cool. I would’ve liked to see them as a campus band, but it’d still be a fun game now, you know? Guess the [Ole] imposter,” Doug Carmody ’16 said.

Speaking with Evans after the show, his easy laugh and open expression showed the comfort with which the band performed to be more than an act. As the other band members chatted and packed up their equipment, we had a moment to chat.

“This building wasn’t here then, for one thing. We’ve come back to Olaf almost every year since graduating, but it still feels new,” Evans said, gesturing around him.

While Fox & Coyote may have played here at Olaf several times since the band first got together, their performance certainly felt fresh and new to those present on Friday night.

seabloom@stolaf.edu

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Emoji anti-bullying campaign fails to address actual issue

In Apple’s most recent software update for the iPhone, the company included almost two hundred new emojis for the iPhone messaging app. One emoji in particular has garnered a lot of attention in the past few weeks – the black icon that resembles a stylized eye superimposed over a speech bubble. Back in September, there was speculation as to the purpose of this bizarre symbol, but no consensus appeared until recently. Although Apple did not release any formal statement as to the emoji’s intended meaning and use, numerous organizations have connected it to the newly formed I Am A Witness campaign, of which Apple is a significant supporter.

I Am A Witness, a campaign founded to help raise awareness and fight cyberbullying among teens, went public at the same time the new update was released. In fact, this online organization centers directly around the new emoji and the way in which it can be utilized to combat online instances of bullying.

“When you think about it, the emoji gives teens a way to say something when they don’t know what to say.” Lisa Sherman, the organization’s CEO said, in an interview on All Tech Considered, a weekly series on NPR.

Ultimately, the campaign attempts to make it easier for friends to reach out to victims and express messages of support through the same medium as the bullying itself. Now available on both iPhone and Android devices, the witness emoji has begun to insert itself into our cultural vocabulary.

It is the campaign’s attempt to shape our use of the new emoji that I find so troubling. While any attempt to provide support for victims of bullying is laudable in its own right, certain aspects of the I Am A Witness campaign prevent from me embracing this new movement.

When I first heard about the emoji, I was cautiously optimistic. I didn’t expect any revolutionary changes to the pressures that victims of bullying face on a daily basis, but I saw the new emoji as a step in the right direction. However, after browsing iwitnessbullying.org, the campaign’s website, I’m not sure I can say even that.

The website’s most striking feature is its introductory video, a short narrative that follows a day in the life of Jack, a young student and a victim of bullying. At periodic moments in the animation, Jack would suffer some abuse, and the icon would pop up on the screen, prompting me to click the emoji and help Jack out. Needless to say, I did so. Suddenly the tone of the film changed, the bullies turned kind and Jack’s day got that much better, all with the click of a button.

It’s this sense of ease that I Am A Witness focuses on. The emoji is a stand-in for other types of support, something accessible and easy that caters to distanced bystanders. I worry that this simplicity of message goes too far and thus trivializes the damage that bullying of all types inflicts on its victims. If I were to make use of this emoji, it’d take less than a moment out of my day, yet I’d feel that I had done my duty and could turn back to whatever I was doing before. The approach that this emoji and the larger campaign espouse ignores the depth of emotional investment that meaningful support demands.

Additionally, the witness campaign fails to add any new sense of accountability or investment into the online cultures that it is attempting to improve. While I can recognize that the emoji provides a way for people to express support for one-another, I can’t see it adding anything that wasn’t already present. People have always had the ability to reach out to one another in any number of manners, with or without emojis. Bystanders choose to be bystanders because they don’t want to be involved, not because there isn’t a one-click solution right in front of them. Simply repackaging support doesn’t make people more likely to supply it.

To be clear, I don’t criticize the witness campaign for centering their efforts around this particular symbol. Icons can be powerful; they can take on a life outside of their original medium and context. However, this emoji is best looked at as a reminder of the presence of online cruelty, rather than as a means of addressing it. To do that, we must be willing to engage on a scale much larger than simply a three-inch keyboard.

John Seabloom-Dunne (seabloom@stolaf.edu) ’16 is from Roseville, Minn. He majors in English and ancient studies.

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St. Olaf Sentiments: Ode to large hot apple cider

Dear Large Hot Apple Cider,

It’s time we finally sat down and talked about this… whatever it is that’s been going on recently. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fun, and these past few weeks have been good. No, they’ve been great. I’m just not sure that I can keep doing this, if I can keep pretending that nothing has changed during the year you were gone. I don’t think I have it in me. Please, will you listen? Will you just give me a chance to speak my piece?

Good.

When you came back to me, I was ecstatic. I remembered everything about you that I loved so much: your warmth, your smell, the way you fit perfectly into my cupped hands, that sticky taste of caramel that would cling to the back of my throat. I remembered our late night walks in the quad and how you’d always be there for me when I needed to study for an exam or just settle in for the night. Even seeing you with other people never bothered me. You always had enough love to give, and you were always there when I needed you.

Until you weren’t. One day, you just up and left without a word of goodbye, without even a note. You must have known how that would hurt me. I was so sure that you were just out of stock, or that the Cage worker had forgotten your number. But no, you were gone, leaving only a few empty cups on my desk to remember you by. I still have them, by the way, if you ever want to pick them up.

I just… I don’t know why you had to leave. Was it me? Did you hate the winter so much that you couldn’t stick it out for even a few months? I’d already picked out the new thermos I was going to get you for Christmas. You know I always loved you in red.

Look, I don’t want you to think that I’ve been hung up on you all this time. I want to believe that I’m different now, that I’m not the same guy you left. I try to tell myself that there are other drinks on the menu. I got together with Peppermint Cocoa for a while, and I had a summer fling with Iced Mocha. But Peppermint was always too sweet and Iced was always so cold. Really, neither of them ever filled the hole you left. Whenever I was with them, I was always thinking of you.

What can I do for you?! Do you want me to call Pumpkin Pie over to join us? I know you always loved being around him. I can wear more sweaters and pile up some fallen leaves to jump in. I’ve even put some decorative gourds in a woven basket. Is that what you want? You’re just a drink for God’s sake! You’re served in a paper cup!

Wait. I didn’t mean that. Please. Let’s just start fresh and pretend this never happened. Maybe I overreacted. It’s just that I love you, and I didn’t know it until you were gone. I’m willing to start over and take things slow. After all, it’s only October.

Would you like that? Come on, how about a drink? Extra caramel please.

Love, John

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