Box-Out: A Lesson in Sensitivity

At St. Olaf, we live in a world that is very sheltered and very privileged. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can occasionally lead to the creation an inadvertent insensitivity toward certain serious issues. An example of this insensitivity was seen in Habitat for Humanity’s recently canceled “Box-out” event. The event was planned to feature campus bands as well as a competition to see who could create the most “creative” box structure. What they failed to realize during planning however, was how offensive this “box-out” would turn out to be.  The purpose of the event, according to an apologetic email sent by Habitat executive members, was to “raise awareness about an issue that is often overlooked by society and the St. Olaf community and help create a productive and meaningful discussion.”

However, by asking students to build the most creative structure, the exec board carelessly made two giant mistakes. First of all, it inadvertently indicated that all those who were homeless lived in boxes. Though I am aware that this wasn’t in any way Habitat’s intention, the proposed event appeared to be a gross misrepresentation and trivialization of a worldwide epidemic. Secondly, this contest really belittled the issue by turning a serious issue into a fun, light game. As one student put it: “It was like they were saying, ‘come have fun and be homeless for a night, it’ll be great.’”

Though I ultimately do not believe that habitat should have had to talk to the dean, the president, and the provost about the event, I do think that the backlash from it was an important lesson in sensitivity for the student body. No matter how you color it, St. Olaf students live in a bubble. As a result of this Ole bubble, it can be very easy to find yourself separated from the world around you. The fact that no one in habitat recognized the offensive nature of this event demonstrates this perfectly. Their goal to raise awareness was great but they were simply so far removed from the issue at the time that they couldn’t see that they were going about achieving that goal the wrong way. Hopefully, in the future, students will think a little bit more about the implications their events before putting them in motion.