Last year’s news recap

A global climate strike, hate group postings and the announcement of a new housing project highlighted a busy year of events across the St. Olaf community. Our team of reporters and editors worked tirelessly to inform the campus about these happenings, even while navigating a shift to remote publication at the end of the spring semester as COVID-19 moved classes online.

Here’s some of the news highlights from the 2019-2020 academic year:

Campus gets a facelift

Iain Carlos ’20 reported on renovations to numerous buildings and spaces across campus, including the Skoglund auditorium, the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion and the Theater Building.

Oles strike for the climate

Over 400 St. Olaf students marched from campus to Northfield’s Bridge Square as part of the global student climate strikes that took place in cities across the globe on Sept. 20, 2019. Brandishing signs with slogans such as ‘People Over Profit’ and chanting ‘Oles Can, Oles Will Strike!’, the students marched in solidarity with peers around the world and were joined by faculty members and other Northfield citizens. St. Olaf’s Climate Justice Collective organized the strike and the march into downtown. Article and reporting by Jacob Maranda ’22, Alyson Brinker ’20, Claire Strother ’22 and Iain Carlos ’20.

50 years of race and ethnic studies

St. Olaf celebrated 50 years since the inception of its race and ethnic studies department over homecoming weekend in 2019. St. Olaf was one of the first Colleges in the country to establish a race and ethnic studies department, and, despite a tumultuous history, recent funding and renewed interest promise a continued future for the College’s RACE program. Article by Lydia Bermel ’22.

Postings from a white supremacist group found across campus

At least eight stickers from the white supremacist group Patriot Front were found by community members across the St. Olaf campus during the week of Oct. 3 to Oct. 10, 2019. The discovery of these postings lead to an investigation by Public Safety and concerns from community members. Bruce King, former Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity, condemned the postings. 

“We think it is a mistake to give this group and its message the attention they are seeking, but we also want to stand up loudly against hate,” King said. 

Article and reporting by Iain Carlos ’20.

New registration for fall 2020

Lydia Bermel ’20 reported on the introduction of a new registration system, that will go into effect for spring registration this fall. The registration overhaul came alongside other changes to the Student Information System (SIS), including the ability to indicate preferred gender pronouns and proper name pronunciation. 

General education curriculum reform

The new OLE Core general education curriculum received over two-thirds faculty support during a Nov. 7 meeting. The new curriculum, built from discussions and forums with faculty and students during 2017 and 2018, is much slimmer in general education requirements and will offer students more flexibility in their course selections. The OLE Core curriculum will take effect in fall 2021 for first-year students and will remain in effect no longer than 10 years due to a sunset provision included in the final draft. Article and reporting by Kailey Favaro ’20 and Lydia Bermel ’22.

Announcement of the Ole Avenue housing project

The College announced the development of a new dorm and townhouses on Ole Avenue, which will replace Boe House, current honor houses on the avenue and the home of President David Anderson ’74. The three-story dormitory and fourteen townhouse units will offer students more options for housing on-campus. While estimates during the winter of 2019-2020 showed the project being completed no later than fall 2022, the covd-19 outbreak has stalled development, likely pushing back the estimated completion date. Article and reporting by Jacob Maranda ’22.

Investigations into academic freedom and campus surveillance

Sam Carlen ’20 and Iain Carlos ’20 carried out two investigations at the end of the fall and opening of the spring semester — one looked at academic freedom in the classroom while the other analyzed St. Olaf’s surveillance practices. 

The academic freedom article came off the back of an incident during spring 2019, in which Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rohn said the N-word in a class session while describing the name of a painting, causing unrest among students in the class. A similar incident occurred with Associate Professor of English Carlos Gallego. These two incidents prompted the College’s Faculty Life Committee to form an academic freedom task force. Similar instances of challenges to academic freedom have occurred in other institutions across the country.

The investigation into surveillance at St. Olaf unearthed the full extent of the College’s informational technology (IT) capacities. These capacities extend to the collection of data stored in students’ Google accounts, granular Moodle data and community members’ web traffic. Further, IT computing policy states that anyone who uses College networks or technology “automatically consents to the monitoring of their activities in the course of systems maintenance or security related investigations.”

St. Olaf’s response to the novel coronavirus

In late March, during the College’s spring break, President Anderson announced the move to complete off-campus and digital learning for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. This move followed the formation and extensive work of the Coronavirus Response Team, founded by Anderson as the pandemic escalated around the country. Many other changes to campus occurred before the complete shift away, including an extension of spring break and the cancellation of many College-sponsored events. Article and reporting by Jacob Maranda ’22.

“Notes from Abroad” highlights student experiences abroad during a global pandemic

Alyson Brinker ’20 began her “Notes from Abroad” series through a conversation with Colin Kolasny ’21, detailing Kolasny’s experiences quarantining in Taiwan. The series continued through interviews with Gabbie Holtzman ’21, Morgan Marxer ’21 and Imani Mosher ’21 about their times in Italy, New Zealand and Namibia respectively. The series was a highlight of The Mess’s period of digital publication toward the close of the spring semester.

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