Graduation

Earlier today, every single member of the gray shirt team at St. Olaf College graduated.

Over the past several months our efforts to raise awareness about the inadequacies of our college’s sexual assault policy received attention from Minnesota-wide news outlets like the Star Tribune and MPR and nationally syndicated outlets like Mic.com, Newsweek and Teen Vogue.

From the first day, before any media attention, alumni took notice, and thousands of them started a conversation over social media and in person about how they could help. Many alumni have supported our movement by writing to the administration, spreading the word through social media, notifying the press and withholding donations from the college until adequate policy reform takes place.

Thanks to the efforts of these alumni as well as many current students, St. Olaf’s administration created a working group to recommend changes to the sexual assault policy. We look forward to seeing the results of the working group’s efforts. We hope that adequate steps will be made to sharpen the college’s policies and to ensure that administrators are held accountable when they fail in their legal obligation to victims of sexual assault.

We also look forward to seeing the results of the impending Office for Civil Rights investigation, which will determine whether St. Olaf is ‘creating a sexually hostile environment.’ If the OCR finds this to be the case, they will look to rectify college policies and procedures themselves.

Today, the grey shirt team became a part of the alumni community. After two months of wearing shirts that say “ASK ME HOW MY COLLEGE IS PROTECTING RAPISTS,” we cut up our shirts and fashioned them into honor cords to create a visual reminder at graduation of the long way that St. Olaf’s administration still has to go to address the issue of sexual assault. Many amazing alumni, parents and other students wore gray ribbons to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and with efforts to change college policies.

We wish to emphasize that our activism has not disappeared because we are leaving campus, but it has changed form. The fight for an accountable administration and a safe campus is far from over, and we will be watching St. Olaf’s attempts to address these issues closely in the coming months.

A lot of the success of our advocacy owes itself to activist groups and movements on campus such as the Cultural Union for Black Expression, Feminists for Change, Gay Lesbian or Whatever, Students for Reproductive Rights, Black Lives Matter and many others who have paved the way for change at our college. These groups have long been advocating to make St. Olaf a better, safer, more inclusive place. Ole activists have contributed to a student body that is more aware of social issues, and more ready to look out for their fellow students than ever before. This campus climate was essential in raising awareness and in getting our administration to act.

We are proud to leave the future of St. Olaf in the hands of an increasingly compassionate student body. Diversity, inclusivity and safety are ideals towards which our college must constantly strive. We encourage alumni, faculty and members of the St. Olaf community to listen to the voices of student activists in helping better the college.

As our team transitions from “student” to “alumni”, the posts on this blog will be much less frequent. However, we will offer our thoughts on the working groups suggestions after they are published on July 15th. Furthermore, we will be in contact with current members of the student body to ensure these suggestions are implemented and the administration is being held accountable in future years.

There will be opportunities over the summer for alumni to join the discussion about sexual assault policies and procedures at class reunions, and others will arise during the school year. If you wish to be involved, you can join the group, “Alumni for a Safer St. Olaf College” (link to the facebook page) or send us an email at studentsfortitleix@gmail.com.

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Meeting With President David Anderson

Today several members of our group finally met with President David Anderson. The meeting was facilitated by the working group head, Tim Maudlin, and focused largely on trying to find a “common ground” between ourselves and the president.

We can report that after the meeting we have an understanding of why the President has taken the actions that he has in the past month. While we still don’t necessarily agree with his actions, it is helpful to hear his perspective.

One thing that Anderson emphasized repeatedly in the meeting is that sexual assault is always a difficult issue to approach from an administrative angle. We acknowledge that the implementation of sexual assault policies is difficult from an administrative perspective.

However, we tried to emphasize in our meeting that sexual assault is always more painful for survivors than it ever will be for administrators and policy makers.   

We want to believe that President David Anderson has walked away from this meeting with a greater understanding of the urgency and empathy that is warranted for sexual violence. Additionally, we hope that the President recognizes the harm that St. Olaf’s current sexual assault policies have incurred on survivors as well as the poor administration of such policies.

We will continue to open ourselves to hearing different points of view in the coming weeks.

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Meeting With the Working Group

UPDATE: We are pleased to announce that the working group has decided to make their demands public at the same time they are handed to President David Anderson.

Last evening, we were invited to speak with the working group and present our list of demands.

We are pleased to announce that it was a productive meeting. The working group members were engaging, thoughtful and exhibited the empathy and urgency that we have been waiting to see from our school’s administration for weeks. We commend the working group for acknowledging the harm that has been incurred on sexual assault victims as a result of the policies and administrators currently in place, and affirming the many opportunities that the college has for improvement in the future.

Although we are optimistic that the working group will present informed and valuable suggestions to the administration in mid-July, it has come to our attention that the working group may not be publishing their suggestions prior to presenting them to President David Anderson.

Throughout the past month we have implored the administration to be more transparent and accountable with their actions. We think that it is absolutely necessary that the list of suggestions that the working group hands to the administration be made public. Publicizing those suggestions is the only way to have a truly transparent process. Transparency will guarantee a higher degree of accountability in carrying out the suggestions on the part of administrators.

The working group is currently in the listening and education phase of their training. Their task over the next couple days is to listen to the testimonies of sexual assault survivors and carefully consider the suggestions they receive from alumni, students, parents, and faculty. As such, we encourage everyone to ask for the recommendations to be made public.

Additionally, please do submit to the working group your own suggestions, concerns and experiences regarding our school’s sexual misconduct policy. We want to affirm that these people really do care about your input, and showing them as many perspectives as possible will result in a better set of recommendations this summer. If you are interested in contacting the working group, you can find that form here: http://wp.stolaf.edu/title-ix/submit-input-subscribe-to-updates/.

We look forward to continued communication with the working group.

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Photo Credit: Donny Sison