Author: Solvejg Wastvedt

St. Olaf hosts local climate summit

The Manitou Messenger is happy to present several photos from the Climate Summit on Saturday, January 18th.

Northfield Climate Summit volunteers direct registration in Buntrock Crossroads. In attendance were St. Olaf and Carleton students and faculty, Northfield community members and local politicians.

Angel Dobrow explains the Transition Northfield movement. A Community Idea and Action Fair with displays by more than 30 state and local projects occupied Crossroads throughout the day.

Keynote speaker PaulDouglas narrates his personal journey from climate change skeptic to believer. Douglas talk, “Climate Change: Natural Cycle or Troubling Trend?”, presented the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change.

Former Minnesota senator Ellen Anderson details the states progress combating climate change.

High school students from Northfields Transition Youth movement perform a song about climate change as the summit concludes.

All Photo Credit to:Solvejg Wastvedt/KYMN Radio

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Havlir 80 discusses AIDS cure

Have we reached the beginning of the end of AIDS? Alumni Achievement Award winner Diane Havlir ’80 addressed that question on Friday, Nov. 8 during her talk in Regents Hall.

Havlir is a professor of medicine and a physician at University of California, San Francisco UCSF, and serves as Chief of the HIV/AIDS Division at San Francisco General Hospital. When the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s she was working at UCSF, and now she has been involved in patient care and clinical research for more than 25 years.

Havlir began her talk by sketching out the history of AIDS, from theories about its origin to the AIDS epidemic to the eventual discovery of effective treatment options. At the end of her speech, she reached the big question: can we conquer AIDS? She made it clear that for her, the answer is yes.

“We have a set of breakthrough scientific advances that occurred in the past couple of years,” she said.

Havlir listed “treatment as prevention,” circumcision for adult males and other discoveries, saying that the path to ending AIDS is simple: prevent further infections, detect the disease early and treat patients successfully.

For a more detailed description of that path, Havlir delved into a program she has helped develop called “Test and Treat.” Initially, Havlir’s program conducted tests in communities in east Africa to see if treating everyone in a given population would prove more effective than treating only people who had already contracted the disease, as the World Health Organization recommends. She found that treating people while they are still healthy proved most effective.

With a more inclusive treatment plan, Havlir said, “You can build clinics and not hospitals.” The “Test and Treat” program set up clinics in communities highly affected by AIDS in order to offer both treatment for the disease and general health services. Havlir stressed that “this is for health,” not just for AIDS treatment.

As evidence that the end of AIDS is near, Havlir cited numerous hopeful trends, including more people living with HIV and a projected elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission by 2015. She called this goal “the first milestone.”

Havlir also noted barriers standing in the way of ending AIDS, the most salient of which could be financial.

“We can’t end the AIDS epidemic without money,” she said.

As for further challenges, Havlir cited patients being unaware of their status, the delay in starting therapy and inadequate outreach to particularly vulnerable populations.

The fight to end AIDS has long been on the mind of several students who met with Havlir during her visit to campus. Jade Zheng is co-chair of Oles Face AIDS, an activist organization that aims to equip young people for the fight against HIV/AIDS and to offer support to HIV-affected youth. Zheng and other students discussed the role of AIDS activism over breakfast during Havlir’s visit.”[Havlir] said that the AIDS activists really changed the conventional way of how global health works by “putting themselves at the table” and engaging the patients and people at the grassroots, which later on had a profound impact on the progress of global health,” Zheng said.For Zheng, Havlir’s visit and lecture reinforced her desire to address social justice issues after graduating from St. Olaf.

“I did not quite realize [before Havlir’s visit] what a profound role AIDS activists played in relation to the greater global health community,” Zheng said. “Hearing her positive perspectives on the role youth can play in [fundraising and advocacy] was very empowering and motivating.”

Havlir’s overall take-home message was one of hope and continued dedication. “I believe we have the scientific tools to begin to end AIDS,” she said. A key ingredient in the solution might just be the work of the next generation of AIDS caregivers, researchers and activists.

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Stephanie Cutter pushes authenticity: PAC fall speaker discusses elections, campaigning, social media

At this time last year, election fever was gripping St. Olaf and the entire country. Die-hard supporters of both sides canvassed door-to-door, while tech-savvy voters Tweeted and Facebooked their political musings. Equally ubiquitous were communications from both campaigns, where people like Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for President Obama and this year’s Political Awareness Committee PAC fall speaker, worked to get out their message.

In her speech on Wednesday, Oct. 23, Cutter took students back in time to 2012 and shared what she learned about leadership and communication while working for the Obama campaign.

“Americans don’t want leaders who sugarcoat things,” she said, elaborating on the first of three key leadership traits: resilient optimism, authenticity and focus. “We want leaders who refuse to let defeat define them, who believe that the future will be better and who have and can share their vision of the path forward.”

Cutter went on to point out Obama’s consistent optimism, particularly in his use of forward-thinking language. She continued to illustrate her discussion of leadership with anecdotes from the Obama campaign, painting Obama as a figure with both authenticity and focus.

“People liked him, and they felt they knew him,” she said. “We wanted to talk to people where they are and in ways they understood, which is how…one afternoon the president ended up on Reddit inviting users to ask [him] anything.”

Cutter elaborated on the Reddit incident to show how social media has changed the face of campaigning. “There wasn’t much about this we could control,” she said. “A Redditer asked the president the immortal question: ‘Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?’ But the fact that he was willing to do it was more important than what he actually said.”

As a result of the Reddit appearance, 30,000 new voters registered, an achievement that, Cutter noted, can take a traditional campaign eight months. Cutter also pointed out that, while Twitter was a new technology in the 2008 campaign, by 2012 it was essential. To illustrate this point, she pointed again to an Obama campaign success: “Obama’s Twitter handle was only about 7 million [followers] behind Justin Beiber,” she said. “That’s a big deal.”

Cutter opened it up to questions after her talk but sidesteppedthe inevitable first inquiry: What is it like to be a woman in politics?

“I never considered myself a woman in politics; I just considered myself a person in politics, so that’s hard to answer,” she said. “There are differences … I just never let anybody know the difference.”

She went on to offer a prediction for 2016: “When Hillary Clinton runs … [voters are] not going to see the election as a man versus a woman. I think that’s an important change for the country.”

Another timely topic, the recent government shutdown, gave Cutter a chance to offer some clarification.

“The shutdown was not about the budget, it was about repealing the health care law,” she said. “The budget was actually below spending levels that both Democrats and Republicans wanted. It was the lowest federal budget per capita that we’ve ever had.”

Cutter also did not hesitate to admonish lawmakers. “I don’t think we should ever shut down,” she said. “I don’t think that’s why people get sent to Washington. I think they should make these decisions in a more responsible way. We didn’t save money [with the shutdown], we wasted it.”

With a reminder that students “hold in [their] hands literally the ability to make a profound difference,” Cutter encouraged listeners to stay involved in the political conversation. She advised the audience that resilient optimism, authenticity and focus can maximize anyone’s impact in the political sphere.

wastveds@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: BEKAH ENGSTRAND/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Campus stunned by loss of Alice Hanson: Beloved music history professor dies unexpectedly

For some in the St. Olaf community, a pair of loud shoes scurrying through the music department hallways has been sorely missed this past week. For others, a particularly intimidating professor has been absent from the front of the classroom. And for many, a revered source of knowledge of all things music history has disappeared from the campus community.

Alice Hanson, professor of music and music history at St. Olaf College for 31 years, died unexpectedly on Friday, Oct. 11. Students reported her absence from class that morning to the department office, and the police later found Hanson during a well-being check at her house.

Hanson’s teaching at St. Olaf focused on early 19th century music, and her classes were made up mainly of music majors. She was both loved and feared by her students, as evidenced by exit surveys completed by graduates of the department.

“Please tell me Dr. Hanson is immortal,” one survey said.

“Alice Hanson provides thorough, intensive, high-caliber music history classes, and the department would be bereft of academic fervor without her,” another commented.

The job of reviewing these exit surveys belonged to Kent McWilliams, professor of music and department vice chair, at the beginning of his time at St. Olaf.

“I remember very clearly thinking, ‘Oh, Dr. Hanson, she’s a really tough professor, and I bet a lot of people are going to say she’s too tough,'” McWilliams said. “Not a single person said that. It resonated throughout all those exit surveys that they all held her in very high esteem, that her passion shone through and gave them a deeper understanding of the material.”

Hanson’s love for teaching stood out in her relationships with her colleagues as well. Professor of music history Gerald Hoekstra worked closely with Hanson as St. Olaf’s only other music history faculty. He cited Hanson’s high-energy instructional style and high standards as her defining academic characteristics.

“She put a great deal of attention on knowing… the characteristics and forms of a piece of music,” he said. “She insisted that students reach [her standards], and they did. She was very blunt, she said what she thought, and she said it in no ambiguous terms, but students knew that her high demands and her intensity were ultimately for their good.”

Hanson’s academic expertise focused on 19th century music, particularly the music of Vienna from the 18th to 20th centuries. She published a book, “Musical Life in Biedermeier Vienna,” as well as articles in several journals. Her students, though, remained her first priority.

“Her real passion was not so much in doing musicological research, it was more the teaching aspect,” Hoekstra said. “The teaching was ultimately more important to her than writing one more article for an academic journal.”

A memorial service for Hanson will be held Friday, Nov. 1, at 6:30 p.m. in Boe Chapel. As the music department copes with the loss, Robin Gehl ’83 has stepped in to teach Hanson’s courses. Gehl earned her doctorate in musicology from the University of Cincinnati.

In the wake of Hanson’s death, reflections on her impact as a professor and a scholar have emerged from the St. Olaf music community. McWilliams passed along this summation of Hanson’s legacy:

“As somebody put, and I think this really typifies it: ‘I hope for his sake that Beethoven knows what his music is about, because if he doesn’t, Alice is telling him right now.'”

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Noted philosopher talks character

Professor Daniel Robinson, a member of the Oxford University philosophy faculty, gave this year’s Eunice Belgum memorial lectures on Monday, Sept. 23. Robinson is also a distinguished professor emeritus at Georgetown University and a prolific author and editor. His lectures were titled “Consciousness Again” and “Character.”

How did you come to join the philosophy faculty at Oxford?

I had a sabbatical from Georgetown in 1990, and somebody in the philosophy department at Oxford asked if I’d like to give a course of lectures. It went very well, and they worked it out so I could do it for another year by having [Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro] do it the first four weeks, and I’d do it the rest of the year. Afterward, I got a letter asking if I’d give my own lecture series, and then I was elected fellow of the faculty in philosophy at Oxford.

What interests you about lecturing for a college student audience?

It is the undergraduate body that is going to shape the entire world. Graduate students will become highly specialized, but it’s that large body of bachelor’s students who will enter the foreign service, enter the world of commerce, the world of trade and entrepreneurial undertakings. Of the valuable things we’re in a position to collect, one of them is collected for the express purpose of giving it away, and that’s knowledge. I’ve always taken it as a distinct privilege to be able to learn things, put that learning into a more systematic form and then present it to students.

You earned your Ph.D. in neuropsychology. What initially sparked your interest in studying psychology?

As organs go – I speak with a prejudice here – but the brain is a lot more interesting than say the spleen, all due respect to people who study spleens. I went to Colgate [University], and I indicated that I found the brain an interesting subject, whereupon [my adviser] said, “You better take psychology.” In my little world, I was not sure nice people studied psychology. There seemed to be something tainted about the whole idea, so I said, “No, I’m interested in the brain,” and he said, “Well I’m putting you down for psychology.”

How do you think psychology interacts with philosophy, the field you teach in now?

You can’t devote yourself to a serious inquiry into brain function without getting involved in philosophy. For example, to what extent does brain pathology render one exempt from the demands of the law? Neurology drew me inexorably into the philosophy of law and the philosophy of mind. Myacademic life divides rather neatly into two periods of 25 years each. The first 25: How does it work? The second 25: What does it mean?

How do your lecture topics consciousness, character relate to your main interests in your fields?

Everybody, during waking hours, is walking around with consciousness. Normally we do not regard it as problematic, but what sort of entity is it? Is it something science can explain? Or is there something ineffable about it? Character, the Greek world thought it was destiny. It’s not something, at least on Aristotle’s account, that is given; it’s something that is made. The architecture of world you live in – the music you listen to, your quality of schooling, the kind of experiences you are presented with in childhood – shapes you all the time. Not to be cognizant of these influences is to be a passive product of them.

Moving from the U.S. to Oxford, what differences did you notice in the two countries’ university atmospheres?

They are totally different. Academic integrity is the term that comes to mind. The number of people [at Oxford] who are there because there isn’t any place on earth they want to be more…and are bringing a kind of innocence and high intellect to bear on vexing and enduring questions, is very different. A tutorial [one-on-one teaching session] at Oxford is not a chatroom. You come in every week with four or five pages, and [the professor] will have questions about what you’re writing. By the time you’re finished [with a degree], you have probably done 1,000 to 1,500 pages like that.

You have also written or edited more than 40 books. Which is your favorite side of your career, teaching or writing? Why?

The teaching. When you write a book, it’s a lengthy letter to a stranger you’ll probably never meet. When you teach a class, it’s an engagement with someone who’s counting on you, and you’re counting on her to do something of value, not only to the student, but through the student to a lot of other people. No matter how well-planned the course is, it’s not an entirely predictable thing. The sudden question from the just-18-year-old who doesn’t know you’re a great man and asks toward the end of the course why anyone would be interested in this – that’s what you live for.

wastveds@stolaf.edu

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