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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Students Share Concerns with Representative Kristi Pursell

Minnesota State Representative Kristi Pursell visited campus on September 28, sparking discussion among those in attendance. Pursell represents Legislative District 58 A, which encompasses Dakota, Rice and Scott Counties — including Northfield. This event, sponsored by the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, was moderated by Max Serota ’25 and Grace Bassekle ’25. 

Bassekle was particularly proud of the engagement she was able to foster for this event “Outreach is quite difficult at Carleton,” Bassekle explained in a follow-up interview, “ time is limited at this school.” Despite this difficulty, almost three dozen students attended the event.

Serota served as the catalyst that brought this event to life. Recognizing the need for heightened education covering local politics for Carleton students, Serota initially sought to address this issue by hosting an information session about ISAIAH.

A Minnesota-based organization, ISAIAH’s website describes it a “a multi-racial, state-wide, nonpartisan coalition of faith communities fighting for racial and economic justice in Minnesota.” In practice, this looks like uniting local congregations in a large regional organization and empowering them to act collectively to address both local and regional community issues. Their focuses include mass incarceration, immigration, healthcare and racial inequity. 

ISAIAH is connected to the Carleton community in multiple ways. As a faith-based organization, ISAIAH’s main connection is through the Chaplain’s Office and Interfaith Social Action (IFSA). Carleton’s previous chaplain, Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum, serves on ISAIAH’s board and has been active with the organization since 2012. 

Additionally, Kathryn Lozada ’12 is a field organizer for ISAIAH working in Northfield and Southern Minnesota locations. Lozada began her opening remarks with, “I never thought I’d be a community organizer and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last nine years.” She continued on to describe what her work as a community organizer addresses, outlining three general categories: working towards an inclusive democracy, building a caring economy and protecting the environment. 

Lozada’s work focuses on learning what “regular people” need through deep listening work, and then builds upon those findings to figure out how “we can work together to make it happen.” This deep listening work includes visiting college campuses and connecting college students with their representatives, as done through their Student Victory Tour. Carleton was ISAIAH’s first stop on their tour, which runs from September 28 to October 30. By including Carleton in the tour, Lozada, and ISAIAH as a whole, served an integral role in bringing Pursell to Carleton College. In this way, the meeting transformed from an information session about ISAIAH, to a greater dialogue about current and future political action between a Minnesota representative and her constituents. 

By bringing Pursell to campus, Serota hoped to empower Carleton students. Sharing in a followup interview, Serota emphasized the importance of having face-to-face conversations with your representative: “Even if you don’t care a ton about politics, there are issues that you care about.” Meeting with one’s representative, then, provides a connection to “this real live person who can push to have something done about the issues I care about.”

Serota and Bassekle both highlighted the importance of bursting the “Carleton bubble.” Serota cited both students’ and the public’s mindset as contributing factors to this isolation of the student body, explaining how “students here don’t necessarily always think about what’s happening in the broader Northfield or even Minnesota area because it’s really hectic to be here.” He continued to assert that the responsibility for building and maintaining connections between students and the greater political arena is on legislators as well: “Because [Carleton is] such a bubble, legislatures forget about the 2000 people who go here who have very specific needs. In a democracy, it’s important for those 2000 people to be heard.”

Bassekle stressed that students need to be “tuned in to what is happening at a state level,” citing such involvement as the catalyst for becoming a “changemaker.” Despite students only being at Carleton for four years, Bassekle asserted that “there is so much that can get done” and encouraged her peers to get involved not only at the national, but the local level as well. One way to get involved on the local level is engaging with your local representatives, such as Northfield’s Kristi Pursell. 

Pursell, a St. Olaf graduate, is a first time state legislator and part of the DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor party). Her driving motivator is attaining representation for all: “I absolutely believe that I work for you. I am a public servant and you are the public,” Pursell shared at the town hall. Previously a farmer herself, labor rights are a core part of her legislative agenda. Pursell serves as the Vice Chair for the Agriculture, Finance and Policy committee and recently authored the Farm to School bill to address food justice issues. Her experience as a farmer showed her first-hand what a struggle it can be to get health insurance when self-employed, motivating her to also address the income cliff many face when trying to access state-run insurance. 

In policy, establishing a truly representative democracy has manifested in changes to how college students can have their voices heard politically in the place they reside, even if it is not necessarily their hometown. Historically, it was the responsibility of college students to prove that they have resided in Minnesota for 20 days in order to qualify to vote. However, campus living provides unique challenges for accomplishing this as students don’t have electricity bills or other standard paperwork often used to verify residency. Pursell passed legislation so the onus of proving residency is now on the institution; it is on Carleton to provide a list to the polls so all their students have to do is show their college ID. By doing this, Pursell hopes to ensure that “access to the ballot is available to as many people as possible.” Why? “Because that’s democracy.” 

For many present at the town hall, Pursell introduced the reality of a part-time legislature for the first time. Representatives are only employed part-time, meaning not only are they limited in their response to unfolding crises if they arise outside “work hours,” but when work is accomplished, it is done so at an unsustainable pace. Long nights and long days during session result in sleep-deprived legislators working at break-neck speed. Additionally, being a representative is not a full-time job meant to actually support those in office financially. This dramatically limits who can become a representative. If you don’t have the luxury to engage in a job that can’t pay for your daily needs, you are excluded. “For people like me, with all of my privileges,” Pursell admitted, “it’s still very hard to have this job.”

Opening the floor to questions and comments from the Carleton student body, one attendee highlighted how “not a lot of people understand how government works” and how “the majority of the population can’t interact with government because it is inaccessible.” Pursell emphatically pointed out how this inaccessibility is “by design.” Pursell encouraged students to use what they have access to and their own lived experiences to change the parts of government that aren’t working for them. She challenged the stereotypical idea of who belongs in politics, stating that “I never thought I’d be a politician, and that’s exactly why I should be a politician.”  

The next student to speak up was Camila Hernandez-Quintero ’26, who discussed her experience with mental health at Carleton, and particularly Carleton’s response. Her story begins her freshman fall, last year, when, after opening up to a therapist at SHAC, she was reported to security and forcibly hospitalized. Describing this process as a “criminalization of mental health,” things did not improve upon her subsequent discharge. She was informed that she could not attend classes until she met with Dean Carolyn Livingston. At this meeting, Hernandez-Quintero reported the main message Livingston conveyed was that “you do not belong here” and “you are unsafe and unfit for campus.” 

This message, according to Hernandez-Quintero, is one of ableism. “[Livingston] tried to force me to withdraw just because I had been in a psych ward, just because I received particular treatment and had received a particular diagnosis.” 

“We do not want hypocrisy or bribes but the protection of our rights,” she stated at the town hall. In a subsequent interview, Hernandez-Quintero expanded upon this, citing the final thing that inspired her to give this statement: the tabling that SHAC had outside Sayles for suicide prevention month the day before. “I thought it was very performative…I fail to see how it contributes to trying to prevent suicide. I have attempted suicide and I don’t see how that is supposed to support people like me. That’s not what we want, we don’t want stickers or t-shirts. It would be a lot more meaningful and helpful for people to advocate for us, not just give us spare trinkets.” 

Mentioning how Pursell lists resources for mental health in schools amongst her priorities, Hernandez-Quintero hoped to add nuance to Pursell’s goals. “My statement is a reminder that increasing resources isn’t enough,” she shared. “Children need protection from discrimination, and this becomes more difficult with higher education and private institutions.” While Pursell’s focus is on elementary to high school-aged students, Hernandez-Quintero drew her attention to college students as well: “We are in dire need of protection against elitist institutions like Carleton College… Yes, I attempted suicide. Yes, I am disabled. I have every right to be here.” 

When asked about the desired outcome she was looking for, she revealed that “I wasn’t hoping to accomplish anything. There’s nothing Pursell can do for me or for other people Carleton has discriminated against.” This echoed the same sentiments shared in her statement when she said, “I have lived through what I have lived through, and for that, there is no remedy.” Rather, she hopes that “Pursell will remember my story and have something tangible to think about when she speaks about healthcare and mental health.” 

When exploring these themes later in the talk, Pursell seemed to address Hernandez-Quintero’s story, saying “We are human, we are all human. We have flaws, we have shit happen to us. There are so many spaces that are not built for us. We are wiser than when these systems were first built.” The remedy to such systems is change which “comes from those lived experiences.” Pursell didn’t deny the imperfections of the current system, stating that “we need to do better.” Pursell’s way to “do better” is to be an active participant in these systems. Even though “democracy is messy, actually trying to get things done is messy,” at the end of the day she encouraged those present to “get into office and [when] you are through the door, you can work from the other side.”

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About the Contributor
Mileana Borowski, Managing Editor
I am a junior Political Science major (they/them) who loves to write! I take midday showers, have a professional stunt double (shout out to my identical twin), and I love my stuffed animals maybe a little too much. I have a cactus named The Cliffords and a plant named Francis. If you're having a conversation with me for longer than thirty seconds and I haven't mentioned my dog, please check in because something is probably wrong. Mileana was previously News Editor, Bald Spot Editor and Design Editor.

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