Posted by: soanstolaf | May 23, 2018

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Bala Village, Thailand: Interim 2018

By Arleigh Truesdale ’19

This past January, Professor Ryan Sheppard and Lori Middeldorp (both from the Sociology/Anthropology department) led a group of 16 students on an interim trip to Thailand. Over the course of the 28 days, we stayed in metropolitan Bangkok, mountainous Chiang Mai, and the very rural Bala village (with a brief 36 hour visit to Hong Kong). With a focus on culture and institutions, the course introduced the ways that gender, Buddhism, classism, and globalization have influenced Thailand and Thai people.

Below is one of the many temples we visited in Thailand.

Wat Arun

Pictured below are two photographs taken in Bangkok at Wat Pho and the Grand Palace where the royal family lives. Hundreds of feet of walls are covered floor to ceiling with paintings like the picture below of demons mid-battle.

Grand Palace demons

You can see the amazing intricate detail of both the art and gilded architectural designs.

Grand Palace gold Buddhas

The photo below was taken in Bangkok in Chinatown where we visited the Golden Buddha. The expansive skyline of Bangkok is visible in the background with colorful apartments in the foreground.

Bangkok skyline

Suan Doi House is where we stayed in Chiang Mai and pictured below is the view from the balcony just outside the rooms. This lush, cozy place was home to many nocturnal chirping geckos, whistling birds, and acrobatic cats (one is hiding in the photo). Suan Doi House sits at the end of an alley off a busy road near Chiang Mai University. Oftentimes in the evening, groups of students rode tuktuk cabs and red trucks into the old portions of the city to explore the crowded Sunday night market, local produce markets, temples, and the Night Bazaar.

Suan Doi greenery

In between the 15 days we stayed in Chiang Mai, we were hosted by families in Bala Village which is a two-hour drive northeast of Chiang Mai through roads lined with banana trees. Because our class focused on the techniques of ethnographic research, all 18 of us (including Ryan and Lori) woke up at 5 in the morning to the crows of dozens of village roosters to conduct a field observation of the morning routines of our host families. During the day, the air is thick, warm, and carries the smell of the lush greenery nearby. At night, the temperature drops significantly leaving mornings with an eerie fog before the sun fully rises.

Bala Village mist

Witoon, a man living in Bala Village who helped our group navigate the language barrier, owns a banana farm nearby. On the second day of our stay, we ventured to Witoon’s farm, tried multiple kinds of mini-bananas, picked coffee beans, and gathered passion fruits. Pictured below are some leaves that have been picked and are drying out in the sun to be made into tea.

Bala Village tea leaves

In Chiang Mai, a handful of students took a cooking class where we gave our best shot at making red and green curry, pad thai, massaman chicken, tom yum goong (sweet and sour soup with shrimp), and mango with sticky rice. The morning started early with our cooking instructor picking us up in a red truck and taking us to a market overflowing with fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, spices, and anything else one might need to cook a meal.

Chiang Mai market

It was refreshing to reconnect with the process of cooking a meal and to identify individual ingredients (lemongrass, holy basil, kefir lime, to name a few) whose flavors and textures blur together in dishes.

Chiang Mai cooking class

On one of our last days in Thailand, we visited Chiang Mai University where we were able to compare and contrast our own experiences to those of students enrolled in college in Thailand. Here is our group all together! Many thanks to Ryan, Lori, Witoon, and our tour guides for making this experience so wonderfully rich and inspiring!

Thailand interim group photo

Posted by: soanstolaf | April 12, 2018

SOAN Majors Present at MSS Conference in Minneapolis

Written by Ann Jensen ’19

MSS logo

The weekend prior to spring break, a group of eleven St. Olaf students presented at the Midwest Sociological Society’s Annual Conference, held in Minneapolis. Based on research conducted in Professor Ryan Sheppard’s SOAN 371 Foundations of Social Science Research: Quantitative Methods course in the fall, students presented on various aspects of racial microaggressions in St. Olaf classrooms and curricula, including the typology of microaggressions, observed and preferred responses to microaggressions, and their academic, emotional, and psychological impact. In addition to presenting their research, students were able to attend various lectures, poster presentations, and short research presentations by a large number of professional and student sociologists attending the conference.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Sociology and the Public’s Health.” One of my favorite sessions was a plenary lecture entitled, “Beyond Privacy? The World Health Organization and the Ethics of Disease Surveillance,” given by Dr. Amy Fairchild, a social historian of health surveillance. She outlined the historical saga of disease surveillance in the U.S., a concept that rose to controversial prominence during the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1970’s. Her background in both public health and sociology made her lecture especially engaging. She discussed complexities of privacy, medical information, and bioethics — topics quite relevant to current public discourse related to confidentiality of personal health information. She recently led the development of a set of ethical guidelines regarding public health surveillance for the World Health Organization, with hopes that this information is used appropriately and effectively to keep individuals and communities safe and healthy.

Trivia Night 1Trivia Night 2

Trivia Night teams!

In addition to presenting our research and attending various presentations, we had the opportunity to engage in a variety of social and networking opportunities. We attended Trivia Night (and came away with some fun consolation prizes!), met with former St. Olaf professors, and chatted with fellow conference attendees. One of my favorite aspects of the week was a dinner arranged by the SOAN department for both student attendees and Minneapolis-based SOAN alumnae to chat over delicious Indian food. It was useful to learn about all the exciting ways alumnae have used their SOAN degree to pursue post-graduate opportunities, including working as a freelance journalist, on an organic farm, and pursuing degrees in social psychology and public health.

I would like to extend many thanks to Ryan Sheppard and the SOAN department for generously supporting our time at MSS, as well as our research pursuits this year. It was a wonderful learning experience, and we appreciate the effort put in to make it a successful weekend!

Written by Ann Jensen ’19

Andrea Conger headshot

This semester, the SOAN department welcomes Dr. Andrea Conger, a visiting professor of Anthropology. Dr. Conger is teaching Intro to Cultural Anthropology as well as Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Dr. Conger is a familiar face at St. Olaf, as she taught last year in the dance department, and is, in fact, a St. Olaf graduate! Sociology & Anthropology were not a part of her experience here as a student; as a Russian Language and Russian Area Studies major, Dr. Conger confesses she didn’t even know St. Olaf had an anthropology program when she graduated in 1998. However, her experience studying abroad in Russia gave her a new insight into the depth and complexity of culture. While in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, Dr. Conger, danced in a school of folk dance, giving her an initial look at the way physical movement, particularly dance, can be used to access and more deeply understand culture. This time allowed her to learn about Russian culture in a way she never expected, as she notes, “there is so much to learn about people through moving with them, rather than talking.” By recognizing the unique ways people use, move through, and interact with space, she describes a “new world” of embodied experiences that are visible yet often go unnoticed.

Dr. Conger’s career, while notable for its wide variation in subject area, has centered around this world of embodied movement. She received a professional certificate in modern dance from the University of Minnesota, an MA in Ethnochoreology from the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, and an MA and PhD in Anthropology from Indiana University. This route is perhaps unusual for a college professor, but has informed her interests and career focus in hugely important ways. Following her certificate at the University of Minnesota after college, Dr. Conger moved to Budapest, Hungary where she danced in a professional folk dance company. There, she also started her own modern folk ensemble, with the goal of “playing with the edges of culture” by investigating the culturally constructed “rules” of movement in Hungarian society. This pseudo-ethnographic work led to her research at the University of Limerick on ethnochoreology, defined as the study of dance through the application of a number of disciplines such as anthropology, musicology, ethnography, etc. Dr. Conger’s experience dancing throughout the U.S., Russia, and Hungary spurred her interest in how and where we “hold our culture” by examining the “non-negotiables” of dance in each culture: for example, patterns of hip movement, body posture, and even facial expressions. Her thesis on Modern Folk Dance in a Political Context in Hungary captures the fundamentally interdisciplinary approach that has informed her future work in the fields of dance and anthropology.

Andrea dancing

Dr. Conger performing a folk dance in Hungary.

While pursuing her PhD at the University of Indiana, Dr. Conger made the difficult decision to quit dancing professionally. After discovering the challenge of conducting research on movement that cannot be accessed through movement, she turned to a new physical pursuit: running. At the age of 37, Dr. Conger began running and, in fact, just completed her first half marathon this fall. This new pursuit has grown into more than an individual fitness endeavor; Dr. Conger is a mentor for Girls on the Run and is conducting research on running as an “embodied practice,” specifically for female runners. She is especially interested in women at adolescence and middle age, as both ages tend to be accompanied by large drops in female physical activity. By researching barriers to running for women in these age groups – such as appropriate clothing, fear for physical safety, and confidence issues – Dr. Conger works to identify the unique aspects of culture embodied in runners’ bodies. Her current research compares the embodied patterns of movement in both distance runners and dancers, bringing her interest and vast experience in both fields within the scope of ethnographic research.

Running adventures in Minnesota – on the trail and a half marathon in the snow!

For those who won’t be able to take a class from Dr. Conger during her remaining month here, I would highly recommend dropping by her office to say hello — especially for any students interested in dance, running, or the general intersection between physical movement and anthropology. Her path and approach to Anthropology is unique, and offers valuable insight into the ways we unconsciously reflect cultural expectations, barriers, and expectations through our bodies. As she noted, our American education system is well-suited to create “minds trained to think we have no body.” Thus, accessing these physical movements can be a complex and deeply rooted undertaking! However, there are many benefits of such an approach to Anthropology. In Dr. Conger’s words, there is a “certain level of humanity you get to access through movement” — one that we all would do well to learn more about!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 27, 2017

Welcome back Holland!

Written by Maggie H. ’18

We’re back in the new digs on Holland Hall 4th and 5th floors. We know some of you have been dying for an inside look at the renovations, so I’m Maggie, SOAN student worker, bringing you a virtual tour! (Click on the photos to zoom in)

To start with, here is the Regents side of Holland on a sunny morning. Notice the new entrance.

apporopriate sign picture


Here is the Rolvaag side of Holland. The windows, having all been replaced and no longer cracked and yellow, reflect the sun and show coziness inside. They are clear, temperature-efficient, and beautifully cut pieces.


The backside of Holland has been smoothed out, with a roundabout and small holding pond for drain water at the foot of the hill. A sidewalk from the library has been added to ground floor for accessibility, and there are a few parking spaces just outside.

parking lot holland


Here’s where the real stuff changed! Heading inside, we see long white hallways completely unlike the past interior design, which was reminiscent of a crumbling castle. Now we see white, modern lighting and clear glass with highlighted minimalist aesthetic.


They kept some of the original staircasing and handles, along with window block accents, if the historical accuracy concerns you!

Original stairs


Here’s the top of the new modern staircase on the library-side entrance. Bye-bye, spiral stairs!

artsy stairs


Here’s the outside office door of a visiting SOAN professor this year, Andrea Conger! All the offices in Holland feature outward-facing shelves for display and personalization. They’re quite cozy inside as well.

Andreas door


Professor Chiappari, new chair of the SOAN department this year, would have to agree!

chris artsy


And what of 6th floor? Well, the mystery floor that was once thought to be a myth but housed some offices and the Gender and Sexuality Center has been redone to include a new lift for accessibility and a wide open study space with exposed rafters to give it a rustic yet modern feel. Offices are available on this floor as well!



What’s this cool pattern???

tile bathroom lol

Surprise! Holland’s bathrooms, once renowned for creepy gothic as well as unsettlingly and perpetually damp stall walls have been upgraded. Quite pretty, really, and since I’ve accidentally walked into the men’s room about 6 times this month alone I can safely say all the bathrooms are very nice.



Lest you fear that Holland is nothing but stark white hallways (departments are decorating as we speak!), take a look at a few fun study spaces and nooks located around the building. Holland’s affinity with windows that allow bright, natural light to stream in, combined with comfy seats scattered about means studying all day everyday.


And finally, here is a photo taken at the front of one of the Holland classrooms. The building has several seminar rooms, a lecture hall in 501, and four large classrooms. The desks and chairs are these models which also appear in Tomson and Regents. A blackboard, whiteboard, and projector are available, and students in lecture are faced with calming wall colors and natural light.



In conclusion: here is a picture of yours truly supporting the new Holland Hall on the Hill. Make sure to come get a tour next time you make it back to campus!

Me holding up holland

Posted by: soanstolaf | May 19, 2017

Interview with Professor Emeritus Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb


Written by Ellen Meyers ’17

Over the course of my last semester on the Hill, I worked on a SOAN department history project. Part of my research included an interview with Professor Emeritus of Sociology Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb about his experiences in the department over the past 35 years. Bruce retired in 2015, but came back to St. Olaf this semester to teach two sections of SOAN 264 Race & Class in American Culture. Below are some excerpts from my interview with him:

Bruce came to St. Olaf in 1982 and has spent his time here teaching a wide variety of classes, including intro to anthropology, marriage and the family, race relations, social organization, and senior seminar. He also taught a few courses on contemporary Native American issues, mostly focusing on treaty and reservation politics as well as classes on LGBTQ issues. In addition to that, he also led the Term in Asia once and Term in the Middle East twice. When I asked him what courses he thought were the most enjoyable or impactful, Bruce responded,

“I would say the courses on race and gender. It seemed like those were areas where there was a lot of student interest but also where I had to keep on learning and growing in order to teach the courses. They’re very contemporary issues. The programs abroad were impactful too. I’d never been to any of the places we went before I led the trips, and didn’t know much about them. Traveling with, living with, and studying with the same group of students for 5 months gave me a different perspective and let me get to see students as whole persons. A lot of interesting cultural learning took place on those trips.”

Back in the 1980’s when St. Olaf still had the paracollege program (similar to what the CIS program is now), Bruce also taught anthropology courses within that program. Anthropology was not added to the sociology department until the early 1990’s, but options existed for students who wanted to take courses in that discipline.  He told me that originally the sociology department was combined with the social work department, and that these two departments still share ties. As to what prompted the addition of anthropology to the sociology department, Bruce said,

“I think it must have been a sociologist who started it… Over time faculty changed and we must have decided to add an anthropologist, and then we decided to go 50/50. Given the fact that the world was globalizing and that we were taking students abroad, it would have been nice to have students take courses before they left. It seemed that the sociologists felt it would be worth giving up some of the sociology positions to a few anthropologists. The anthropologists weren’t pleading to be let in, but we saw the value in adding them in.”

I then asked him what it was like to have a SOAN department without anthropology, and he pointed out some interesting things about having a joint department:

“I think of sociology and anthropology, even though they’re different, as asking similar questions. So we don’t have as many specific courses [within each discipline] as we might otherwise…Having both makes it more difficult to cover everything we might if there were two separate departments.”

Despite having some difficulty covering all of the topics we might be able to if the department was split, he said,

“It’s hard to imagine a liberal arts college without anthropology, especially with all the study abroad. Depending on who was here, there were different offerings available, and I think there has been increased student interest in SOAN topics. For those of us who have taken students off campus, most of us have been sociologists, whereas you might expect the anthropologists to do that.”

After asking about the department history, I asked him about some of the current events on campus, especially those pertaining to race and ethnicity, and I asked him how the department and the campus as a whole have changed with regards to that. In terms of the campus as a whole, Bruce said that, since his arrival in the 1980’s,

“[The campus has] become more diverse, both in terms of students of color and in international students. There is more religious diversity of the students. I don’t remember any Muslim students being here when I arrived. There has been an influx of Hmong students in recent years. I would say too that there seems to be more involvement and activism in women’s issues. There’s a new engagement in things like women’s studies as well as in LGBTQ issues. I co-taught a course in the English department in the 1980’s on LGBTQ issues, and no one ever talked about their own identities in class. Now there is much more discussion, students feel much more comfortable talking about their own identities now. Also, the range of things, like Diwali, Hmong New Year, and some of the different things like Hispanic week are relatively recent developments. I don’t remember them happening when I was first here.”

As far as the overall campus climate on issues of race and ethnicity, Bruce said that, while some things have changed, they haven’t been large or dramatic, and that most of the issues raised by students in the last few weeks are the same as they were when he started here 35 years ago:

“I don’t remember in the 1980’s much movement for change. Most of what St. Olaf was doing then was providing support services for students of color coming in. Now admissions says [students of color number] about 20%, but I’m sure that was smaller in the 1980’s. A lot of the activities were centered around black students and some Native Americans, with relatively few Asian students. There didn’t seem to be as much pressure on the administration to change except that students wanted more faculty of color. That’s one of the things I think they were protesting recently, not having enough faculty of color and also having a curriculum that reflects the experiences of non-western people and history. And the curriculum has changed, such as when they added the MCG and MCD GEs, sometime around the 1990’s. So there were some efforts to be more inclusive, but they weren’t that dramatic.”

What makes it difficult to bring about change, Bruce said, is the rapid turnover in the student population: “there is so much turnover between students- every 3 or 4 years- and that makes it tough for students to really notice and mobilize against problems before they leave.”

However, he said that the events on campus at the end of this year were different, and he made sure to tell me that these kinds of changes cannot take place without student involvement:

“It seemed like this year the students leading the movement were very organized and had clear points on what they wanted to change. That’s important because the administration doesn’t change on its own. Having students here isn’t enough, they need to ask for what they want because the organization isn’t clued into that on its own.”

What I think can be taken from this is that, even though it is a life-long struggle to bring about change and advancements on issues like this, we as students do have the power to affect change. It is our duty to speak up and ask for change, because issues like this don’t dissipate on their own.

A great thank you to Bruce for all his years of teaching and for his willingness to share his experiences with me!

Posted by: soanstolaf | May 15, 2017

A look at the Holland Hall renovation

Written by Ann Jensen ’19

Built in 1925, with its towering limestone walls and ivy-covered windows, Holland Hall is a landmark of St. Olaf’s campus. Named after long-time St. Olaf professor and business manager Peter O. Holland, this building initially housed science classrooms and administrative offices.  It underwent a significant renovation in 1968.  The labs and administration moved out and the social science departments of St. Olaf moved in (along with history and philosophy).

Since January 2016 current students have felt its absence, as the building has undergone another major renovation. For the past 16 months, the Sociology/Anthropology department, among others in the social sciences, has been hidden away in temporary quarters in the basement of Rolvaag. The new renovation proves to bring both expanded space and natural light to the new office and learning spaces in Holland Hall.

Original floor plan

[An original floor plan of Holland Hall, courtesy of St. Olaf College]

Renovation floor plan

[A floor plan summary of classrooms + labs, provided by design team Perkins & Will]

With six floor levels in total, this $13 million renovation focuses on bringing in natural light, creating beautiful space with the help of skylights, massive windows, and high ceilings. Each floor includes office spaces for members of the departments of Sociology/Anthropology, Political Science, History, Philosophy, Economics, and Social Work. A new feature of this renovated floor plan is more interconnectedness between these departments; the planning committee decided not to group departments together, rather spreading them out across multiple floors so as to produce more interdepartmental interaction. Nearly each office has its own window (a massive improvement in comparison to the current windowless, cramped basement), including some spectacular views of Old Main and Regents Hall. The circular staircase tower has been removed, allowing space and light into a previously musty and architecturally poor 1968 renovation.

[Two images from the renovated Holland, taken in late April]

Every floor offers unique classroom spaces, ranging from a seminar room, featuring an oval shape with a large table to fit up to 18 students, to a digital learning lab and classroom with writable glass walls. Many study spaces, which will be hotly contested in the fall, are scattered throughout the floors, including a spectacular space on the 6th floor that promises incredible views of campus and the surrounding Northfield landscape. This loft is named after St. Olaf alums Carol and Ward Klein ‘77, whose $1 million gift supports the “high tech learning environment” of this building, funding classroom technologies and a digital learning and research lab.

Newly built Holland Hall

[A western view of Holland Hall, courtesy of the Historic Campus Architecture Project]

This building, of course, has not always featured such modern architectural vision. It was originally modeled after the Merveille of Mont Saint Michel, a monastery in Normandy, France that characterized the Norman Gothic style of architecture so prevalent on the St. Olaf campus. According to the Historic Campus Architecture Project, a research program facilitated by the Council of Independent Colleges, this Norman monastery “was said to reflect the same spiritual aspirations and ethic of self denial to which the college was devoted” (“Holland Hall”). With this new renovation, and its attendance to natural light and clean interior design, it would be interesting to examine whether this same “ethic of self denial” holds true!

The construction is set to be completed by the end of June, followed by a period of cleaning, heating and cooling calibration, and furniture moving. Departments will move in at the beginning of August, and the building will be open for students upon the start of classes in September 2017. The new era of this historic building proves to be an exciting one indeed!


Posted by: soanstolaf | April 4, 2017

SOAN majors attend MSS Conference in Milwaukee

Written by Jauza Khaleel ’18

Over Spring Break, six SOAN majors accompanied professor Ryan Sheppard to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to present research at the Midwest Sociological Society’s annual conference. Students presented research completed in SOAN 371 research class and touched on a breadth of topics related to St. Olaf student athletes and their use of the Piper Center. From time constraints faced by student athletes to perceived team cohesion among student-athletes, the SOAN students presented four different papers at the conference. In addition to presenting their research, students also attended paper sessions and panel discussions presented by sociologists in a variety of professions.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Globalization, Promises, Possibilities, and Pitfalls.” The papers presented and workshops covered areas of migration, health care, racism, urban development, sexual assault, and human rights. One of my favorite sessions was a session on “Globalization, Inequalities, and the Struggles of Africa and African Diaspora.” Tola Pearce, Professor at University of Missouri, shared her research in Nigeria focusing on bio politics in neoliberal programing in the Global South. Through her ethnographic style research, she looked at the challenges faced by female food venders in Southern Nigeria that has led to many other social problems among these food vendors.

Another session discussed disrupting white racism on college and university campuses through strategies of resistance. Drawing on empirical research, journalistic accounts, and testimonies, panelists addressed campus racial climates, white racist practices, and student-led protests common at historically and predominantly white colleges and universities. Panelists included professors of Sociology from University of Louisville, University of Missouri, Augustana College, and Florida Gulf Coast University. While they were not able to offer absolute solutions to solve institutional racism faced by students, faculty, and staff, they shared some best practices from their universities, and some of the successful ways students have been able to make impactful change on their colleges or universities.

In addition to the intellectual and formal sessions attended, the group enjoyed group meals, entertaining trivia sessions, and quality SOAN bonding time! It was definitely a very rewarding time for the students, and gave students greater insight into the realities of becoming a sociologist and the vast array of places their major could take them.

The group also met with two SOAN alumni who are currently working in Wisconsin, Katherine Fitzgerald ’15 and Nathan Hartwig ‘15, for dinner on Friday night. They shared their experience as SOAN majors at St. Olaf College, as well as gave some very insightful advice about ways we can use our SOAN major off The Hill. Katherine and Nathan also talked a little bit about what they have been doing since graduation over some very amazing Thai food.

On behalf of all the students who attended the conference, I want to thank Professor Ryan Sheppard for all her hard work in making this amazing opportunity possible! We cannot thank you enough for your dedication and effort. This definitely was a very enriching experience.

Posted by: soanstolaf | March 7, 2017

Djenane Saint Juste + Haitian Dance

Written by Ann Jensen ’19

White dress.png

Hailing from Port au Prince, Haiti, Djenane Saint Juste has brought a vibrant new energy to the St. Olaf dance department this semester. A professionally trained dancer and beloved teacher, Ms. Saint Juste is guest teaching a traditional Haitian dance class, as well as a wide variety of social dances in her Contemporary Caribbean Social Dance course which meets every Thursday night. As a student in this evening class, I have come to love this new style of dance, and had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Saint Juste last week to discuss her history with Haitian dance and perspective on the cross-cultural experience of movement.

Elementary school dancing

For the past five years, since moving to the United States, Ms. Saint Juste has taught in a variety of elementary through college level schools throughout Minnesota while simultaneously pursuing a Masters in Teaching from St. Thomas University. She is also the artistic director of Afoutayi, a Haitian dance, music, and arts company. However, teaching dance is no new venture for her. Asked how long she’s been dancing, she laughed, claiming “since birth!” She began teaching classes at her mother’s internationally renowned dance school at the age of 10, eventually taking over the company at the age of 15. Now, she is working to develop a new curriculum within the Minnesota public schools in which she works to rectify a perceived deficit of movement in U.S. classroom settings. This approach, of integrating dance and art into the classroom, she says, is modeled after the Haitian tradition of learning through storytelling and song. “Language wasn’t written at first, so our grandparents will sing to us, will dance, will play a rhythm for us to learn of our ancestors – it was very effective!” In her own classes at St. Olaf, Ms. Saint Juste utilizes this approach: obviously movement is key in a dance setting, but students are simultaneously introduced to other aspects of Caribbean culture. Two weeks ago, we learned a short Creole conversation, greeting classmates and asking them to dance. The next week, groups of students created short presentations about Haitian musical artists who are famous for their “compas” music – the primary social dance born out of Haiti in the 1950s. As Ms. Saint Juste asserts, it would be a disservice not to include a broader social study when learning a culture’s style of dance. Her favorite dance, the traditional Haitian style, is immensely connected to the people of Haiti, as she claims that it is “very tied into our history, into our culture, in the sense that you are born and you have that piece of info in you.”  As a native Haitian and lover of dance, she says that she feels “the need to pass it along,” but especially, to “pass it along in a different way, not only to people that look like me.” The challenge, of course, is teaching this pattern of movement to students who are not born with this “piece of information” – something that she has encountered throughout her experience teaching in Minnesota. She notes that her students here, while highly respectful and eager to learn, are often self-conscious and reserved in their movement – directly contradicting the fiery and passionate energy of many styles of Caribbean dance. With her often-used quip, “don’t be selfish with your hips!” Ms. Saint Juste encourages students to step out of their comfort zones by playing off of the classic Minnesotan value of respect. By telling students that in Haitian culture it is disrespectful not to dance and enjoy yourself when asked to participate, Ms. Saint Juste removes these self-conscious barriers using the language of Minnesotan life.

With student.png

However, to Ms. Saint Juste, teaching Haitian dance in the arctic tundra of Minnesota is more than an introduction to the tropical beauty and unique Caribbean culture. It is a mode of cross-cultural communication founded on mutual respect, qualities she aptly notes are currently lacking in the U.S. Her goal when teaching these styles of dance, she notes, is to “be able to translate to others and have better communication. In our society, we need better communication: the more you give from your culture, the more people understand who you are and can negotiate with you.” In this era, and under this administration, she notes that this unique style of communication through movement provides welcome relief from the multitude of racial and social tensions. Many of the traditional dances taught by Ms. Saint Juste tell the story of oppression and struggles faced by society, as dance offers a method of negotiation and therapy in these difficult times. One of the more important stories told in Haitian culture is that of the colonization by the French and the slave trade. Ms. Saint Juste tells of the way that traditional Haitian dances have been shaped over time: “I think the root for the meaning is the same, but people over time have changed: the reality of change is the way people had danced during slavery and changed during the revolution and changed in my time. Each time society faces different struggles, your body reacts, dances, and feels different ways. The same dance might be danced softly, but another time, due to the circumstances of your life, your body dances it with aggressivity because it is the way you feel your healing is, channeling energy to your movement.” Asked if and how her style and teaching of dance has changed due to the events of the past few months, she said “yes, for sure.” She says that now, following the election, she has been incorporating the Igbo style of dance, a traditional Haitian and Nigerian dance form that discusses the theme of revolution. In explaining this shift, Ms. Saint Juste tells, “I’m teaching Igbo because I want [my students] to know that many years ago the slaves were able to break the physical and mental chains of oppression. Now in the system, even without physical chains, there is still a mental oppression and you can use your body to liberate yourself, and dance as a tool to do it.”

For those who are interested in attending a class taught by Ms. Saint Juste, she teaches an open Haitian Dance Workshop class for teens and adults on Saturday afternoons from 3:45-5pm at Sabathani Community Center. Please contact or call 612.508.8038 for more information.

Djenane Saint Juste video

Djenane Saint Juste website

Posted by: soanstolaf | December 9, 2016

The Importance of Dialogue in the Face of Indifference

Written by Jauza Khaleel ’18

If anything we have learned in the last couple weeks it is that there is a deep divide within our communities in terms of how we view people, ideas, and identities. In such instances of stratification, building bridges between people of different social backgrounds becomes increasingly important. One way we could start to diminish the differences in social backgrounds is to have dialogues and learn from each other, and to understand why it is not always easy to get along or to identify common ground. Intergroup dialogues encourage direct encounter and exchange about contentious issues, especially those associated with issues of social identity and social stratification. They invite people to actively explore the meanings of singular (such as men or as women) or intersecting (such as men of color or white women) social identities and to examine the dynamics of privilege and oppression that shape relationships between social groups in our society. In addition, dialogues can build dispositions and skills for developing and maintaining relationships across differences and for taking action for equity and social justice. Intergroup dialogue can be utilized for a variety of purposes, such as reducing prejudice by examining similarities of experiences, emphasizing issues of dominance and social justice, or encouraging meaningful inquiry into relations between one’s self and others.

Dialogues allow people to challenge misconceptions, biases and stereotypes. It is important to note that dialogue is very different from a discussion or debate. People come into a discussion or debate with preconceived ideas of truth, trying to prove the other wrong or to win an argument. In a dialogue, people learn to ask difficult questions of each other, they realize that not all people from this particular group fit their preconceptions of that group. People also develop an awareness of themselves as members of a social identity group. They examine the impact of social identities such as gender, race, or sexual orientation upon status in society. Therefore, dialogue can be essential in addressing the legacies of racism and other forms of social injustice in our society and finding ways to come to a more just society.

These intergroup dialogues require trained facilitators who belong to the different social groups being dialogued about. Ximena Zuniga, an assistant professor in the Department of Student Development and Pupil Personnel Services at the School of Education, University of Massachusetts–Amherst and one of the cofounders of the University of Michigan Intergroup Relations Program addresses the importance of well-trained facilitators and their role in moderating the dialogue. According to Zuniga (2003), facilitators are professionals from counseling centers, student activities departments, human relations programs, or intergroup relations programs; or they are students who have received specialized training in counseling, college student development, or social justice education who will supervise the dialogue process and intervene when necessary (9). However, this requires diverse representations of the single as well as intersectional representation of different groups among professional staff and/or student groups mentioned above. Being a facilitator requires the knowledge and awareness about one’s own and other’s social identities and histories and the ability to encourage participants to ask questions and probe deeper in terms of multiple identities (11).

The challenge with intergroup dialogue is the process of bringing people from such diverse groups together.  A solid foundation is required in order for meaningful dialogue to occur. According to Steiner Bryn, Director of Nansen Dialogue Center, Lillehammer, Norway and eight times nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in dialogue, getting people to participate in dialogue requires a sort of anthropological approach. He has a saying that it requires over 100 cups of coffee in order to sit with people, talk to different groups, and to immerse one’s self in the situation. In more anthropological terms, to understand the webs of significance that exist within the people and to acquire the prior knowledge needed before one is able to facilitate and moderate a conversation. This allows moderators and facilitators to understand the multiple dimensions of conflict or tensions but at the same time, give space for neutrality. In small campuses like St. Olaf College, having trained counselors, people who work in student development, and students who study social justice be facilitators allows them to come into dialogue sessions with knowledge of preexisting structures that perpetuate problematic behavior. What would be further required is an understanding of the participants, and the representation of such different groups among the facilitators.

Work cited:

Zuniga, Ximena. “Bridging Differences Through Dialogue.” People:U Mass (2003): 8-16. University of Massachusetts. Web. 6 Dec. 2016.

Written by Carlos Grosch Mendes ’19


Every Friday the St Olaf community comes together to continue and replicate the tradition of Friday Flowers. The tradition is carried as a massive ritual in which almost all St. Olaf students participate every semester. The ritual initiates at about 9am and finishes at 3pm every Friday. During that time, students go to Buntrock Commons and buy flowers for other students. Usually, they write a note and attach it to the gift, and then they leave it in someone’s P.O. box. Every Friday, flowers decorate the hallway behind the Fireside Lounge in Buntrock, leaving clear statements of different relationships and the sense of community at St. Olaf College.

The tradition has been part of the St. Olaf identity since the 70’s. College Archivist Jeff Sauve found a reference in the Manitou Messenger from October 15th 1976 that says, “Fridays you are religiously found attending chapel praying; ‘Lord, couldn’t someone, just once, put a flower in my P.O.?’” Friday Flowers have at least forty years of tradition; forty years of witnessing the history of our community, mediating relationships between students, and sharing memories.

There are many reasons that students give Friday flowers, such as stressful weeks, reaffirmation of friendship, and romantic purposes. Each of these intentions is part of a relationship or an attempt to establish one. The ‘gift economy’ of this tradition shows how flowers are used to establish relationships between students. Someone that received a flower is  thankful to the giver and, in most cases, also gives a flower back. However, students usually wait several weeks in order to pay flowers back. If someone pays back a flower the week after having received one, it is sometimes an inappropriate behavior. Paying back too fast is seen as a ‘payment for service’ and not as a signal of friendship. The economy of Friday flowers attempts to create relationships beyond school and ‘small talk’, such as to affirm friendships and romantic relationships. Flowers are just mediators of the meaning behind them.

This ritual, as simple as it seems, has several implications and expectations. Every given flower carries with it a meaning, both for the giver and the receiver. After giving a flower, it is always expected that the receiver will give something in exchange. The general expectation of the exchange is time. For example, if someone buys you coffee at the Cage, there is the expectation that you will spend at least a few minutes (if not a couple of hours) talking to that person. If an individual does not spend time with the giver, s/he is not showing interest in the relationship with the other person and thus rejecting the giver. In the same way, after receiving a flower it is expected that the receiver will spend some time with the giver or preparing a gift in exchange. Flowers are then interpreted as a type of currency. Friends give flowers to each other as thanksgiving for the other’s time and friendship. These types of exchanges reaffirm relationships and allow them to continue growing due to expectations of reciprocating gifts.

St. Olaf and Carleton also have moments of flower exchange. The St. Olaf community sent flowers to Carleton after three students passed away in March 2014. From then on, flowers became deeply meaningful symbols. Carleton reciprocated the action in October of the same year after three St. Olaf students passed away in a car accident. This fall, the St. Olaf community sent flowers after a Carleton student passed away.  The exchange of flowers in moments of grief works as a symbol that enhances the connection between the two communities. They are a message of shared mourning and an attempt to prevent ‘the other’ from feeling alone.

The meaning of a flower makes it valuable. If it is true that receiving a flower is a big source of happiness, it is also true that not receiving one is, in some cases, a source of stress and sadness. Flowers represent that someone thought, took time, and spent money for you. In this way, if you do not receive flowers, it might mean the opposite. This way of thinking shows one of the ways that the flower economy works and reflects why it is so meaningful to receive one. They clearly represent a relationship between the giver and the receiver.

The feeling of receiving a flower is what makes this tradition continue every week. The surprise and happiness that we experience certainly have a big impact in students’ social lives and set social norms and expectations. We all have experienced the feeling of looking at our P.O. box on a Friday afternoon and seeing flowers that belong to our P.O. box mate. In the moment when we think “Lord, couldn’t someone, just once, put a flower in my P.O.?” we can be sure that we have been influenced by the Friday Flower tradition. If you would like to receive more flowers, don’t worry, there is something that you can do. The best way to receive flowers is by also giving them.  So why don’t you start this Friday?

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