A Message from Professor Emerita Olivia Frey

Associate Professor Emerita Olivia Frey recently contacted us to provide a historical outlook on St. Olaf’s sexual assault policies.

We are incredibly disheartened to learn that some of our demands have been pressed for by concerned Oles for OVER A DECADE.

Professor Frey asked a past administration to incorporate “professionals, trained in dealing with rape and sexual assault” and to mandate harsher sanctions for rapists. We are asking for the same things many years later. There has been painfully little progress.

We are disappointed to announce that we are still waiting to hear back from administration after last Thursday’s email promising to assemble a “working group” over the summer. We are still ready to start reforming our sexual assault policy right now. 

Here is Professor Frey’s email:

Dear protestors:

I am an Assoc. Professor Emerita, having retired from St. Olaf in 2001 after teaching there for 20 years.
Let me first say how I admire your courage. You have left yourself open to harassment and ridicule for coming forward. (You are in good company!)
Fifteen or so years ago, I chaired a committee called Committee on the Status of Women. The committee was made up of faculty, staff and students.
One of the issues that we tackled, that we fought hard to change, was the St. Olaf policy on sexual assault.
Back then, when someone charged that a fellow student had raped/assaulted her, the common practice was to bring the two into a room together (!). A dean of some kind would attend, often one of the deans for residential life (often a man), and the three would “discuss” the charge. This meeting constituted the college’s investigation of the charge.
I don’t need to list for you the problems with this. In probably every case, the attacker was cleared, and the survivor admitted that alcohol had played a role, implying that she was partly if not 50% responsible for what had happened.
Well, really, we raised hell, but not in quite the creative way you have.
For two years we pounded away at this. Finally, some changes were made. The most radical on the committee wanted the college to inform the police immediately. Of course, this was rejected. We also wanted attackers to be expelled. Absolutely not. And if the attackers were never found guilty, it was a moot point anyway.
What we were able to accomplish, at least, a very small victory, was that the two would NOT be placed in a room together when they were interviewed. The person attacked would have an advocate (female) from beginning to the end of the process.
We also tried to get the college to do the following. When the attacker was held responsible (!), he would at least need to move to another dorm. In many cases, attackers lived in the same dorm, sometimes on the same floor. We asked that attackers be given the choice–Have counseling, or be expelled from school. We asked that professionals, trained in dealing with rape and sexual assault, be involved in these instances and provide training for deans or whatever administrator or staff were enlisted to help.
Nope. None of it.
The then president of the college, Mark Edwards, called me to his office at some point. He was very casual and chatty at first. Then mentioned I had been chair of the CSW for some years, and it was probably time for a change. (People served on the committee at the behest of the president). I said, no, there’s still some things to get done, particularly with the sexual assault policy, and I’d like one more term.
He said No, you’re done. You’re off the committee.
When Jo Beld says that the college is continually refining its sexual conduct process, that’s bullshit. Nothing seems to have changed in the last decades, and decades before that. When David Anderson says, “We are doing the best we know how . . . ,” that is also bullshit.
When Jo says requiring a verbal assent would redefine romantic encounters, I hope she is being quoted out of context. I suspect not. The comment is disgusting. It is naive and begs the question about romantic encounters. Her comments demonstrate that she is an apologist for the college’s broken, yes broken, sexual assault policy and procedures. Like having the fox in charge of the hen house.
It is obvious to me–I am 65 and have seen so much of this over the years–that the college’s (and the board’s) primary objective is not the safety of students or their well being, but protecting their name from scandal. I believed then and believe now that their motive for clearing accused assailants was that they didn’t want to lose the tuition. Expelled? No more tuition.
You may use this story, repeat it, etc. as often as you want.
In closing, Your group has the basis for a class-action suit to end all class-action suits. At the very least, an independent party (news organization like WCCO or Star Trib) should investigate this–going back years and years.
The college will make many promises of policy review, committees to review, blah blah blah. What they depend on for this to go away is that you will graduate, or get caught up in classes and exams and won’t have any more time and energy.
Stick with it.
We intend to “stick with it,” and we hope that other concerned students and alumni stick with it as well.

8 thoughts on “A Message from Professor Emerita Olivia Frey

  1. This goes back further than merely a decade! I remember during my years at St. Olaf hearing the advice that if you were ever assaulted, you should NOT contact anyone on campus. Your first call should be to the Rape Crisis Center (for an advocate) and then to the police because the administration would do everything it could to protect the college’s image. Very sad to hear the same is still true. Angry that the exact same debate is still happening, at the expense of the rape survivors.

    Stand tall! We support you!

    Gretchen, St. Olaf 1992

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you professor Frey for your story, which is completely consistent with my experience as an alumni class of ’89. One of my friends was raped by a senior when she was a sophomore. The investigation was as you said. ..her and the rapist in a room alone with and a male administrator. The “investigation” consisted of blaming her for the incident and the two men joking about it and her. There was no effort made to keep the incident confidential and many professors and students knew about it. She was so devastated and upset she almost withdrew from St Olaf but instead decided to do a year long study abroad program so she could escape her experience of humiliation and violation at the college. When she returned, she lived off campus with me and barely spent time on campus outside of class.

    The most disgusting thing to me is that her rapist is now one of the leaders of the alumni group in my area and is on the alumni board for the college. Every time I see him I am so disgusted knowing what he did and the enormous amount of hurt he caused my friend.

    It was also an astounding case of reverse discrimination, because she was a blond white woman and he was one of the very few students of color on campus at the time. I can’t help but wonder whether part of what motivated the lack of consequences was the college’s unwillingness to alienate a person of color or to confront the sexual politics of a man of color raping a white woman.

    And it sounds like nothing has really changed. It’s time to protect women at St Olaf, believe their stories, and have real consequences for rapists.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m using a fake name here. My son went to St Olaf. He was bullied and harassed by the men on his dorm floor. He wouldn’t take any action because he has aspergers. Here is what St. Olaf said to me — quit being a helicopter parent. I asked them to check in with my son and just get back to me and let me know that happened. Never heard a word. What a miserable place. My son stayed and graduated and the school kept calling for donations. HA. I told them if they ever contacted me again I’d take the time to go public with what an overpriced waste of a place this is.

    If the school doesn’t meet your needs, quit paying tuition. Most colleges and universities are equally pathetic at these issues. Rape is a crime. Students should go to the ER and then the police and then and only then the school, if at all. Let these little rapists face the police and let’s see how long they last.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Appalling! I went to school across the river (Carleton Class of ’04), and I know that they have faced similar issues with failing to protect survivors over the years (though, I believe, their official policies read slightly better). As an attorney who has worked (and continues to work) with survivors, I strongly encourage you to stay determined and possibly band together with allies working on these same issues at Carleton. Together you will be stronger.

    I’d also like to suggest that you find legal counsel if you have not done so already. You, and other students, likely have a legal remedy. I’d try contacting one of the organizations listed here: http://www.lawhelpmn.org/find-legal-help/abuse-violence-crime-victims-rights/sexual-assault-and-other-crime-victims?location=Rice%20County

    Also, contact the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault: http://www.mncasa.org/

    Best of luck! I am impressed with your strength and courage!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Olivia, I am so proud of you. Thank you for your story. I hope that we see change at St. Olaf, for the benefit of the students there now, and for those yet to come.
    Heather Cybyske Suess, class of ’96
    And, daughter of Dean Dan Cybyske


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