Author: Dylan Walker

Faculty in Focus: Professor James May

o understand Professor of Classics and current Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor James May, it certainly helps to understand Cicero. A prominent Roman orator, Cicero lived from 106 BCE to 43 BCE. His theories on the art of rhetoric, his speeches and other works have proven hugely influential to important figures, ranging from St. Augustine to John Adams. For much of his life, May has studied this man and the rhetoric he used, and has been inspired by and the Latin and Greek he spoke. This is May’s 40th and final year at St. Olaf; when he leaves, the college will be losing a dynamic professor, as well as a former Provost and Dean who served from 2002-2011.

Before all of his contributions to classical studies and St. Olaf College, May grew up in a single-mother home in eastern Ohio. His exposure to and interest in Latin started early and never wavered, as he started reciting Latin as an altar boy around age six. He started studying the language in junior high, continued in high school and quickly decided his profession.

“When we read the first ‘In Catilinam’ oration [a widely studied speech in which Cicero denounces Catiline, a conspirator against the Roman government, in the Roman senate], I just thought it was the greatest thing in the world,” May said. “When I was able to read Cicero in the original Latin and see how eloquent he could be and learn about rhetorical devices, I got so excited I thought ‘I want to be a Latin teacher.’”

May went to college at Kent State University, earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in English and Latin and went on to earn a Ph.D. in classics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. May was partly driven to be a professor at the encouragement of Kent State professors who saw his gifts in Latin and Greek. He came to St. Olaf in the fall of 1977 immediately after earning his degree. Before this, he had never ventured west of the Mississippi.

“I had never heard of St. Olaf College, but when I met people interviewing from the college, they talked to me about the college and about teaching in a way most of my other interviewers didn’t. Most were interested in giving me a second doctoral oral exam,” May said. “I remember going home and saying to my wife in North Carolina, ‘I hope this St. Olaf place calls back.’”

Thus began May’s first – and only – teaching job, and the start of a long career. May has written many articles, book chapters and textbooks, including two with fellow St. Olaf classics professor Anne Groton. His most recent book, “How to Win an Argument: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Persuasion,” was released by Princeton University Press this September. The book features selections from Cicero’s rhetorical treatises, translated by May, and uses passages from Cicero’s speeches as examples of the rhetorical devices and skills discussed. It has been heavily promoted by its publishers, in part because of its release in conjunction with the 2016 presidential election. As a result, May has been interviewed by radio stations in New Hampshire and Detroit, and been asked to write blog entries about what Cicero would advise going into a debate or an argument. The goal of the book was to popularize the ancient art of rhetoric for a modern audience, and so far it has succeeded.

“The thing about this is there are only so many ways that you can persuade people,” May said. “The Greeks basically figured it out; everything since then has been some sort of development of their thought or so forth. The basic premises haven’t changed and won’t change, and the tactics that were useful in antiquity are still relevant today.”

Now that May is wrapping up his final year, he will have more time for his many hobbies – from woodworking to restoring antique tractors. Yet he said he will miss many things about teaching – partially the rhythm of the academic calendar, but especially getting to introduce new students to the classics. He thinks St. Olaf students are “great human beings,” and also highly esteems the department he has worked in for 40 years.

“I feel really privileged to have a great career at St. Olaf and to be a member of a department like ours,” May said. “It’s one of the best, most highly recognized classics departments in the country for undergraduate education. All classicists in the country know about St. Olaf because of the work we’ve done together. I’ve been privileged to work with my colleagues and build what we’ve built, and I hope that it will continue long after I’m gone.”

In his honor, the classics department will host an annual James M. May Endowed Lecture in Classics beginning on March 27, 2017. The topic will be “Isocrates and Cicero,” and it will serve as a fitting tribute for May and his contributions as a professor and administrator.

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Debate more comedic than political

The first debate between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aired on Monday, Sept. 25. The Pause was packed with students at the viewing event planned by the Political Awareness Committee (PAC), as were other viewing parties across the nation. NBC reporter Savannah Guthrie kicked off the debate by mentioning the expected viewership, which had the potential to rival that of the Super Bowl. This possibility was presented as a positive sign that America is a politically engaged country. Indeed, the final viewer count was record-breaking: 84 million people tuned in, making this the most-watched debate in American history. But I would argue that this number doesn’t signify the United States’ political engagement or patriotism. Perhaps I’m just overly pessimistic, but I believe the large viewership for this debate is yet another sign of how far this presidential campaign has drifted from the political realm into the realm of entertainment.

To be fair, this election has not been truly centered around politics from the very beginning. I don’t remember much serious commentary about Donald Trump’s candidacy back in June 2015. Similarly, there has been very little serious discussion concerning his comments about immigration and what it might mean if he were to actually become the president. I do, however, remember the fixation of the media on Trump’s personal life. Along with this non-political focus was the general disbelief that he would advance very far in the election, resulting in dismissal of and jokes about his candidacy. The media focused on Trump’s outlandish comments rather than their possible future implications for Americans. This surface level coverage isn’t helped by the fact that Trump is an established figure in American culture, for better or for worse. The same can be said of Hillary Clinton, who has spent several decades in the public eye. Most Americans felt that they knew where they stood with both Trump and Clinton. The media has taken advantage of this fact, choosing to neglect the candidate’s actual positions on the issues. Instead the media continuously drums up the entertainment value of each candidate to draw attention.

As the unprecedented debate viewing numbers show, the entertainment value has not failed the media even in the twilight of the 2016 election. The reality is that we are in the throes of a political atmosphere that prioritizes short sound bites that are easy to turn into memes over civic engagement. To be fair, this is incredibly easy when our candidates do things like attack a sitting senator for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. For this very reason professionals exist who are supposed to explain the news and its consequences to the American people. With each new election cycle, these professionals seem to take it upon themselves to present more and more infotainment – with the result that American voters are more interested in laughing at the election or listening for the next cringeworthy statement than being informed members of the populace. The extremely polarizing candidates have made the 2016 presidential election a laughing stock.

The impulse to make politics (and politicians) funny is not something to be condemned. For instance, a multitude of fantastic political commentary has come from “Saturday Night Live” and other late night comedy shows. I must confess I do love a good meme. Yet I’m still troubled by the way comedic political discourse seems to have bled over into newspapers, television outlets and the like. The fact that the work of “real” journalists has defaulted to mere entertainment for readers and viewers is a problem. If emphasizing the comedic value of candidates is what it takes to hold debates with record viewing numbers, and if these record numbers are what we prioritize in politics today, then so be it. However, if we’re going to turn campaigns and politicians into jokes through the media we can’t pretend that our investment in said campaigns, politicians, or the election in general runs deeper than the jokes themselves.

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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Departments host screening of Caribbean LGBT+ films

On Thursday, Sept. 29, St. Olaf will host a powerful interdisciplinary and intersectional event. Film directors and activists Dr. Celiany Rivera-Velázquez and Carlos Rodríguez will screen their respective documentaries “Queen of Myself: Las Krudas d’Cuba” and “Trans’It” from 6-8 p.m. in Viking Theater for an event called Caribbean and Latinx Queer Lives on the Reel, followed by a Q&A and open discussion. The screening is sponsored by the Leraas Fund, the Race and Ethnic Studies Department, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department and the Romance Languages department.

Professor Kristina Medina-Vilarino brought the directors to campus. She first met Rivera-Velázquez in grad school.

“We were working on completely different things, but we met in an organization for Puerto Rican students,” Medina-Vilarino said. “We never worked together, but there were certain topics we both discussed in our work, like immigration, gender and sexuality.”

Medina-Vilarino actually has not met Rodríguez in person, but she became familiar with his work through a book she is writing about the Dominican Republic and human movement. She contacted him because of this connection after she saw “Trans’It” and thought the St. Olaf community needed to see the film. So she brought Rivera-Velázquez and Rodríguez to St. Olaf as part of a college tour for their films.

“Queen of Myself” (directed by Rivera-Velázquez) tells the story of Krudas Cubensi, a queer and feminist hip hop trio formed in Cuba in 1999 and later emigrating to the United States in 2006. The film chronicles their lives between 2004 and 2009. It was completed in 2012 and shows the group’s journey through hip hop, community theater and art, as well and the group’s immigration experiences. So far, “Queen of Myself” has been screened everywhere from Dartmouth University to the 2011 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Rodríguez’s 2015 film “Trans’It” follows three transgender teenagers living in the socially and politically conservative Dominican Republic: Geisha, Thalia and Tommy. Their lives as openly transgender people are criticized in the Dominican society, and they advocate for the rights of all Dominican transgender people. The film is currently on the festival circuit and has won several awards, including Best Documentary Short at an LGBTQ+ Santo Domingo film festival and Honorable Mention at a Caribbean international documentary film festival. Medina-Vilarino refers to each film as “a counterargument to more conservative narratives about what a family is, what does it mean to be Caribbean, how your identity ties into political context and cultural values that are assumed to be common.”

Medina-Vilarino was able to elaborate on the background of each director and the unique perspectives each one brings.

“[Rivera-Velázquez] started as an academic. She works with cultural studies and music more, but she also does visual media – that’s how she connects with [Rodríguez]. He didn’t do a Ph.D. He’s a photographer. He identifies as someone concerned about human rights and especially trans communities, and he’s also working from a visual media angle, but he’s not a professor,” Medina-Vilarino said. “They’re both the embodiment of transit, constantly moving from the United States to the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. They are very aware of what’s happening everywhere and can provide all those perspectives.”

Apart from the screening and Q&A, the directors will a visit the Spanish 273 class Cultural Heritage of the Hispanic U.S. and meet with Wellness Center staff. The directors will also be present at a 12:45 p.m. lunch event in Buntrock 143 with Gay, Lesbian Or Whatever (GLOW) that is open to all students. On Friday, Sept. 30 they will visit the Social Work 246 class. If you have the opportunity to meet with Rivera-Velázquez and Rodríguez, you should definitely do so — not only because of the awesome work they do, but also because Medina-Vilarino believes they will bring something special to St. Olaf’s campus. She encourages everyone to come to the screening with no limitations or assumptions, because there is something for everybody to learn.

“[People who attend the screening] will be able to think about the same topics from multiple angles. They’re going to be able to find connections and open a conversation that will allow us to make what we usually do more complex, and everyone will find something that will speak to them,” Medina-Vilarino said. “For students, that may have to do with a Spanish class. Maybe other aspects will have more to do with women’s and gender studies or social work, but usually those things are in silos. Not all those things are combined all the time. Here you will see all those side-by-side. To think about sexuality and gender and identity, you have to consider, more than anything else, the multiplicity of identities. This will push us into that conversation of making things more complex and real, not just categories. Regardless of where you’re coming from, you’ll get something out of this conversation.”

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Sexism in Olympics detracts from female success

You know, I was really looking forward to the Rio Olympics this year. I admit that this was partly to see if anything would crash and burn in light of the Zika virus, infrastructure concerns and other such controversies, but I was also genuinely interested in watching the sports. This love runs contrary to my bookish exterior, but it’s true – watching Megan Rapinoe, Tom Daley and Usain Bolt dominate their events is exhilarating. However, nothing killed this pleasure quite like the awfully sexist coverage of this year’s Olympic games.

Most of the exceptionally bad comments probably dominated your social media feeds. The Chicago Tribune introduced trap shooting bronze medalist Corey Cogdell Unrein as the “wife of a Bears lineman,” and an announcer gave credit for Hungarian gold medalist Katinka Hosszú’s feat to her husband and coach – referring to him as “the guy responsible.” Not to mention the constant comparisons of women to girls at the mall or the labeling of breakout swimmer Katie Ledecky as “the female Michael Phelps.” It was easy to feel overwhelmed as constant reports of Olympics sexism rolled in and it made me wonder what was causing seemingly every reporter and announcer to transform into a sexist pig. The vast amount of outrageous stories and reporting that came from this year’s games, however, points to one main conclusion: sexist reporting is still a problem that needs to be addressed. At the same time, we saw how social media can help the general public hold the media accountable.

It is quite disheartening to read and hear example after example of sexism in sports coverage. We like to think that we have advanced beyond blatant sexism in reporting, yet devaluing the accomplishments of elite female athletes shows that our culture is still deeply biased against women. People have tried to defend these gaffes in various ways. For example, it has been pointed out that Hosszú’s husband did in fact play a significant role in her training and coaching and this is perhaps what the announcer was trying to convey. That doesn’t change the fact that she is the one who was in the pool and she is the one who responsible for winning the medal. Crediting her husband minimizes her accomplishments. Is this 1950 or 2016?

Aside from the transferring of credit from female successes to male counterparts, the constant fixation of the commentators and general public on the bodies of the female athletes cannot be ignored. The media needlessly focused on the athletes’ appearances, such as having far-to-detailed discussions of female gymnasts’ leotards. If that doesn’t scream “pointless and objectifying,” I don’t know what does.

There is a deep, underlying problem of sexism in Olympics reporting, and sports reporting in general, that became all too evident in Rio. For me, this raises the important question – why is this happening? Why haven’t we heard such a wall of frankly offensive coverage before 2016? I would argue that this is not a new problem, but that we now live in a culture that is becoming more aware of sexism. We have become ready and willing to call out bad reporting. We truly have social media to thank for increasing awareness of these headlines and comments more quickly than ever. One would hope that this fact gives news reporters a catalyst to improve their reporting and rethink their sexist rhetoric, but it appears that we now have a way to fight this phenomenon until that happens.

A final question ought to be posed now – are we going to actually do anything to fix this problem with the power of the internet, or will we simply make angry posts on Facebook that do not accomplish anything? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to ending sexist reporting in athletics or in general. Simply tweeting at NBC executives, for example, will accomplish very little. This is a question worth further exploration. If we can figure out how to harness social media in a way that raises visibility of these problems in the first place, perhaps change can actually occur. Anger only gets us so far. Now it is time to make the next step: change the way we talk about female athletes, as well as women in general, and give them the respect they deserve.

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

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Administration reworks Title IX Policy

Madeline Wilson ’16 and the the gray shirt team, who wore shirts reading “Ask me how my college is protecting my rap- ist” for two months last year, graduated in May after turning their shirts into honor cords. Yet their legacy remains and the conversation that they opened around sexual assault at St. Olaf continues today.

The Title IX Working Group formed by President David Anderson ’74 met from May 5 to May 26 to review St. Olaf’s sexual assault policies, listen to students and experts and make recommendations for change. The group’s goal was to gather information, collect data and analyze everything it learned in order to write a report commissioned by Anderson. During these meetings, the group spoke to representatives from the gray shirt team, Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN), Gay Lesbian Or Whatever (GLOW), It’s On Us, College Ministry, Boe House, domestic abuse treatment facility HOPE Center, the Northfield Police Department and individuals who have reported sexual assaults through the college. The report was drafted during the summer.

The 116-page Working Group report and an eight-page ex- ecutive summary were released on July 14, along with a state- ment by group chair Tim Maudlin ’73.

“St. Olaf is a community of diverse beliefs and ideas, and we have heard many and varied perspectives through this process,” Maudlin wrote. “We expect that there may be many responses to the Working Group’s deliberations and recommendations. Some may feel that we have gone too far; some, not far enough. In reality, there are many ‘right’ ways to respond. Our goal was to find the right way for St. Olaf to respond.”

Soon afterward, Anderson also released a statement an- nouncing that the group’s recommendations would soon be

implemented and the college would be held accountable to do so by the Board of Regents.

“I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the members of the Title IX Working Group for the commitment and diligence they brought to this task, for the care they display throughout their report for the welfare of our students and for the research-based and reasoned approach they took to a difficult and emotionally fraught topic,” Anderson said. “There is no place for sexual mis- conduct or sexual assault at St. Olaf College. We are determined to prevent them from occurring, to stop them if they do occur and to ameliorate their effects.”

The report is broken into ten categories: Title IX team and leadership, policy revisions, reporting and intake process, complaint resolution process, sanctioning in Title IX cases, ac- countability for policy implementation and revision, inclusivity and accessibility of the Title IX policy, availability and quality of support services, training for the Title IX team and St. Olaf community and ensuring adequate communication and trans- parency in the Title IX process. Suggestions include an annual review of the Title IX policy, the hiring of a full-time Title IX case manager “to assume intake responsibilities and case man- agement of Title IX matters,” the usage of an affirmative consent definition and the formation of a Title IX advisory group.

When students returned to campus this fall, the effects of many of the report’s suggestions were obvious. Physical cop- ies of a Title IX Quick Guide, including links to the college’s Title IX webpage, contact information for the Title IX team and other sources of support were posted on every student’s desk. The Ole Student Portal and St. Olaf homepage feature links to the Title IX page and information about the training of Title IX team members is now public knowledge.

The college has also implemented many new changes behind the scenes to reform the way sexual assault is handled at St.

Olaf, according to a progress report posted on the Title IX page. This development includes three new hires. Kari Ogrodowski, most recently a staffer with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, now holds the position of Title IX case man- ager and began her work on September 19. The HOPE Center is now contracted with SARN to provide professional coordina- tion services. Finally, Area Coordinator of Ytterboe and Hoyme Halls Sarah Joslyn will now serve as Gender and Sexuality Co- ordinator, a ten-hour-per-week position. Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell will now serve as an adjudicative panel during complaint resolution rather than a single adjudicator, and a new policy about affirmative consent is under development. Many policies are also under review or be- ing created, such as the complaint resolution process and a pro- tocol for communication with complainants and respondents. New policy material to improve understanding of affirmative consent is under development.

According to the administration progress report, every working group suggestion has been completed, initiated or scheduled for change. Right now, short-term changes have fo- cused on publicizing Title IX policies and the ways team mem- bers can help the campus community.

As the 2016-2017 school year progresses, the St. Olaf com- munity will continue to evaluate how the changes make the Ti- tle IX reporting process easier, reduce the rates of sexual assault and ensure transparency in Title IX policy.

To continue following the progress report, learn more about St. Olaf ’s Title IX policy or read the full working group report, visit St. Olaf’s “Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Sexual Assault: College Policy and Resources for Prevention and Support” page at

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