From the Desk of the Dean of Students
January 15, 2009
It is cold in Minnesota in January.
For most of you, this is not news, but this year it feels a little colder, and there is a lot more snow. Because our students are smart, a lot of them use Interim as a time to study Spanish in Costa Rica or socioeconomic development in Bangladesh. But for those who remain on the Hill, we are being treated to arguably the best sledding conditions on campus in some 20 years. What is perhaps a little unexpected is how sledding provides an opportunity for students to interact with our neighbors.
After drawing the parental "short straw" recently, I took the neighborhood kids sledding on Old Main Hill, which has a run of sheer ice like I have never seen in my tenure at St. Olaf. With eight inches of fresh powder on top of the ice, it created a thrill ride where you don't need a sled or even a piece of cardboard. You simply sit down and go, flying down the hill at approximately 16,000 miles per hour (I know this from personal experience). You don't even have a chance to catch your breath before you hit the powder at the bottom, creating a dust-up that looks just like you're dropping a bag of flour from the top of your grandmother's barn (don't ask).
For the cautious and litigious, yes -- we do have warning signs at the top of the hill: Sledding is dangerous, do so at your own risk. But for Oles it is a part of the lore and fabric of the place that evokes memories like little else. And in Northfield, Old Main Hill is a community institution. I don't think it would be possible to keep people away for five minutes -- even if we had the National Guard patrolling.
So I watched St. Olaf students mixed with neighborhood kids, trading sleds, trays and toboggans, or simply giving each other a healthy push down the ice. It was neat to witness, as it was unplanned, unscripted and unbelievably fun.
Although being with our students in Costa Rica sounds appealing, I'm not sure I would trade the sledding conditions for anything. I can't imagine they are having this much fun on the beaches. (OK -- maybe they are, but I bet the sledding there stinks.)
Vice President and Dean of Students
St. Olaf College