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.