Is Gustavus still a Swedish institution?

Gabrielle LavanOpinions Columnist

Imagine that you are walking around campus for the first time. You walk through Campus Center and notice the names of certain rooms like the Konferensrum, you ask where the recital hall, Bjorling, is located as you try desperately to pronounce it correctly. After walking around for a bit, you notice posters around campus advertising Fika. You think to yourself, is this the extent of the Swedish influence on Gustavus Adolphus College, besides its namesake?

Maybe back in the day Gustavus had stronger roots, but it seems that the only time our Swedish tradition is displayed is in the naming of buildings or around the holidays. During the holiday season, it becomes apparent that Gustavus does in fact have Swedish roots. Holiday buffets serve lutefisk, steamed fish, lefse, and other Swedish goodies. It takes only one look around to see the eye-catching design of Scandinavian sweaters donned by the campus visitors that are called to The Hill by Christmas in Christ Chapel or for the Festival of Saint Lucia. 

Besides that, there are very few Swedish traditions that even make it to the mainstream campus media. 

The story of Gustavus’s relationship with the Swedish Lutheran tradition has changed alongside shifts in who attends this institution. The vast majority of Gustavus students are not from a Scandinavian background, and they may not be Lutheran. 

The current approach to the celebration of Gustavus’s Swedish roots lies in many religious ceremonies. This does not work and will continue to become more ineffective and obsolete. It is a widely acknowledged fact that the world is becoming less religiously devoted. 

If Gustavus can shift its perspective and approach to celebrating its Swedish roots in a less religious context, it will find a richer Swedish experience. There are many different creative traditions that Gustavus could adopt to embrace more students into the Swedish tradition that is unaffiliated by religion. 

At a bare minimum, a short-term goal Gustavus could adopt is having more Swedish foods in the regular Evelyn Young Dining Room rotation. In short, Gusties could benefit from the addition of Swedish meatballs and lingonberries, much like the beloved Ikea has. 

This seems like a minor change, but still, so many Gusties eat at the Caf multiple times a day so the change would be noticed. The tradition, history, and roots of the founding of Gustavus are a part of every Gustie. Many of us will never be able to take part in studying abroad in Sweden, but that does not mean we cannot still enjoy Swedish traditions. 

If Gustavus is going to continue to claim to embrace their Swedish roots, they need to do it in a way that involves all of the students. For example, I doubt that the general population of Gusties knows that President Bergman travels annually to Sweden. Or that Gustavus has hosted the Swedish Royal Family on occasion. 

Gustavus, of course, has a claim to its Swedish foundations no matter what they choose to do in the present. However, being a Swedish institution makes Gustavus special. It inspires intrigue and curiosity in those who have never been here. At the very least, Gustavus can take this pique of interest to its advantage as a recruitment tool. 

But why does this all matter? Well, because we don’t want to be hypocrites. Staking a claim to something that you do not continually pursue to sustain its influence is something that need not be claimed. 

It is easy to criticize the actions of an institution without praising the work they already do. Criticism is the nature of an opinion columnist. But it is important to note that Gustavus does a lot to embrace its roots. It does more than most institutions to incorporate its founding history into the college culture, but it could be doing more.

If the college does not do more, I fear there may be a disillusionment of the Gustie masses that become increasingly confused about how they fit within the current Gustavus-Swedish zeitgeist. I know I am. 

This cannot be an overnight fix, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. Although, Swedish meatballs could certainly help.


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