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St. Olaf addresses student organized Title IX protest

<ir="ltr">Like Carleton, on the other side of the Cannon, St. Olaf is experiencing student calls for change to its sexual misconduct policies. Two months ago, St. Olaf student Madeline Wilson ’16 started a nationally recognized protest against St. Olaf’s handling of her sexual assault case. She, and a group of allies, are calling for a reform to St. Olaf’s sexual misconduct policy just as the Carleton lawsuit calls for revisions to the college’s Title IX policy.

She says another student raped her last May. In September, she reported the sexual assault to the St. Olaf administration, who closed the case after determining that there was not sufficient evidence of sexual misconduct. In December, after deciding that St. Olaf was not handling her case properly, Wilson filed a report with the Northfield Police. This investigation remains opened.

Wilson also filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Education Department. Within the next two years, OCR members will come to St. Olaf to review the college. To protest the administration’s handling of her case, on March 30, Wilson and other St. Olaf students began wearing shirts that read: “Ask me how my school is protecting rapists.”

“The administration mishandled my case so badly that I thought it was important for other students to know,” Wilson said. “I wanted people to know what happens when you find yourself in this position.”

The group also created a website to publicize Wilson’s story and to pressure the St. Olaf administration to change its policies surrounding sexual misconduct. In response to Wilson speaking up, “There have been so many people who have come to the administration with their stories,” she said. “There has been a higher reporting rate. In the first month of wearing the shirts, there were five reports of sexual misconduct.”

“People have told us that ‘I reported because of you,’” she said.

According to the group’s website, Wilson hopes to break the silence that often surrounds sexual assault; to take control of her story; and to protest the way in which St. Olaf handled her complaint, did not protect her from her assaulter and violated Title IX and several internal policies. Based on these goals, the website includes a list of demands that call for a reform of St. Olaf’s sexual misconduct policy, a Title IX coordinator without a conflict of interest, publicly available crime statistics, better screening and training of Title IX team members and increased victim support.

The website also calls on alumni to withhold donations and to sign a petition demanding policy changes. Within the second week of the protest, over 200 alumni had withheld donations, according to Wilson.

“Some alumni have even sent St. Olaf’s donation cards back to the school after writing on them: ‘We’ll donate when you fix your policies,’” she said.

Due to the pressure from Wilson’s protest, on April 15, President David Anderson ’74 formed a 10-member Title IX working group to gather feedback from the St. Olaf community, to reevaluate the college’s sexual misconduct policies and to ensure that St. Olaf is following state and federal regulations. St. Olaf plans to make any necessary changes to its policies before the start of the next academic year. Members of the Title IX team and the working group at St. Olaf declined to comment for this article as they said that all information about the Title IX policy and the working group progress is available on the St. Olaf Title IX website.

Wilson’s group protested the lack of diversity in Anderson’s appointments. They took issue with the lack of racial minorities, LGBTQ+ community members and students who have undergone a Title IX process on the committee. The protesters are also concerned about the lack of transparency in the working group process. The working group was initially slated not to publish the list of suggestions it made to the President. Instead, only the official changes made to St. Olaf’s policy would become public once they were enacted. Due to Wilson’s vocal concerns about this lack of transparency, Monday, May 9, the working group sent out an email notifying that it will release its full recommendations on its website when they are given to the President in mid-July.

“Transparency has been a huge issue in all of this,” Wilson said. “If the President alters the recommendations or ignores some, we want him to be accountable.”

Wilson clarified that she is happy with how the working group has handled the situation and how receptive its members have been to student feedback. She and the other protesters were able to talk to the working group in a meeting Thursday, May 5. On the contrary, despite several attempts to speak with the administration, Wilson said the President did not respond to the group’s request until finally offering to meet on Tuesday, May 10.

“I have faith in the members of the working group. I think they will bring good recommendations, but I don’t have faith that the administration will enact these recommendations,” she said. “The administration has not admitted it’s wrong, and the first step in change is admitting you’re wrong. I hope the President will make changes, but I do not have confidence that he will.”

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