St. Olaf has had to address a variety of hate crimes throughout its history, all invoking a variety of responses from students and the administration. A leaflet containing offensive language targeted at women who support abortion rights was placed on cars in the Buntrock Commons parking lot On Oct. 28. Students were left wondering about where the line is drawn between free speech and hate speech.
The message attacks the Rochester Post Bulletin and an ambiguous “woman who went on national television who demanded the right to murder babies,” possibly referring to one of the numerous candidates who supported abortion rights this past midterm election.
The leaflet goes on to use a variety of vulgar and sexist language. It reads, “she dresses in skin-tight clothes and makes moves to tempt men to adultery,” and also quotes a variety of Bible verses in an attempt to support this claim. The leaflet didn’t seem to target any specific member of the St. Olaf community. It is not clear who placed the leaflet.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hate speech as “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people. Such speech often targets groups on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Whether the person didn’t intend for it to be hateful, the message was violent and that is unacceptable,” Andrea Ciccolini ’21 said. “When someone reads a message like this, it registers somewhere inside them and it hurts because no one wants to be called those types of things. Being called those things is damaging and can hurt anyone.”
According to the St. Olaf website, “the College prohibits all forms of discrimination and harassment based upon an individual’s legally protected status including race, color, creed, national origin, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, marital status, veteran status, or status with regard to public assistance.”
The college also offers a variety of reporting methods in the event of a hate crime which can be easily located on the website.
“If any member of the St. Olaf community experiences or witnesses incidents of bias, harassment, or hate crimes, we strongly encourage them to submit a Bias Incident Report,” Associate Director of Communications Kari VanderVeen wrote in an email.
Ciccolini believes that this is an act of mental violence and expressed frustration at the lack of response from the College administration.
“Nothing was sent or done about this, there needed to be something and there was absolutely nothing because often there is nothing coming from the administration,” Ciccolini said. “It’s one thing to have [everybody’s] voices heard and respect everyone’s opinions, but when its an act of mental violence, that can’t be tolerated.”
“We denounce the hate speech that was placed on cars on Buntrock along with any members of the Pro-Life movement who engage in such activity.” – Emily Albrecht ’21
A representative for Students Advocating Informed Decisions (SAID), the anti-abortion organization on campus, wrote in an email that their organization wasn’t involved in the placement of the leaflets nor does it endorse their content.
“SAID is committed to fostering respectful and productive dialogues about abortion with the greater St. Olaf community,” SAID member Emily Albrecht ’21 said.
SAID rejects hate speech of all kinds “regardless of whether that speech is directed towards members of the pro-choice or pro-life movements,” Albrecht said. “As such, we denounce the hate speech that was placed on cars in Buntrock along with any members of the Pro-Life movement who engage in such activity.”
Questions regarding what is acceptable language can be sent to a variety of administrative members whose contact information can be found on the St. Olaf website. Anyone targeted by a hate crime should be sure to report the incident to the school.