Guide to Style

By Kayla Burchuk

Samantha Robinson (International Studies and HMCS, Cincinatti, Oh.) studies art, plays volleyball, and is the self-appointed “fun-captain” of the senior class. Having lived on the U.S.-Mexico Border but always loyal to the ‘Nati, here Robinson talks about public art on campus, Macalester as a commodity, and cross sub-cultural dating. The Mac Weekly: You are listed as having grown up in Cincinnati. What was that like?

Samantha Robinson : I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, also affectionately known as “the ‘Nati”, which is why my Facebook profile lists me as Samantha “Nati” Robinson. It’s actually a nickname that I got from senior boys when I was a freshman, and I thought it was really cool. .It’s this weird mix of south and midwest cultures and just an easy sort of place. Coming from there and having a bit of a southern Cincinnati twang .I just felt a little bit out of place. It took me a while to not be homesick. It took me a solid year and a half.

TMW: Tell me, what’s going on with your major?

SR: The time that I spent of the border was insane. Think about a cultural fault line and an area in which the Third World and First World are totally colliding. There’s just so many things going on, from immigration, to drugs, to the environmental impact of the wall on the borderlands . and probably every other day I saw something either eye-opening or traumatic. It just took a toll on me emotionally and intellectually. I started to reconsider what I wanted to be doing with my life and whether I had thresholds that I wasn’t aware of. For me, it was seeing these horrendous human rights violations so close to home, compounded with being so far away from what was familiar to me, especially being a hometown Cincinnati girl, and not being by my family. It was really difficult. So I just started to reassess, and I was also just very burnt out on the Social Sciences by the time I got back. I just didn’t even want to be thinking about any of that. So I returned to my true love, which is all things visual: visual culture, art history, film. I got back and I took an art history course and a film course with Casey Jarrin; took HMCS courses. So I actually got to wing it so that my concentration in IS was Visual Studies and I had an HMCS minor. So on paper it doesn’t look like I’m doing these things. I feel as if these are the things that make me tick. These are the things that interest me. I think of how much spectacle and visuals impact our world, that’s what I’m interested in. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half.

TMW: What sort of stuff do you do with visual culture?

SR: I have a number of interests. I’m interested in media, and specifically representations of violence and unrest in photographs and television media. Two papers that I wrote recently were related to the 2001 race riots in Cincinnati and how those were portrayed to the public, and also the visual culture of the 1968 student protest and massacre in Mexico City. I was actually there for the 40th anniversary protest, which was insane. That’s one interest: media and the power dynamics that play upon our mass media, and how we breed it. .The second is public art, graffiti and public art, and the ways that that is tied to the democratization of visual representation and how we live in cities, and also redeveloping communities. . Style is more so what I’m interested in. For me, style is never without meaning. From fashion, to photographs, to the Internet, to posters. The way that we live our lives always has meaning. I think that’s the basic thing.

TMW: What is your opinion of the role of the arts at Macalester . especially in light of some of the popular dissent over the way the gym was privileged over the art center, things like that?

SR: I don’t think there’s enough emphasis, and I also think that the administration. [speaks to recorder], and I love you guys. I love you. I think the administration is far too concerned about controlling the image of our school, from everything from the way the campus looks to the way that it is publicized on the Internet, or whatever image they’re wanting to project. I think that they’re far too concerned with controlling that image. I think there needs to be more control placed in the hands of students to have some sort of organic evolution, and it’s obviously going to change as each class comes and goes, but some sort of organic style. I think it’s far too controlled . that we need some power in our art community. Like, if there were things like chalk drawing contests, or if instead of that tiny little rock, we had huge cubes that we could spray paint. The issue with the spray paint vandalism at the grate was disturbing, I’m not going to lie. What I would like to see at our college is space for us to have those conversations visually. If the students who disagreed could have erased that with our own spray paint, or our own images, or our own text. That would have created a much stronger community. I’d like to see our campus be a little more messy, personally, or have us more involved in the gardening, or have us more involved in what our pamphlets look like. Could we have them look like a ‘zine? Because that would be cool. .I consider myself to be artistic and creative but I also consider myself to be athletic, so that’s hard for me.

TMW: What sports do you play?

SR: I’m actually training for a half-marathon .and I’m the captain of the club volleyball team here, which is a huge part of my life, so I understand the tension between different communities on this campus, specifically the hipster, hippie-dippy arts community and the bros, apologies to Nash [Traylor ’10].

TMW: What’s your whole take on that whole situation, that whole cultural dynamic?

SR: I wish there were more interactions between those communities, because I myself am a total mixed breed of sorts, in terms of what subcultures I’m involved in or take part in. I know fantastic people who are so interesting and so fun in all of these social groups, and I wish that they would get to know one another. .I think it was less like this when we started here at Macalester. .I think it’s gotten worse.

TMW: Why?

SR: I don’t know. I mean, maybe it’s not just Macalester, maybe it’s everywhere, but I think, especially with style, we think we can peg who someone is by how they dress, how wack-tastic their hairdo is, or whether they have sweatpants on. You don’t know anything. Don’t pretend that you know anything about this person, you don’t. Until you talk to them and really listen to them. On this campus I feel like there’s also an issue with a failure to listen to one another, because we all have different opinions and too often they’re silenced because there’s this sort of unspoken, “this is what is” or “this is what you are supposed to think.” Part of that is imposed on us from above, but part of that is what we impose on ourselves. And we limit ourselves, and the possibility of who we speak to, and the kinds of things we explore. I think we place too many rules on ourselves. I mean, I’d like to see more mixing, I guess, of peoples and styles.

TMW: Speaking of mixing, tell me about the social activities you’ve been organizing with our year?

SR: Speaking of that. I feel that people don’t have enough fun at Macalester. Also, part of my epiphany when I came back from Mexico was that I had been way too serious. Most people know that I was always doing homework all the time, and I drove myself mad my first two years. When it comes down to it, as long as I have that diploma in my hand.[speaks directly into recorder] Give me a ‘C’, I dare you. I dare you! I’d rather have a good time and live and experience things and go out, so in order to do that, and in order to get that mixing going . I’ve been trying to organize bar nights for seniors. Let’s go to the Blue Door, let’s go to The Tap. I really want to do Asian karaoke sometime. I really want to do bowling. I want people to get together and talk, because I’ve actually
made new friends, even within these past few months, at these bar nights. or people that I knew but didn’t really know . people that I don’t normally hang out with but that are great people. So I sort of decided that I’d take it upon myself to be the senior class “fun captain” and I’m trying to do my best, but I need people to come out and support the cause. of beer and friendship.

TMW: Do you think our class has a ‘vibe’ or ‘character’ that is particular to the class of 2010?

SR: Oh man. I was friends with a lot of seniors when we were freshmen, and they were telling me the culture is changing. I feel as if the residue of that culture resides in our class. I thinks that’s probably something pretty intangible that I probably couldn’t define, but I think that Macalester was one of those places that was once more organic and real, and I think that right now it’s becoming more and more fabricated. You know what I’m talking about. You can tell when the new classes come in that these are students that are coming here because they’re believing this hype that the administration is selling. Really, this place is a commodity. You can’t even lie, it’s being bought and sold. But I think that with our class there’s still that sort of feeling of. of adventure, and wanting to take risks, and wanting to make mistakes and get our hands dirty. a little more than there is in the other classes. [Speaks to recorder] But you all are great, y’all are great too.

TMW: If I may pry, tell me a little bit about your take on dating culture at Macalester. What have your experiences been like with that?

SR: I actually didn’t date a lot in high school at all. I grew up in the same neighborhood my whole life; everybody knew me really well. I also had a very large and intimidating father. So I didn’t really date, and I was very into school and very independent and not into teenage boy bullshit. I got here and I was ready to venture out and date, but freshman year it’s like, you make out with someone and then, they’re awkward. .That was tough. But I actually dated outside of Macalester. My first significant relationship was with someone who didn’t go to college, who was a Saint Paulite, and is still one of my best friends. It was kind of off and on for two and half years. That’s my suggestion, is that I think that too often young women here think this is it . and that there must be something wrong with them. That’s not true. So this is not the end-all be all. Dating outside of Macalester is always good. It also gets you outside of this bubble and you meet someone who knows the Cities really well. Currently, I’m dating a Macalester football player. .I had never met him before. .We met at a party. Never think that you know everyone here, and never think that, even if you have seen them around, that there definitely will not be a connection. Sometimes unexpected things happen, so be open to possibilities. Be open to dating someone who’s not necessarily in your social group. You’ll make new friends, they’ll make new friends, and you’ll challenge one another.