Much has happened since Madeline Wilson ’16 and fellow activists first donned their gray shirts and launched their web site My College Is Protecting Rapists. Wilson filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Education Department, and Minnesota state representatives David Bly and Erin Murphy have gotten involved.
On Tuesday, April 19, 12 days after receving the complaint, the OCR accepted Wilson’s case and filed with the nonprofit law firm Gender Justice. Wilson published the official complaint online. It claims that St. Olaf allowed private investigators hired by the alleged perpetrator to harass Wilson, among other violations.
Wilson’s Notice of Determination “indicated that [the alleged perpetrator’s] version of events was more credible in part be cause he ‘appeared to have a clear memory of the events on May 10.’ Because [Wilson] was highly intoxicated at the time, she did not have a clear memory of these events. Using the standard in this way makes it impossible to fairly adjudicate claims regarding sexual assault with an intoxicated victim.”
Now that the case has been accepted, it could take up to two years before the OCR determines whether or not St. Olaf violated its sexual misconduct policies and Title IX.
President David Anderson ’74 formed a ten person Title IX working group to reconsider the college’s sexual misconduct policies. According to the group’s web page, members will “critically review our policies, seek input from the community and make recommendations for policy changes to be implemented by the start of the 2016– 17 school year.”
The working group will meet weekly between April 21 and June 30 with the goal of presenting a report to Anderson on July 16. Board of Regents member and College Audit Committee Chair Timothy Maudlin ’73 is chair of the working group.
Other members of the group are Sexual Assault Resource Network co-Chair Kaelie Lund ’16, Student Government Association president elect and former It’s On Us co-Chair Emma Lind ’17, athletic director Ryan Bowles, college pastor Matthew Ma- rohl, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Susan Smalling ’97, executive director of HOPE Center Erica Staab-Absher, assistant Ramsey County attorney Jill Fedje ’85, higher education attorney
Carl Crosby Lehmann ’91 and Macalester College Title IX coordinator Karla Benson Rutten.
In its initial April 21 meeting, the group retained Philadelphia attorneys Gina Mais to Smith and Leslie M. Gomez to provide legal guidance. It also restated its commitment to listening to outside suggestions.
Protesters have praised the formation of the working group and also expressed some concerns. One issue they raised is lack of representation for racial minorities, the
LGBTQ+ community and those who have gone through St. Olaf’s Title IX process. There is also concern about the gray shirt team being excluded from the proceedings.
“I’m worried that none of the gray shirt people were approached to be in the working group, because if it wasn’t for the gray shirt students this wouldn’t have even happened – so why are we not even asked to consult or asked our opinions of who should be on it?” Adrian Benjamin ’16 said.
Vice President for Admission and College Relations Michael Kyle ’85 believes that these concerns were already addressed.
“Like a lot of things at St. Olaf, we wanted a working group that was representative and that brought different backgrounds and experiences. We selected a committee based on a wide range of factors, and I am fully confident that all of the things that have been criticized are actually fully, intentionally and truthfully represented in the composition of the working group,” he said.
Wilson also fears that the working group will not lead to any change in St. Olaf policy. “They don’t present policy change, just recommendations which administration can choose to accept or reject. Will administration actually do anything with the suggestions?” she said.
Kyle disagreed with this characterization.
“Unequivocally every concern, every recommendation, every suggestion will be fully considered by the working group,” he said. “In fact, I find it a little disheartening that members of our community are already discounting the authenticity and sincerity with which this group is approaching its work.”
On Friday, April 15, Minnesota state representatives David Bly and Erin Murphy sent a letter to President Anderson requesting a meeting regarding the issue. Benjamin’s internship at the Department of Natural Resources and resulting connections to the politicians enabled him to ask Bly and Murphy to contact the president. Bly and Anderson met on April 21 without any students in attendance.
Bly left the meeting with a favorable impression of the working group.
“President Anderson talked about the fact that he has offered to meet with one or two students a few times and his desire that they get involved with the task force and give them information. I am favorably impressed with President Anderson’s effort and willingness to consider where improvement is needed and hope that students will share their opinions,” Bly said. He is scheduled to meet with student protest leaders again soon to discuss their next steps.
In the meantime, accusations of a lack of communication between administration and the protesters continue. Wilson insisted that nobody in the group has received any information from administration besides a single email since their initial meeting.
“We have come to the conclusion that they are unwilling to have a spot for us at the table and are using the working group as justification for that, because we’ve met with [administration] only once, and that was after lots of begging and pleading and articles in the media,” he said.
Kyle stressed that claims that the group is being silenced are unfounded. “We’ve given that group every opportunity that we’ve given any student on campus. We did not wake up and say, ‘How can we avoid talking to the students most vocal about this issue?’ But we do know that to have a group for better policy we must have a wide variety of backgrounds.”
Moving forward, Wilson will continue with the OCR complaint and work with incoming students to continue the movement she started. The working group will host a student forum on Tuesday, May 4 at 7 p.m. The Wednesday, May 5 meeting will be dedicated to listening to those who have been through St. Olaf ’s Title IX process.
Anybody interested in submitting ideas or concerns to the working group can do so on http://wp.stolaf.edu/title- ix/submit-input-subscribe-to-updates/ until May 31.