Earlier today all St. Olaf students, faculty and staff received this email from our administration:
Dear Members of the St. Olaf Community,
We are aware that concerns have been raised about St. Olaf’s response to sexual assault. Some of those concerns have to do with the outcome of a particular case, and others are about the appropriateness and effectiveness of our policies and procedures. We do not and will not publicly discuss the particulars of this or any other case. To do so would have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to come forward to seek help from the college, and could violate the privacy of the parties involved.
However, St. Olaf’s policies for preventing and addressing sexual assault are open, transparent, and forward-looking. You can view them online here.
While our policies and procedures already exceed federal and state mandates, we regularly make improvements, often in consultation with students, and we will continue to do so.
We also know that this is an area that is about people’s lives and the life of our community, and we remain committed to doing the best possible job we can do for the well-being of both.
President David Anderson and Vice President Jo Beld, Title IX Coordinator
I felt that this sort of correspondence failed to acknowledge or address many of our concerns, and sent this email to the Title IX team and the President’s Leadership Team in response. I will publish it here for transparency and to make it clear how myself and others feel about the administration’s lack of response:
I am writing to express my disappointment with the email sent out by President David Anderson and Vice President Jo Beld earlier today. I feel it grossly misinterprets the intentions of the actions of myself and the 10 other individuals wearing similar shirts.
First, the title of the aforementioned email “Concerns over Sexual Assault” should be “Concerns over the Sexual Assault Policy,” as we are raising awareness primarily about the inefficacies of St. Olaf’s sexual assault policy. Our concerns can be found here: https://mycollegeisprotectingrapists.wordpress.com/policy-failings-and-violations/
The email also insinuates that the privacy of certain individuals might be violated. While St. Olaf may not be allowed to speak about this case, it is my civil right to talk about my lived experience. Furthermore, our actions have taken every precaution possible to protect the identity of my assailant.
Then this email discusses the “chilling effect” that a public discussion of the failings of St. Olaf’s proceedings might have on the willingness of future survivors of sexual assault to report to administration. If telling the truth about the outcomes of your sexual assault policy and proceedings has a “chilling effect” on the comfort that students feel bringing problems to administrators, the problem lies with your policies, not with my attempt to share my story.
This email reeks of complacency with St. Olaf policies, which is a highly inappropriate response to the valid concerns that myself and other survivors and allies have raised.
Claiming St. Olaf’s sexual assault policy to be either “transparent” or “forward-thinking” is bizarre. The fact that St. Olaf’s policy is incredibly difficult to decipher has been a complaint of students for years: it is not transparent. The text of the policy can be found here: http://wp.stolaf.edu/title-ix/policy/
Neither is St. Olaf’s policy “forward-thinking.” In fact, the use of a single administrator to arbitrate cases of sexual assault seems downright medieval compared to Carleton’s policy which allows for a board of 12 highly trained administrators, students and faculty (description of Carleton’s board and their training: http://apps.carleton.edu/governance/sexualmisconduct/). Additionally, despite multiple requests on our part, no one in the administration has provided us with any details as to the training undergone by the Title IX team.
Whether St. Olaf policies and the manner in which they are carried out actually “exceed federal and state mandates” is up for debate, and in many ways besides the point. The amount of dissatisfied survivors that I have spoken with suggests that your procedures are harmful to victims of sexual assault. Furthermore, I have consulted with lawyers and organizations committed to executing the intentions set forth by Title IX. These people, as well as myself and other students agree that St. Olaf is failing to meet and certainly not exceeding these expectations, which is why I am currently in the process of filing a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Our purpose is to establish a dialogue, but this sort of email entirely fails to address the concerns that we raised.
If you are willing to engage myself and others in a constructive dialogue about the concerns above, we are willing to meet with you.