S.10 E.4: Swimming, Coaching, and Racial Justice

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alumnus and head swimming coach at Carthage College Seth Weidmann '05.
Posted on September 28th, 2021 by

Seth Weidmann ’05, a communication studies major and award-winning swimmer at Gustavus and now Head Men’s Swimming and Diving Coach at Carthage College, speaks about his path to Gustavus and experience there, the whiteness of swimming, his involvement in equity, inclusion, and racial justice work on the Carthage campus and in Kenosha, Wisconsin, both before and after the police shooting of Jacob Blake there in August 2020, his approach to coaching, and the value of the liberal arts.

Season 10, Episode 4: Swimming, Coaching, and Racial Justice

Greg Kaster:

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life @ Gustavus Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College, and the myriad ways that Gustavus Liberal Arts Education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, faculty member in the Department of History.

What do swimming pools have to do with the history of racism and anti-racism in the United States? A lot, it turns out. Pools have long been sites of conflict, some of it violent over whether they should and would be integrated. My guest today, Seth Weidmann, has made diversity and inclusion in and out of pools one of his priorities. As he pointedly wrote in a January 2021 op-ed for the Kenosha Wisconsin News, “It is impossible to spend a life and career in aquatics and not notice the racial disparities in all levels of participation.”

Seth graduated at Gustavus in 2005 with a major in Communication Studies and an outstanding record as a member of the men’s swim team, for which he was a three-time conference title list and three-time College Swimming Coaches Association of America, All-American. He earned a master’s in Sports Leadership and Education from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he’s been head men’s swimming and diving coach since 2014.

A five-time College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Coach of the Year, he has led his Carthage team to set or reset 15 conference records and 39 school records, while also amassing 65 all conference honors, 43 NCAA qualifying standards, and 20 individual scholar All-Americans.

No less impressive is Seth’s commitment to equity and inclusion. He is the Carthage Athletic Department’s NCAA Athletics Diversity and Inclusion designee, a member of the college’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, and active in the Kenosha Coalition for Dismantling Racism. In addition to his recent op-ed, he has also organized, moderated and presented at forums on diversity and inclusion.

Seth is a great example of how the academic and co-curricular work together at Gustavus to prepare students for lives of leadership and service. And it’s my pleasure to speak with him about swimming, coaching, anti-racism, and other aspects of his journey. Seth, welcome to Learning for Life. It’s great to have you on.

Seth Weidmann:

Greg, thank you so much for having me. I listened to enough episodes that I know you always make the guests feel really good on your intros, so thank you for that.

Greg Kaster:

My pleasure and it meant every word of it. I wish I had time to say more. Well, we’ll get into that as we talk. Yeah. I didn’t note in the intro, you and I go back. I mean, we were just chatting before we started recording. You were in the first half of the US survey. I was teaching probably fall semester of your first year, which would have been fall of 2001. So, we’ve known each other 20 years, although we haven’t spoken to each other in a while. I guess not since you graduated, is that right? I think if that’s right.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, I don’t think so. I think I wasn’t able to cross paths with a few times I’ve been on campus. It’s exciting to be talking to you again.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, likewise, it’s great. How has it been at Carthage during the pandemic? I mean, is the school been all online and mix? And also, how has COVID-19 affected the swimming?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I think we followed a model that was not too dissimilar to Gustavus. I think a lot of the small liberal arts schools in the Midwest, obviously, over a year ago, spring, were completely gone and remote. We’re using that time to figure out how to be a little bit better at teaching online. And obviously, any kind of co-curricular activities just weren’t happening.

Over the summer, made plans to essentially be in-person as much as we possibly could. The vast majority of students were back on campus first thing in the fall. We started, I think, only about a week earlier than we normally would. We normally start right around Labor Day, similar to Gustavus.

We started about a week earlier with plans to just kind of barrel through. We sometimes have a little fall break and other things, and we just decided to go no breaks and try to wrap up as much as we could before Thanksgiving. And that mostly worked. Like I said, the vast majority of students were on campus, but there was still enough students where professors were forced to do a lot of hybrid, trying to figure out how to do that balance of teaching the students that were there in-person and the students that were remote. It caused a lot of headaches.

I dealt with it a little bit. I taught in the fall. I teach a little bit within the Exercise and Sport Science Department here. I was just teaching concepts of physical fitness, which is kind of an intro level course. I dealt with that. I was trying to have the students outside as much as possible, because I didn’t want to be inside with them, and it was beautiful in early fall.

So, just trying to do that, but also be sort of paying attention. I had my computer out there outside and we’re doing activities and just was not working. I had to really regroup after the first week or two and figure out how to connect with the students that were not on campus. I think it went fine. It was what it was, and we did our best, but there was a lot of that going on. I only had to feel that a little bit. I know that the rest of our faculty was feeling that a whole lot more. Just kudos to them for making it through.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I’ve said this before, you’re echoing within other recordings. You’re echoing certainly my experience and the experience with so many for all the publicity about how horrible it was and awful. Actually, I think things went reasonably well, all things considered. So proud of faculty and students really nationwide. What about the coaching and swimming? Was the team able to practice starting again in the fall or not?

Seth Weidmann:

We were. We started actually around the same time that we normally do. What we decided to do is just limit the number of days and essentially the number of hours that we practiced. And part of that, the NCAA actually made that a little bit easier for us to do this year. Normally, you have a certain amount of weeks that you’re allotted for athletic season from NCAA.

For instance, swimming is a winter sport. We have 19 weeks to both compete and train officially until our conference championship. That’s what happens in a normal year. And usually, if you even swim, say you practice even just a Monday or Tuesday, that eats up an entire week. And given COVID this past year, they changed that and they gave us a certain number of days instead of weeks.

We had a little more flexibility, which was actually really nice. In the fall, instead of feeling like we needed to practice every day, or at least every weekday, we only practice three times a week, actually, in the fall. And we’re able to kind of save those days for later in the winter and even spring semester.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. That flexibility was really nice. Yeah, we were practicing just a few times a week, which was different than normal. The team didn’t feel as connected. I think that was the hardest part was so much of these co-curricular activities, including athletics, it’s just such a connection that the student athletes have with their team. And obviously, just something that really I think helps them academically in a lot of ways, in a lot of instances.

To not have that kind of competitive spirit, and as many opportunities even just to work out and to feel fit, really did affect them, I’d say even more than maybe the general student population in the fall. That was hard.

Greg Kaster:

I could understand. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. We were able to do a couple of virtual meets, which was unique for our sport. If you’re a basketball team, you can’t play a virtual game, right? If you’re a swim team, you can. It’s not ideal, but in theory, we didn’t do this. In hindsight, we probably should have, but I should have probably talked to John Carlson, the coach up at Gustavus and said, “Hey, do you want to do a virtual meet?” And on Saturday, we would do the same set of events. And then you basically are just, through the internet, you’re essentially just comparing results and kind of scoring it out in that way. So, we were able to do that with a couple of teams early on in the fall, which was nice to at least get a little bit of a competitive spirit going.

Greg Kaster:

Was the season, though, basically scrapped? I mean, you didn’t have a regular season, or did you?

Seth Weidmann:

Not exactly. Yeah. And this is very similar to what ended up happening with the MIAC, with Gustavus’ conference up in Minnesota. Normally, end of February is when we have our conference championship. We were limited with the amount of travel we’re able to do. The president in our conference, and I think this was similar in the MIAC, decided that no overnight trips could happen. So, that makes it hard from the teams that are traveling from much farther away. You kind of can’t do that as a day trip if you’re trying to do more of a championship meet. Yeah, we decided to not do that.

I think another reason why a lot of conference championships ended up getting canceled is that the NCAA for Division III winter sports also canceled national championships. So, there wasn’t exactly anything to be trying to qualify for at that point.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Well, here’s to our return of a normal season this coming year.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Again, talking before we started recording, I had forgotten that you’re a Chicagolander like me. I grew up in Park Forest, in South Side. You grew up in Skokie, which I know pretty well, as well as you. Tell us a little bit about that, about growing up and especially about the role of swimming in your early life.

I remember going to the Park Forest Aqua Center, not by choice. I think I was forced by my parents. I remember at one point … I think it was my dad saying, “If you get a tan and go swimming, we’ll take a trip to wherever.” Then I really loved it. I wish I could go back in time and see it. I’m sure it was mostly white, if not all white. But anyway, tell us a little bit about where you grew up, how you grew up, and the role of swimming in your early life.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. As you said, I mostly grew up in Skokie, Illinois, which is just kind of one or two towns northwest of the Chicago border. There’s one small town linking one in between. I lived a lot of my life in Evanston. So, even though my address was in Skokie, I went to Evanston School, because I was part of Evanston Township.

My life was really kind of spent in both, and Evanston even feels a little more connected to Chicago being the first town north of Chicago, and just being a little more of a city in itself, having Northwestern University. I mean, even having Chicago tried to annex it 100 years ago. It’s one of those types of communities that feels very connected to Chicago. I grew up there a lot as well.

That only started when I was four, though. I mean, not that I have a ton of recollection, although I remember quite a few things, but my whole family is from the East Coast. Both of my parents grew up in Westchester County, New York, so just north of the city. That’s where I was born, actually. I was born in White Plains, New York and then live the next several years in Connecticut, just because my dad happened to be working in Connecticut. And then he was the one who got a job in Evanston, and so we moved the family to the Chicago land area.

We’re sort of the the oddballs, where we were the only ones that were outside of New York and New Jersey that was really kind of the corridor that my entire family was from, and we made the move to the Midwest.

Greg Kaster:

Was your dad working for Northwestern?

Seth Weidmann:

He was. Yeah. His career was in fundraising and development. Now, they call it like institutional management and things. But at the time, it was development in the ’80s when he was getting started with that. Yeah, that was his career, and that’s where he got pulled to Northwestern. Glad he did. I think the plan was always to go back to the East Coast, because that’s where the roots were, and that was where the family was. He actually even took a job back in Connecticut at one point when I was in fifth grade, and then quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be the right move for him or the family and stayed at Northwestern at that point.

Greg Kaster:

That’s neat. Was your mom working too in Evanston?

Seth Weidmann:

Not at first, but she’s an early childhood educator. When my sister and I have a … My sister is three years older. When we were very young, she was at home with us. But once I was in third grade, she went back to teaching preschool, which she did up until just last year, actually. She had a long career in early childhood education. That side of the family was very education focus. In a lot of ways it’s no surprise that I got into the field that I did in coaching and a little bit of teaching. It’s kind of the closest thing we have to a family business, I think, in that side of the family.

Greg Kaster:

What about swimming? Was swimming in the family DNA too?

Seth Weidmann:

Not so much. I think it’s one of those things where especially my family was from New York and New England, and that was where a lot of the vacationing was happening. I think my parents wanted my sister and I to be safe in the water, just like so many families that want to take advantage of going places that have water for vacations, and just knowing that their kids are safe in the water.

They had my sister in some lessons, and I was itching to do it too. So, I think by the time I was two or three years old, I was learning to swim at a … I think it was actually YWCA, which is funny. Later where I ended up having a long part of my career, but that was back in Connecticut. As soon as we moved to the Evanston-Skokie area, it was just kind of swimming all the time. My sister was already on a club team at that point as a seven year old and I was only a couple years behind as far as getting into the competitive swimming side of things. It hadn’t been in the family, but it quickly became like our main family activity once my sister and I showed some promise in it.

Greg Kaster:

That’s interesting. You’re reminding me of my wife, Kate, who grew up in … Well, she grew up in New York City. Same thing. For her, swimming was just a machine. You don’t really have to think that much about it. She grew up every summer on the beach somewhere. Maybe it was I think first time somewhere in Connecticut and then out on Long Island.

I’m still not entirely comfortable in the water. If I’m on the beach, I’m okay. Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point where people who grow up with that kind of vacation. Maybe not everyone I guess, but so many of them can know how to swim, feel safe in and around the water. I’m always worried about sharks, and what is it called? What’s the tide? The riptide, those sorts of things. I’m like, “Oh my knee.”

Seth Weidmann:

I’m with you. For how strong of a swimmer I am or I’m supposed to be at it. I don’t swim enough anymore to know how strong of a swimmer I am, but I get really freaked out by open water. Especially the ocean, but even the lake here, I tried to enjoy … I live right on the lake. [crosstalk 00:15:59] campuses right on the lake. My wife and I have a house that’s just a mile and a half south of here, we can see the lake from our house. It’s really amazing and we feel incredibly fortunate, and I try to use it as much as I can, but it kind of scares me to get in it regularly. It’s one of those weird [crosstalk 00:16:16] relationships.

Greg Kaster:

Well, it’s probably healthy, right?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:16:20].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s good. You’re making me feel better too. When did you start competitive swimming? Was it in high school or even earlier?

Seth Weidmann:

Even earlier. It’s funny, even by the time … This was probably the early ’90s. And while youth athletics and youth sports has certainly grown even more, I sometimes call it like the youth athletics industrial complex, it’s just this massive thing that … Yeah, it has so many things that are right with it, but just as many things that are wrong with it that are really kind of frustrating and not all that healthy.

Even in the early ’90s when my sister and I were getting into it, what ended up turning into USA Swimming, which is the governing body of swimming in our country, was just making a huge push to really grow swimming and like so many other sports. Baseball, obviously, was already like that. Soccer to some extent. There had been sort of pee wee football forever, and things like that.

Swimming was in a growth period, and so there were all these clubs popping up that were just really taking competitive swimming seriously. And we, for better or worse, got roped into that. We loved it, and that’s great, and it’s a great activity, but once they get your claws, it really takes a lot of your time and ends up …

You’re traveling a lot with your family at least around the state, if not around the Midwest already from a pretty young age. An eight year old, I was already traveling quite a bit to different swim meets and having some success. Yeah. It was a big part of our lives from the time I was about seven years old and my sister was about 10 years old.

Greg Kaster:

I think that’s a great phrase. And you should write an article or a book or something about that, the Youth Industrial Sports Complex. Say a little bit more about what you mean by that. Is it just the amount of time it consumes parents’ time and kids’ time? Or what else do you mean?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I think it starts with the time. It does take away some, especially … I guess I was I was kind of lucky. Swimming was the one sport that we did in a really organized manner outside of that, because I wasn’t like a three sport athlete, which I think there’s a lot of positives to trying out a lot of different things, being in some several organized sports. But I think that what happens when you get really tied in with that is that there’s just not a lot of time for play outside of that for kids. I think that’s one of the things that sometimes I see is not quite as healthy as we’d maybe like the youth sports culture to be.

I was fortunate that I lived in a neighborhood with a lot of kids. Because swimming was the only sport I was doing, well, yeah, that took up an hour or two of the day, most days. I was still outside just planning … Not being good at it, but playing a lot of basketball, playing a lot of football, hitting the baseball and things like that.

I think I got a really good balance. But what I see with some folks is that if you get really deep into some of these, maybe you concentrate on just one sport and you get really into sort of a travel league type of thing, or you’re trying to balance three sports that you’re always doing something, really active within sports, it just seems to take away a lot of that time to just kind of be a kid. And then at the same time, it’s expensive. These things, most of these sports, they cost something. It’s a barrier of entry for a lot of families, and so that’s kind of another issue that I think is worth recognizing and talking about.

And then I suppose the last big one is just you’ve probably seen some videos or heard news stories about belligerent parents at Little League game, that kind of thing. That’s very real. I mean, I’ve seen it in swimming, at swim meets, in the stands. It gets really ugly.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I’ve witnessed to this on nephew’s games. Yeah. It is ugly. Those are all excellent points, I think. And the other thing, I don’t know about swimming, but the number of injuries that young kids incur in the pursuit of whatever sports, multiple sports. I’m always amazed that there might be high school or even younger, they’re having knee surgery or whatever. It seems worse to me. But that point about play I think is really important that you make. It was definitely something worth exploring. You can do some consulting around. That’s a great phrase too. It is. I’m glad you escaped it too.

So, you went to high school, you swim. What was it about Gustavus that attracted you? Was it the swimming program? Had you heard of Gustavus? I don’t know about you. Growing up in Park Forest, I don’t remember hearing about Gustavus. I think I knew about Carlton, maybe Olaf, but I’m not sure I knew about Gustavus.

Seth Weidmann:

No, I’m like you. There’s some of those schools that just maybe have a little more, especially in the past, maybe had more national recognition. Even my parents who grew up, again, right outside of New York City, they knew of Carlton. I think even Macalester. They actually knew of St. Olaf even. Those schools didn’t surprised them as they were in the Midwest, and they started to kind of see different colleges.

I definitely never heard of Gustavus until high school and probably even close to halfway through. It was actually a good family friend of ours, and this just goes back to swimming. This is a family that we knew from the time I was probably five years old, and we took some lessons with them, and then we’re on the swim team with them. We spent almost every day in the summer at the beach in Evanston with them. They were the Glenn family.

Emily Glenn, who’s two years older than me, decided to go to Gustavus and decided to swim. It’s funny. The first time I remember hearing the name Gustavus Adolphus College, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because I was on a family trip. We’re visiting a family in Colorado and having to go down in Santa Fe, we ran into the Glenn family.

The parents are telling me where Emily is going to college and I didn’t know what they were talking about. The first time you hear Gustavus Adolphus College. “What did you say?” It turns out that there were some other people a couple of years, one or two years ahead of that, that had also gone from Evanston Township High School. Actually, an older sister of a good friend of mine, but that was the first time I really remember sort of hearing and recognizing what it was as a college.

Yeah. She went and then a very good friend of mine, still a best friend of mine to this day from high school, Phil Clues, it’s actually his older sister that had gone there. Let me think. She would have been a 2001 graduate. And actually, I was in one of Kate’s classes with her. When I was [crosstalk 00:23:22].

Greg Kaster:

Oh, my wife, Kate? Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, your wife, Kate. [crosstalk 00:23:25]. It was funny. I think it was Women in America, or it was African American history. It was one of those two, because I took those two with Kate. Anyway, Marlene Clues was in my class. It was just funny, because there’s just this crazy blast from the past, the hometown connection my freshman year.

That was neat, but that was, again, my first time recognizing it. And then swimming hadn’t been something that I thought I would continue to do in college, to be honest. I think a lot of athletes have this and maybe swimming more. I had it really strong, this very love-hate relationship with the sport.

Greg Kaster:

Well, that’s interesting.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I mean, I told you, I started when I was probably seven years old, but I tried to quit when I was eight or nine, and then I started again, and then I tried to quit when I was going into high school and kind of got pulled back into it. Then same thing in college, I didn’t really see myself swimming in college, but by the time I was a senior, and I knew I wanted to go to a school like Gustavus and ended up visiting it and felt really good about. It’s the same old thing. It sounds like a cliche at this point. Everyone says they [crosstalk 00:24:31] Gustavus and they’re like, “Well, I just felt at home.” I wish I had something more profound to say, but it’s …

Greg Kaster:

No, it’s true. It’s really true. I had the exact same feeling as a visiting candidate. I’ll never forget it. I’ve been to at least one other campus where I did not have that feeling. I won’t name the campus, it was cool. I mean, we all say it but it’s true, right?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. It really is.

Greg Kaster:

I felt it very powerfully as a visiting candidate. That’s cool. That’s a neat story. Did you know you’re going to major in communication studies? Probably not. How did you get it into that?

Seth Weidmann:

No. That came much later. I think I had in my head that I’d had some really amazing teachers. It was starting in elementary school. I went to a really great … Evanston school system is wonderful. I had really wonderful teachers, really diverse teachers, and I think gave me a really great perspective from being a pretty young kid.

Most of those really great teachers are the ones I connected with happened to be history teachers. And so, it’s why I was taking your class in my freshman year. It’s why I chose to take Race and the American Vision is my first term seminar with Phil Bryant, which we can talk about a little bit as well, which was a really great experience.

I think history was on my mind, but also teaching was. I think I wasn’t quite ready to commit to the education thing right from the start and because that’s a fairly big commitment to decide that you’re going to major in education coming in. I wasn’t ready to do that. I think I had history always in the back of my head. I think the communications thing happened probably not till the end of sophomore year, when I was really kind of forced to declare something.

As much as I was profoundly interested and just loved history. I was also really connecting with some of the communications courses I was taking. By that time, let’s see, my advisor, she’s not there anymore. I think she was only there for four years I was there, but Elen Reardon. I don’t know if you remember that name.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I remember. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. She was great. She was a really wonderful advisor. And she taught a lot of classes that a lot of sort of media criticism type of courses or material that she was teaching in her class. And then also even some video production and broadcasting and documentary production stuff that I just found really fascinating. She had brought that in, and Priscilla Briggs who I know you know. I think from listening, I think you own some of her work also from listening.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yes.

Seth Weidmann:

[crosstalk 00:27:05].

Greg Kaster:

We do indeed.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. She’s great. I’m just a fan of hers, and was lucky to have her for quite a few classes as well. I was actually her TA my senior year. I also helped teach some of the other students in the lab and did some of her art history. [crosstalk 00:27:22].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Just great video production stuff.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

That’s neat.

Seth Weidmann:

[crosstalk 00:27:28].

Greg Kaster:

You took a lot of history, we should make you at least an honorary minor. Really major.

Seth Weidmann:

Well, yeah. I can certainly have a minor. I’ve told you this before. I probably told you this on my way out of Gustavus and since that it’s one of these … And again, I don’t go kicking myself all day every day about this, but it’s an educational regret of mine that I didn’t at least pick up the second major because it’s something that I loved and a great experience that I had with both you and Kate.

Greg Kaster:

Well, consider yourself an honorary major.

Seth Weidmann:

Okay.

Greg Kaster:

The com studies department, I mean, it was great and still is great, fantastic. We share the floor with them in third floor of back hall. We meet really wonderful colleagues and a great program. You thought you were going to not continue with swimming. What was it that made you continue it? Gustavus do so well. My God, I mean, not just that you were part of the team, you were an incredible swimmer.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I think that I was very fortunate that I landed at Gustavus just from a competitive standpoint. I from as much success as I had at Gustavus. Some individual but also certainly as a team. I had kind of an equal and in some ways even more amount of success in high school. I swam for Evanston Township High School and kind of a storied history there, and especially my senior year kind of came back to prominence. We were state champions, we were even national champions that year.

I was competitive and I had always been a good athlete in the pool, but I was kind of getting pulled along by these just unbelievable, very good friends of mine. I grew up swimming with them, but two of them ended up swimming at University of Minnesota. One is the all time most decorated All-American ever to be an athlete at University Minnesota. And another one also swimming at University Minnesota who was also an All-American. And another friend of ours swam at Indiana University.

These were these heavy hitters that were I was good, but I didn’t really even think of myself as a very competitive collegiate swimmer. I think I was really lucky that I decided, even without swimming, I decided that a smaller liberal arts school was the right path for me. Once I made that decision, it really came down to if I wanted to continue doing it, where would be a good fit competitively and Gustavus fit the bill. I love the pool. Now, it’s a little bit quirky. It’s a little bit dated now in Lund, but it’s still a beautiful facility. It’s got all the wood in it. It feels very Scandinavian, which …

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, Lund Center. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. That appealed to me, and a really competitive team. They had sort of, through the ’90s and into the early 2000s, John Carlson had done an amazing job really building the team and having a lot of success. So, it seemed fun to just swim for this team. It was right at that level where I felt like if I got even just a little bit better, I could really start to contribute.

Yeah, I was able to do that, and that was wonderful. I almost think that this kind of love-hate relationship with the sport is what led me to want to coach. It gave me this perspective that it’s not all great all the time. I completely understand when people are going through a phase that they might consider like a burnout type of phase. I recognize that. I felt it myself. I wasn’t someone who was just like all great all the time and that’s why I wanted to get into coaching. I think it helped me in some ways that I wasn’t just 100% high on it all the time.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. To me, that’s all very interesting, because I’m not sure I’ve ever heard at least an undergraduate athlete ever say that. That is love-hate. I appreciate that, your honesty about that. And also, I can understand how that would make you a better coach in important ways.

The other thing I want to talk about is, coming back to swimming at Gustavus in a bit, but before we do, the academic side. Because you mentioned, for example, taking a course with Professor Phil Bryant who’s a member of the English Department, went to Gustavus himself and Chicagoan like us, from the city. Tell us a little bit about that course and its impact on you.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I’ve been thinking so much about this recently, honestly, just with the climate of things and just dealing with criticisms of critical race theory and thing. There’s so much here to dig into potentially. I know we’re not going that deep right now, but I just wanted to be honest about that, that I’ve been thinking a lot just about how powerful that course was, and some of the courses I took with you as well. And just how frustrated I get sometimes when I think about that, and how I felt like I just got this amazing education from someone like Phil, and from you, and from Kate, and how that type of education is being criticized now. Yes. And politicized.

Anyway, I’ll start there. I think what it did for me was even as a kid who, at the time, I was coming from Evanston, a very diverse. I had gone to a high school that was. At the time, about 40% white, 40% black, 20% other. I had gone to a middle school that was actually majority African American. I had this maybe a little more of a unique perspective than some other students at Gustavus that maybe had lived their whole lives in Minnesota, and maybe just weren’t able to have that kind of diversity growing up.

While I valued that, I think Phil’s class really reminded me that I’m not so cool and unique. There’s still a lot for me to learn and a lot of things that I didn’t know even growing up and having these amazing, diverse teachers and the amazing, diverse community. I still learned so much from that class and set me up for wanting to dig deeper into what these very real disparities are and why they exist.

Yeah. I think it set me up not only to really, I think, be able to grapple with some of the material that people like you and Kate Wittenstein were teaching in your history classes, but also in my communications courses. One sort of scrutinizing and criticizing different forms of media really kind of being able to look at those things in a critical way and recognize maybe what was missing. Yeah.

Honestly, maybe I didn’t feel that within the swimming community at the time just as an undergraduate and as a collegiate swimmer, but it certainly set me up for looking at those things into the future. [crosstalk 00:34:41].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. There’s almost like a direct line almost. You’re a poster child, poster alum for the way a course can impact you or workhorses. And you mentioned you allude to the current ongoing right-wing Republican Party attack on so called critical race theory, which is essentially just talking about systemic racism.

Yeah, it’s odd to hear you … It’s both reassuring and upsetting at the same time to hear you talk about your experience and how important it was in Phil’s course and Kate’s course. And then to think about what some of us may be unable to teach the very things that had such an impact on you, and it still matter to you. We’ll get into that in a bit.

Back to swimming. Now, I am absolutely petrified of diving. I just think I’ve stood on a diving board maybe. A very low diving board. You were also a diver, right? No?

Seth Weidmann:

No.

Greg Kaster:

Go ahead.

Seth Weidmann:

Well, it was funny, because I was just going to interrupt you and say that I share your fear of diving boards.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, you’re making my day.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. No, I was strictly a swimmer. Swimming and diving is one of these really interesting and odd sports where they’re so different. You’re alluding to the fact that how different is it to be standing out there all alone on a board needing to complete this really hard, super quick. It only takes less than a second to do the thing that you’re about to do and then get judged on it. Your whole score is getting to …

And swimming is the complete opposite. You’re racing. You have usually about seven other people, because it’s usually an eight lane or so pool in NCAA. You’re racing and the time is the time. What you go is what you go, you’re not judged on it. They’re these two sports that have been sort of jammed together because they both deal with the water. But outside of that, there’s just a few similarities.

I sometimes joke that if there was a soccer match, and at halftime, they brought in just the high jump, none of the other track events, but just the high jump. And they competed in the high jump, and then those scores counted towards the soccer game. It really is almost that. I’m probably going to get crucified a little bit here in the swimming community and diving community.

It kind of is that extreme. Not to say that we don’t love and appreciate, I love the fact that I have a wonderful diving coach and amazing divers on the team. My specialty was always swimming and continues to be. Even now, I don’t feel like I could be a successful diving coach. Even within the swimming and diving world, usually, there’s a head coach like myself, or like my counterpart, Beth Teller, who’s also a Gustavus grad by the way, which is [crosstalk 00:37:48] a little bit, but just wild, our women’s coach here. [crosstalk 00:37:51] Gustavus alum swimmers, which is incredibly rare. You had two alumnus from one institution coaching the same [crosstalk 00:37:59] different institution.

Greg Kaster:

That speaks so well on both of you, the college and also those swim program at Gustavus. She’s the head women’s coach, right? Is that right?

Seth Weidmann:

That’s right. Yep, exactly.

Greg Kaster:

I did not know that. I didn’t know there was a separate diving coach. I guess I should have, because I was about to ask you, “How can you be a diving coach if you didn’t dive?”

Seth Weidmann:

It’s a great question, Greg. And I can’t be a diving coach. That’s my answer. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Well, I don’t know. You’re making you feel like a better swimmer than more [inaudible 00:38:28]. I’m always interested in athletes and what they’re … The sort of the psychology of sports and their sport in particular. I mean, when you’re competing, you’re swimming. I’m thinking that maybe you don’t do that so much anymore. But what is it about swimming for you and competition? What sort of attracts you? I know you have a love-hate, so let’s focus on the love here a little bit. What is it about that? I love being in the water. Maybe all human beings to in some way. I’ve never been in any kind of swimming competition.

Seth Weidmann:

I think at the root, it’s exactly what you just said. Even the most amazing, highest level international Olympic swimmers just love the feeling of being in the water. I do think that it’s a universal thing, which is another kind of shame that not everyone gets the experience it.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s a good point.

Seth Weidmann:

It’s this really amazing feeling. I think that’s at the root of it is that it’s genuinely fun. It genuinely feels good outside of hard training and hard racing. It does still feel good to be in the water.

This is where diving and swimming … There are some unique similarities. Well, it’s amazing to be part of a team. There’s just no question that it’s also a very individualized sport, similar to track or cross country, or some of these other sports that aren’t a ball sport, or aren’t a team around a certain game type of sport.

It does take a certain person that I think wants to likes the idea of being on a team and sort of the culture of being on this team and getting the positive energy out of that. But also really, sort of being okay with being in your own head and not communicating with others when you’re in the middle of a hard swim set or in the middle of a race, and you’re just kind of there out on your own.

Greg Kaster:

Just to jump in, are you aware of … You just remind me, I’m thinking of other … Let’s say you’re on the football field and the coaches either … You can hear the coach yelling at you or through your headphones or whatever. Are you hearing anything as you’re swimming? Are you aware of the crowd? Are you really are just kind of in your own head?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I’m talking about competitive swimming. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. This is a perfect example where I think many coaches like to think that they have more influence than they actually do. And this is probably true in a lot of sports. During a swim race, if you come to a swim meet, you will just hear some of the loudest whistling and screaming happening from the side of the pool deck.

I believe that no one in the water really hears that. It’s kind of all just a show that’s being put on either … Not a show. I mean, it’s the genuine passion and energy from that coat, so I would never fault them for that. I really do think that once the summer is in the water, it’s kind of on them.

That said, and I remember this from both being an athlete and now as a coach. If it’s a crowded meet, and this is especially true with a big rivalry meet, it’s like a Gustavus versus St. Olaf type of meet. Or for us down here, Carthage versus Wheaton, that’s our big conference rival. Or like our conference championship meet, which for the MIAC Minnesota is held at the University of Minnesota Natatorium.

There’s a buzz that can happen there where you really do feel and hear it in the water. Yeah. If that many people are just screaming their heads off and going crazy, you can absolutely hear and feel that while you’re in the pool. But just the normal sort of your team cheering for you and coach. Yeah, I don’t think that has all that much effect on the swimmer in the water.

Greg Kaster:

No. You’re aware of this as a coach. Are you yelling nonetheless, or whatever you’re doing?

Seth Weidmann:

No. I’m a very subdued … I think my swimmers and their families need to get used to the fact sometimes that I’m a very quiet, subdued coach on the deck. At some of those really big meets, certainly, the spirit will move you and you’ll start jumping up and down, you’ll start yelling as well. I don’t think any human could not do that in that particular case, but I do think that part of …

This isn’t true for everyone. Again, this is for me as a coach, but part of me being successful as a coach has been to learn how to be about as even keeled as possible, both at practice but especially at competitions. And so, I don’t have very high highs and I definitely don’t have very low lows when it comes to a swimming competition.

Well, again, it takes some getting used to sometimes from athletes who are used to more of a rah-rah coach or really getting down on them when things go badly. Maybe they’ve had that as a club or high school swimmer. But I think that the way that I operate is trying to make sure that I’m taking that out of the equation for them, and they’re really able to focus on what I think is kind of more important and enable to really, I think, stay a little healthier on the sports psychology side of things [crosstalk 00:44:05] before.

I find that especially the more competitive they are, they’re a much harsher critic on themselves than I’m ever going to be on them as a coach. And it’s not going to help if I’m getting on them just like it’s not going to help if I try to play up an accolade so much more than maybe it deserves or whatever.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, so much of that I can relate to as a professor, though I was always even keeled, I’m sure. I’m working on it, Seth. I’m better. But I relate to that. I can relate to what you’re saying. We’re really teaching. Coaching is a form of teaching. What is it about coaching that drew you and still draws you to it? What is it about coaching? Not just swimming. I mean, it can be swimming, sure, but coaching, the act of coaching.

Seth Weidmann:

I think I was very fortunate just have amazing coaches as role models. And so that goes all the way back to just … I had exactly what I needed as a seven or eight year old starting off, coaches that were just really there to make it fun. I think I had an incredibly competitive possibly to a fault sometimes. He might even admit that. I’ve become close with him. But as a high school coach, my high school coach, I have since become very close to and had some great conversations with. I recruited his son, actually, a few years ago to swim [crosstalk 00:45:28]. He didn’t end up coming here, but was able to just foster another good relationship.

He was a very hard nosed, old school type of coach. Getting that, and then the balance of John Carlson, who’s up at Gustavus who’s still the head in men’s and women’s swim coach. He’s also the women’s tennis coach. He’s an example in my mind of just a great coach. He had, had amazing accolades and just amazing success on the women’s tennis side. And he would probably still say to this day that his bread and butter is coaching tennis. He just kind of happens to be the swim coach that has done amazing things with the swimming team, because he’s just an amazing coach who can really get the best out of his athletes.

I remember him telling me pretty early on as a freshman at Gustavus. I thought he was joking at the time, but he told me many more times throughout my career, he’s like, “You probably know more about swimming than I do.” I was coming from this really heralded high school and club program. I sort of laughed it off at first, and I really started to see what he meant, and he was okay with that. He was comfortable with that.

He knew that not only could I maybe help coach myself a little bit when it came to certain particular things, but that he was also there to just be a great leader and mentor, and get us fired up to race fast when it was important to really motivate us. I think I took that with me that I don’t have to feel like I’m the most amazing technical swim coach making all the right little technical moves all the time. That’s not really where it’s at when it comes to having success necessarily and building a lasting career.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s cool. That’s extremely interesting and kind of makes the point I had in my head, which is … There are certain got to be certain elements of coaching that are transferable regardless of what sport you’re coaching. He’s a great example of that.

In addition to all of this swimming and coaching, you are quite involved in efforts around equity and inclusion, both on the Carthage campus and off. And I wonder if you could share with listeners what you write about in your op-ed that I quoted in the intro. Because you mentioned I think it’s maybe in 2015 hearing Bryan Stevenson and what an impact his story had on you. But if you could just talk a little bit about how you got into your current work, again, both on campus and off around issues of anti-racism or DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, I’d love to. I think post-Gustavus, it really started. And honestly, it was a little bit during my time at Gustavus as well. My main job that I had after graduating was coaching for this really amazing club swimming program in Evanston where I grew up that is affiliated with the YWCA in Evanston.

And for those who don’t know, the YWCA sounds like it’s just a potentially the women’s version of the YMCA, which, in some ways when it was formed over 100 years ago, it was in some ways, but it’s always been much more focused on advocacy. For decades now, it’s had the motto, eliminating racism and empowering women. That was a really bold statement to have back in the ’70s when they adopted it.

I think that a big part of it was that you can’t work for eight plus years at an amazing YWCA without recognizing the importance of some of this work. Part of it was just through osmosis there, but also just being active within that community. Yes, I was the head swim coach for this club. I also was an employee of the YWCA and I served on committees and I had a lot of exposure to a lot of the things that they were working on, both for women’s rights and for anti-racism work before. That’s what we called it in the last decade.

I think that was this great connection between the two. I think a lot of people would see it as like, “Well, what does swimming have to do with that work, empowering women and eliminating racism?” We’ve been able to show them like, “Are you kidding? This is what [crosstalk 00:50:04].”

And we’d be able to sort of point to the fact that’s part of why YWCA had to exist in the first place 100 years ago is because women couldn’t swim anywhere, and they couldn’t work out in the gym anywhere, and they didn’t have anywhere to live when they worked in a factory in New York City, and on and on.

And then that kind of turned into more of their work towards eliminating racism in the next few decades after that. Not again to sort of toot the horn of Gustavus history department, but …

Greg Kaster:

Oh, please do.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. This was a summer job for me before I even graduated. So, it was actually after my freshman year at Gustavus when I gone back home, and I didn’t know what I was going to do for summer job. I got this job at the YWCA just as a swim instructor. I wasn’t doing anything other than teaching little kids to swim at that time. And then that sort of grew through the program.

I remember taking your courses or especially case courses like Women in America and learning about the YWCA. I don’t know. It meant a lot to me. I was able to see it as more than just this summer job that I was doing to make a little bit of cash in the summer. It helped me take that organization and the work that I was doing a little more seriously.a And it’s what led to me agreeing to do it full time, even after I graduated from Gustavus because I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. I had actually talked to John, our coach at Gustavus about potentially staying there and being his assistant.

Those are kind of my two main options. Either stay in the college world and do that or move back to Illinois, and do this thing full time that I’ve been doing in the summers. I felt the pull to go back to the Chicago area to do that.

Yeah. I’m really glad I did. I love being in the college world now, but I just think there was something that I got out of that experience to show that … This isn’t just unique to swimming. These systems and this history that has led to why we see things the way we do and why certain things are the way they are in our country are real and trying to do some work on that.

I spent about eight years just building a lot of great community relationships in Evanston to really try to get our swimming program, both the lessons program and the swim team to reflect the population of Evanston a little more, be a little more representative, because it certainly wasn’t as a swim program at the time.

Yeah, I was able to do some really great work there. It was hard to leave that because that was as important to me as the competitive side of swimming. And when I came to Carthage, it actually was a little bit hard at first to feel like I had to take a step back from that kind of learn or relearn how to be a college coach and also how to insert myself just in the campus in general and what that was going to look like. It was actually a couple years before I felt comfortable enough to start to do that a little bit, or do some of that work a little bit more here in Kenosha and on campus as well.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, boy, what a great … I’m so glad you spoke about your experience with the YWCA, because first of all, just what a great experience. I mean, how much one would learn, you learned and how satisfying and rewarding. But also, just great prep for what you’re doing now around swimming in diversity. I mean, my wife Kate knows so much more about this than I do. You too, but the long story history of the Y around social justice issues is really, really incredible.

In 2015, it’s kind of moving. You write about going to … I think it was in Kenosha, maybe on campus, but you go to hear Bryan Stevenson and tell us a little bit about him and what he said and its impact on you.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I knew Bryan Stevenson, and this goes back to kind of being a history nerd like you, Greg. When I was in high school and college, I would watch C-SPAN sometimes. Actually, I remember seeing Bryan Stevenson answering tough questions about law and the death penalty. As a fairly young person watching C-SPAN. I know he also had coverage, obviously, in other places.

For people who don’t know, he’s this brilliant public interest lawyer who has argued against the death penalty, has sort of been his … Correct me if I’m wrong, but kind of his main thing throughout most of his career. And then more recently, I think he’s stepped into this role of showing … Even though this was always part of his anti-death penalty work, but really showing and sort of lifting up the curtain on systemic racism and just speaking so well and profoundly about it.

When he was here in Kenosha as part of this degree program that the Kenosha Library was doing. Yeah, I was able to see him and he was still mainly speaking on the death penalty and on just mass incarceration and incarceration of minors. That was so much of his work, especially at the time about whenever that was, probably seven, eight years ago, and telling stories about visiting with 14-year-olds who have life sciences here in Wisconsin, and him meeting with them.

It was just a really profound talk. And then a couple years later, fast forward, and I had read some of his work, and I stayed connected with his work, and a documentary came out that was on HBO. There was also a movie that was made of him, a biopic starring Michael B. Jordan, which is also really worth watching. But HBO documentary, especially. It actually starts very early. In the documentary, he tells this story, and this is this kind of profound, real bedrock moment for him in his life as a really young kid. I think he was 10 or under at the time. He’s about 10 years old, I think.

His family had saved up enough money to go to Walt Disney World, which is brand new. Again, this puts it in context. This is in the 1970s. This isn’t the 1940s or 1950s. It’s the 1970s and he goes down there and they go to this pool, at the hotel that they’re staying on. That’s the first time they’ve ever been in a real pool, him and his little sister and they jumped in, and chaos breaks out. All the white parents are violently ripping their white children out of the water, because these two black kids dove in.

He tells this story. He tells the story much better than I am right now. And he uses some other language as well that I won’t use right now. So, it’s worth it. I would just tell people to seek out the documentary. It struck me that this man who I have just really have about the most respect for you can and have followed through his career and just have … He’s really taught me so much that this defining moment of his life that possibly even led to so much of the work that he does started in a swimming pool.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, amazing.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. How profound is that for what I’m doing? I really felt bad. He doesn’t talk a lot more about swimming, but there has been some work since then that is starting to … I always saw something and I could never … I’m not as brilliant as Bryan Stevenson, clearly. Also not as brilliant as some other people who’ve done some really great work on this.

Greg Kaster:

[crosstalk 00:58:01]. I may beg to differ.

Seth Weidmann:

Okay. There is some really great work being done. One, there’s a book called Contested Waters that is really great.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:58:15]. What’s his name? Yeah, it’s a great book.

Seth Weidmann:

Wiltse I think it is.

Greg Kaster:

Yes, Wiltse. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

Wiltse. Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s a social history of swimming pools in America, eventually, is what you wrote. I relied on that heavily when I was doing my master’s work. We didn’t quite get into this, but I hadn’t thought that graduate work was something I wanted to do right out of Gustavus. It wasn’t until 10 years after graduating.

In 2015, when I was already working at Carthage here by that time, they offered to pay for my master’s, because we have a couple of master’s programs here. So, I was able to get that paid for through the institution, which was wonderful. And that’s when I was able to get my master’s of education and really focus on this as my course of study and my concentration.

Greg Kaster:

That’s neat. I didn’t know you had that focus. That’s cool.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. While I was doing that, while I was writing that thesis, I relied very heavily on this and a lot of other great work and a number of journals. I guess the moral of the story here is that a lot of this work is happening now. There’s actually a book called The Sum of Us. Let me make sure I get the … Of course, I left the book at home.

Greg Kaster:

I’ve heard of The Sum of Us. Yes.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. So, it’s Heather McGhee is the writer. So, it’s The Sum of Us, and the subtitle is, What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, she’s great.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, she’s wonderful.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.

Seth Weidmann:

What’s amazing about it is that her main thesis, and I’m not all the way through the book, so I don’t want to speak too much to it. Especially early on, her main thesis is that … It’s kind of her explanation for why America can’t really have nice things. Because every time we had nice things, and it became clear that we had to share those nice things with others within the country, we would just take those things away.

A perfect example is … And she uses this not just a metaphor. I mean, it’s her main metaphor, but she tells a number of stories early on in the book that all over the country. I knew this from Contested Waters from Jeff Wiltse and some of the work I had done for writing my thesis. She explained it in this way that I think all of us were trying to get at for a long time, and she’s the first one that’s really nailed it. And she talks about how there are these public pools all around the country, or were public pools in 1950s 1960s.

As soon as the white communities that most of these pools were in, we’re told that they had to desegregate these pools. Those pools turned into concrete lots. They were filed in, and people decided that they’d rather just fill the pool in than segregate the pool or than let everyone use the pool. That just came out this year, just a few months ago.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. She’s with Demos, I think. I can’t remember the organization, but she’s great. She’s terrific. Yeah, I haven’t read the book, but that’s her book. Yeah, I’m sorry. Sorry to interrupt. Keep going. I mean, it’s crazy, right?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, it’s crazy. I love how she uses that. I had never quite been able to work that in my head and put it in writing as well as she did. I talked a lot about it, both in my thesis and when I give presentations about this. I talk a lot about how a lot of those pools became privatized, which is also true. All of a sudden …

Greg Kaster:

Same schools, right?

Seth Weidmann:

Right.

Greg Kaster:

[crosstalk 01:01:50] academies.

Seth Weidmann:

All of a sudden, one day, this was a public pool. And all of a sudden you have to have a membership The next day to actually be part of the pool. I’m not saying that’s not … That was a huge issue, and it still remains an issue to this day. Where are the pools? They’re mostly in whiter suburbs, and most of them are not truly public pools. They all have some form of barrier to get into them even today.

It’s still such important work. Again, another plug for The Sum of Us, because she really puts that in a way that I think is really understandable. I think even though a lot of this, as we know, it’s hard to read some of this history sometimes, but when somebody can put it in such a concise and digestible way, the way that she does, I think is hopefully going to be a path to more people understanding some of those [crosstalk 01:02:45].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. And without that historical understanding, I don’t think there’s progress without it on a policy level or any level. Yeah, I’m just so proud of you. There you are, you’re reading all this history. You’re really doing history.

What always strikes me to see are the irrationality of white supremacy and the way white supremacy hurts whites as well. So, we’ll just pave over the … We’ll just pay for it. I think the water somehow can be segregated. Early Chicago lands history where maybe 1919 riots across the country.

Seth Weidmann:

Oh my gosh, yeah, the beach on the South Side. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, exactly. We’re going to somehow segregate like Michigan. I mean, geez. You just do an incredible stuff. Tell us a little bit about the work with the Kenosha group for dismantling racism. What is that organization’s …

Seth Weidmann:

The coalition. Yeah. This is another great example of … It’s a coalition that started in the ’90s here in Kenosha. At the time, there was this really passionate group of residents here that still recognized that racism was a big issue in Kenosha. I think they had to fight hard to get any kind of voice because there wasn’t a lot of recognition of that at the time, but they actually did gain some traction.

Probably about 10 or more than 10 years ago now, I think, to be honest, a big part of it was potentially 2008 and the election of Barack Obama and a lot of people just saying, “Well, why do you even exist anymore?” ANd the group in some ways kind of fizzled out in the mid to late 2000s. I think partly because there was this idea that like, “What racism are you talking about dismantling?” There wasn’t a recognition that, that was needed.

It was only towards the end of his tenure and the start of the last administration that things really got active again. It was a couple of years after that. This is only a couple of years ago now that I got involved as I was just kind of getting involved in this work both on campus and a little bit off campus, and I got asked to join it.

Yeah. It’s not a like a lot of coalitions. It’s a little bit ad hoc. There’s not a real regimented set of leaders within the group, which is actually kind of nice. There’s some amazing people from the mid 90s when it was first formed that still kind of do some of the work of leadership, but it’s really just this great diverse group of people here in the community that meet monthly and sort of every other month, put on these courageous conversations they call them.

A lot of people have different courageous conversation series and we have one here. I was able to host one, actually, just last month. That was about media and racism. It was kind of a wheelhouse as far as media studies goes. I was able to be the moderator of a really great conversation with some local journalists here.

It’s a lot of work like that. We don’t have any kind of major budget, we don’t even have a major way of taking donations, really. There’s talk about starting to do that and maybe bring in more speakers like Bryan Stevenson and sort of be that type of group in the community. But to this point, it hasn’t quite gotten there. It’s really, again, hosting these courageous conversations so that things are just out there, and people are hearing about them, and they’re very well attended. When we do them in person, we often get a couple 100 people to show up to one of the [crosstalk 01:06:37] here.

Greg Kaster:

That’s fantastic.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, it’s great. And then I would say that beyond that, there’s a lot of work that’s done within the school district here. There’s a couple of really loyal coalition members that go to most of the school board meetings and make sure that there’s a voice there for a lot of the people in the community that don’t necessarily feel like they’re represented within the school district properly. That’s a big part of the work of what the coalition does.

Greg Kaster:

Kenosha was a site last summer of another police shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake who left paralyzed from the waist down as a result. What was the coalition’s response to that?

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. The coalition had been doing some great work, especially with these courageous conversations, but actually had not gotten that much traction with requests for law enforcement here locally, both in the city and the county to kind of get involved in some of those conversations, and maybe even attend some of our meetings. Many invites went out over the past couple of years, and that never happened.

While you would probably talk to a lot of people in Kenosha, both the city and the county that were just so shocked that this could have happened here. When I talked to so many of my fellow coalition members, they weren’t. It was just this really sad thing where they had sort of been seeing this for years, if not decades.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, just like George Floyd in Minnesota. Oh my god, how could it happen here?

Seth Weidmann:

Exactly. Right. Of course, it can happen here. It was very similar to what you all experienced up there with that. What was interesting is that, and we’re so fortunate that Adaline and Darrell Green are husband and wife, who had been with the coalition almost from the start, close to 20 years ago, and they’re still around and still kind of bleeding it for us. And so they got asked, especially Adaline. I mean, she was all over the news because of the title of the Coalition for Dismantling Racism. All of a sudden, there was a lot of attention put on the coalition and her specifically.

Yeah, we read a lot of press conferences. I mean, I never thought I’d be standing behind Reverend Jesse Jackson at a press conference. It was really kind of an interesting month or so there shortly after.

Greg Kaster:

Not the kind of connection you want to your media comp study, but still there it is again.

Seth Weidmann:

Right. Yeah, it was fascinating. It forced us to, or kind of let us to double down again on these, even just these op-eds that we do for the Kenosha News. That had already been a thing, and we had, had this good relationship with the newspaper where they would sort of take anything. But it helped us make sure that every month now, we submit one of those from one of the coalition members. As you read online that we had more to do with [crosstalk 01:09:36].

Greg Kaster:

Right. It was excellent. Really excellent.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. Thank you. I think it really helped, in some ways, revitalize the coalition and really put something for us to aim at. I mean, it was an incredibly hard time for the city. I recall I was actually driving in from visiting family, and my wife and I are in Chicago, which is only about an hour south of here. We were driving right by. What I ended up finding out like an hour later is where Jacob Blake had just been shot by a police officer.

I saw all these police vehicles there and wondering what’s going on. And then I go online, and I find it out. And then it was actually two days later that I was supposed to be moderating the first ever, the CSCA, the professional organization for college swim coaches. So, it’s the College Swim Coach Association of America. And they asked me to moderate a discussion on equity inclusion within swimming and collegiate swimming all the way on down.

I’m having this conversation and hosting this conversation right in the middle of my city dealing with this. It was a really interesting time. And actually, later that night, that then the two young men were killed by that 17 year old who had brought an assault weapon up into Kenosha from Illinois. He shot and killed two young protesters and severely injured a third. And that happened just a couple hours after I had been moderating this thing and sort of talking about a lot of these [crosstalk 01:11:07].

Greg Kaster:

Just in the thick of it, literally.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. It was a really …

Greg Kaster:

It’s awful, but all we can do … I mean, certainly, not all, but we must do what you’re doing, what the coalition is doing, which is organize, educate, agitate. I mean, that’s what we have to do. It’s endless, I think, unfortunately.

We’ve got to bring this to a close. I always hate doing this, because the conversations are so interesting. As we do, I wonder if you could reflect a bit on not just your Gustavus education, but the liberal arts in general. Make a case for the liberal arts and maybe athletics and academics as well as anything, but … What’s the word I’m looking for? Anything but contradictory. I mean, they complement each other so well, your case in point.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah. I think to speak to the athletics and academics first, I think a great example that most coaches that we can point at … And I think this is true for high school as well. If I look at the team GPAs for my team, the 35 or so guys that I have on my swim dive team here, inevitably, our highest GPA every year is always in the semester that the majority of our season is in.

The GPAs fall off when we’re not in the spring, especially when we’re not very active, and we’re not asked to be at practice two hours a day and travel to these swim meets on the weekends and all this. In some ways, I guess, I’m just speaking to that time management thing and motivation for getting things done so that you can do this thing that you really love. I think that’s a case in point right there just looking at my team GPAs every single year. [crosstalk 01:13:00].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s interesting, because it’s counter intuitive. You think it would be the opposite.

Seth Weidmann:

Right. Exactly. Exactly. I think a lot of coaches would tell you that, and so that’s kind of the first thing that’s a strong indicator. I’ve heard other, maybe even current but especially recent former student athletes on this very show of yours, just talk about those connections that they made not only to the institution and being proud to represent the institution, but those lifelong friendships afterwards.

I certainly am close with some non-swimmers and some non-athletes from Gustavus, but the majority of those really strong friendships and bonds that I have came directly from the swim team. I think that’s hugely important as well.

I would say for the liberal arts, I’m very biased. I went to both undergrad and grad school because my graduate degree is from Carthage here where I work right now, where one of those small liberal arts schools that has a few graduate programs as well.

I think one thing that I love, and I alluded to it a little bit before, but my path of study and my course of study for my graduate program here, I love that I got my master’s from a liberal arts college as well. Because even though I had this concentration, it was a master’s of education, so that was going to be part of the curriculum. We had a little bit of a track where it could be sports leadership and education, which is mostly the track I took, but there was also kind of a more school and teacher leadership route where the focus was a little bit more on guidance and counseling, on multicultural representation and stuff like that.

I was able to kind of piece together this weird little hybrid for a high degree, which I don’t know if that’s really possible at a big, large research university where you’re getting a graduate degree. I’m not sure if I’d be able to really almost tailor my own master’s of education program. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah. That’s definitely part of liberal arts learning and teaching, which I love as a professor. I don’t have to specialize. Yeah. Sorry, keep going. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

Seth Weidmann:

No. I think you put the nail on the head there that I’m seeing it in the teaching as well. I’ve only kind of dipped my toe into the teaching side as a lecturer in the Exercise and Sport Science Department, but I’ve been asked to team teach across campus a little bit, maybe for some courses in the future, which I’m excited to potentially do.

Yeah, I would not be as excited to do that. I honestly probably wouldn’t even be able to do that if I was a coach at, say, a larger division, one institution that wasn’t focused as much on the liberal arts. Yeah. I just think that in so many ways, it’s the way to go for higher education. Now, that said, we have our challenges as well.

Greg Kaster:

We do.

Seth Weidmann:

You know it as well as anybody else. I remember you telling a … Not a story, but gosh, I don’t remember which class it would have been. It was probably in American radicalism class I had with you. But somehow, it came up sort of the cost of education, which even in the early 2000s, was already kind of an issue, and we know that’s become much more of an issue. But you talked about how … Correct me. You were speaking about how either just higher education in general, or maybe at a liberal arts institution, how the tuition tended to be about the cost of a midsize car in the United States. While that seems to not be true anymore, when you just look at the sticker price.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. You look at the tuition discount and …

Seth Weidmann:

[crosstalk 01:16:59]. Right. You have the tuition discounting, and you’re not far off still. Even in 2021 versus 2001 when you told me that. I guess another case, and maybe this is a strange case for the liberal arts education, and I think there’s a lot to talk about here. I think that interest rates need to be talked about when it comes to student loans a lot more than they are and so on. There’s a lot of factors here.

But I’ll just say that when I’m recruiting against state institutions, and it really comes down to how much the students are going to be paying to come to a place like Carthage or Gustavus versus the other places, it’s certainly more. We can’t deny that there’s an added value to being at a small college and that you’re going to potentially pay for that.

It isn’t that much more in many cases. I know that might sound like a strange case to make, but I’m going to make that case. It really is the reality that, that sticker price is not a real thing, and [crosstalk 01:18:00].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, people need to know that.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, exactly. I wish that was part of the discussion more. It’s been a discussion here at Carthage. We were kind of bold. A couple years ago, our president, President Swallow, he had only been here for a couple years at the time, but his first, big, bold move was a tuition reset. And he dropped the sticker price down significantly, just to kind of own and reflect on the fact that this is not real. We were kind of part of this race to put a sticker price and discount, and he didn’t want to be part of that race anymore. And I was pretty proud of Carthage for taking that stand.

Greg Kaster:

That’s neat.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I didn’t know that. I couldn’t agree more. Again, people are going to say, “What?” Gustavus and Carthage, schools like that, we’re not talking about the top five or 10 or 20, necessarily, liberal arts, but they are bargains, all things considered.

I mean, if you look at the actual cost, not the sticker price, as you’re saying. Again, you’re a great example of this, just people listening to you. What one gets out of that kind of education is really, really amazing. Talk about value added as you say. Listeners, I don’t know, you can email me and … Don’t email Seth, email me.

Seth Weidmann:

Yeah, [crosstalk 01:19:24] do. Right.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s all true. This has been just an absolute pleasure. Gosh, I wish we could also continue in person next time you’re on campus or were in the Twin Cities. Let me know, please, and we’ll get together.

Seth Weidmann:

Absolutely. I really look forward to it.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, likewise. Boy, just so proud of you, everything you’re doing. Good luck with the coming swim season. Hopefully, it will be more or less normal.

Seth Weidmann:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

And take good care. I really, really enjoyed our conversation, so great to really connect, Seth.

Seth Weidmann:

I really enjoyed it too, Greg. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. I know I gushed a lot about the history department in you and Kate, but it’s all real. I’m just proud to be able to talk to you right now.

Greg Kaster:

Thanks so much. That means a lot to me. All right, take good care.

Seth Weidmann:

Thank you. Bye-bye.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, you’re welcome. Bye-bye. Learning for Life @t Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing, Gustavus graduate, Will Clark, class of ’20, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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