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.

Water Wars: Western Slope vs. Front Range

I was born and raised in a Rural Colorado Mountain town on the Colorado River with a population less than 10,000 people. Located about three hours from Denver, we affectionately refer to everything west of the Continental Divide as the Western Slope. Everything east of the divide is referred to as the Front Range. Although both sides of the divide harbor a deep and abiding love for the state, we also both engage in a fierce rivalry with each other. This rivalry stems from an unlikely culprit: water.

Now, this may seem a bit odd to some people. How can a state so famous for their snowcapped peaks and eponymous river have issues with water? The problem lies in the fact that despite popular belief, Colorado has an incredibly arid climate. The entire State essentially relies on the Colorado River on the Western Slope for its water supply. To a non-resident, this seems like a fantastic arrangement. If the river starts in Colorado then they can take as much water as they want right? Wrong. Due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, Colorado only owns a portion of the water rights to the river and therefore can only consume a certain amount.

Therefore, Denver put the western half of the state on edge in September 2013 when it announced its plan to streamline the review process of water conservancies in order to

usher in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope water providers…allowing Denver Water to develop future water supplies

Essentially, the Front Range to increase its consumption of water by and extra 100,00 to 250,000 acre-feet to the current consumption of 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet in order to offset suspected water shortages. However, this would mean that the Western Slope would have even more restricted access to its own river water.

The reaction of the organization dedicated to the conservation of water in the Colorado (The Colorado River Basin Roundtable) to this proposal was vehemently negative. The Roundtable reactionary statement dictated that

The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid.

Personally, I don’t see how the Front Range can expect the Western Slope to allocate more water to the Denver Metro area. There are already laws preventing the Colorado citizens from collecting rainwater so as not to hinder the amount of water that gets diverted to the Metro area. They claim that it is “for the good of the state” but I don’t buy it. This proposition simply exploits the Western Slope to benefit the Front Range. 


Cold War 2.0? Russia enters the Ukraine

While I was concerned  when I heard Siev, Ukraine had broke out into riots (click here to get up to speed), I was utterly dumbfounded when news broke out that the riot afflicted country had been invaded by Russia barely two days after the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. My initial reaction to this news was disbelief. This disbelief was immediately followed by my fear that Putin was going to start WWIII. To assuage my anxiety I decided to get informed and not panic about a hypothetical world war until I knew the facts.

As I begun my initial inquiry however, I was exceptionally frustrated that I couldn’t find a good up to date overview of the Russian involvement in the Ukraine. By nature of the fact that this is a developing story not even a week old, I found that nearly all of the news articles covered the most current development leaving me hopelessly confused as to the context of this latest development. It was only after reading multiple articles that I finally was able to synthesize my current understanding of what is happening the Ukraine and consequently, I’m going to make this rundown as simple and to the point as possible to avoid confusion.

Essentially, tensions began to rise on February 26th when Russia conducted a military drill that included placing 150,000 soldiers along the Ukrainian border. Then, a few days later, “clearly Russian” troops had seized the parliament of Crimea, a peninsular region in the south as well as a military air base near the capitol of Sevastopol. Although no shots as of yet have been fired, March 2nd saw a Ukrainian naval base blocked by Russian soldiers as well as a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers at a Perevalnoe military base where the Russians insisted the Ukrainian navy lay down its arms. Rather that acquiescing to this request however, the Ukrainian military instead called in all of its military reserves and instructed the soldiers to continue resistance against Russian forces. The Kremlin responded by giving the Ukraine military until 5:00 pm LST today to surrender or face military action.

I suppose we will find out the outcome of the aformetnioned ultimatium tomorrow along with whether or not Russia really intends to use military force unauthorized by NATO. As of today however, Putin continues to allege that President Yanukovych of the Ukraine had actually asked for military assistance. Even after the appeal to NATO for protection by Lithuania and Poland from the Russian military in the Baltic sea, Putin maintains that Russia’s actions were perfectly legal and that Russian troops would remain in the Ukraine until the situation had been “normalized.”

Whether or not Russia will be able to control when it exits the Ukraine remains to be seen.  Where this situation will lead diplomatically is uncertain. Russia is currently in violation of multiple international treaties and law and at some point it must be penalized for it. What shape that penalization will take is uncertain but what is certain is that the US must be hypersensitive in how it proceeds.

In 2012, when Mitt Romney stated that Russia is still the world’s biggest geo-political threat he may have sounded archaic at the time, but the events in the Ukraine during the past week have made me think that perhaps the former Utah governor may not have been so off base after all. Ultimately, if Russia doesn’t withdraw from the Ukraine peacefully, then it is certain that the UN will get involved and if it does, the US best be on its toes. Just because we were able to avoid a war with Russia in the 20th century doesn’t mean we will be able to again if we find ourselves at odds with each other again.



*UPDATE Putin now says that Russian troops are NOT in the Ukraine even though he simultaneously contradicts himself by indicating that there are.

*UPDATE Crimea has announced it is going to sever ties with the Ukraine and has asked Crimeans military to lay down their weapons