Taught by Juliet Patterson, Associate Professor of Practice in English, this course introduces students to the concept of gender as a category of analysis and is designed for students who seek a fuller understanding of themselves as gendered beings and a wider knowledge of the experiences and achievements of women.
In this fall 2020, enrolled students worked in small groups to create and facilitate a Living Room Conversation dialogue and deliberation with peers at St. Olaf College around a theme related to Women and Gender Studies.
*This story was written about Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies taught by Juliet Patterson in Fall 2020.
Despite the challenging circumstances the students were experiencing this term, the topics students chose for the living room conversation were diverse and engaging. Many touched upon gender, some talked about post-colonial feminism, and some specifically focused on the media representation of women since the 1980s.
The majority of the students agreed that the small group conversations in the class were a great medium for sustained dialogue and collaboration over the course of the semester and they were able to have some really honest and constructive conversations. Faith Goede ‘22 shared that: “My classmates were so often a place of inspiration, a place of safety, a place of comfort, solidarity, and warmth… It was such an incredible point of sisterhood I often get overwhelmed thinking about it…They brought rich conversation, genuine warmth and light, and fervent hope for the future into my days, and I am forever grateful.”
Additionally, another student has shared that “the ACE project component with their small groups was really great and it was something that each person could relate to and had experience with, whether they were part of our course small group or invited members. Each group member was enthusiastic and our outside members said they enjoyed talking about their families and learning about others in the closing reflection part of our discussion. Overall, practicing deliberative conversations with my small group throughout the semester certainly taught me how to better actively listen to my peers attentively and earnestly.”
*This story was written about Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies taught by Juliet Patterson in Fall 2020.
Living Room Conversation is a conversational model produced by experts in dialogue and communication to facilitate connections between people, to identify areas of similarities and shared understanding, and to celebrate differences. Living Room Conversations are a simple way to connect across different backgrounds in age, gender, race, nationality, and much more.
The organizers of Living Room Conversations believe that “getting at the heart of what we share in common with one another, these conversations have powerful, positive impacts across society – including a sense of respect, understanding, and even friendship in unexpected places!”
Kiara Jorgenson, Assistant Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies, developed a course at St. Olaf this spring that intersects environmental education, ethics and theological formation. A large component of the “Theo-Ethics of Climate Change” is an academic civic engagement (ACE) project wherein student teams partner with local Christian communities to create Dialogue and Discussion guides and resources for the congregations to use when learning about and acting upon climate-related topics (i.e. food choices, renewable energies, climate refugees, environmental racism, etc.). This dually-listed religion and environmental studies class promises to run every other spring.
*This story was written about Theo-Ethics of Climate Change taught by Kiara Jorgenson in Spring 2020.
“While they haven’t been able to facilitate conversations within their congregational contexts as planned [due to Covid-19], many student teams have created incredible resources for their partnering congregations and learned a great deal about theological questions and responses in the meanwhile,” says Jorgenson. Listed below are some student work created in correspondence to the course objectives and syllabus.
The Church, Climate Change, and Solar Energy
By Hannah Read, Cannon Stuckert, and Lauren Williams
- Handout for Congregation and Discussion
- Facilitator Guide
- Detailed Info for EarthKeepers Task Force
- Supplementary Guide: Christian Responsibility and Environmental Ethics
- Annotated Bibliography
By DeAnia Brown and Shanthi Chackalackal
Partner: Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN)
AUGUSTANA LUTHERAN CHURCH (WEST ST. PAUL, MN)
Augustana Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They are a friendly, caring, and generous faith community of more than 2,200 members in all stages of life.
BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH (MINNEAPOLIS, MN)
Founded in 1894, Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities is a congregation with a long history of showing up in remarkable ways to share the good news of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In 2016, it became one church with two campuses. Located in urban (Minneapolis) and suburban (Minnetonka) neighborhoods, you’ll find a faith community both unique to its context and united in its commitment to create space and time for God to form relationships that provide meaning as they share in the work of God’s vision for a healed world. Below is a video clip which introduces Bethlehem Lutheran Church in details.
SHEPHERD OF THE VALLEY LUTHERAN CHURCH (APPLE VALLEY, MN)
The Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church(SOTV) are a community of people in every age and every stage of life, where all are invited to grow in their faith through their core ministries of worship, learn, connect, and care.
*Members of Christian communities with interest in future partnership with St. Olaf students are invited to contact Professor Jorgenson directly.
A Video Clip from Honoring Choices where Professor Mary Carlsen and Students Talk about Death
This question of whether and how young adults are discussing death and dying–for themselves and with their family–provided the core focus of Mary Carlsen’s interdisciplinary directed undergraduate research (DUR) course, “Living and Dying: Explorations with Young Adults.” In planning for this course, Mary collaborated closely with key staff at Honoring Choices MN to generate potential research topics and ideas that were driven by the community partners’ interests and needs, making this project, not just a community-based research project, but a genuinely community-engaged research project.
The experience was one of growth and learning for the faculty member. Mary shared that her professional expertise is in aging and end-of-life, not working with young adults and end-of-life conversations. “My students’ willingness to explore and be authentic in their own reactions empowered me to be honest about needing to learn. What a joy to be able to learn alongside them!,” she offered.
Six students (five seniors, one junior) spanning majors from across the college tackled this difficult topic of death in order to provide meaningful recommendations to Honoring Choices MN. One of the first activities for “Living and Dying” involved students’ participation in a Death Over Dinner themselves, facilitated by Mary. The students recorded short responses before and after the dinner. Before, student’s reactions ranged from “cautiously optimistic,” “nervous,” “anxious,” and “afraid” to “excited.” After, they expressed feeling “relieved,” “curious,” “informed,” “excited,” “calm,” and “motivated.”
DEATH OVER DINNER WITH ST. OLAF STUDENTS
In order to gather data for the research questions, the students then decided to explore a multi-pronged approach. In pairs, they each facilitated their own Death Over Dinner with St. Olaf students. They tabled out in front of the Cage to elicit responses from their peers, as well as written dialogue via sticky notes in two hallways on campus. In addition, they elicited responses in another interdisciplinary ACE course, “Frontiers of Aging,” co-taught by Ashley Hodgsen (Economics) and Jessica Petok (Psychology).
Students were able to generate a few key recommendations for Honoring Choices about how to invite young adults into the conversation about death, dying, and advance care planning, such as highlighting “We Croak,” an app that sends reminders to your phone five times a day that you’re going to die; utilizing social media networks to share resources and conversations among organizations and individual young adults; and providing ideas for young adults to start the conversation with family and friends.
Shannon Holder ‘19 shared that “this ACE/ID course allowed me to apply my foundation in analytical skills from my chemistry major and other research experiences to community challenges.” She added that it was “very rewarding to see how our liberal arts backgrounds contribute to these interdisciplinary challenges with respect to advance care planning.”
Not only did the students discover that their peers are in large part willing to have and/or are already having these conversations, but they themselves, after exploring this topic in a supportive classroom community, felt empowered to have conversations with their own friends and family. Adding to this empowerment was the knowledge that their work was helping to elevate the topics of end-of-life care and advance care planning among students, Northfield, and the entire state.
Honoring Choices MN is the statewide organization devoted to spreading awareness and education around advance care planning and end-of-life decisions. Their goal is to spur family conversations about future health care preferences and to assist health care organizations and community partners with the installation of a comprehensive advance care planning program. Honoring Choices had previously worked with Mary in her 2018 DUR to create and test an evaluation tool for community interventions such as Death Over Dinners.
Lynn Betzold from Honoring Choices MN attended the final presentation at St. Olaf and had this to say about the experience:
Their presentation offered a thoughtful response to the questions first posed by Honoring Choices Minnesota (HCM) at the start of the semester. Successfully achieving this goal provided valuable insight that HCM will carry forward into the ongoing national Advance Care Planning conversation. Equally significant was the student’s willingness to engage authentically in the class experience as evidenced through their sharing of personal “takeaways”. While it is admittedly too early to identify two class experiences as a pattern or trend, it demonstrates the success of this platform as a means to engage college-aged individuals in meaningful conversations about Living and Dying and thus moves us a step closer to our goal of ensuring every person’s health care choices are clearly defined and honored.
Ying Zhou, Assistant Professor of Chinese/Asian Studies, approached the ACE office late last fall to start a conversation about using ACE in Chinese language courses. While lots of brainstorming revolved around that topic, Alyssa Melby, Assistant Director for ACE, noted that Ying was teaching Asian Calligraphy during Interim. She asked, “Want to try an ACE component with that class? I’ve got an idea…”
Thinking through the logistics of the course–these were students just learning the basics of Asian Calligraphy themselves!– as well as the academic goals of the course, Ying worked with the GVPCS coordinators, Savannah Stuckmayer and Laura Berdahl, on creating a three-session club on Asian Calligraphy during January for grades 4-5 in the PLUS program. The first two sessions focused on learning basic brush strokes, and the final session looked at paper cutting traditions associated with the Lunar New Year. Supplies were ordered and paid for through a course implementation grant from the ACE office, too.
*This story was written about Asian Calligraphy taught by Ying Zhou in Interim 2019.
Each group was required to do a simulated ACE teaching demonstration for their peers before they entered the elementary classroom. Ying shared, “The students had a chance to be more aware of creating an inclusive learning environment for the St. Olaf students in this course and for the afterschool PLUS program students. After the simulated teaching session, the students discussed in groups and provided their observations of positive aspects and offered their constructive suggestions to make improvements. For example, in our first group’s demonstration, the class offered a suggestion that we should always respect personal space if we need to stay close to a student and demonstrate brush holding or calligraphy writing.”
The teaching demonstration not only helped them prepare to work with 4th and 5th graders, it built other skills, as well. Ying said, “The ACE experience helped the students understand in-depth and develop their own perspectives on the course contents. One key technique in writing Asian calligraphy is to write each character in correct stroke orders. There are rules of stroke orders which might be difficult to remember. One group came up with their own acronyms of the rules in their ACE teaching experience. They named it ‘Three Bs,’ which nicely summarized the rules and made it very easy to understand and remember.” Nisha Albert, a student in the course shared that “having to simplify it for elementary versus college kids brings a different level of understanding” to content, too” and builds communication skills.
Despite challenges that inevitably arose at each session, Nisha felt that there was definitely some positive impact with the students and was impressed by how much the youth learned in just one class. Anna Lahr, another student, shared that “putting an aspect of calligraphy to work was great! The ACE component of the hands-on experience was awesome. Maybe they’ve never had learned it, but it’s new and exciting, a whole new culture, something different in their life.” Nisha further reflected that “Northfield is not a hub of Asian Culture, so it was nice to be able to share a piece it.” Ying, who lives in Northfield, too, relished the opportunity to share and help the local youth grow. She said, “It could be one of the many moments that prepare them for this globalized community. Hopefully, this experience would inspire them to further explore diverse cultures and develop interests in various disciplines.”
Greenvale Park Community School encompasses free, out-of-school time programs at the local neighborhood elementary right in St. Olaf’s backyard. Breakfast Buddies eat breakfast with Greenvale Park students once a week, talking with them about their upcoming day, playing games or helping with homework. The Greenvale Park PLUS program and other clubs are hosted after school for students, and on Tuesday and Thursday nights they host activities for the whole family. For both their afterschool PLUS program and their evening Community School, clubs are formed around certain topics, such as Art Club or STEM club. Recently, a Korean club had been formed, and in general, GVPCS coordinators shared that there was an interest in and enthusiasm for learning about other cultures.