The Width and Depth of This Place
“The intersections of nature, culture, history, and ideology form the ground on which we stand—our land, our place, the local,” the art critic Lucy Lippard once wrote. “A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.”
Since starting as editor of the Voice in June, I’ve been immersing myself in this place. I’ve walked the labyrinth on Stewsie Island, traversed campus from the Arb to the Japanese Garden to Laird Stadium and back again. I’ve downed hoagies at Hogan Brothers, making sure to drop a few bucks in the assigned Carleton tip jar, and enjoyed beers on the patio at the Contented Cow.
I’ve met with as many faculty, students, and staff as I could, discussing everything from AI to druids, wind turbine ball bearings to Northfield’s immigrant residents, seed saving, and, as you’ll read in this issue, the dignity of beavers. I’m picking up the jargon (the Libe, comps, Sproncert, etc.) and the acronyms (too many to name). And my discovery phase is just getting started: by the time this issue hits mailboxes, I’ll have begun to experience what it’s like when Carleton truly comes to life with students, faculty, and the palpable energy of liberal arts in action.
To tell stories of this place, I need to understand this place. But a central question lingers: what is “this place”?
Campus? Northfield? The broad and diverse diaspora of Carls doing fascinating and important and unexpected things all across the globe? An ethos that connects so many who’ve passed through these gates?
In carrying forward the legacy of the Voice—what a colleague calls “the Carleton story of now”—I’ll be keeping Lippard’s intertwining elements of place in mind: the natural and human history of Carleton; the values it aims to uphold; the constructive critiques it opens itself to; the imprint its alumni, students, and faculty leave on the world; its present realities and potential futures.
What I’ve been hearing on my tour de Carleton: That students here take the work seriously but themselves less so. That faculty love having the space to innovate. That staff—including an alum who declares that, even for those of us who attended other colleges, “We are all Carls!”—is deeply invested in the life of this place. That inquiry trumps ideology (my new editorial mantra). And that people here really do love Frisbee (just remember to throw it with a forehand flick, not the across-the-chest hurl of my youth).
As my immersion continues, I turn to you, Carleton alumni, for help. What do you think makes Carleton unique? What stories need telling? Despite this place changing so much over the past 157 years, how has Carleton stayed the same, and in what ways could it improve? For those who’ve experienced the width and depth of this place, what does the journey look like? I can’t wait to find out.
—Paul Schmelzer, Editor