Author: Abigail Tupa

St. Olaf Sentiments: December 4, 2015

“Obsession” is usually the word I use to describe my interest in the St. Olaf men’s cross-country team.

My investment in the sport might make sense if I knew anything about long-distance running. In short, I don’t, except that I personally kind of hate it. My body gives up well before the third mile of a jog, and I’m fine with that. I’ve certainly never been part of a cross-country team, and I’ve only just begun to understand how the scoring system works.

However, these small complications have not stopped me from living vicariously through the Ole men’s DIII athletic experience. For a while, I tried to live out my fascination in secret by memorizing the roster and cheering anonymously at races, but I suspect dressing up as the team for Halloween 2014 may have blown my cover.

It took me a while to really put my finger on what I love about this team. Something told me it wasn’t just their greasy locks or the team-wide effort to make the moustache relevant.

If not their flow, could their matching tattoos be cause for my admiration? Getting inked is cool I guess, but those leg logos are hard to see unless the team dons their short shorts or – ahem – even a little less in public. Unfortunately, neither situation occurs with much frequency. On the contrary, the gents look pretty fresh striding down the Caf aisles in their letter sweaters four times per meal, but I don’t think that’s what sparked my obsession either. After all, everybody and their brother has a sick sweater collection at St. Olaf.

One might think it is the team’s sheer success in recent years that draws my fandom, but I’m not convinced. Their speed actually makes it more difficult for me to keep an eye on them. If I wanted easy targets, the golf team would’ve been more my pace.

It was hours into Facebook stalking the entire roster that I finally realized my fascination doesn’t really stem from the team’s physique or accomplishments, but from the bond between members. The sense of brotherhood exuded by this collection of athletes truly astounds me.

I’ve heard the term “cult” used to describe the incessant amount of time these runners spend together. It’s true, members can be seen eating together, studying together and, of course, running across the countryside together.

For most of us outsiders, it probably seems monotonous to spend so many hours with one group of people, but I think we’re all just a little jealous: jealous of the sense of security this group gives one another, jealous of the continuous sense of support they find in one another’s ranks. We can quickly criticize the way the team “owns” the back left table in the caf, but who among us doesn’t wish we had an unplanned, yet always welcoming place to sit for every meal? Who among us doesn’t wish for a group of friends more akin to family?

I am inclined to believe there is not much these boys wouldn’t give for one another. I can even recall a member stating he’d wished he had spent less time on homework in the last week and more time being present with his teammates during some personal trials. At an institution like St. Olaf where students fight for GPA points left and right, this sentiment struck me.

I wonder what our campus community could be like if we exhibited half as much brotherly love and support as the cross-country team. If a bunch of gawky, greasy-haired boys can rally their talent to take a national championship title, what could we all achieve if we took genuine interest in the causes, concerns and missions of each other?

tupa@stolaf.edu

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Book salon questions institutional authority

For the second time this academic year, the Africa and the Americas Program and the Race and Ethnic Studies Department combined their resources to host a book salon for students, faculty and the Northfield community. On Thursday, Nov. 12., these academic departments – with help from the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) and the student group Karibu – supplied participants with free copies “Purple Hibiscus,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The event continued in the same vein as the fall’s first book salon, which brought themes of family, race and politics into a discussion of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman.”

Chair of the Africa and the Americas program Professor Joan Hepburn said she decided to offer a series of one-time book salons as a way to increase consciousness of African studies on campus and to promote the Africa and the Americas concentration. On a broader scale, however, Hepburn seeks to encourage interdepartmental discussion about relevant themes within the selected literature.

“I see the salon as something we can embrace to create a dialogue. There’s not enough of that,” Hepburn said. “We stay too busy; we stay tied to our own departments and we are too preoccupied with what we have to get done to really enjoy the considerable resources we can bring to discussions.”

In order to achieve this goal, Hepburn invited Joseph Mbele from the English department to add context to the evening’s discussion. A professor specializing in post-colonial literature, Mbele opened the evening’s dialogue by attesting to Adichie’s significance in the lineage of contemporary African writers.

“The writer we are talking about is one of the new generation of African writers, and she is really very young,” Mbele said. “But as young as she is, she has a big wisdom about how we should refrain from having one perspective and we should learn to look from different angles, whether talking about a country, culture or an individual.”

Adichie is considered one of the most prominent new generation writers in Nigeria, and according to Mbele, she follows in the footsteps of one of her nation’s most acclaimed writers, Chinua Achebe.

Adichie’s first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” earned her the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award—just a few of many accolades the author has accumulated throughout her writing and speaking career. The novel depicts the experience of a young, wealthy Nigerian girl living amidst the political turmoil of a military coup. In addition to overt political conflict, the novel’s protagonist copes with the burden of hidden domestic abuse at the hands of her devoutly religious father. Adichie’s sophisticated reflections on the intersection of family relations, religion, and institutional corruption contribute to her esteem within the writing community.

“[Adichie] manages to suggest that however unstable [her nation] presently is and how annoying it is to live with tyranny, there is a process of becoming democratic that demands the world be more patient,” Hepburn said. “[Adichie] comments on the judgment that democracies are not born in a minute. Even though she is young, her ability to show – not just declare – that type of open mindedness is one of the reasons why people take her as a writer we should listen to.”

According to Hepburn, the universal themes present within “Purple Hibiscus” also make the novel an accessible text to discuss, even for students not accustomed to analyzing literature.“There is a lot going on in the thematic development of the book that fits into people’s everyday lives. We don’t have to think of it as story unique to Nigeria and its political history. We can see ourselves in it, even in Northfield, because we do come off the Hill, and we do raise questions about administrative governance and student and faculty voice.”

Although the salon provided an array of opportunities for students, staff and the Northfield community to open a dialogue, the event saw a significant decrease in attendance in comparison to the first salon in October. Despite the limited turnout, Hepburn hopes the salons are a first step toward encouraging greater student and staff interaction.

“I would love for [the salons] to start looking at ways student groups and faculty programs feed into one another more readily. There are so many organizations on campus that operate in satellite ways,” she said. “I think academic programs can have more partnerships with student groups.”

Hepburn will work toward this goal by continuing to partner with CUBE and Karibu for the next book salon, which is scheduled to take place on April 1, 2016 and will discuss “God Help the Child,” by Toni Morrison.

tupa@stolaf.edu

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Oles set pace at MIAC championships

The Oles weathered a sloppy course on Oct. 31 for the 2015 MIAC Cross Country Championships, which were hosted by St. Olaf at the Como Golf Course in St. Paul, Minn.

The women’s team ended its race with a third-place finish and a team score of 97 points, just 36 points behind the repeat MIAC Champion, Carleton, and 25 points behind second place, St. Thomas.

“Third place was a great finish for our team,” said captain Morghen Philippi ’16. “After graduating a great class of runners and dealing with injuries the last few weeks, the women on this team demonstrated pure heart and grit on Saturday. They poured everything they had into the race. It was thrilling to see that we could come together as a team and place well in the MIAC even in the face of adversity.”

Team captain Piper Bain ’16 led the Ole women with a third-place finish overall and a time of 22:43.7. Philippi and Jamie Hoonaert ’17 followed closely behind and secured sixth and ninth place finishes with times of 22:55.7 and 23:06.2 respectively, earning All-Conference Honors in the process.

The men’s team approached its race with confidence as the defending MIAC

champions and did not face any major threat on the course. The team solidified its fourth consecutive MIAC Championship title with a team score of 34 points, beating the runner-up, St. John’s by a hefty margin of 62 points.

Team captain Jake Campbell ’16 continued St. Olaf’s four-year streak of taking

the individual championship title with a winning time of 25:36.1. In addition to

Campbell’s personal achievement, five other Ole men took home MIAC All-Conference Honors for their impressive performances. Calvin Lehn ’16 and captain Paul Escher ’16 finished fifth and sixth overall with times of 26:01.4 and 26:08.8 respectively, and Joe Coffey ’17 landed 10th with a time of 26:34.3. Keith Ketola ’18 finished 12th overall with a time of 26:38.9, and Paul Timm ’18 rounded out the top 15 with a time of 26:44.1.

Bjork ’17 and Jacob Eggers ’17 recieved All-Conference Honorable Mentions for finishing within the top 25 runners with times of 26:58.4 and 27:20.1 respectively.

Both teams used Saturday’s race to build momentum for the NCAA Division III Central Regional Championships in Pella, Iowa on Nov. 14 where they will compete to qualify for the NCAA National Championship. The top two teams and top seven individual runners will automatically qualify to race for the national title on Nov. 21 in Winneconne, Wisconsin. However, teams can also qualify via an at-large bid.

The women will enter the race ranked fourth in the Central Region, but Philippi said all bets are off in the championship season.

“The conference and nation aren’t sure what to think of us. We are a young team, and a bit of an underdog. However, our program also has an outstanding reputation. If any team is going to pull through, it’s us. We could qualify some individuals, but it’s more fun to run with your teammates,” she said.

Much like Saturday’s conference race, the Ole men approach Regionals with high aspirations.

“Our goal moving forward is to win Regionals,” said captain Brian Klein ’16. “We’ve won it the past three years, so we will be going for a four-year streak.”

Klein said the team ultimately aspires to take back the national title, but he admits

reaching this goal will not easy, and certainly not a landslide like Saturday’s Conference success.

tupa@stolaf.edu

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Pitchfork strives to highlight musical diversity

You don’t have to be a music critic to notice that there has always been a bit of contention between listeners of indie records and those allegiant to more mainstream strains of music. Taylor Swift might go as far as to call it “bad blood,” and with good reason. The young pop sensation’s style and genre affiliation have been the root of many arguments about what is “good” music and now, more than ever, what is worthy of public attention.

Swift has been shaking off her antagonists and indie records (supposedly much cooler than hers) since the beginning of her career. But recent attention for her songs reimagined under another artist’s name and sound has formed an interesting case study in the genre battle between indie and pop music.

Last week indie musical artist Ryan Adams released an all-covers version of Swift’s latest album, 1989, and received near instantaneous recognition from Pitchfork in the form of an album review—an achievement Swift herself has yet to receive in her multi-platinum career. This instance caused media consumers to question what makes Swift’s versions inferior in the eyes of Pitchfork and those it represents—alternative listeners.

In Forrest Wickman’s response article on Slate.com, he critiques the music review site for snubbing Swift of the attention she deserves.

“It took a guy’s acoustic covers for one of the most successful and influential music sites on the Web to finally deem an album of her songs worthy,” Wickman said.

Here Wickman appears to claim indie listeners are unwilling to give Swift credit for her work merely because she does not ascribe to the type of sound to which they gravitate.

In dissent with Wickman’s claim, I doubt Pitchfork’s blind eye toward Swift had much to do with her pop affiliation and more to do with the attention she has already received as an artist. After all, Pitchfork never claimed to be an objective news source in the world of music; they certainly have an intended audience and a mission to uncover diversity as a media aggregate.

As such, Swift’s unignorable presence within the music scene should not automatically earn her more attention from a site otherwise devoted to uncovering emerging artists and trends that spark dialogue.

Some may argue Pitchfork has devoted time and attention to artists like Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake who are no more “emerging” artists than Swift herself. However, it is also important to note that many of the reviews these artists have received are a result of collaborations or genre-defying arrangements.

Although we are fed familiar names, these artists receive additional acclaim not simply because they have done something new, but because their product has pushed boundaries.

At the end of the day, I suspect indie news providers and listeners themselves are critical of mainstream music due to what it represents on a social level—passivity. Listeners who solely tune in to what is popular on the large scale are blindly adopting the values and opinions of others without taking time to critically consider what they support.

In this sense, media aggregates play an extremely important role in curating—or regurgitating—content for listeners. Niche sites such as Pitchfork offer a platform for artists and listeners who are interested in challenging social norms.

The decision to exclude Swift from its commentary does not necessarily mean Pitchfork views her as inferior or lacking in talent. It merely means the site takes responsibility for the media it disperses and chooses to spread new voices— both literally and figuratively.

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