The weekend before Thanksgiving break, Oles traveled to Fort Benning, GA to participate in the School of the Americas protest. SOA is a military training camp for Latin American Soldiers, and its graduates have been directly linked to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Latin American civilians.
The protest this year celebrated the life of El Salvador native Rufina Amaya. (He passed away this year.) In 1981, Amaya witnessed the brutal murder of her four children, husband and 900 other people of her small village from a hiding spot in the woods. The El Salvadorian government at the time was receiving funds from the Reagan administration; it was later discovered that 19 of the 26 people responsible for the massacre were trained at the SOA.
"My involvement with the protest began with a curiosity," Nan Onkka '08 said. "The protest inspired me to increase my awareness of what my politicians are supporting and to voice my opinion in matters that I feel strongly about." Another student who attended the protest, Lindsay Berg '11, reiterated the importance of being politically active. "For St. Olaf students, I think it is important to not only be active but also informed about issues that are occurring in the world and within our own country," she said.
Another way Oles have been actively involved in the world is through the conference called Powershift. During the first weekend in November, nine students from the Environmental Coalition traveled to the University of Maryland to participate in the largest summit on climate change in history. The four-day conference included U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who addressed environmental justice, federal legislation on energy and global warming. On the fourth day, thousands of students marched on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to take action against global warming.
Kate Tecku '10 was one of the students who participated in Powershift and was one of five students in Minnesota picked to tell Senator Amy Klobuchar the issues most important to college students. Tecku feels strongly about environmental issues. "If we think the world is in bad shape now with war and poverty, just imagine when a quarter of the world's population become refugees as their coastal homes have been flooded when sea levels rise," she said.
Tecku also stated her confidence in college students' influence. "We can change the course of this country's energy future; we can stop climate change & Students across the country, and Oles, should care about this because a century from now it won't be our congressmen and parents to be blamed for climate change," she said.
Students aren't just going out of state to quench their need to put their values to action. Recently, Northfield and the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) teamed up to host The Homeless Awareness Sleep-out, where students had the opportunity to discuss poverty and sleep overnight in Bridge Square and experience homelessness. Nate Jacobi, director of the Civic Engagement program located in the CEL described the goals of the event.
"The program exists to support students in developing the skills, knowledge, values and motivation necessary to be responsible citizens and social change leaders," he said.
Tecku encouraged students to join in Ole activism "because their college is participating in some pretty historic stuff, and they should get involved if they want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves."