Retired prof rips St. Olaf on sexual assault response

Victims of sexual abuse and assault at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., had hoped a meeting to address complaints that the school was ignoring them would begin to change things on campus. But after a closed meeting they say they’re “disheartened” by the response.

About a dozen students, wearing T-shirts that read “Ask me how my college is protecting rapists” have been pressing St. Olaf about the school’s response to attacks. But Northfield News reports a meeting set up to address their concerns did not go well and none of them was added to a “working group” on the issue which was to include St. Olaf faculty, students and administrators.

The protesters commended the president for his “appropriate and professional response.” They were feeling good about the college’s response until, they said, some of those actions in the email actually started to transpire.

“They set up the meeting, so that it was them sitting in silence and us talking,” [student Adrian] Benjamin said. “We had to make the conversation.”

The event held for students on Title IX policy, meanwhile, was well attended, but according to [student leader Madeline] Wilson, hardly worthwhile. She said student questions were avoided if too difficult and it was cut off with many hands still in the air. Northfield News is unable to confirm Wilson’s description of the event, as St. Olaf asked the news organization’s reporter to leave.

St. Olaf isn’t talking to the newspaper about the issue.

On the website “My College is Protecting Rapists” yesterday, the group said professor emerita Olivia Frey informed the group their complaints are not new.

Dear Madeline Wilson and others:

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.

The protesters say the response to similar complaints at cross-town Carleton College, where changes have been made in how sexual assault allegations are investigated, are the sort of response they’re not getting from St. Olaf, according to Northfield News.