Correspondence with Administration

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.

Sincerely,

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:

Hello,

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.

Madeline

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5 thoughts on “Correspondence with Administration

  1. This is so wonderfully worded. Thank you for so eloquently addressing the administration’s complete non-action to this deeply important issue. Stay strong and know that so many of us are on your side. ❤

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  2. Unacceptable St.Olaf. Meet the student demands. You’ve already tarnished your reputation by ignoring their well-reasoned concerns and praising your clearly insufficient policies in an empty administrative response.

    Thank you, Madeline for sharing your story and instigating change!

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  3. From a little ole nobody whose Grand Daughter is one among your community. If I may be so bold as to suggest: ask each faculty member to some time during each class session to remark upon how it is unacceptable for one human being to make an unacceptable sexual advance toward another human being, without respect to male toward male, female toward female, male toward female, female toward male or certainly human toward animal. Printed and published policies are necessary for legal defense, but to be an effective policy it needs to be verbalized, discussed and then discussed again. Yes, it is the administration who enforces a policy, but it is community members who have the ability to impact favorably upon community members conduct to avoid such issues. Gramps

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  4. Thank you for the powerful and vital work you are doing. As a professional working on another college campus, I know how vital awareness and advocacy are in creating safe places for all students.

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  5. “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…”
    I find this section of the letter to be absolutely terrifying. Are they saying that discussing their own policy and how one case moved through the system would scare others from reporting their own assault experiences to them as well?!? Did they really admit this in writing for everyone to see? They used the words “chilling effect” even? If our beloved college doesn’t see bow incriminating these words are against themselves, it causes me to question everything I know about them, and all I learned there about honor and ethics. Truly.
    I will be following your progress, signing the petition and supporting you in any way I can. I’m yet another alum with a story or two of a friend who had a horrific assault to report on deaf ears, in our cases, back in the 1990’s. The time to address this has long since passed. You’re not alone, we’ve got your backs.
    And please let me know if you know how to get on this summer Working Group to examine the procedures and make changes. I’d love to represent you if you can’t be there, by bringing all of your recommended amendments.

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