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Take advantage of administrators’ availability

About 20 minutes into the April 30 episode of “Lunchtime Live,” I started feeling a little silly.

It was not because of the goofy comments President David Anderson ’74 uttered in the most recent broadcast of his periodic, virtual, half-hour program, though I must share some comedic highlights: “this wall will come down” regarding the Cage expansion, but weirdly reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, gleefully anticipating “driving a stake through the heart of rumor” and announcing that, after much debate, the battle cry will officially be spelled “Um Yah Yah!” Amusing as these moments were, the most ridiculous thing about that situation was that I was seeking insight into St. Olaf’s administrators through “Lunchtime” when, as a student, I have the power to interact with them in much more meaningful ways.

A super-fresh example that immediately jumps to mind is the ongoing Enough! campaign. Though the student-led movement has carefully controlled the administration’s involvement with its actions, there have already been signs of fruitful dialogue. Anderson’s candid and specific comments on Enough! during “Lunchtime” were useful, but I found other actions even more encouraging: the email Anderson sent to all students on April 18, the attendance of Vice President Greg Kneser and Assistant to the President on Institutional Diversity Bruce King at a May 1 rally and the anticipated May 3 meeting between Kneser, King, Dean of Students Roz Eaton-Neeb and the Enough! leaders. Rather than just listening to what our administrators have to say through a scripted address, we have the power to interact with them directly and negotiate for significant, school-wide change.

Enough! is just getting started, but the student initiative Take Back the Tap TBTT is proof that efforts to reach out to the administration can end in real results. TBTT organizers have persisted in their mission to eliminate bottled water from campus, meeting consistently with administrators in offices ranging from the Dean’s to Admissions to Facilities. The conversations were not just opportunities to lobby the people in power – they were opportunities to learn from the people who know all the details of St. Olaf’s operations. With this information, TBTT was able to devise plans that would address the needs of all areas of the school while getting as close to the movement’s goal as possible. On April 25, Kneser sent the whole St. Olaf community an email announcing that bottled water would be replaced with more sustainable alternatives in the Cage, at Commencement and in a variety of other places.

Progress through these student-administration collaborations is often slower than activists would like, but it has the potential to be lasting and far-reaching. We do not all have the time or energy to conduct well-organized, grassroots campaigns, but we all have ideas about how St. Olaf could be better. Watch “Lunchtime” for the jokes, but initiate a two-way conversation for meaningful engagement with your community.

Opinions Editor Stephanie Jones ’13 is from Boulder, Colo. She majors in environmental studies and philosophy.

Graphic Credit: Isaac Burton/Manitou Messenger