“Ask me how my school is protecting rapists.” A group of students has been wearing gray shirts printed with this slogan since Wednesday, March 30. They hope to draw attention to St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies and how their implementation has failed survivors, including Madeline Wilson ’16.
After reporting her rape at the beginning of this year, Wilson spent months dealing with case proceedings. She believes the ambiguities of St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies allowed for flawed logic in her trial.
“They said that because I was under the influence, my testimony didn’t count. But they won’t acknowledge that because I was under the influence I could not give consent,” Wilson said.
In addition, the perpetrator hired a private investigator to compile evidence for his case, which is a violation of St. Olaf ’s stalking policy. The private investigator contacted Wilson’s friends and employers, revealing details about Wilson’s case in hopes of acquiring character testimonies.
In the end, Wilson’s perpetrator was found to be not guilty, and now Wilson is speaking up for surviors of sexual assault on campus through a campaign that encourages students, faculty and administrators to better understand Title IX. On March 30, Wilson and a group of friends began sharing her website, https://mycollegeisprotectingrapists.wordpress.com, on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. The website outlines several ways the current sexual assault reporting system was insufficient during Wilson’s trial, and provides a list of demands she believes will improve St. Olaf ’s policies.
Within a few hours, the message spread across campus. Faculty, students and alumni read Wilson’s story online, and many were outraged with how administrators handled her case. According to Wilson’s website, the students in gray shirts hope to “change the culture of silence that surrounds issues of sexual assault on campus,” “protest the manner in which St. Olaf pro- cesses sexual assault accusations” and help survivors of sexual assault find ways to “take control of their narratives.” At press time, over 140 alumni have pledged to freeze all donations until the administration takes action.
On Thursday, March 31, Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld and President David Anderson ’74 sent out a joint statement. “While our policies and procedures already exceed federal and state mandates, we regularly make improvements, often in consultation with students, and we will continue to do so,” they wrote. “We also know that this is an area that is about people’s lives and the life of our community, and we remain committed to doing the best possible job we can do for the well-being of
The concerned students appreciated the gesture but continued to wear the gray shirts. On Friday, April 1, WCCO sent a reporter to campus to interview Wilson. That evening, CBS Minnesota aired sections of the interview on Channel 4 during the 10 p.m. news. St. Olaf ’s Title IX team invited the group of students to a meeting the following Monday. Since the segment aired, several other news outlets reached out to Wilson, including the Star Tribune, pictured above interviewing the student activists.
On Saturday, April 2, Anderson sent a second email to the St. Olaf community.
“While we have great confidence not only in the policies but also in the integrity and expertise of the individuals charged with carrying them out, no process is perfect,” he wrote. “We welcome the St. Olaf community’s attention to this very impor- tant issue, and we welcome dialogue aimed at improving the process. We want to make sure that our process is fully under- stood and that it is open to continuous improvement.”
Anderson also announced that he had invited the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Education Department to review St. Olaf ’s sexual assault policies.
“We are inviting OCR’s review to ensure that our practices comply fully with federal standards and to demonstrate our commitment to transparency in our handling of these difficult cases,” he wrote.
The concerned students believe an affirmative verbal consent policy could help clarify cases such as Wilson’s. In an interview, Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld explained that while current St.
Olaf policy does not require a verbal “yes,” it does require consent.
“We’ve had an affirmative consent policy in place all along,” Beld said. “It hasn’t been as clear as it could have been. We haven’t changed the substance of our policy. What we’ve done is make it clearer and more explicit.”
The students in gray shirts would also like to revise St. Olaf ’s single adjudication system, and have looked to Carleton Col- lege’s panel system for inspiration. Beld warned that a panel might not solve as many problems as St. Olaf students may hope.
“Colleges that do have adjudication panels often have as many requests for changes in their processes as we do from our students,” Beld said.
On Monday, April 4, Wilson and the group of concerned students met with St. Olaf administrators to discuss their demands. While no concrete changes have been made to St. Olaf ’s policy, the administrators are taking the students’ concerns seriously.
“Moving forward we want to provide accurate information to people about what our policy does and doesn’t say, and we want to help them understand why it is written the way it is,” Beld said. “We want people to understand the seriousness with which we take any report of sexual misconduct and the deep concern we have for all of our students.”
Wilson and the other students in the gray shirts are looking forward to continued talks with administrators. They believe that the discussion has been productive, but it is far from over.
“Nowhere in either of those emails did they say ‘sexual assault is not tolerated on this campus.’ They still have not been clear or explicit about that,” Stephanie Hagen ’16 said, who was one of the students in the gray shirts.
On Wednesday, April 6, the Wellness Center, the Title IX Team and Sexual Assault Resource Network collaborated to host an event regrading sexual assault on St. Olaf’s campus. Although this event was scheduled before Wilson’s website went live, many students saw it as an opportunity to find clarity amidst the events of the past week.