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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

A Word from Our Editors: The Colossal College

By Peter Farrell
Executive Editor


Friday, November 30, 2007

It's not every week that a major media organization calls a liberal arts college a "colossus." But then again, most liberal arts colleges don't produce two Rhodes Scholars in the same year. In fact, St. Olaf is the only liberal arts college in the country with two Rhodes Scholars. The only schools with more Oxford-bound students are Princeton and Stanford. St. Olaf could be keeping worse company.

So when the Star Tribune declared that St. Olaf was a "colossus of Rhodes," they really weren't too far off the mark. Considering only 32 Rhodes scholarships are granted each year, it is remarkable that a tiny college in rural Minnesota would add two students to the national talent pool.

Of course, the real honor belongs to Ishanaa Rambachan '08 and Nicole Novak '08, the two extraordinary young women that the Rhodes Foundation deemed worthy of the scholarship. Both Rambachan and Novak's steadfast commitment to issues of social justice in both international and domestic contexts makes "global citizenship" seem less like an abstract ideal and more like a tangible reality.

St. Olaf's administration articulates our lofty ideals on a regular basis, but what does it really mean to lead a life of worth and service? How does one acquire a global perspective? Both faculty and students use these "buzz words" on a regular basis, but the frequency with which they are invoked belies the lack of clarity surrounding the College's ideals. Sure, huge chunks of Oles study abroad each semester, but the programs the college offers are, on the whole, safe and predictable. In many cases, the St. Olaf bubble extends overseas. Do our acclaimed "terms" in foreign countries really go beyond sophisticated tourism? What are the responsibilities of "global citizens?"

The answers to these questions are not supposed to be clear. Any ideal is by necessity an abstraction -- often unattainable and always ambiguous. But Rambachan and Novak both prove that dedication to issues of global impact can serve as a powerful impetus and model for action. Rambachan, for instance, plans to use her time at Oxford to study international development with a focus in reducing poverty among women in south Asia, an interest she fostered while working on microfinancing projects in rural India over an interim. Similarly, Novak's commitment to global health science stems from her experiences while studying abroad in Latin America. If "global citizenship" could be documented, these women would certainly qualify for it.

The production of two Rhodes Scholars is thus correctly considered an award for both institution and student. St. Olaf has provided ample opportunities to two ambitious young women. At the same time, Rambachan and Novak provide the rest of the student body with a concrete model of what the pursuit of "worth and service" entails. In the spirit of their achievement, let's continue working on the details of our ideals.





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