What are those things?

Jonas DoerrOpinion Columnist

My first thought was aliens. What else could explain the concrete shapes scattered around our campus? Thigh-high cylinders outside of Plex. Taller cylinders and blocky sideways arch outside the campus center. Even more cylinders outside of the chapel. It seemed to me like it had to be a beacon to aliens: “Hey, check out our new science building! Or our native plant life in the arboretum with a name that’s probably out of date by the time you see this!” Then I realized that that was implausible, since the Caf does not serve alien food. So I tried to figure out why these concrete cylinders were all over Gustavus.
One thought was that they are a safety measure. Any reader with an older sibling can surely relate to the experience of running around a stationary object to flee a pursuer. Couches, islands, and tables often make for good obstructions indoors, but outside there are often much fewer options to circle around. Thus, these seemingly random cement structures could provide an opportunity for someone being chased to run in circles and avoid their pursuer until help arrives.
Another possibility is that these cylinders are pedestals for aspiring soapboxers. The term “Get up on your soapbox” originated because people would stand on a box to gain a stage for impromptu public speeches. The speakers would speak their mind in the middle of the street about any topic they felt passionately about. Perhaps the concrete cylinders are also meant for that. Opinionated Gusties (of which there are many) could start stepping onto the things to speak their minds and charismatically enthrall passing-by peers. Their barren emptiness could be a testament to social media becoming today’s soapbox, but nothing is stopping anyone from speechifying like the old days.
Or maybe the structures were meant to hold trophy cases. The tops could have been public pedestals for Gustavus’ triumphs, but maybe the demise of the Varsity Nordic Skiing team led to a shortage of trophies. Surely if Nordic Skiing had remained a varsity sport there would not have been room indoors to hold the trophies they would have accumulated, making the cylinders the perfect place to hold them.
At this point the more sassy type of reader might note that the cylinders could just be landscaping. To that I say, “Hmph.” And that is all I will say to that nonsense.
More likely, the concrete is to help Gusties practice jumping. Some of the cylinders provide an adequate vertical challenge, while others are spaced far enough apart to make a leap between them difficult. As I spent nearly half an hour attempting to jump between two cylinders, I have determined that the leap is beyond the powers of ordinary mortals. It is impossible that my leaping failures could be due to my incompetence, of course. Thus, the things not only encourage Gusties to practice jumping but also act as a metaphor on how some things in life will always be impossible, just like jumping between the cylinders.
A more practically minded person might suggest that they are there to protect pedestrians and buildings from cars that forgot where the road is. They might act as a barrier to stop errant vehicles. Target’s large red balls, which are called bollards, also serve this purpose. However, Target has had problems with their spheres. One young boy fell off one while climbing on it and sued for over $1 million after severely injuring his arm. Such a liability would be hard for Gustavus to stomach.
But do the cylinders need to have only one purpose? Maybe they can do all of the above! Why limit such a bland piece of architecture? What if they signal to aliens, provide safety from pursuers and cars, act as a soapbox, hold trophies, aid in jumping practice, and landscape all at the same time? Nevertheless, it is rather difficult to say what exactly they were originally intended for. They lurk in Gusties’ paths every day, and yet seem so useless that many students have never even noticed that they exist. These mysterious structures must exist for some reason, but even with my mind firing on all cylinders it seems I must leave you with no concrete explanation.