Whether you were tucking yourself into bed in your cozy dorm room, catching the late night showing of “Mary Poppins Returns” in Viking theater or hanging out with friends last Friday night, you probably noticed a chain of emails sent to the Daily Chapel alias not by the usual Kristin L. Kivell, but by a group of St. Olaf students. These emails differed in their tone and content – some students wished to be removed from the alias because they are not followers of the Christian faith, others wished to find their lost wallets and others still simply wanted to send the whole “Emoji Movie” script to the student body. Though the tone of these emails differed, the underlying message was the same: many students do not want the College chapel schedule sent to their inbox every week.
It is no secret that St. Olaf is, at its heart, a Lutheran institution. From Christmas Fest to the mandated study of a Christian text for our Biblical and Theological Studies–Bible requirement (BTS-B), St. Olaf’s roots are visible everywhere we turn. For those who do not conform to the Christian faith, things can get a bit uncomfortable. Even if there is an opt-out button for the Chapel Schedule alias (there is, though one Google Groups aficionado claimed that it didn’t work), there isn’t an opt-out button for encountering Lutheranism on campus.
On one hand, St. Olaf is built upon a solid foundation of Lutheranism and Norwegian heritage and, as a private institution, is allowed to express its history in whatever way it pleases. On the other hand, the Institution’s student base is becoming more diverse in terms of faith, culture, origin and language, and is therefore increasingly uncomfortable with the sometimes suffocating narrative the college’s mission statement puts forth. Thus, St. Olaf must do some serious introspection to determine what matters to it most. Which is more important to St. Olaf’s continuing vitality: its donors, its hegemonic Board of Regents or its multi-voiced student body?
I believe the skirmishes taking place via communal aliases are the result of the College trying to please everyone to keep its options open. We, the students, are rightfully indignant. Did St. Olaf not promise us an inclusive and welcoming (don’t forget intensely residential) environment? Can one really be part of a global community while being nourished by Lutheran tradition? It seems that there is no easy answer to this question, though perhaps next time it would be more constructive if the “Emoji Movie” wasn’t brought into the debate.
Emma dePaulo Reid ’19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Washington, D.C. She majors in Classics and English.