It is not uncommon to hear St. Olaf referred to as a “bubble.” On an isolated campus on the top of a hill, insulated from harsh realities of the real world, students often dismiss mention of danger or crime of any kind.
“I feel like that sort of thing just doesn’t happen at a place like St. Olaf,” Maddy Gamble ’15 said. Many of her peers on the Hill echo similar sentiments, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. St. Olaf is not danger-free, and the Sexual Assault Resource Network SARN aims to dispel this myth and provide students with tools to be truly safe on this campus.
“It doesn’t seem like something we should have to [be] worried about on this campus, but we do need to be aware,” Hannah DeLaine Olson ’15 said. “People should understand that there are always risks, here and everywhere.”
According to the Clery Act, a federal law signed in 1990, all colleges and universities must report their campus security policies as well as a crime report on an annual basis. No exception to the rule, St. Olaf publishes a yearly crime report, which is subsequently emailed to students, staff and faculty by Vice President of Student Life Greg Kneser.
Though the crime report may go unread by most students, its contents are startling. In 2011 alone, five incidents of sexual assault in campus residences were reported, and, according to SARN, many more went unreported.
“Although our campus is generally very safe, we must also acknowledge that sexual assault and domestic violence are still very prevalent on our campus, even when we wish not to believe it,” said Georgia Greene ’13, co-president of SARN. Greene hopes to modify the way in which students address sexual assault through various events in the upcoming month.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and SARN is taking advantage of the opportunity to educate students about risks – and how to avoid them – right here on campus.
SARN began its Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities with the annual kickoff party on Thursday, Oct 4. Also in the works for October are a self-defense workshop and tabling and posters to raise awareness for the campaign. Greene notes that, in addition to informing students that sexual violence does indeed happen, SARN aims to be a safe place where people can get their questions answered and find help if they need it.
“Sometimes survivors want their stories heard by an impartial third party or are unaware of their options, one of which includes doing nothing if that is what the survivor decides,” Greene said. “SARN is especially helpful when students are unsure whether or not they wish to report.”
Greene explained that, unlike Residence Life staff or members of the Dean’s office, SARN advocates are not required to report incidents of sexual assault. In other words, students can converse with a SARN advocate as they decide how to proceed, without having to worry about situations being reported. SARN advocates also, of course, help to report incidents when needed.
According to its profile on St. Olaf’s website, SARN provides “victims’ rights and legal advocacy, crisis intervention, referrals, assistance with administrative hearing processes, education and information on sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and healthy relationships or just someone to talk to.” Advocates want to encourage students to come to SARN for help, even if it means just one conversation.
As midterms approach, fall descends and the life of an Ole is as hectic as ever, few students have the time and energy to devote to addressing issues of safety on campus. But, according to Greene, ignoring the facts is not the answer. SARN hopes to use Domestic Violence Awareness Month as a tool to remind students that assault does happen, but also that there are ways to stay safe and there are people to help.
“We hope that students will take time to think about these issues and their prevalence and talk with friends about them,” Greene said. “We also hope that people will become aware of the discourse that occurs on campus concerning domestic violence and sexual assault and be aware that this is a widespread and important issue.”
The SARN office is located in Buntrock Commons, and advocates are on call every night during the academic year from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m.