We Are Ready to Act. Is St. Olaf Administration?

A month ago I told an administrative member of St. Olaf’s Title IX team that I would be wearing a shirt that called attention to my rape in order to raise awareness about the way St. Olaf botched the handling of my sexual assault case and the sexual assault cases of several of my fellow students.

The administrator replied: “If you want to come at the school, come at the school.”

A week ago myself and several allies did indeed “come at the school.”

Since then, most of St. Olaf’s campus has heard my story and begun a serious dialogue about the way that survivors of sexual assault are treated by administration. Various media outlets have taken note.

One might think that the success of this protest would indicate to the St. Olaf administration that survivors of sexual assault take serious issue with their policies, and that their concerns should be taken seriously.

Since last week, administrators have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not take our concerns seriously.

First, there was this email from President David Anderson and Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld, which came out on the first day my friends and I were wearing our shirts. This email attempted to pass off our protest as “Concerns with Sexual Assault” when the concerns at the heart of our protest lie with a sexual assault policy that utterly fails to protect Ole students from their assailants.

Then, came this email, which seemed to acknowledge the validity of our concerns. However, after speaking to  PDA and the Title IX team on Monday, communication from them to us has ceased.

Additionally, in that email our President tried to pre-empt my impending complaint to the Office of Civil Rights by asking for an independent review. This review would have been redundant, as I am already in the process of filing an OCR complaint. Tellingly, the OCR declined our administration’s request. This in no way means that the school will not be investigated by the OCR.

A recent “educational event” put on by the Title IX team took place in a small room packed full of students, many of whom had their own questions about the way in which Olaf has been handling sexual assault. President David Anderson was not in attendance.

During the event, a Title IX administrator could be seen checking Twitter. When asked why they were not paying attention to their colleagues’ presentation, the administrator responded “I have important things to do.” This is grossly disrespectful.

During the Q&A section an administrator was asked what sorts of actions could signify “overt consent” to sexual activity. The administrator responded with an anecdote about how hugging their spouse could imply consent. A student quickly noted that our sexual assault policy explicitly states “consent to a particular sexual activity cannot be inferred from consent to a different form of sexual activity.” The ignorance on the behalf of St. Olaf administration as to their own policy has been insulting.

And today, a third email from President David Anderson:

Dear Members of the St. Olaf Community,

Today an article was published in the Star Tribune that reflects the pain and conflict that sexual misconduct investigations bring to college campuses across the country. Sexual assault is one of the most difficult, complicated, and emotionally fraught issues that any college ever confronts.  It’s no different at St. Olaf where we do our best to provide a safe and supportive community for our students.

St. Olaf College does not tolerate sexual misconduct.  Our comprehensive Title IX policies address incidents that threaten the safety and well-being of our students. These policies have improved over time and we seek to continually improve them as we learn best practices from external experts and our own experiences.

Last week we asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to conduct an independent review of our Title IX policies. Yesterday the Department declined to conduct this review.

However, the issue of sexual misconduct is serious enough to warrant an immediate and thorough assessment of our policies.

That is why I am appointing a St. Olaf Title IX Working Group, which will include St. Olaf faculty, students, and alumni, as well as external experts.  The working group will be charged with reviewing our policies with rigor, responsibility and a strong commitment to our values, while complying with the latest federal and state regulations. Working group representatives will seek advice from students who have participated firsthand in St. Olaf’s Title IX processes, other colleges and universities with particularly robust policies, and other experts.

This summer the working group will present its recommendations, which will be shared with the St. Olaf community.  College leadership will be responsible for the implementation of any policy changes before the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

Thank you for your support of the St. Olaf community.

Prior to receiving this e-mail, no one involved with our protest or with Student Government had heard of this “working group.” Additionally, various administrators expressed in conversation that members of our protest, all of whom are well versed in Title IX law, might be “too biased” to be a part of this “working group.”

Furthermore, this “working group” will meet over the summer, after every single person who is currently wearing a shirt has graduated.

President David Anderson today made the move to exclude the students who have given voice to concerns about St. Olaf’s sexual assault policy from further conversation about said policy. He has additionally failed to mention addressing our demands, which have been sponsored by a national Title IX rights advocacy group, Know Your IX.

This is shameful.

We are on campus and willing to engage in conversation right now. Student leaders in both SARN and our Student Government, including representatives from our schools It’s On Us task force are on campus and willing to engage this conversation right now.

We understand that concrete policy change can take time, but to put conversation on hold until the summer is disrespectful. We are ready to act.

We are ready for our administrators to stop delaying this process. We are ready for our administrators to take action.




26 thoughts on “We Are Ready to Act. Is St. Olaf Administration?

  1. When my sister was assaulted in 1980, the college had exactly the same attitude.
    Hide/protect rapist. Ignore the woman.
    Do Nothing.

    It worked: Anodyne statements. Defensive administrators who talked into their hands, would not look me in the eye.
    She went away, nothing changed for decades: Madeline was left to “christian” males, who know nothing will happen to them.
    If only you will go away: which is what Anderson hopes you will do.


    Carleton—not so christian, full of pagans, Druids, Jews, Hindus, humanists, atheists with actual moral codes of integrity not sand dune desert mores–Women and Men will support you.


  2. Thank you for all that you are doing. When I was an undergrad at Earlham College several years ago, I was part of a student effort to hold the college accountable to supporting survivors of sexual violence. The administration ignored us until we went public (in our case, it meant organizing one of the largest all-student meetings in recent memory with the help of our student government, and enlisting a large number of the students we engaged at that meeting to join in our advocacy), and only then was the administration interested in talking with us.

    In our meetings with the administration, they assured us that they would form a committee to address student concerns regarding support for survivors of sexual violence; that committee was formed, but the administration only allowed two students on it (and only one who was a member of the advocacy efforts), swore the committee to secrecy, and refused to release its minutes (as this could result in the “biasing” of the committee process). This (along with the subsequent graduation of many of the student activists involved in the advocacy efforts) effectively neutered any progress that we had made, and the suggestions of the committee were ultimately ignored by the college president.

    I share this as a cautionary tale from someone who wishes that those of us involved in the advocacy effort had recognized the administration’s committee “solution” as yet another ploy to silence us, and had rejected it and continued to push for a legitimate offer from the administration to collaborate on a real solution.


    • Exactly right. For decades, Olaf and others have tried to “veil” (silence) women who spoke up (most knew to shut up, or were illogically made to feel shame for boys’ criminal behavior). But oh so enlightened compared to all of the religious extremists, right?


  3. Hi there. Olaf ’11 here. Spring of senior year I was approached by a female student who had been violated by a male student while intoxicated. She approached me because she was aware that I had had a disturbing encounter with that same male, and wanted to know if I would be willing to put forth my testimony. Of course I was willing; the male in question was an undeniable threat and I was eager to help ensure that appropriate disciplinary actions were enforced.
    But it never got that far. The administration refused to consider her case, saying that since she had been intoxicated, she could not prove that the encounter hadn’t been consensual (mind you, she went to the emergency room afterwards and had a doctor’s affirmation that the encounter had been forced). They shut her down and sent her on her merry way, which wasn’t hard to do as she and I both graduated within a matter of months.
    Um ya ya…?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sexual exploitation of women at St. Olaf has been going on for much longer than 30 years. In my case, it occurred over 45 years ago (1964-1968). And this was concerning a faculty member, now deceased. It haunts me to this day. The misogynistic atmosphere I experienced daily obviously has not changed a whit in 50 years. It’s time for a class action suit.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are right. It is chronic, endemic. Like fungus it never goes away.
        It is indeed time for a class action.
        ONLY lawsuits and financial loss wakes up this crowd, as history proves. But as Republican Denny Hastert and Bill Cosby’s cases show, statutes of limitations are a barrier.

        We knew about cases in 1971 (3 yrs after your graduation) when I arrived as a freshman at Carleton, as we had Olaf women come to our campus, where they found some small refuge as we were out feminists infused with built-in equality (my classmate liberated the only sauna at Carleton–guess whose?–when she organized a group of Carleton women who walked in naked, nonplussed, one day: Trustees freaked out and quickly ponied up $$ for a women’s sauna. We felt fully entitled to the sauna on campus, but it was clear this was not a philosophy on the campus across the river. Too mollified, too many good girls (silent), too many matching socks/sweaters, too many too obedient.
        ACT OUT.
        Madeline has the face of a warrior saint, so with her permission, we are calling up 11,000 women in St Ursula’s Army–our Saint–and we take no prisoners.

        Liked by 1 person

      • There isn’t a statute of limitations about murder–and there should NOT be one against sexual abuse. For example, the Catholic Church is finally taking action to address the accusations of children, now in their aging adulthood, even with variable or no evidence. Why is that different from our cases?

        Though my assailant is dead, St. Olaf, the institution which vowed to protect me, is very much alive. St. Olaf, as the Catholic Church, needs to be made accountable.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for doing this and finally shedding light on the shameful way St. Olaf has treated victims of sexual assault for years. I had almost the same thing happen to me in the early 2000s at St. Olaf, except my drink was drugged and I remember nothing except waking up sore and bruised with my virginity taken away from me. I went straight to the hospital in Northfield and the woman who usually did the rape kits was on vacation and an older man blundered through it and made me feel awful. I went to the administration and they had a hearing on campus, and the guy was found not responsible since they felt that a piece of the puzzle was missing. I had to endure the rest of the school year seeing him around campus and lost a lot of close friends throughout the process. But hey, they gave me my own dorm room and a parking permit as a concession prize! I will never send my children to this school or recommend it to anyone after the way I and many others have been treated. 15 years later, it still haunts me and I am so happy to hear that students are finally standing up and saying enough is enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The circumstances surrounding a sexual assault should not —and do not— matter. Rape is never the victim’s fault.

    Keeping women and men safe on campus comes from creating an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

    To encourage victims to come forward —and support survivors— communities are developing and operating a Sexual Assault Response Team, referred to as a SART.

    How a SART addresses the severity, complexity and impact of sexual assault—and seeks justice for victims–is powerfully portrayed in the video, “Break the Silence: Sexual Assault and the SART Solution.”

    In the video, sexual assault victims in rural and Native American Communities, as well as SART members, share their experiences and how a SART has served them.

    Watch the video. Download it. Share it. http://www.sane-sart.com/breakthesilence/


    Linda Ledray, RN, PhD, SANE-A, FAAN
    SANE-SART Resource Service

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! Thanks for your courage in coming forward with this. It certainly sounds like they have systematic problems that need to be resolved. Hopefully your action will change the culture at St. Olaf, and these assaults will stop or be reduced. I would also encourage you to work this from the civil side. Maybe a civil suit can be filed against the rapist??

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s been almost 30 years since I was sexually assaulted while attending a large public university. There is healing with time, but the memories never totally fade. I find myself feeling both sad and angry about this situation!

    As a parent of a current St. Olaf student, I received the email from the president regarding the sexual assault policy. It seemed a little “out of the blue” to me, but not knowing any context, I confess I was impressed that the school seemed to be trying to be preemptive-typically a good thing. Now that I’ve read this information, I see that the school is backpedaling, trying to cover their tracks.

    Any assault survivor should be believed, respected and taken seriously!!!! The administration is clearly not doing that. I’m so glad that you’ve gone public! You are clearly intelligent, well-spoken and COURAGEOUS. I sincerely hope the administration gets their act together, and fast!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A coworker just yesterday mentioned hearing about this on the news, and when he said it was happening at St. Olaf College, I didn’t believe him – or rather, I didn’t want to. Then I saw the email from President Anderson, which made me feel reassured that my beloved St. Olaf was trying to do the right thing.

    I didn’t want to believe the articles as I read them this afternoon, and I came to this website prepared to be critical. I would never have thought my alma mater capable of such disrespect, such negligence in both attitude and action, such callousness and complacency. My instinct is to defend the institution to whom I owe so much.

    I am sickened by the sad truths you have shown me about how St. Olaf treats victims of sexual assault. The manner in which your complaint was dismissed defies logic and their own policies, which I took the time to read through. The administration should be the greatest proponent and defender of students’ civil rights, and to learn that they are not only failing their charge but undermining those rights is both unfathomable and unacceptable.

    I admire and fully support your efforts. I am on my way to sign the petition, and I will share your story. Thank you for standing up for what is right. It is my sincerest hope and prayer that your actions will force the administration into action of their own – the kind that serve the St. Olaf community instead of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were so easily “reassured that my beloved St. Olaf was trying to do the right thing” due to the proven success of its duplicitous coverup strategies, at least 50 years old, served up again by Anderson in new bottles. And, of course, the college’s cynical attitude of counting on all good Oles to doubt it, and lapse into the lilly-white ‘school on the hill’ fairytale.

      Liked by 1 person

    • “Then I saw the email from President Anderson, which made me feel reassured that my beloved St. Olaf was trying to do the right thing.”

      That is the problem: they have been reassuring raped women and preventing any legal action for decades: Their $trategy works.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Another issue with this “working group” meeting this summer is that the college was already planning on meeting this summer to revise the Title IX policies because Minmesota state laws regarding sexual assault are going to change, so colleges throughout the state are *required* to update their policies to reflect the change on the state level. The administration shouldn’t pretend that this meeting is at all a result of or in response to the protestors. Perhaps now they will include students in this “working group” now, but they were already obligated to change the policies before the next school year.
    A professor of mine noted that the administration can depend on the fact that these students will leave, that even the first years who may want to join this fight will be gone in four years. She said they’re only giving this issue “the obligatory four minutes” the make us feel like they care or that things are alright–to placate and silence us, or at least stall us until we’re gone. It’s not going to work.

    Liked by 1 person

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