About the “Working Group”

President David Anderson sent this email to the St. Olaf Community today:

Dear Oles,

Last week I wrote to you about the important issue of sexual assault and the rigorous debate in the St. Olaf community about how we can best address incidents that threaten the safety and well-being of our students.

I announced the formation of a Working Group to critically review our policies and procedures, seek input from the community, and make recommendations for policy changes to be implemented by the start of the 2016-17 school year. This email announces the membership of that group. Their work begins immediately. The first steps include defining a process and timeline and obtaining student feedback before students depart campus at the end of the term so that the committee has ample opportunity to receive their suggestions and concerns.

This group is undertaking a critical task that will require both significant study and a sense of urgency. It is empowered to proceed independently and to retain expert advice and counsel at its own discretion.

The Working Group is charged with:

Conducting a comprehensive review of the college’s Title IX policies and procedures with transparency, rigor and a strong commitment to St. Olaf’s values;

  • Ensuring compliance with the latest federal and state regulations and guidelines;
  • Seeking input and advice from students who have participated firsthand in St. Olaf’s Title IX processes and from other members of the St. Olaf family;
  • Ensuring that the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and opinions of our community are reflected in our Title IX policies;
  • Considering the policies and practices of other colleges and universities with particularly robust policies, and the thoughts of other experts;
  • Providing informed and specific recommendations on how the college can improve its Title IX policies to the President by July 15, 2016

Members of St. Olaf’s Title IX Working Group include:

  • Tim Maudlin ’73, Chair; member of the St. Olaf Board of Regents and Chair of the Board’s Audit Committee
  • Emma Lind ’17, SGA President-elect and past Co-chair, the St. Olaf It’s On Us campaign, a White House initiative to change the way people think about sexual assault
  • Kaelie Lund ’16, Co-chair, St. Olaf Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN)
  • Ryan Bowles, Athletic Director
  • Matt Marohl, Campus Pastor
  • Sue Smalling, Assistant Professor of Social Work
  • Erica Staab-Absher, CMT, BSW, Executive Director, HOPE Center
  • Carl Lehmann ’91, higher education and Title IX attorney at Gray Plant Mooty, and co-founder of trainED
  • Jill Fedje ’85, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney
  • Karla Benson-Rutten, Title IX Coordinator, Macalester College

Regent Tim Maudlin ’73 will chair the group. Tim serves on the St. Olaf Board of Regents and chairs the College’s Audit Committee which is responsible for oversight of the College’s process for monitoring compliance with laws, regulations, and codes of conduct. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Luther Seminary. He completed 12 years of service on the Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees this past year. He currently serves on seven corporate boards, always as an independent director and as Audit Committee chair. I am confident that under Tim’s leadership, the Working Group will complete its charge and recommend productive changes.

We have created a dedicated page on St. Olaf’s website where the community can:

I encourage you to visit the site and subscribe to ongoing updates. The Working Group will deliver its recommendations to me by July 15, 2016, and I will share them with the community.

We are grateful for the Working Group’s willingness to serve the St. Olaf community on a very important issue. We look forward to carefully considering all of its recommendations and commit to implementing any policy changes before the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

Care, compassion, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth define the St. Olaf community. We are committed to getting this right and will do so with your help, prayers and support.

PDA

The formation of a working group seems like a wise (if belated) first step towards permanent change to the St. Olaf sexual assault policy. Many of the choices for this working group seem like intelligent, well qualified individuals. The addition of a fixed deadline for policy recommendations (July 15, 2016) is also commendable.

With that said, the selection of this working group seems to foster several glaring omissions:

First, there is only a single member of St. Olaf’s faculty included. It seems as though David Anderson is neglecting some of his best resources by omitting several incredibly qualified individuals who asked specifically to be involved in the working group. We will address this issue further in a post in the next few days.

While two very qualified students were selected for the group, as far as we know neither of them have been through St. Olaf’s sexual assault process. This omission is nothing short of absurd: how can we expect the working group to sufficiently improve the experiences of survivors who have gone through Olaf’s process without including these voices? Also, only a single student who was included on the working group will be able to see the changes into effect.

We hope that some of the working group are LGBTQ identified, but we do not know that any are. If there are no members of the LGBTQ community on this working group, it does not represent “diverse backgrounds,” especially considering the topic at hand. 

Finally, zero members of the grey shirt team have been included in the group, despite the fact that several of us asked. Barring members of our team from the process of altering the sexual assault policy is disrespectful, considering that without our efforts, there would be no working group.

Our hope is that our exclusion from the working group does not mean that we have been cut out of the conversation. Since our meeting with administration over a week ago, we have received minimal correspondence from the Title IX team or David Anderson regarding our demands, the working group, etc.

That lack of transparency is frustratingly unprofessional, as is the lack of transparency in the selection process for the working group.

With that failure to be transparent in mind, we have several questions regarding the implementation of the working group. Some of them are:

  • What weight will be given to the recommendations put forth by the working group? Notably, our team has already met with administrators and presented them with suggestions. Will the same administrators who have already attempted to ignore the suggestions put forth by the grey shirt team have the final say?
  • When will the working group first meet?
  • How often will the working group meet?
  • Will the working group be able to discuss the failings of the policy in relation to specific cases? It is impossible to truly address the inefficacies of a policy without addressing its shortcomings in real world situations.
  • How will we ensure that administrators follow an improved policy? In Madeline’s case, as in several others, various administrators failed to adhere to their own regulations.

Above all, we wish to reiterate that no changes have been made to the sexual assault policy, and little has been done to even acknowledge the harm that the current policy has incurred on survivors of sexual assault.

Please reach out to us if you have questions or concerns regarding our stances or our actions.

picholland

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4 thoughts on “About the “Working Group”

  1. Very well Said! I also noticed that there are no male identified students in the group either, which is extremely problematic, as men/males are sexually assaulted as well.

    Kaelie Lund is part of the LGBTQ community, but I believe she is the only LGBTQ Member there. Also, I think Karla is the only non-white participant, which is also extremely problematic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My main concern with the working group is that a man from the BOR, with what seems to be hardly any relevant experience (if any at all), was put in charge of the whole thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Create your own working group right away. While Olaf calls for patience in awaiting recommendations from their august group (which will meet in secret), take the reigns and lead while people are still listening to you (attention spans are short). Name the ideal membership yourself. Include local police and prosecutors, among others. Give it a permanent, sustained structure. Include those who will be on campus in the future to see it through. Start meeting in public now, and take public testimony. Make a record. Invite the press. Openly discuss problems, and options. Have lawyers help you with the nitty gritty language with a sound Title IX legal basis. Focus on non-campus solutions with police, county/city prosecutors, and human service agencies. Resources abound, and there’s NO requirement to work it out with your assailant(s). That is INSANE. Formally present the recommendations, in bound format, to the administration. Maintain an independent resource for sexual assault based on city, county, and state resources. Teach protective orders. List shelters and advocates. Create a list of “triggers” by the administration for legal action. If recommendations are not adopted, consider suing the college. Require funding by the college for your effort. Sue in court if needed. Go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You make some great points. The Working Group was a healthy start but needs some tweaks.

    Perhaps one of the hard pieces to this are the human limitations inherent in a system led by someone who, not unlike many of us Olaf graduates, have benefitted our entire lives by our white male privilege. We have a hard time admitting when we have screwed up, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. At this point it does not appear President Anderson has the tools to do some of those important and necessary steps. He is where he is.

    While that is disappointing, it does not detract from the huge steps forward you and the grey shirts have moved a college that was failing its students in the most unconscionable ways. I thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of former graduates for your courage, leadership, thoughtfulness and tenacity. Please take a moment to acknowledge how significant what you have done already truly is. I understand things are not close to being finished. But the Jeannie is out of the bottle and ain’t going back in!

    I spent the last 25 years representing clients in court who were discriminated against. It takes immense courage and endurance to call out broken systems and work to change them in ways that will most likely benefit those that follow you more than those who were subjected to the discriminatory treatment in the first place.

    My hope and prayer is that President Anderson will be able to get to a place where he is less defensive, trusts transparency, apologizes, and can help foster meaningful change to many broken systems. We can all continue to be the doubting Thomas as we intentionally and thoughtfully hold the the feet to the fire of this college we love, while remembering that in our hearts we are Easter people, people of hope.

    Like

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