Mellby Lecture explores animism
Alexia Nizhny, Opinions Editor
Chair of the sociology and anthropology department Christopher Chiappari delivered the fall 2019 Mellby Lecture, titled “Beings, Relations, and Power: The New Animism in the Highlands of Guatemala,” on Nov. 12 in Viking Theater.
Chiappari explored animism through his research in Guatemala and the work of several other anthropologists. Animist belief systems assign personhood to things that do not, under common Western philosophy, have animate properties. These include rivers, plants and, as specifically mentioned in Chiappari’s lecture, stones.
Chiappari examined anthropological interpretations of animism to encourage the audience to expand their way of thinking. Chiappari stressed that the line between truth and fiction – particularly in spiritual symbolism – is not always as obvious as it may initially seem.
Although indigenous spiritual practices are foreign to Western thought, symbolism, metaphors and the real effects they can have on people are not unique to animists. In animism, it is believed that certain things possess personhood. In Mayan spirituality in Guatemala, animism is seen through an emphasis on ancestors, ceremonies, stone beings, and Nawales – a complicated term Chiappari said to be loosely translated to “spirits.”
Because of how broadly and erroneously spirits are often defined, Chiappari carefully and intentionally used the word “person” to describe the attributes assigned to objects by animists.
“The way we use [the word] ‘spirit’ is profoundly unclear and it often would be clearer if we just said ‘person,’” Chiappari said.
He further defended his deliberate word choice by reminding the audience of the secular use of the word ‘spirit’ in Western religious traditions.
“We introduce a term from our own religious tradition to describe other cultures when it is alien to [us],” Chiappari said.
This othering of animism by Western ways of thought has existed since the term was first used. Chiappari discussed the work of E.B. Tylor – the man who coined the term – as heavily influenced by British imperialism. This influence is reflected in Tylor’s Eurocentric writing that describes animism as a primitive belief system, further emphasizing Chiappari’s call for the audience to redefine how they view symbolism and spirituality.
It is easy from a Western social context to write off animism as silly or fictitious, Chiappari said.
“[People would] like to think certain things are literal as opposed to metaphorical – real versus imaginary. I think the line between those are not always clear,” Chiappari said. “Let’s think about how we talk about the sunrise and the sunset. On one level we know how the sun and the planets orbit, but by saying the sun rises – in that sense – is the sun doing something metaphorical?”
Chiappari used the applications of metaphors in Western society to challenge the audience’s preconceptions of what truth is and how to practice faith. In order to strengthen this point, Chiappari returned to anthropologist Irving Hallowell’s example of stones in animism.
“One might say ‘C’mon Chris, that’s a metaphor. Stones can’t speak. They can’t listen. They’re not alive.’ [However] we might think about it, the idea of animism ... [can] expand our way of thinking,” Chiappari said. “It’s not to come up with a new systematic approach to everything, but if we think about the way we use language and metaphors, I say metaphors are real.”
Photo by Steven Garcia/Manitou Messenger
Class project tests trayless Stav Hall, provoking backlash
Jacob Maranda, News Editor
Stav Hall went trayless for two nights last week in a pilot initiative spearheaded by students from an environmental studies course.
Five students from the course “Environmental Policy & Regulation in the United States” led the pilot initiative to gather information regarding student responses to a trayless cafeteria and to see if no trays is a good fit for St. Olaf.
The use of trays in the cafeteria leads to increased food waste and water usage, which contribute to poor campus sustainability, group members Cameron Goebel ’21 and Rose Sandell ’21 said.
No trays were present in Stav Hall during dinner Nov. 12 and 13, unless needed for accessibility reasons. Student volunteers weighed leftover food to gather data on food waste.
The students held the pilot as part of a class project that encouraged students to work toward a change in environmental policy.
“I want people to come out of this class and not think of policy as something that’s way off in Washington,” said visiting instructor in environmental studies Megan Butler, who leads the class.
The group landed on the idea of a trayless initiative after group member Becky White ’22 reached out to Bon Appetit General Manager Traci Quinnell and various other cafeteria workers. Northfield City Council Member Suzie Nakasian also spoke with group members about their project.
“She recommended that we do a pilot program, to see if we could try it first and then get some data, figure out public reactions, and then move forward from there,” Sandell said.
Goebel sent an email to the student body detailing the pilot program on Nov. 10 and a survey to gather feedback on Nov. 14.
The survey included four options regarding the trayless initiative – full support, on the fence, do not support, and don’t care. Of the responses so far, more students selected ‘do not support’ than ‘support,’ while ‘on the fence’ was the most popular option, Sandell said. The results so far are inconclusive.
“We saw a lot in the survey, people were asking, ‘I’d like to see if this actually makes a difference,’” Goebel said. “That may take them off the fence.”
During dinner on Nov. 19 and 20, the group weighed leftover food to measure the difference in food waste between having trays and not having trays.
“We’re hoping that there’s a significant difference,” Sandell said. “Maybe it’ll push people that are on the fence to be like, ‘oh, so this actually had an impact.’”
Sandell and Goebel noticed a majority of students expressed disapproval and frustration with a trayless cafeteria. This frustration led some students to attempt to skew measurements of food waste by placing bundles of napkins into the disposal bins to make them weigh more.
“We knew public reaction was going to be bad,” Sandell said. “We just didn’t know to what extent.”
Butler indicated that other groups working on projects for class have not faced the kind of push-back the trayless pilot has so far received.
“I think those dissenting opinions are important to understand, and to decide if this policy change is necessary,” Butler said. “I think they’re doing a good job collecting that data, too.”
The group also used the pilot to gauge whether a trayless cafeteria would be a good fit for St. Olaf in the future.
“I don’t think mandatory no-trays is a good fit,” Goebel said. “But I do think there’s a huge aspect where if people knew there was more of an impact, they would change their autopilot behavior of grabbing a tray.”
Although Bon Appetit cafeteria workers expressed support for eliminating trays, preliminary student responses indicated that an entire elimination of trays would not be possible at the moment. A culture change has to happen before trays can be eliminated, Goebel and Sandell said.
“I think at this point it’s just about bringing awareness to people,” Sandell said. “Now we’re kind of just hoping for a culture shift, and this just might be the start of it. It might be people recognizing the problem now.”
Archived graphic from the Manitou Messenger March 10, 1989
New Faribault solar garden follows statewide energy trends
Amy Imdieke, Copy Editor
A new solar garden in east Faribault will open by the end of the year, part of Minnesota’s sprint towards carbon-free electricity. The garden will allow neighboring counties the opportunity to save money on their energy bills by investing in locally-sourced solar power.
The Rice County facility will operate under a cooperative model, where residents from Rice, Dakota, Goodhue and Scott counties can pay $25 to access the solar garden’s energy through their subscriptions to Xcel Energy, according to a Nov. 6 article in the Lonsdale News Review. The facility is built on the property of an area farmer after discussions between the property owner and Cooperative Energy Futures, a Twin Cities energy co-op.
Many solar gardens in Minnesota are relatively tiny facilities on four acres of farmland. Despite their small size, these facilities have a significant impact on the surrounding community. Solar gardens allow people to utilize solar energy in their homes without requiring them to install solar panels of their own. For residents who wish to minimize their carbon footprint but live in forested areas or lack the means to install their own photovoltaic system, solar gardens are indispensable.
Minnesota has one of the largest solar garden programs in the nation, generating more than 500 megawatts of solar power each year. They account for 58 percent of Minnesota’s solar capacity, according to a report issued by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Independent organizations such as Cooperative Energy Futures manage the development of new solar gardens across the state. These organizations use solar gardens to provide companies like Xcel Energy with an eco-friendly alternative to the combustion of fossil fuels.
While coal remains Minnesota's largest source of electricity, renewable energy sources like wind and solar are becoming increasingly popular. Xcel Energy offers the nation’s largest community solar program from its headquarters in Minneapolis. The company encourages its customers to subscribe directly to solar gardens. In their monthly bills, the company issues reimbursements for the solar energy each subscription contributes to the Xcel Energy grid.
Xcel Energy is discontinuing its largest coal-fired electricity plants and switching to more sustainable sources of power. This year, 29 percent of the company’s energy comes from renewable sources. By 2050, they plan on providing 100 percent carbon-free electricity.
This company’s movement toward renewable power reflects a larger shift toward environmentally-conscious living. The shift has challenged groups to become more conscious of their energy usage, St. Olaf College included.
Numerous groups at St. Olaf have spoken out against the College’s fossil fuel investments. The Environmental Coalition takes a public stance against the fossil fuel industry and advocates for public education on climate change, while the Climate Justice Collective has pushed for the College to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies.
Within the larger Northfield community, the recently-approved Climate Action Plan suggests a way for the town to run on 100 percent carbon-free electricity by the year 2030. The development of a new solar garden in Rice County further predicts a future of continued sustainability for Northfield and surrounding communities.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Many campus buildings remain inaccessible for disabled and injured students
Mattias Kostov, Senior Reporter
Although St. Olaf is a predominantly residential campus, many residence halls and other buildings remain inaccessible for students with disabilities or injuries.
Mellby, Thorson, Hoyme, Rand, Hilleboe and Kittlesby residence halls, as well as the Theater Building, lack elevators and other accommodations. Students who have suffered due to this issue are voicing their concerns, and the Student Government Association (SGA) and Residence Life staff, conscious of this pending problem, are looking to find a solution.
Navigating campus can be especially tricky for students who suffer injuries mid-way through the year since they have not arranged to live in an accessible dorm.
Mahmoud Aldirderi ’20 had reconstructive ACL and meniscus surgery in late August 2019. He lives at the bottom floor of a Rand stairwell, which forces him to traverse two flights of stairs every time he needs to go anywhere.
“I could not put any weight on my foot in my case, whereas if only my ACL was torn I could use my foot,” Aldirderi. “So, initially I stayed off campus at some very good friends of mine. They took care of me after the surgery, they had cars and I didn’t have to bother with the inaccessibility – no stairs.”
Two weeks into the semester, Aldirderi’s physical therapist gave him the green light for putting more pressure on his injured leg. He then moved back into Rand. However, the dorm’s inaccessibility persisted as a problem. Usually, students in a similar situation are able to move to a more accessible dorm. Aldirderi received this offer but needed his roommates for psychological support and, due to the severity of his surgery, to assist him with standing up, showering, changing ice packs and other things.
Even with his friends’ support, the stairs were a huge obstacle for him.
“It was isolating,” Aldirderi said. “The stairs were horrible. I would rather just stay in my room all day and end up not doing anything.”
Recent graduate Kayla Carlson ’19, who has a physical disability, experienced the lack of accessibility on campus every day for four years. Not only was Carlson incapable of accessing most dorms due to their lack of elevators, but she found that the supposedly accommodating residence halls also lacked proper infrastructure.
“The solution has been to just put people in accessible dorms but even though Larson has an elevator, it doesn't have an accessible bathroom,” Carlson said. “Same with Mohn. As far as I know, Ytterboe doesn't have a shower with a bench.”
While academic buildings on campus are generally more accommodating for people with disabilities, the Theater Building remains inaccessible. Though the building has an elevator in the back that accesses the green rooms, it requires two flights of stairs to reach classrooms on the upper floors.
“It’s simply that the school should take into account students with disabilities regarding their architecture. Period,” Aldirderi said.
This is not an issue that has gone unnoticed. Student Government Association (SGA) President Devon Nielsen ’20 and Vice President Ariel Mota Alves ’20 are aware of the lack of accessibility at the College and intend to address this issue in spring 2020.
The two executives are both board members of the Minnesota Association of Private College Students (MAPCS), an organization comprised of Minnesotan college student government representatives. MAPCS seeks to find innovative solutions to the common struggles of private colleges by means of a collective effort.
“This coming spring [MAPCS] are going to discuss accessibility. This will be an ongoing conversation,” Mota Alves said.
This particular issue is not unique to St. Olaf alone, but extends to most private colleges in Minnesota. With many dorms without elevators, oddly shaped terrain and seasons that alter landscapes with time, maintaining accessibility throughout campus is a challenge.
From a legal standpoint, it is permissible that not all campus dorms and buildings are created equally.
“[An] example could be a student who needs to be able to be in a wheelchair while showering,” said Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Pamela McDowell. “Not all halls have showers you may roll into – but as long as some halls do we meet the requirements. As we renovate we do try to address more of these accessibility concerns.”
Both staff and student authorities are cognizant of this pending issue. Feasible solutions, however, are highly complex, requiring architectural ingenuity that limits quick change.
“I applaud St. Olaf for their work,” Nielsen said. “But my ultimate dream would be that St. Olaf continues that drive to become more accessible throughout campus.”
Photo courtesy of Marketing and Communications