St. Olaf Campus News
St. Olaf College students will have the opportunity to experience the power of Sustained Dialogue during a daylong event on Saturday, February 24.
The training session will be led by Rhonda Fitzgerald, the managing director of the national Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. Following the daylong event, participants will gather with a small group each week for four weeks to continue their work through active dialogue sessions.
The program is open to any St. Olaf student who wishes to participate, and registration information is available on the college’s Sustained Dialogue page.
The Sustained Dialogue program works to create community change by building powerful relationships across differences. It directs participants to focus on the “Big Eight” social identifiers: socioeconomic status, gender and sex, age, race and color, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and ability. The program was created by American diplomat Harold “Hal” Saunders, who contributed to peace processes in the Middle East.
Now its fourth year at St. Olaf, Sustained Dialogue is a student-run program that has provided training to nearly 300 campus community members.
Fitzgerald will visit campus to offer an intense training session for students. In her role with the Sustained Dialogue Institute, Fitzgerald works to train, mentor, and provide guidance to a broad range of institutions and individuals seeking to transform their communities through Sustained Dialogue. She has a passion for developing college-aged leaders with civic competence and cultural humility, and has made an impact at several places around the globe. She is an alumna of Princeton University, where she participated actively as a moderator and leader of Sustained Dialogue.
In addition to her work on campus this February, Fitzgerald will return to campus at the beginning of May to work with the leaders of St. Olaf student organizations. She will be on campus again this fall to continue working with students to further develop the Sustained Dialogue program at St. Olaf.
From St. Olaf College’s founding by Norwegian immigrants to today’s “Dreamers,” the college’s commitment to immigrants from all nations is reinforced by its mission. In the most recent issue of St. Olaf Magazine, alumni and students share their personal immigration stories in the hope that Oles will continue to work alongside neighbors, friends, and strangers to welcome all voices and experiences to America. This is one story from that series.
Mai Neng Moua ’95 was born in Laos sometime in the early 1970s (like many Hmong, she is unsure of her actual birthdate). After her father’s death, she and her mother and brothers spent two years in a Thai refugee camp before resettling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1981.
She earned a sociology/anthropology degree at St. Olaf and has worked with public policy organizations on issues important to refugees and immigrants. She is the author of The Bride Price: A Hmong Wedding Story, a family memoir about balancing two cultures, centered on her refusal to follow the traditional Hmong custom of the groom’s family paying a “bride price” to the parents of the bride.
She shares her story in her own words:
“We came to the United States in the winter. I remember seeing snow from the plane. They gave us huge coats because we were skinny little refugee kids. I felt like a penguin.
“I didn’t know any English. We went right into school, without any understanding of the language. They’d only taught us a few words, like how to ask for the bathroom, in the refugee camps. I remember flash cards and a circular toy with a lever that I pulled to tell me the alphabet.
“We moved to Minnesota when I was in high school, and I was excited to be among a larger community of Hmong people. I walked up to people in the street or the grocery store, saying, ‘Hi! Are you Hmong too?’
“It was challenging to be an American at school and Hmong at home. Our church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, was a supportive environment for me. The Sunday school teachers told the girls, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ They showed us their college photo albums of happy, smiling people in beautiful places. I wanted to be there.
“It was challenging to be an American at school and Hmong at home. … The Sunday school teachers told the girls, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ They showed us their college photo albums of happy, smiling people in beautiful places. I wanted to be there.”
“My mom wanted me to go to college. She always said that education was our way out of being poor. She hoped we’d get a desk job, so we wouldn’t have to do manual labor. [After I came to St. Olaf,] I took her for a campus visit so she wouldn’t worry about where I was going to live and sleep, and what I was going to eat.
“The Hmong culture is patriarchal, and the community is very gendered. Girls are expected to
care for home and family, to cook and clean. The girls marry out and we become someone
“I grew up hearing my mom’s stories of how her bride price was used against her, and I didn’t want that for myself. When my husband and I got married without following the custom, my mom was so angry that we didn’t talk for a year. I had end-stage renal disease and I’d had a kidney transplant, so my mom thought I was damaged goods and that if my in-laws paid my bride price, it meant they really wanted me in their family. She was trying to ensure that I was loved and taken care of.
“My book started out as a series of letters to my mom. I wanted to figure out why she was so hard on me. I never intended to write about myself. It took persistence and my having kids to repair our relationship. The first time she stepped foot in my house was when my daughter was born. My kids were able to get through to my mom in a way that I couldn’t.
“The book was revealed to me in three parts that follow a shaman’s journey: trauma, the rituals to find a lost spirit or soul in the trauma, and being made whole. I’ve been a Christian for a long time and believed that you had to choose between the ancestor’s spirits and God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, so it was surprising to realize my book was following the shaman’s journey.
“I hope my book stimulates conversation in the Hmong community about the bride price, and that we come to some sort of cultural understanding about valuing women without putting a monetary amount on their value.”
St. Olaf College alumnus Eric Tostrud ’87 was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Tostrud, who earned his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law, has been a private attorney at the Lockridge Grindal Nauen law firm in Minneapolis for the past 26 years. He has maintained a complex commercial litigation practice, with emphasis in the areas of complex insurance coverage, health care law and litigation, and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) practice and procedure.
Currently, Tostrud also serves on the full-time faculty at Mitchell Hamline School of Law as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence. He has taught many law school courses, including Federal Jurisdiction, Federal Civil Procedure, Advanced Federal Civil Procedure, and Electronic Discovery.
Along with fellow nominee Judge Nancy Brasel, Tostrud will replace Judges Ann Montgomery and Donovan Frank, who were appointed by Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1998, respectively.
The St. Olaf Band’s international tour to Australia and New Zealand will culminate with “A Coming Home Concert from the Land Down Under” on February 11.
The concert, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in St. Olaf’s Skoglund Center Auditorium, is free and open to the public. It will be streamed and archived online.
From January 15 to 30, the 95-member St. Olaf Band traveled throughout New Zealand and Australia. They performed in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, and in Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney, Australia. The members also all took one of two Interim courses focused on flourishing within one’s environment from either Associate Professor of Chemistry Paul Jackson ’92 or Associate Professor of Psychology Donna McMillan.
The word “flourish” inspired every aspect of the St. Olaf Band’s New Zealand and Australia Tour. For conductor Timothy Mahr ’78, it served as both artistic inspiration and as a philosophy for living in, and enjoying, the world.
Flourishes filled the tour’s music, bringing an extra strand of beauty to every concert. Among the American pieces on the band’s program were Sound the Bells by John Williams, Nathan Duaghtrey’s Limerick Daydreams, and Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront by Leonard Bernstein. Works by Australian composers included Twist by Jodie Blackshaw and Australian Up-Country Tune by Percy Grainger.
The band also performed two of Mahr’s own works, The Soaring Hawk and Flourish. Mahr, who has conducted the band since 1994, is a highly sought-after guest conductor and award-winning composer. Two St. Olaf Band members are featured soloists: Sean Miller ’18 on the saxophone and Sarah Younger ’18 on percussion. They are both performing a work by David Maslanka, a composer awarded an honorary degree from St. Olaf in 2016; he recently passed away in August 2017.Members of the St. Olaf Band prepare to perform at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music during their recent tour to Australia and New Zealand.
During performances, the St. Olaf Band frequently joined forces with local ensembles, like the West City Youth Concert Band in Auckland, the Canberra Wind Symphony, and the Royal Australian Navy Band in Melbourne.
Despite a jam-packed performance and study schedule, band members took every opportunity to see the sights. They stopped by Hobbiton while in Middle Earth … errr, New Zealand. They also visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne and the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve outside Canberra as part of their class on ethics and the environment.
The Australia and New Zealand Tour is not the first time that the St. Olaf Band has toured abroad. Once every four years the band embarks on an international adventure: past locations include Mexico, Japan, Europe, and the United Kingdom. In honor of St. Olaf’s Norwegian heritage, the band has visited Norway six times.
Get a glimpse of Oles finishing up their tour in Australia:
This January, St. Olaf College students gained hands-on experience in research and engineering through a collaboration with two Minnesota-based companies committed to creating innovative products.
Students in Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht’s Engineering Design Practicum worked on prototypes for Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical equipment development companies, and SageGlass, a global leader in designing and producing electronically tintable, energy-efficient glass.
“The class partners student groups with companies to solve engineering challenges they are facing. It helps the students understand the real-world importance and gives them experience working with professionals.”
The class, in coordination with the college’s Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) program, gives students the opportunity to work on real-world physics and engineering problems. The companies provide projects relevant and important to their goals. Students work in teams to approach these projects from an engineering design perspective that emphasizes hands-on work, prototyping, and organizational skills.
“The class partners student groups with companies to solve engineering challenges they are facing,” Engebrecht says. “It helps the students understand the real-world importance and gives them experience working with professionals.”William Gustafson ’18, Paul Timm ’18, Patrik Stefek ’18, and Benjamin Hinke ’18 test their prototype design as part of the Engineering Design Practicum. Student groups worked with Minnesota-based companies Medtronic and SageGlass.
Engbrecht’s Engineering Design Practicum is one of a number of ACE courses and projects that provide St. Olaf students with experiential learning opportunities. ACE encompasses everything from direct service to community-based research and public scholarship to advocacy and dialogue. ACE projects, which can be one-time or multi-term, are structured to be mutually beneficial to both the students and the community partners.
“The value of students working in ACE is tremendous,” Assistant Director for Academic Civic Engagement Alyssa Melby says. “It helps students understand their course content in deeper ways, and also expands their knowledge, understanding, and commitment to their community. These are the skills that will help them personally and professional as they leave college and begin their careers.”
A new class at St. Olaf College this January gave students an up-close look at how music can engage and advocate for those on the margins of society.
Students in the Music and Social Justice Interim course, led by faculty member Mark Stover, visited the Minnesota Women’s Correctional Facility in Shakopee each week to learn and explore the topic of music’s role in social justice. In collaboration with the college’s Academic Civic Engagement program, they also began creating a musical advocacy project in conjunction with Northfield-area nonprofits that include the Northfield Arts Guild, Cannon River Watershed Project, and Greenvale Elementary School.
“We open our eyes to the world around us, and we pay attention to the brokenness in the world to find ways that we can immerse ourselves to build authentic, meaningful relationships,” says Stover, who also conducts the St. Olaf Chapel Choir and Viking Chorus.Students in Mark Stover’s ‘Music and Social Justice’ class listen to guest speakers.
On campus, the class received visits from numerous musicians who provided first-hand accounts of music’s importance in bleak situations. St. Olaf alumna and composer Abbie Betinis ’01 came to campus to teach the class her song Resilience. Nationally renowned choral director Tesfa Wondemagegnehu met with the class via video conference to provide a lecture on race and music.
Students in the class also learned impactful protest songs and composed their own, which they shared during their visits to Shakopee. Each week, students and women in the correctional facility started their visit in song before exploring music’s unifying qualities and how it relates to social justice.
Kayla Carlson ’19, a student in the class, says the weekly visits to the correctional facility were the most impactful portion of the course.
“The visits to the women’s prison are so important because often people don’t have conversations about those who have been incarcerated. They are often dehumanized or just ignored entirely. Learning their names and hearing their stories has been extremely impactful because now I have an interest in doing social work in a prison setting, where not a lot of people want to work,” she says.
By using music as the vehicle, Stover says a middle ground is created where one can “find peace in a broken world.” In the prison, the distinction between prisoner and free citizen is erased. All are treated as equals, as discussion and learning is facilitated.
Stover says that “it’s been a great privilege to learn and grow from these women in Shakopee,” but the students are not the only ones gaining from this experience. The women in the facility were given the option of signing up for weekly classes with the St. Olaf students. The outpour of interest was astounding, with nearly 30 women signing up, some of whom are involved in the facility’s Voices of Hope choir. One prisoner emotionally told Stover, “I’ve been here for four years, and this is the first time I’ve felt like a human being.”
A final word form Stover involves not just one party, but all: “We’re pioneers. It’s not just my course. It’s our course. We get to own it together.”
Watch students in the class work with composer Abbie Betinis ’01 to learn her song Resilience.
As St. Olaf College student Chris Casey ’18 begins a super week with the U.S. Bank Future Leaders Program that will culminate with seats at this Sunday’s Super Bowl game in Minneapolis, he sat down for an interview with WCCO-TV.
The Future Leaders program highlights three young Minnesotans who are passionate about achieving their goals and dedicated to giving back to their communities. Casey is joined by fellow Future Leaders Contessa Boorman and Dominique Jones.
Along with tickets to the big game, these future leaders will also witness behind-the-scenes action at experiences like Super Bowl Live and Radio Row at Mall of America. They will also get to network with board members from U.S. Bank, as well as National Football League staff members and others working at the Super Bowl.Chris Casey ’18 with WCCO-TV reporter Alia Lucia in Minneapolis, where he spoke with her about his U.S. Bank Future Leaders experience.
Casey, an economics major at St. Olaf, tells WCCO reporter Ali Lucia that what’s keeping him grounded during this exciting time is advice his grandfather gave him:
“Whatever opportunity you get, make sure you find some way to give back,” says Casey, noting that he’s incredibly grateful for this experience through the Future Leaders Program. “I get to learn from many industry experts that will make me a more polished individual, and hopefully I can take that wherever I go.”
“Sentiment towards aging usually focuses on what we lose and what goes wrong. But if we focus on the positives, we can leverage the talents and wisdom of older adults,” St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Psychology Jessica Petok said while standing in one of St. Olaf’s more unusual classroom settings. Every Tuesday this Interim, Petok held her class on The Aging Brain and Cognition at FiftyNorth, the senior center in Northfield.
The class is part of the college’s Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) program, which promotes “an educational approach that encourages students to learn in community contexts.” In the meeting room-turned-classroom, St. Olaf students mingled with interested adults from the Northfield community. They gathered to survey what is known about the aging mind and brain and consider the implications for individuals and society. Tables of two students and two to three adults engaged in small-group and large-group discussions. Students also volunteered at FiftyNorth for six hours during Interim.Tables of two students and two to three adults engage in small-group and large-group discussions at FiftyNorth.
Participating students said the class is an invaluable opportunity to study both the physical process of aging and societal attitudes towards getting older.
Annika Isbell ’19 said she took the class because “so often in the field of psychology, people tend to study things we have context for — in terms of child development, lots of people have children. Many people studying aging haven’t experienced it so it’s a unique field. We won’t know if we’re right until we get there.”
Adults in the class shared the students’ enthusiasm. One senior said she joined the class because “it sounded interesting, and interacting with students is great.”
Petok led the class by asking challenging, thought-provoking questions: “What are positive and negative stereotypes around aging?”; “What are the implications of how we refer to older people?”; and “Has the wisdom of older people been side-lined in the age of Google?”
The class responded with challenging, thought-provoking answers. People were not afraid to raise their hands, voice ideas, and think out loud. Everyone made sure the atmosphere was one of respect. Laughter and smiles filled the room.
Collaborative. Curious. Compassionate. These words encompass the class created by Petok, her students, and the adults of FiftyNorth. People listened — and through that listening, they learned.
St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht has a reputation for collaborating with students to build top-notch Rube Goldberg machines.
That work — which gained national attention when St. Olaf teams led by Engbrecht won the national collegiate Rube Goldberg competition in 2009 and 2012 — recently attracted the attention of Japanese game show organizers. They invited Engbrecht and two alumni, Bryce Danielson ’11 and Christian Weeks ’13, to compete against Japanese Rube Goldberg champions as part of a New Year’s Day television special featuring a variety of skill contests.
Rube Goldberg Machines are complicated contraptions that use a number of whimsical and counterintuitive steps to accomplish very simple tasks. St. Olaf created these machines for the national collegiate Rube Goldberg competitions from 2009 to 2012. Danielson was a member of the 2010 team, and Weeks was a member of the 2011 team. That success led Target and 3M to ask Engbrecht to work on Rube Goldberg machines showcasing their products — and videos of the resulting machines have garnered nearly a million views online.Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht and Bryce Danielson ’11 provide a better view of the Rube Goldberg machine they built, which worked flawlessly on the show.
Although Engbrecht’s team did not win the Japanese game show competition on the Fujiyama program, their machine worked flawlessly — a great feat with merely four days to travel, gather the supplies, and assemble their piece in a foreign country.
“It was a very fun experience. Winning or losing was very secondary,” Engbrecht says. “We were really three partners building the machine. They were phenomenal — there is no way I could have done it without them.”
Although the television special highlighted Engbrecht as the main builder of the piece, Danielson and Weeks were just as involved in the creative leadership of designing, producing, and testing the brand new large-scale machine.
“We all knew that we worked great as a team in the past, and that we would be successful in this endeavor not matter the time frame,” Danielson says. “Overall, I was looking for a fun challenge and a unique experience with some Oles that I consider close friends.”
The hospitality provided by the game show organizers also made for an exceptional travel experience abroad.
“Fuji TV did a great job of taking care of us while we were there with food, an interpreter, taxi rides, etc. The filming day itself was really enjoyable,” Weeks says. “We were all so nervous to compete against the other machine and the dozen or so people there to film us ramped up the reality and excitement of the competition. When we got our first run perfect, we had a huge sense of relief.”
When St. Olaf College student Johanna Beam ’20 was 16, she saw a few birds on her grandparents’ porch. The intrigue and research those few birds sparked quickly became “a very fast spiral” into a personal and academic passion, with impressive results.
Beam was recently named the American Birding Association – Leica 2017 Young Birder of the Year and wrote an American Birding Association for Birding Book Review. The Colorado native, a talented artist and illustrator, has also had artwork commissioned by Colorado Field Ornithologists. She is interested in population genetics and scientific illustration, which has led her to pursue a biology and studio art double major.
“They’re two very different things, but if I love drawing birds, and I love the science behind birds, it fits pretty well,” she says.According to Johanna Beam ’20, the St. Olaf campus is a pretty good place for birding. This pileated woodpecker was photographed by Evan Pak ’19 near the Hilleboe and Kittelsby residence halls.
Beam always knew she wanted to be in a STEM field. But the art major was more of a surprise.
“I didn’t actually want to be an art major — I didn’t think I wanted to do art like that,” she says. But the department quickly won her over when she took Foundations of 2D Art with Professor John Sauer.
“He’s amazing,” Beam says. “That class is so energetic and more than just ‘Oh, you’re going to draw something today.’ It’s just a really, really good intro class.”
Her birding passion has since taken her across the country, whether she’s looking for puffins in Maine or owls in Arizona. During spring break, it’ll take her across the world when she participates in an international bird race in Israel called Champions of the Flyway. Beam and two friends will try to find as many birds as possible in the 24-hour time limit, while being sponsored by Leica Sport Optics and the American Birding Association to raise money for bird conservation in Serbia and Croatia. But as much as the birds, she appreciates the people she has encountered.Evan Pak ’19 photographed this sparrow by the bird feeder right outside Christiansen Hall of Music.
“When you think of birdwatchers or birders, you think ‘Oh it’s a bunch of old people going and looking around.’ There’s actually a lot of young people. There are young birder camps, where you go places and meet them. I’ve met my best friends through birding.”
According to Beam, the St. Olaf campus is a pretty good place for birding — especially the Natural Lands during spring migration. A recent Star Tribune story even highlighted how the 350 acres of Natural Lands play an important role in conservation efforts for native species like the bluebird.
“There’s a birder debate about whether Carleton has a better birding campus than St. Olaf. I tend to think St. Olaf does, but I’m biased,” she says.
Right now, Beam is considering pursuing a Ph.D. in some kind of bird research, but hopes to take side jobs illustrating field guides, convention art, logos, or T-shirt designs.
“I want to continue to combine birds and arts and science together, because that’s what I really love,” she says.
Over the course of two days, Minnesota Public Radio aired the St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community’s town-hall-style forum on sport, protest, and the controversies surrounding the NFL and its players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The “MPR News Presents” program aired the introduction by event moderator Edmund Santurri, the Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community, and the discussion among the three panelists — former NFL Hall of Famer and Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page, former Army Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer, and sports analyst Jackie MacMullan — on January 25 at noon and 9 p.m.
The program aired the second part of the event, featuring questions from St. Olaf students in a variety of courses and the responses from panelists, on January 26 at noon and 9 p.m.
Listeners can hear the broadcast live or listen to the archive on the MPR News broadcast web page.
The Institute for Freedom and Community held the dialogue the evening of January 23 in front of a packed auditorium on the St. Olaf campus.
On your mark, get set, math! This year, six teams from St. Olaf College competed in the 21st annual team problem-solving contest hosted by the Mathematical Association of America’s North Central Section. Each team can include up to three students. These students collaborate on 10 problems at their home campuses.
The competition: 61 other teams from 28 regional colleges and universities.
The line-up: 6 teams from St. Olaf, pencils at the ready.
With St. Olaf having claimed first place last year, the pressure was on. But worry not, because Oles only ever up the game.
So this year, the six teams of Oles participated in the competition and met their fate.
The results: another impressive set of successes. One Ole team took first place and another took second place. In fact, five out of the six teams finished in the top third of the competition.
Winning? Easy as π.
But St. Olaf doesn’t just have successful math students: it has a lot of successful math students. In fact, mathematics is one of the college’s most popular majors, with 194 students currently enrolled. That makes mathematics the third-highest declared major among Oles. With all that talent, it’s no surprise Oles took the competition by storm.
The members of St. Olaf’s first place team, Jakob Hofstad ’20 and Eric Anderlik ’20, say the college’s math program is top-notch.
“For all of my life I knew I wanted to pursue math, and one primary reason I chose to come to St. Olaf was for the variety of math classes that it offered,” says Hofstad, who is majoring in mathematics and physics. “Since coming here, I have gotten a taste of the different types of math that I may use in a career, and I look forward to taking more challenging classes here in the future.”
Anderlik — a chemistry, mathematics, and physics major — also has nothing but praise for the Ole way: “The math major at St. Olaf is excellent. The professors are great, from having inspirational, magnificent beards to having children who already are learning how to say ‘differential equations.’ My peers in the math major never fail to disappoint either. I’m always impressed by how creative a group of people can be. The courses are also amazing. Currently, I am in Budapest studying number theory; the cafes here are perfect for sipping thick hot chocolate with a cat and pondering modular arithmetic.”
Studying a subject you love while surrounded by hot chocolate and cats? Anderlik knows how to celebrate — just like Ole mathletes know how to compete.
Beyond the Barbed Wire: Japanese Americans in Minnesota, a documentary film created by St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Chinese Ka Wong and several student researchers, explores an emotional and challenging chapter in perhaps one of the darkest moments of 20th-century American history.
The film, which Wong worked on for nearly two years with the assistance of Hikari Sugisaki ‘17 and Paul Sullivan ’17, presents the unique experiences of Japanese Americans who came to Minnesota after the Pacific War. Approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forced into internment camps after Pearl Harbor, and some of them relocated to and restarted their lives in Minnesota in part because of education opportunities at schools that included St. Olaf.
“The purpose of this film is to preserve this part of history as well as present these individual stories to inform and educate the newer generation, who might not have much knowledge about it,” Wong says. “The film will be distributed through educational channels, and perhaps several Asian American film related programs.”
The next showing of Beyond the Barbed Wire will be at the Northfield Public Library on Saturday, January 20, at 1 p.m. in the Bunday Meeting Room.“The story of the interment and its aftermath is not just about the struggles and sufferings of the Japanese Americans but also the courage and comradeship of others who stepped up, spoke for, and helped them during such difficult times,” says Associate Professor of Chinese Ka Wong.
The project began as a Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) summer project in 2015 and gradually developed into a documentary film with the generous support of funding from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM), Digital Humanities on the Hill (DHH), as well as the Interdisciplinary and General Studies and the Asian Studies departments at St Olaf.
Wong was inspired by Yoshiteru Murakami ’51, a second-generation Japanese American (Nisei) from the internment camp who attended St. Olaf and later served in the military.
“His story made me want to explore this unknown part of Minnesotan history and, of course, in the context of the larger yet seldom discussed WWII experiences of Japanese Americans,” Wong says.
Both Sugisaki and Sullivan wanted to further explore the history behind the internment camps and the stories that came after.
“I thought this was a good subject to research because the attitude in the United States today toward some minorities, especially Muslim Americans, is unfortunately reminiscent of how the Japanese American community was viewed pre-internment,” Sullivan says.
Initially the film was not meant to be a documentary, but after hearing the stories of their interviewees the group was moved to help their voices be heard.
“Generally they were happy to share their experiences,” Sullivan says. “I think most of them were open to being interviewed, despite their stories being full of hardship, in hopes that through sharing nobody else would have to go through what they went through.”
The group hopes the documentary will bring awareness to a series of events that is both often forgotten and, unfortunately, incredibly relevant today.
“There are rich and untold stories about Asian Americans everywhere, even in an unsuspected place like Northfield or St. Olaf, that we should not overlook,” Wong says.
“The story of the interment and its aftermath is not just about the struggles and sufferings of the Japanese Americans but also the courage and comradeship of others who stepped up, spoke for, and helped them during such difficult times,” he adds. “The fight against injustice is never simply about, or can it ever be reduced to, just race/color. Under the current political climate, both on campus and nationwide, it’s crucial to give more thought and time to discussing the past, so we can better prepare for present challenges, and hopefully work toward a better future.”