An ode to the first floor Rolvaag federal publications room

Here at St. Olaf, we live in a color scheme. The aesthetic direction of campus relies on whites, greys and yellows, chosen with complimentary types of wood. Wood — and matching faux-wood — in Holland is more mellow to play with the white walls, while the wood in Thomson is yellow and vibrant to make the large windows and huge open central space pop more dramatically. When you look for it, you notice it everywhere; St. Olaf’s aesthetic is finely curated.

St. Olaf’s aesthetic can trap you in it and make you forget that the world doesn’t look like that. The world outside is full of what French Anthropologist Marc Augé has dubbed “non-places:” locations which are designed for pure utility and are made as such in part to minimize potential aesthetic meaning-making. St. Olaf’s fine-tuned aesthetic seeks to create specific associations in ways that can be overwhelming. If non-places contribute to modern malaise, and most of St. Olaf is so aesthetically determined as to be stifling, what do we want?

We want the first floor Rolvaag government documents room. Let me just list some things that are true about the place, free of judgement. There are a number of important documents that pertain to the United States government, some dating back to the 1800s. There are life-sized cardboard cutouts of Lara Croft and Austin Powers. Records of everything said in the United States Congress, since its inception, are present. There is a word-board where people have written “I need filling” and “friends ride friends.” A painting of Jesus Christ blessing a 16-wheel truck is visible from the location of the Second Bioethics Commission Report on Human Cloning. There is nearly every issue of the “Federal Register,” which are in containers, each adorned with different pictures of sad women, creating what has been dubbed “the wall of melancholy women.”

Now, we obviously don’t want the first floor Rolvaag government documents room all the time. The place is awful. The things which have surely happened on the room’s sole couch — sitting beneath a number of anime posters, of course — are unspeakable. Regardless, St. Olaf needs a first floor Rolvaag government documents room or two.

As students at a school which likes to think of itself as a leading “academically rigorous” and “intensely residential” liberal arts college, we need places to remind us that, fundamentally, college is stupid. We need silly, ridiculous, ugly, violently uncool spaces on our campus in order to remind ourselves of the fact that college, on its worst days, is all of those things. If one wants to have a more holistic picture of the aesthetic life of college, and wants to escape the nearing-on-corporate look of Olaf, I can’t more highly recommend taking a trip to the bottom of Rolvaag.


graham10@stolaf.edu

Logan Graham ’22 is from

Warrenville, IL.

His major is philosophy.