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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

Letters to the editor

By Melanie Meinzer
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 31, 2003

Dear Mess Editors,

While I applaud Variety Editor Molly Bayrd's choice to actually take a strong stance in her review of "The Man Who," I also find myself frustrated at the inappropriate nature of some of her language.

As a student who has acted in St. Olaf performances, I immediately reacted to Bayrd's comments about the actors. Implicit in such comments as "showing … the most talent" and "the second-most solid performance of the evening" is an idea of ranking. First off, to use a word like "talent" in this sense is vague and yields nothing. I like the Uta Hagen quote, "Talent is a gift which MANY people have. What you make of it determines whether you will become an artist."

Secondly, a review is not meant to be a personal attack on the people participating. I doubt that if I wrote, "Person X's articles showed great range and talent, Person Y's articles were the second most solid, and Molly Bayrd rounds out the editorial staff with an average, though solid, performance," that Bayrd would feel too good (although this is a paraphrase of her own words).

As a student who has studied writing and taken a class on review writing for the theater, I was surprised to read the following: "It allowed the actress to show the audience a little emotion; her stage presence was otherwise fairly rigid and her facial expressions few (although this was in actuality, Gisselman's directorial intent)."

While in other sections of the review Bayrd makes nice statements that are clearly marked as her opinion on the director’s intent, she does not do so in the previous statement. Nor is it listed that the quote is directly from director Gary Gisselman. Furthermore, Bayrd does not start with an introductory paragraph arguing persuasively about Gisselman directing the actors to be rigid. Instead, Bayrd criticizes the actors’ performances and tacks on this "fact" about the director that may or may not be true. I have always learned that when criticizing a performance, a reviewer must either clearly state their own opinion or quote the source of an opinion, unless the main argument of the whole article is a criticism of the acting style.

While I appreciate the fact that Bayrd clearly saw and thought about the production, I would hope that the Manitou Messenger would not allow such distressing slip-ups to occur in the future.

– Jessica Plagens ‘04

Dear Mess Editors,

St. Olaf’s strong Lutheran affiliation permits its leaders to portray Lutheran beliefs in campus rulings. As students here, we agreed to be subject to Biblical principles with which we may not agree. Is this permissible, though, when widespread societal values conflict with Christian convictions?

The recent controversy over protected pre-marital sex reminds me of a disturbing approach some Catholic missionaries are taking over in Africa. A commonly prescribed method to halt the AIDS epidemic is to educate Africans about the disease and safe sex, which promotes the use of condoms. These missionaries are reversing a portion of this education by condemning contraceptives because their translation of certain Bible verses declares that contraceptives are immoral.

Certainly I can appreciate the ideals for constraining sex to a marriage. It is a long-term commitment with one person, thereby creating a safe relationship in which incessant worries about unknown transfers of diseases and emotionally traumatizing “mistakes” don’t happen. Let’s be real here, though. Marriage does not always curtail the unsafe behavior that some unmarried couples are more likely to follow. Also, not all ended sexual relationships are considered mistakes, but rather learning opportunities. But the Bible says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Let’s suppose that everyone believes the Bible is a flawless source of moral authority. Interpretations can still lead to messy decisions like those of the Catholic missionaries. Galileo stated in a letter to a colleague, “Holy Scripture cannot err and the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable. I should only have added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways ... when they would base themselves always on the literal meaning of the words.” Could he be referring to the “one flesh” philosophy?

One of Jesus’ frequently overlooked moral teachings in the Christian faith is demonstrated in stories of Jesus and his disciples picking food to eat or healing others on the Sabbath. He teaches that if morality supercedes a certain religious belief, the outdated belief should be thrown out. As discussed earlier, the morality behind sex transcends the conventional marriage label. The idea that sex before marriage is wrong is absurd. In this instance, the college should promote safe sex by making condoms, and perhaps other contraceptives, easily accessible, while at the same time encouraging moral sexual behavior. Peer education programs that openly discuss sex do a good job of this already.

The college has the right to enforce its Christian beliefs, but should be willing to wisely question their validity before making any adamant stance.

– Kyla Bauer ‘06

Dear Mess Editors,

Michael Zahniser argues that installing condom dispensers in various campus buildings “will increase the number of students engaged in “high-risk” activity, if for no other reason than that the existence of the machines sends a message to students that such behavior is expected.” By this same logic, one could argue that St. Olaf expects its students to slaughter all their enemies, as exhibited by the hatchet-bearing lion so prominently displayed everywhere on the Hill.

However, St. Olaf College does not advocate massacre, nor does it advocate risk-taking behavior such as irresponsible sex. The decision to put condom dispensers in residence halls and the Pause was not made at the drop of a hat. Various administrators, alumni and students had been discussing the subject for several years before the decision was made.

In a perfect world, people would save sex for a committed, loving, monogamous long-term relationship (i.e., marriage). However, we do not live in a perfect world. Our lack of such a world is a fact St. Olaf recognizes. Not acknowledging this would be irresponsible on the part of the college. Turning a blind eye to a problem does nothing to help solve it. Zahniser calls for St. Olaf to show “genuine concern for the health of students.”

Since the administration is not small enough to fit in our bedrooms, they can only teach us to make mature and well-informed decisions regarding sex and hope that we will follow their teachings. Part of being mature and well-informed is realizing that condoms are important both as devices of birth control, as well as to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

Zahniser purports that the administration of St. Olaf “seems to be saying, ‘Let [students] go ahead and enjoy themselves’” in regard to sexual activity. Never, in my four years on the Hill, have I heard a professor or administrator say, “Go out and have all kinds of wild sex.” I’ve had professors that aren’t Christian, professors from other cultures, and professors affiliated with St. Olaf only through its study abroad programs, and not one of them has said, “Go ahead and enjoy yourself in whatever ways you want.” By installing condom machines, St. Olaf is encouraging responsible behavior, not the opposite.

I agree with Zahniser that there are “emotional, spiritual, and social” consequences of sex, along with the physical ones. That is why it is important to make responsible decisions. The St. Olaf mission statement reads, in part, “St. Olaf College challenges [students] to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.” I am truly convinced that the college is doing just that.

– Laura Wilkinson ‘04

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