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The Carletonian

Wellstone memorial to debut spring term

<ublic history exhibit honoring former Carleton professor and United States Senator Paul Wellstone will be installed in a Willis Hall classroom by the end of this academic year. The display will occupy two walls of Willis 211, showcasing photos of Wellstone and quotes from the famous politician, according to College Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum.

Wellstone taught in the Carleton political science department for over 20 years. On campus, Wellstone was known for leading students and community members alike in lobbying and protest efforts, said Fure-Slocum. For example, he helped lead a strike of Carleton’s cafeteria workers for higher wages and better working conditions, according to a recent Star Tribune article.

In 1990, Wellstone ran for U.S. Senate, beginning the campaign as an underdog against the incumbent Republican. Famous for his community organizing abilities, “he ran a classic grassroots campaign, building on his success as a community organizer and racing through the state in a green school bus,” said his 2002 obituary from NPR.

After two terms in the Senate, Wellstone—along with several members of his family, some of his campaign workers and two pilots—died in a plane crash outside of Eveleth, MN in October 2002. A small memorial to the victims of the crash is positioned near the crash site, according to the Star Tribune.

After the Wellstones’ deaths in 2002, Carleton held a symposium with alumni from across the nation to discuss how the College hoped to memorialize one of their most famous and dynamic faculty members. During this event, the interest house WHOA (Wellstone House of Organizing Activism) was formed, said Fure-Slocum.

Yet alumni continued to return to campus and comment on the lack of a physical memorial to Wellstone. “We kept bringing up the possibility of something more on campus that we could do,” said Fure-Slocum.

Responding to this desire of alumni and students alike, CSA set aside $10,000 for a memorial to Wellstone in Feb. 2014. After the allocation of funds, a lot of ideas were discussed, including establishing a section of library with books on activism dedicated to Wellstone. However, the project did not progress much further than the brainstorming phase for several years, said committee member and resident of WHOA Olivia Nyberg ’18.

At the end of last year, WHOA residents Nyberg and Sasha Mayn ’18 teamed up with Fure-Slocum and Mabel Frank ’19 to form a working committee. They hope to finish the project before the seniors on the committee graduate this spring; the exhibit would appropriately memorialize the 15th anniversary of his death in October 2017, according to Nyberg.

The committee met with several different organizations and groups to receive feedback and approval on their plans for a public history exhibit, including the economics and political science departments and CSA Senate, according to Fure-Slocum.

The committee has met with College archivists and the director of the Perlman Teaching Museum to discuss the logistics and design of the exhibit. “We’ve been talking to a lot of interesting experts at Carleton,” said Nyberg.

While questions remain about the layout of the public history display, the room will be painted over spring break. After this phase, photos of both Wellstone on campus and as a senator will adorn the walls. Even with the inclusion of artifacts from his time as politician, “there is a Carleton focus to this,” said Fure-Slocum. “This is about the Carleton connection to him, so we will be consulting with mostly alumni who were a part of his years here.”

Despite his previous fame and importance to the political science field, many Carleton students do not know or fully comprehend the legacy of Wellstone, according to Fure-Slocum. “It’s hard to tell that story because we have so many people from out of state and how long it has been,” she said.   

Reflecting the experience of many students—as seniors were barely six years old when Wellstone passed away—“I had never heard of Wellstone at all, just because I am not from Minnesota. It wasn’t a name I had known,” said Nyberg. “But I started working at the Chapel and Carolyn was really a fan of Wellstone and I started realizing how influential he was, especially on social justice work on campus.”

A social justice internship with one of Wellstone’s Carleton mentees over the summer “solidified my interest in Wellstone but also what he did locally and globally,” said Nyberg. She hopes this exhibit will expose more students to his legacy. “I think what I would love to see from this exhibit, in addition to just keeping his memory alive as a name that is important at Carleton, is to inspire continued action at Carleton, but also, as we reorient ourselves towards future careers, keeping that ideal [of community engagement] in mind.”

Fure-Slocum similarly hopes that this exhibit will remind students of Wellstone’s persona and lasting impact on politics. “He not only had an effect on a whole generation of Carleton students but on the state of Minnesota and the nation,” she said. She also hopes that this display will encourage students to become leaders in their communities and active members of democracy like Wellstone.

For Fure-Slocum, this project is very personal. “I got into community organizing, not directly through him. But in many ways his encouragement really deepened that,” she said. Wellstone invited her to join his class on grassroots organizing after a summer internship with a local community organization, which involved some grassroots work. “Because I had to to talk about it, I had to learn it a bit more,” she said. “What he was doing was leadership development in me. How do I learn about it and learn to talk about it?”

When Wellstone ran for office, Fure-Slocum—a community organizer at the time—travelled around the state with him. According to Fure-Slocum, he was a master at combining an academic approach to policy issues, community organizing and electoral work.

“I think that is where he was unique, originally, in thinking about how to run for office because he had a real upwards battle in his first senate run, but because of his sheer amount of energy and his model, he succeeded. He was also a unique professor who got students involved in community organizing,” she said, citing his frequent lobbying efforts alongside students at the state Capitol.

“I really think it is time” for a memorial, said Fure-Slocum. “We really need something to help tell his story and something to inspire students.”

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