Author: Abigail Tupa

Duo tours local prisons

Nursing homes, hospitals and churches are popular locations for St. Olaf students to share their musical talent off the Hill, but two Oles are adding an unexpected and underserved location to that list: prisons.

In the last week, cellist Liam John ’16 and violinist Anna Wolle ’18 have completed two of their three self-planned stops on a musical tour of Southern Minnesota correctional facilities. John said the idea for the performance series arose from a previous prison tour he participated in after his senior year of high school in his home state of Vermont.

John and Wolle launched their Minnesota tour on Saturday, April 30, in Shakopee, Minn. at Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee, the state’s only women’s prison. They performed a second concert at Minnesota Correctional Facility – Redwing, a juvenile detention center in Redwing, Minn. on Monday, May 2. Their last stop is scheduled at the Minnestoa Correctional Facility – Faribault, a medium security men’s prison in Faribault, Minn. on Saturday, May 7.

The duo acknowledged the stereotypes and stigmas associated with prisons when preparing their musical tour.

“You have these preconceived notions about what a prison is going to be like based on its appearance and security. It’s not the logical first thing people think of when they want to provide a service for somebody,” John said.

“But it’s still needed,” Wolle said.

John and Wolle, who performed together at St. Olaf earlier this fall, said they planned this concert with the intent of entering into communication with the audience.

“We approached the program like a conversation,” Wolle said. “We started off by introducing ourselves, but then we asked them what types of music they listened and talked about our own music interests. People could raise their hands to ask questions, and they did that during every concert. There was a really great response. For each of the concerts, there was definitely a progression to how people warmed up to the music. Our program has stretched to an hour each time, even though our music length is probably a half hour,” Wolle said.

John said he has enjoyed not only the range of audience members that they have reached, but also the range of responses that have resulted from the concerts.

“It’s special because every person who comes to listen to us will get something different out of it. Each person has their own background in music and interest in music and people learn different things. They’re learning things from us and we’re able to learn from them. What’s nice is that it changes,” John said.

Although every listener has a different experience, Wolle described a unifying factor within the music. This element allowed her to connect with the audience as a performer.

“Performing is so cool because you share the space, you share the acoustics, and you all hear things in different ways, but you all are presented with the same thing that is to be heard. But you create a different world together. The sound itself has a telos. It has that purpose that is achieved, but you have to enter into that musical conversation to achieve it,” Wolle said.

Encountering the diversity of genders, age groups, and background stories among inmates at the correctional facilities has presented an interesting learning experience for the musical duo. Ultimately, these factors have shown the pair that music’s relatability truly transcends demographic differences.

“Before doing this tour, I liked to think I thought of music as a universal language, but I realized afterward that I still had my reservations and preconceived notions. Those were totally turned on their heads after the first performance. Everyone really can listen to music and it is universal. I shouldn’t go into any concert with preconceived notions because music is a form of communication with everyone,” Wolle said.

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Participation points detract from constructive discourse

While participation points rarely make the syllabus at large universities, students at small liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf are frequently subject to this type of evaluation, particularly in humanities courses. Professors often claim participation points encourage class preparedness and daily attendance in addition to constructive in-class discussion, and as such, warrant a grade.

While all types of academic evaluation systems have downfalls, mandated verbal participation points present special issues. In reality, this type of evaluation polarizes classroom environments and disadvantages students with certain learning styles, all while providing limited analytical benefit for the class as a whole.

In college, class time represents only a small portion of a student’s learning environment, particularly when courses meet only two-to-three times per week. Yet, at times, participation points account for twenty-five percent of one’s overall grade. This closed time frame makes contributing in class a competitive and performative exercise. While in-class exams also function as a time-constrained grade, the material on a given tests is typically anticipated, and students are given an equal opportunity to succeed – one student’s actions do not detract from another students’ chance to perform just as well. On the contrary, individuals who participate with frequency diminish opportunities for more timid students to speak up. Minimizing a student’s grade for lacking verbal participation within a specified hour to hour-and-a-half long class session ultimately penalizes students who synthesize their ideas more slowly. This factor is especially stressful because students cannot control the topics of discussion or predict its progression within a given class, making it difficult to contribute their thoughts.

When reflecting on participation points as an evaluation system, we must ask ourselves about the purpose of in-class time, and recognize it may have a different function for each student. While some pupils use class time to ask questions and vocalize ideas, other students gain the most from listening to the arguments of their peers, cataloguing this knowledge and reflecting on it. These students should not be downgraded for their hardwiring, but in reality, they stand a lower chance of receiving full credit for this category of their grade than their talkative peers.

In addition to disadvantaging certain learning styles, demanding verbal participation puts pressure on students to speak with frequency, rather than quality. Students aim to articulate their thoughts as often as possible in order to satisfy their daily participation requirement, whether or not their arguments advances the discussion productively. This trend not only threatens to dilute the depth and analytical nature of statements made, but also disrupts the linearity of a discussion’s path. Jumping from topic to topic in this manner harms the class as a whole by preventing meaningful conclusions from forming. At the level of undergraduate study, grading systems should prioritize substantive and well-crafted arguments, rather than allotting points for vocalization.

Beyond the implications for the classroom, verbal participation points perpetuate the societal value of extroverts. Individuals who speak up often are perceived by their peers and managers as more intelligent and resourceful, when in reality, they may merely be more impulsive and confident. Rewarding these habits in an educational setting will only solidify these societal beliefs, and the power of introverts will continue to be overlooked.

Although participation points are a well-intentioned method of encouraging student voices, in reality, this evaluation system is neither the most effective for learning, nor does it create more reflective individuals. Instead, allotting grade points for in-class participation suggests there is only one valid way to show day-to-day engagement with course material.

Abi Tupa ’16 ( is from St. Louis Park, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and management studies.

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St. Olaf Sentiments: March 4, 2016

I’ve had the same scrap of paper on my desk since Sept. 2 – a “Note to Self” of sorts. Most of the time, it’s obscured by stacks of notebooks and novels and half-sipped mugs of tea. Some days it suffocates under the weight of my accounting book, and other times it makes a great placemat for my scantly washed cereal bowl. But every once in a while, when I clear the clutter, I find it again – a reminder scrawled in out-of-shape cursive: “No more chances.”

The phrase was born on a humid night with a very non-alcoholic beverage in hand. Friends and I watched the final moments of our last real summer seep into the first minutes of official seniordom.

“This is it. No more chances.”

Unlike anything we tried to adhere to the walls of Ytterboe in that first week on campus, the words just stuck. We adopted them as a phrase to live by in our final months of our college careers.

It seems blunt, perhaps, but this motto is not untrue. Chances in life, sure, there will be many more. But opportune undergraduate moments on the Hill are getting fewer and farther between for the Class of 2016. After three and a half years here, our time is almost up.

As a senior, I can say there’s something about this fact – that time is almost up – that makes us feel invincible. We come to terms with our insecurities, or rather, we simply don’t have time to care about them anymore – we have job applications to complete. But there’s a similar something about this fact – that time is almost up – that makes us wonder if we’ve done what we were supposed to do here. If we learned what we ought to know. If we’ve become who we were meant to be.

We are conditioned to believe that college is synonymous with opportunity. And to a certain extent, it is. People with Ph.D.’s roam the hallways at our disposal, ready to answer the questions we haven’t even thought to ask. Other twenty-somethings mill about the quad, the caf and the library, ready to be noticed, liked and maybe even loved.

The tools are laid out for us here. But tools, by definition, are meant to be used. After all, what is the difference between a missed opportunity and no opportunity at all?

Four years seems like a lot of time, and, as college students, we are prone to procrastinate. That’s precisely why Netflix’s stock is through the roof. When resources and opportunities replenish themselves as frequently as they do at St. Olaf, we delude ourselves into thinking we can afford to skip out. I’ll raise my hand next time. I’ll say “hi” next time. I’ll apply for that job next time.

For some reason, we don’t consider all chances equally precious. In reality, the anticipation of future chances should not be an acceptable reason to postpone an end result.

Why then, do we hesitate?

My theory is the duality of fear. Somehow, during senior year, fear evolves from being an inhibitor to a motivator. Suddenly, the anxiety that for so long prevented us from taking that chance pales in comparison to the possibility of missing out. Academically. Socially. Romantically. We finally get scared enough of the experiences we realize we might have to sacrifice and the memories we might not make.

“No more chances.”

The opportunities catalyzed by our learning and interactions at St. Olaf are countless. But when it comes down to it, our allotment of time on the Hill is not. We receive years of reassurance that we “have so much time” to figure it all out, but the unsettling truth is, the days are numbered. They always have been, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait until we have “no more chances.”

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Gallery documents overlooked pedestrian experience

“Everyone warned me about my feet,” artist and non-fiction author Andy Sturdevant said as he described his on-foot journey from Minneapolis to Northfield – a two day trek that served as inspiration for Flaten Art Museum’s latest gallery opening, The Via Northfield. “Like, ‘wear good socks, wear good shoes.’ What they did not tell me was about underwear. I wore a pair of boxer briefs. If I was doing it again, I would wear some of the really futuristic space underwear that people have sometimes when they run marathons or bicycle long distances.”

Sturdevant’s remarks at the gallery opening on Friday, Feb. 19 – although comical – reminded show-goers of the rarity of the pedestrian experience and the unpreparedness society faces with a low-tempo life. In a motor-paced society, The Via Northfield reasserts the beauty available within an on-foot adventure.

“It was kind of a mystical experience really. When you’re out on dirt roads, and you’re dressed in regular street clothes, there’s really no context for being out there. You’re so used to experiencing that part of the world from a car,” Sturdevant said.

“To just walk through it and have this waving undulation of wheat fields and corn fields all around you is a really surreal experience. It’s almost like being at sea, because you are just surrounded by this enormity, this scale that is so outside the context of what you understand walking down a sidewalk.”

Collecting Sturdevant’s experiences as a pedestrian along one of Dakota Country’s oldest paths – Pilot Knob Road – The Via Northfield functions as an immersive, interactive archive. Photographs, interviews and infographics guide the viewer through a linear map of the route, allowing the exhibit to function in what Studevant deems a “mid-range regional history museum.”

In an unassuming way, The Via Northfield harnesses the author-artist’s natural talent for developing narrative by blending the disciplines of writing and content visualization. Although information is displayed graphically, the exhibit beckons viewers to follow the artist’s path linearly from start to finish, making it one of Flaten’s most reading-intensive exhibits in recent years.

“I think Andy commits this full power of attention to the work he makes as an artist and a writer,” Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson said. “We see it here in the photographs of the surface textures under his feet he walked over forty miles, we see it in the careful listening of his interview subjects, and we see it in the quirky ephemera that he unearthed in regional newspapers, archives and historical societies.”

In addition to blending media, The Via Northfield also blends time periods. “I think one of the strongest elements of the show was the dual temporal aspect,” Josh Torkelson ’17 said. “It had this very contemporary approach with the photos of it now and the interviews of people now, but it also had a historical approach. I think a lot of art these days, people are looking back at their roots and finding connections to the past. I think that was one of my favorite things about the show: it brought together past and present.”

Although Sturdevant uses his personal journey as the backbone of the project, the interviews the artist conducted during and after his pilgrimage drive the exhibit and broaden the project’s scope.

“The idea of talking to some people that had experiences as pedestrians along this path was a way to unlock what we typically think of as a pretty unremarkable part of the state,” Sturdevant said.

Students and community members can experience The Via Northfield in Flaten Art Museum until the exhibit’s close on April 17.

To continue his exploration of history, place and memory, Sturdevant will also host an artist-led walk from Flaten Art Museum to Waterford Township on Saturday, April 16. The six-mile walk will begin promptly at 11:00 a.m. and include food, drinks, guest speakers and a performance by Mike Gunther. Busses will provide walkers return service to the St. Olaf College campus after the event.

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Anonymous donor sponsors Christian music concert

Renowned Christian singer-songwriter Jason Gray stepped into the Lion’s Pause spotlight on Friday, Feb. 12 with his guitar and sense of humor in tow. The musician brought nearly 240 concert-goers to their feet in praise and to their knees in laughter with a moving performance for St. Olaf students and Northfield community members at the evening’s free show.

The Minnesota-born singer-songwriter, whose music is featured on local Christian radio stations like 98.5 KTIS and 102.5 K-LOVE, professed an interest in performing at St. Olaf for the past 15 years. His visit to campus on Friday was finally made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor.

According to Christian Activities Network (CAN) member Katie Sandness ’16, the donor approached CAN with the idea to bring Gray to campus as a way of giving back to St. Olaf while providing an experience for the entire Northfield community. In order to reach new audiences, CAN teamed up with the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) to advertise and organize the event.

“We didn’t want it to just be an outreach to the Christian community at St. Olaf,” Sandess said. “Jason Gray is a Christian singer and songwriter, but his message is really one of encouragement in general. It was really more about reaching the broader campus. MEC hadn’t had a Christian artist in a couple years, so they were really excited to partner with us. I was also really excited about getting the community involved. There are not a lot of opportunities that I have been able to see that have the Northfield community and St. Olaf coming together.”

Before taking the stage, 40 students and community members gathered to hear Gray field questions about his songwriting practices, musical inspirations and faith testimony in a private Q&A session. Gray quickly revealed his personable nature and knack for storytelling with humorous lines, such as: “I first heard the voice of God through Paul Simon, and he was an agnostic, Jewish pop singer.”

Christopher Alexander ’16 said Gray’s message and ministry drew him to attend the Q&A session.

“He is inspiring in that his passion and his service are completely joined. He loves music and he loves what he does, and he also does it fully for other people,” Alexander said. “He lights up and enjoys himself, and he also shares that enjoyment with the audiences that he speaks to. I think that is really cool to have that combination.”

Although he usually performs with a band, Gray played a solo set using just his guitar, a loop recorder and sampler effects pedals to create self-generated background music. The acoustic minimalism of his set enhanced the intimate environment established by Gray’s frequent storytelling and dialogue with the audience.

“I love his albums, but it’s a totally different experience seeing him live,” Alexander said. “It almost feels like you’re hanging out with a friend. He makes jokes, he will pause a song halfway through if something funny happens, and he will bring you in almost like he’s having a conversation with you.”

Sandness said she believes this intimacy differentiated the event from other concerts.

“The people I talked to said they had never been to a concert like this because he was so honest and real,” Sandness said. “It didn’t necessarily feel like a performance; it didn’t seem rehearsed, it was just Jason being authentic and doing what he loves to do. In that way he was so likeable. I think people responded well to that because it wasn’t just a performance, it was like Jason was sharing a part of his life with us.”

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