Letter to the community
Sept. 8th, 2020
In my role as the chair of the Norwegian Department at St. Olaf College, I am constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to connect my students’ understanding of Norwegian society and culture to our college’s heritage.
The majority of my students come with the perception that Norwegian-Americans resemble Norwegians in terms of societal, cultural and religious attitudes. I expand their knowledge and also help them explore contemporary Norway, a culture often quite different from the culture celebrated by their grandparents and great grandparents. I often find myself needing to help my students distinguish between Norwegian and Norwegia
This week, two social media groups claiming to be made up of students and alumni began using various pieces of the college’s heritage to hide behind a mask of white supremacy. In light of these posts, we want to make it clear where the Norwegian Department at St. Olaf College stands: we do not condone white supremacy in or outside of our classrooms. These dangerous ideologies have no place at St. Olaf.
The Norwegian Department and its faculty do not feel under threat by a changing student, staff or faculty; we embrace it. Yes, it is true, many students who study Norwegian do so because they have some Norwegian ancestry, but Norwegianness is often just one way an individual identifies. Additionally, the study of Norwegian also draws students intrigued by social welfare policies, gender equality, indigenous rights, and climate awareness among many other things, and its literature reflects diverse and often progressive thinking on these issues.
The Norwegian department and its faculty fully support BIPOC students’ ongoing struggles for inclusion. We are working hard to address inclusion and anti-racist pedagogies in our curriculum, to more accurately reflect both the diversity of the Norwegian experience of the past as well as the diversity of its present. We continue to push our students and ourselves to explore questions of identity and belonging in an academic way that doesn’t assume a particular student profile. We are working to understand and address the impact of white supremacy in and outside of our classrooms.
St. Olaf College was founded by Norwegian-Americans; nothing will change that. The college has evolved over the last 148 years and it will continue to. We must dismantle the systems of oppression in our institution and society. Those are necessary changes for our college to flourish for the next 148 years.
Norwegian-Americans, and those interested in the academic study of Norwegian, please join us in listening, being more inclusive of, and advocating for our BIPOC students, staff and faculty.