Author: Dylan Walker

“Creatures of Habit” to showcase senior dance majors

As the end of the semester looms, various departments here at St. Olaf are working hard on end-of-semester showcases. The dance department is no different, preparing for “Creatures of Habit,” the senior dance concert. There will be three performances: Dec. 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Kelsey Theater, with doors opening at 7:00 p.m. (no ticket required). In addition, the Thursday performance will be streamed live and archived.

The annual concert is part of the senior dance major capstone. Students submit written proposals for their projects during their junior year, work closely with faculty members, and have the opportunity to share their specialties with the St. Olaf community. Students have the freedom to focus on any area of dance they choose, from performance to choreography, to blending dance with other disciplines, such as visual art or music. Therefore, the senior dance concert is not always performance-based or choreography-based, as one might think, but varies in style from year to year.

Four of the five senior dance majors are performing in the concert. (The fifth, Gabby Dominique ’17, choreographed this fall’s productions of “Die Fledermaus” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for her project.) Jacob Borg ’17 and Chloe Chambers ’17 are performing solos choreographed by guest artists. Borg’s piece explores the journey of his life and the concept of home, utilizing expressive dance and text spoken in his native language of Maltese. It is choreographed by Gustavus Adolphus College dance professor Jill Patterson. Chambers will perform a dance called “The Architect,” choreographed by Mathew Janczewski, artistic director of the Minneapolis dance company ARENA Dances. Meanwhile, Julia Bassett ’17 and Shaina Andres ’17 have choreographed their own pieces, which will be performed by two groups of people. Bassett’s piece is entitled “The Edge of Somewhere,” and Andres has created a “movement-based, highly kinetic choreography project,” according to dance professor Heather Klopchin.

By participating in the senior dance concert, dancers will gain solid performing or choreography experience, a cornerstone of any dance program. In addition, their projects are shown on a formal stage with costumes and stage lighting. As for the audience, they will have the pleasure of watching a good show. But there is even more value for attendees than the show itself, according to Borg.

“The purpose of the senior dance concert is to share our artistic work with the rest of the community with the goal that the art created speaks to the attending audience,” Borg said. “The audience can find this art presented very easy to understand, whilst others leave the concert with more questions about the dances presented than they had before they watched them. Above all, we hope that the audience enjoys themselves whilst we proudly present our works.”

Members of the St. Olaf dance faculty echoed these sentiments. “The senior dance concert provides an opportunity to share the talents and hard work of our senior dance majors,” professor of dance Janice Roberts said. “I think the audience will find the 2016 senior dance concert an exciting, rich concert that fully highlights our wonderful students.”

“This year’s Senior Concert ‘Creatures of Habit’ promises to be an exciting, moving, thought provoking culmination of these senior dance majors’ journeys over the last three and a half years,” said Klopchin.

Even though the senior dance concert will be streamed and archived, you should definitely be sure to catch “Creatures of Habit” if you can. Dance is a physical art that should be seen in person to be appreciated. The beauty and presentation of the artistic works of the four students will arm you with warmth on a cold winter’s night. Don’t miss out.

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Standing Rock check-ins: slacktivism strikes again

I woke up on Halloween morning and like any technology-addicted millennial, checked Facebook. One of my friends from middle school summer camp used Facebook’s “check-in” feature to check in at Standing Rock Reservation, the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. This surprised me; I had no idea they cared about the controversy, but I still thought it was great that they had traveled from Missouri to North Dakota to stand with the protestors.

Then I kept scrolling and saw similar posts from friends I had thought were in Northfield, Chicago, Minneapolis and other locations around the country. I realized that my circle of acquaintances had not made a mass exodus to North Dakota when I read a clarifying post stating that protest groups were calling for supporters to simply check-in to Standing Rock to confuse local authorities who were using Facebook check-ins to monitor the protests.

The clarification post read, “This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings on the line that we can do without leaving our homes.”

Unfortunately, it looks like this form of online activism may have been misguided, as no protest groups have actually claimed they requested such an act of protest. When the fact-checking website Snopes contacted the leaders of the Sacred Stone Camp, they said that there are so many different people involved in this movement that the request could have come from anybody.

“There are many camps and points of contact, we can only verify that it did not originate from the Sacred Stone Camp [Facebook] page. We support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity,” one of the leaders said.

Neither the leaders of the movement nor the Morton County Sheriff’s Office officials believed that the Facebook posts actually impeded law enforcement. However, it was made clear that Sacred Stone appreciated the solidarity demonstrated through these Facebook check-ins.

Expressed solidarity for any movement is almost always appreciated. I’m sure seeing virtual support for the cause feels great to protesters at Standing Rock, especially considering that they have faced mass arrests and police brutality. Virtual support is better than no support; nothing can change if people don’t care. The problem is, people seem to think this is all one has to do to be an activist. Recently, it seems as though all Facebook users love and wish to make a difference, but nobody seems very willing to put in any real effort to do so.

This is why I believe solidarity is so popular right now, especially solidarity that takes place over social media. For some people, they feel that virtual solidarity is the least they can do to contribute to a movement or a cause. And that’s fine, as solidarity is always much-appreciated. I’m not going to criticize its expression. However, I believe that most of those expressing virtual solidarity likely have something more to give to the movements that we profess to care about. Sympathy and solidarity only take a movement so far. There are many concrete ways to support those at Standing Rock, from contributing to the camp’s legal defense fund to calling the Army Corps of Engineers and demanding that they reverse the DAPL permit. But these courses of action require more of people, whether that be time or money.

We must confront the reality that social media activism alone has not proven to be an effective method of activism. To truly affect change at Standing Rock, we must log out of our Facebook accounts and find concrete ways to become involved. At the very least, I encourage people to do some of their own research before reposting a status about any given event. I don’t mean to say that I’m not just as guilty of this bare-minimum activism as anybody else. I too have shared videos, changed my Facebook profile picture and used hashtags without actually doing anything in the real world to contribute to tangible change. However, recent events, such as the check-ins at Standing Rock, have shown me that this has not and will likely never be enough. I personally resolve to do more true activism for the causes I care about. Will you join me?

Dylan Walker ’18 ( is from Mountian Grove, Mo. They major in classics with concentrations in film studies and women’s and gender studies.

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St. Olaf, high school musicians play at “Festival of Bands”

The day was Nov. 12, a Saturday afternoon. Skoglund Center was set up to accommodate a concert band. Soon, the St. Olaf Festival of Bands would begin, including performances from the St. Olaf Band, the Festival Band, featuring 132 high school students from band programs all over Minnesota, and the Norseman Band.

Parents filled the bleachers, along with a few Oles. Then at 3:55 p.m., the high schoolers flooded into the gym as their families called their names and snapped photos. Some looked away in embarrassment, while others eagerly waved back. Finally, the St. Olaf students emerged. St. Olaf Band sat in the bleachers, and Norseman took their places and began the cacophony of warm-ups.

Festival of Bands is an annual tradition at St. Olaf. It begins in September, when high school band directors are invited to nominate up to five of their top students. From the over 400 nominations, an ensemble is selected to practice in an all-day rehearsal with a guest conductor, eat lunch in Stav Hall and perform in a concert that evening. This year, the conductor was Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Drake University in Des Moines Robert Meunier. He founded the Drake University Wind Symphony in 1998 and has played percussion with the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. In addition to conducting the Festival Band, Dr. Meunier also worked with the St. Olaf Band and Norseman Band.

Joseph Spellman ’19 plays bassoon with the Norseman Band. He thought Meunier was an outstanding choice for this year’s Festival.

“He is a fantastic conductor, and he brought a really great energy to the band room. We were playing a very complex piece that challenged our abilities, and his insights into the piece were really valuable for our performance,” Spellman said.

The concert began promptly at 4 p.m. when director of both the St. Olaf Band and the Norseman Band Timothy Mahr took the podium to conduct the latter, who opened with “An American Salute,” a vigorous arrangement of variations on the Civil War standard “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” featuring generally unheard-of combinations of instruments, most notably a bassoon trio. Dr. Meunier then conducted “Pale Blue on Deep,” a song about the north shore of Lake Superior that the director described as “pensive in many ways, and always in some kind of motion.” Norseman then wrapped up their set with two faster numbers, “Nitro” and “Bayou Breakdown,” both of which proved to be rhythmically complex and quick-moving pieces.

The high schoolers then took the stage, with a quick introduction by Meunier.

“This is such a unique thing that we do in music,” he said. “How often do math clubs get together for one day and then put on a concert, or biology clubs? This is so unique to music and such a special thing.”

After emphasizing that most of the students did not know each other before arriving at St. Olaf that morning, the Festival Band delved into their music. Their performance of the five selected pieces was indeed remarkable, considering the fact that they had only rehearsed as a band for a day. The audience was treated to the pulsing power of “Windsprints,” a Celtic tune called “Soles Ane” (Gaelic for “Yesterday’s Love”), a Russian “Galop” from “Moscow, Cheryomushki” and Mahr’s newest composition, “Appalachian Folk Dreams,” a pleasant song mostly in 5/4.

The most emotionally powerful piece, however, was “Kindred Spirits.” As Meunier explained, the piece was commissioned by a middle school band after a high school student murdered his parents and two younger brothers who played in the band. It included key percussion features: four chime hits to represent each life lost, and a bass drum to symbolize a fading heartbeat. The piece was the most emotional of the repertoire, and the hushed audience seemed to take a while to process the music.

Finally, the St. Olaf Band concluded the concert. They also played four pieces: “Toccata Marziale,” “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” from the opera “Lohengrin,” “Blow, Eastern Winds” (directed by Meunier again) and “Oboe Concerto” by Jennifer Higdon. The latter featured St. Olaf oboe studio and woodwind methods instructor Dana Maede. The entire set was very precise, clean and well-received by the audience.

Fiona Carson ’18, a trombonist in the St. Olaf Band, agreed that their set went well.

“My favorite piece that we played was ‘Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral’ by Wagner. It starts out so tender with a couple of woodwinds playing and I love how the flute floats above the rest of the instruments. However as the piece goes on, it grows and by the end it is magnificently big and you can just hear the joy and triumph in the music.”

Mahr closed the show and sent everyone off for dinner with some final thoughts, related to this week’s election.

“It’s been a very challenging week full of concern for the future and the uncertainty of where we’re at right now, and what we find in the arts is that it pays to let your soul be nurtured by an artistic experience. And what I’m hoping that you see is that we have with the high school group and with both these bands people from both sides of the political aisle, and yet they can come together and make music. It’s that artistic experience that I think holds hope for us.”

The Festival of Bands on Saturday may have been a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and watch skilled musicians and conductors do what they do best, but it truly was an artistic experience, as Mahr said. To catch Norseman Band’s next performance, attend their joint concert with Philharmonia on Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Boe Chapel. The St. Olaf Band’s next official concert will be their Winter Tour Home Concert on Feb. 11, 3:30 p.m. in Skoglund Center.

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Hamilton contest explores historical icons

The winners of the Hamilton Essay Contest, a contest sponsored by the St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community, were announced on Oct. 11. According to the press release, the contest was “designed to generate insightful student perspectives on important political figures and controversies.”

The contest was open only to St. Olaf students from the class of 2020, and contestants were instructed to write on one of two prompts: “If the two candidates running for President this November were Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, whom would you vote for and why?” or “Who should be in your wallet? How should the recent controversy over faces on the fronts of the $10 and $20 bills have been resolved and why?” The 11 winners will go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago on Dec. 3 to see the Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” in the room where it happens, the PrivateBank Theatre.

The Institute for Freedom and Community was established at St. Olaf in 2015. According to its mission statement, the Institute strives to educate students interested in public affairs and searching for truth. It also “seeks to challenge presuppositions, question easy answers, and foster constructive dialogue.” The Institute sponsors several programs here at St. Olaf, including the Public Affairs Conversation program, faculty development, lectures and debates. In fact, the Hamilton Essay Contest was designed to preview a panel of visiting speakers on Oct. 20, titled “Who’s In Your Wallet?: Hamilton, Jackson, Tubman, and the Presidential Election.”

Meanwhile, the contest was first announced in the St. Olaf Class of 2020 Facebook group over the summer and through posters placed around campus during the fall. The 11 students making the Dec. 3 trip are George Arbanas ’20, Alyson Brinker ’20, Matthew Dufresne ’20, Madison Duran ’20, Callahan Gergen ’20, John Goodson ’20, Erik Lepisto ’20, Meredith Moore ’20, Molly Nakahara ’20, Devon Nielsen ’20 and William Randolph ’20. Writing the essay proved a challenge for some, but others enjoyed the prompts.

“I decided to enter because I have always liked Alexander Hamilton since third grade, and I like to think I was a trendsetter back in grade school now that everyone likes him because of the play,” Lepisto said. “But I really do believe that Hamilton doesn’t get the credit he deserves, so it is great to see people really take an interest in him.”

“I would vote for Hamilton. I justified this by stating that Hamilton was a candidate of conviction and stood true to his beliefs, yet Jefferson did not uphold many of his when he was in office, whether that be strict construction or equality. Hamilton knew he had to prove himself and had to demonstrate his political prowess therefore he stood true to his beliefs, yet still compromised when the interest of the new nation depended on it,” Lepisto said.

Randolph, on the other hand, decided to tackle the controversy of whether or not to keep Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with his essay.

“I decided that the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was the right decision, based solely on the fact that Jackson despised paper money and should never have been put on there in the first place,” Randolph said. “And then of course there’s Tubman’s list of achievements, which is impressive all on its own, let alone compared to Jackson’s. All in all, I was satisfied with the decisions the public has made.”

Even though the winners will only have 24 hours in Chicago, they are very excited for the trip.

“I am ecstatic! I could not believe that I had won originally; I was kind of in a state of disbelief and happiness. I cannot wait until the show,” Nakahara said.

“I feel shocked, excited and extremely thankful,” Moore said. “When I first heard the news, I was so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling for the next few hours. Even now, I still get super excited when I think about it. I can’t believe that I really get to see “Hamilton” in person. I realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful for the chance to participate in this contest.”

“I’m still in shock over it, honestly,” Duran said. “I think I will be until Decemeber third is right on the horizon.”

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Male birth control reveals flaws in contraceptives

For sexually active heterosexual people, birth control is often a necessity. In an ideal world, the duty to prevent pregnancy would be shared by both parties, or at least both parties would have the option to prevent pregnancy on their end. However, the fact of the matter is that this responsibility unilaterally falls on the person who risks becoming pregnant and having a baby. Attempts to change this reality and create reversible and effective birth control for male partners have thus far been unsuccessful due to several factors.

A recent clinical trial for a new birth control shot showed promise as 220 males were given a testosterone-suppressing injection once every two months. Only four female partners were impregnated during this trial, showing the effectiveness of the new development. However, the trial was halted early due to the reported side effects of the shot, which included increased acne, muscle pain and feelings of anxiety and depression.

Sound familiar? It should, because women who use hormonal contraception have had to deal with these side effects since the first birth control pill was introduced in 1957. Because of this, various blogs and websites posted think pieces about how men are wimps and need to take some responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies. A closer look at the actual facts of this trial shows that this is an overly simplistic take-away from the study.

First of all, the health and wellbeing of people of all genders is important. We should be careful about rolling our eyes at this study just because women on birth control already experience these symptoms. Writing off the experiences of half the population does nothing for anybody and contributes to a society infected with toxic masculinity where it’s “not manly” to express emotion or to seek help. The men who dropped out of the study weren’t “giving up” or being whiny; they were taking care of themselves. It is unfortunate that this trial caused painful side effects, and I genuinely sympathize with those who felt excessive pain because of this new form of birth control.

Let’s restate the fact that women on birth control have dealt with these symptoms for years, have been expected to quietly deal with said symptoms and have not been taken seriously when they speak up about their experiences. Birth control can come with truly scary side effects (such as the onset of depression or unmanageable periods), and gaining access to it can also be difficult. These struggles are too often disregarded by both the general population and medical professionals. Women who use birth control and have problems with it are oftentimes told they’re being dramatic, or to just “get over it.”

That’s not to mention the fact that this is 2016. When women reported serious side effects during trials for the pill in the 1950s, they were ignored. As a result, the pill was approved for the general population much earlier than it should have been, unlike the recently developed testosterone-suppressing shot. Despite the large numbers of women reporting a connection between contraceptive usage and depression, no major study of this link was released until this year. There is a long history of gross injustices and apathy toward the plights of contraceptive users that continues to this day, and it is very frustrating that it takes a study centered on the voices of men to open up this conversation.

In short, it was a good thing that this particular trial was discontinued, and it is wrong to laugh at the side effects of birth control. However, when one looks at the facts, I think that only a few of the aforementioned critics are truly laughing at the pain of male trial participants. It seems to me that the anger about the trials stems from the fact that women are fed up with having their experiences dismissed, talked over or simply misunderstood. There is indeed a demand for male birth control, but right now such a thing is going to live in our imaginations while the burden continues to fall on women to prevent pregnancy. I also think that most people do recognize this injustice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for further improvement. We can do better in the way we talk about birth control and the people that use and need it. Hopefully the results of this trial will spark a conversation, and soon new developments in birth control that people of all genders can use with minor side effects will be available.

Dylan Walker ’18 ( is from Mountain Grove, Mo. They major in classics with a concentration in film studies and women’s and gender studies.

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