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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

Letter misguided

By Joel Stjernholm
Staff Writer

Friday, November 11, 2005

In response to complaints regarding poor sportsmanship by Ole fans at the Oct. 8 St. Olaf-Carleton football game, the St. Olaf Student Government Association drafted an apology letter to Carleton students and employees, as well as to members of the Northfield community.

By the time this article is read, hundreds of St. Olaf students will have affixed their signatures to that letter, and it will be delivered. My signature, however, will not be among them.

Though I am distressed by the allegations of poor sportsmanship and vulgarity, the apology letter functions as a passive attempt to improve St. Olaf’s image, an insufficient effort that will ultimately prove ineffective.

We must address the underlying issues of community standards and accountability, we must share responsibility for the incident with Carleton, and we must become better citizens of our community.

Though most people have focused their criticism on St. Olaf students, it bears consideration that Carleton students shouted obscenities and made rude gestures toward St. Olaf fans, referred to Oles of African heritage with the “n-word,” imbibed excessively, and referred to St. Olaf as “Northfield Community College.”

In light of their own behavior, members of the Carleton community have assumed the role of the proverbial pot in accusing Ole fans of being vulgar, racist, inebriated and disrespectful of their school via the “Carleton Sucks” T-shirts.

Moreover, it would behoove thoughtful members of the Carleton community to ponder why their behavior did not astound members of the Northfield community.

Students from both campuses are guilty of poor sportsmanship, and any action taken to resolve the Carleton incident must involve both campuses admitting responsibility for unsportsmanlike behavior.

St. Olaf, by way of the letter, has focused primarily upon the improving college’s appearance, and secondarily, if at all, upon improving citizenship and community standards. However, little consideration has been given to improving the citizenship of St. Olaf students as members of the Northfield community.

Absent a commitment to improved citizenship and community standards, any letter of apology is hollow, a “quick fix” until the next incident or conflict. We need to stop worrying about looking good, and start being good.

Additionally, in our haste to restore St. Olaf’s image, we seem to have adhered to the erroneous notion that our collective responsibility for the behavior of St. Olaf community members requires a large number of Oles to apologize for the unfortunate misconduct of a mere handful.

This strange interpretation holds that it is appropriate and beneficial for thousands of people whose actions and integrity are not in question to apologize on behalf of a mere handful whose character has been challenged.

If we truly believe that the actions of our peers were “unacceptable,” why aren’t we asking our peers to be responsible for their actions? Absent a strong commitment to individual accountability, community standards are ineffective, and serve as a philosophical model for who we should be, not an accurate depiction of who we are.

We cannot simply affirm our commitment to being good members of the Northfield and St. Olaf communities; we must actually be respectable citizens. To this end, I am pledging 10 hours of service to the Northfield community, in addition to the community service to which I’m currently committed.

I invite like-minded students, staff and faculty to do the same. Let’s renew our commitment to being genuine citizens and good neighbors, adhering to the values we affirm as part of our identity.

Staff writer Matthew Stortz is a junior from Edina, Minn. He majors in religion.

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