From the Desk of the Dean of Students
September 1, 2011
Not sure if you heard or not, but Harry Potter actress Emma Watson is transferring from Brown University to St. Olaf College this fall. Hadn’t heard that? Geez … I thought everyone had. I’ve been asked about it all spring and summer, generally from people whispering, “Someone in Admissions denied it, but of course they couldn’t say anything.” Go ahead … Google “Emma Watson at St. Olaf” and see what happens. For sure she’s coming!
Actually, she’s not. To be clear, Emma Watson still officially attends Brown and is not transferring. Not to St. Olaf (which, if you squint, sorta looks like Hogwarts) and not to Hogwarts (which is fictional). Emma will spend a year at Oxford University (where parts of Harry Potter were filmed) and then return to Brown for her senior year. If that sounds confusing, let me simply say the important part again: Emma will not be attending St. Olaf.
What is interesting about these kinds of stories is that they won’t easily go away. Before Ms. Watson committed to Brown, it was rumored she was coming to St. Olaf. A generation ago the “oh-my-it-has-to-be-true” rumor was that pop singer and heartthrob Debbie Gibson was coming to St. Olaf. (If you don’t know who that is, imagine a female Justin Bieber.)
How people get news from the college or any college in America is interesting. Here are things we have heard:
- “I was at my doctor this morning and heard that St. Olaf doesn’t have enough room in the residence halls for all of their students this fall.” (Not true … everyone has a spot.)
- “My grandmother has a cabin next to someone from St. Olaf and heard that the singer Yanni coached at St. Olaf once.” (Actually, that’s sort of true, but it’s a really long story.)
- “I heard Budweiser has offered St. Olaf X million dollars to change its alcohol policy but we turned them down.” (Not true, but tempting.)
With the ready access of the Internet, blogging, and Twitter, information comes at us with the force of water from a fire hose. On top of that, we have old-fashioned networks of people telling others the hot gossip they heard.
And on top of all of this, colleges are interesting sources of news and public ideas. Academic institutions are constantly in the media for something (not always good), and the assumption seems to be that if something happened at Duke University that made the Today Show, it must also be an issue at St. Olaf as well.
The lesson here is that you can’t believe everything you hear. Which will likely leave you, as parents, asking a few very important questions: “What information can I trust? And if I need to ask a question or find an answer, where do I go?”
Librarians call this “information literacy,” and it is an important concept to consider. From a (legitimate) website at the University of Idaho, I found some helpful definitions:
Information Literacy is the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. Information literacy is critically important because we are surrounded by a growing ocean of information in all formats. Not all information is created equal: some is authoritative, current, reliable, but some is biased, out of date, misleading, false. The amount of information available is going to keep increasing.
As a St. Olaf parent, how can you find information that is accurate and trustworthy? My simple advice is to go straight to the source.
For general St. Olaf information, the best starting place would be our website, stolaf.edu, which provides a wealth of resources and contact information for every department on campus. You can also find information and participate in discussions on the Facebook page we’ve created specifically for parents. In my particular world, we encourage you to give us a call with questions at 507-786-3503. We will do our level best to answer every question, from Budweiser to Bieber to billing to break scheduling. If we don’t have the answer, our goal is to immediately put you in touch with someone who does.
Vice President and Dean of Students
St. Olaf College