Home News Survivors of sexual assault face pending federal policy changes

Survivors of sexual assault face pending federal policy changes

By Kailey Favaro & Avery Ellfeldt

11
0

Student senators pressed representatives of the Institute for Freedom and Community (IFC) to explain the nature of the Institute’s programming at the Dec. 5 Student Government Association (SGA) Senate meeting. Senators and students in attendance said many speakers the Institute brings to campus – including planned speaker Laura Kipnis, who criticizes the notion of rape culture – hold political ideologies that threaten student identities.

The Institute faced faculty skepticism regarding a perceived lack of transparency in funding and overall purpose after its 2014 establishment. With a mission to give diverse ideas a platform for open discussion at the College, in 2017-2018 the Institute brought 12 speakers to campus who gave lectures and participated in panel discussions and debates.

Institute events frequently include two or more speakers with varied opinions regarding a contemporary issue. Senators expressed that promoting “ideological diversity” doesn’t justify giving a platform to speakers who critique or condemn topics like safe spaces and Title IX protections – both of which highly impact the St. Olaf community.

“I think with their mission they are able to excuse, quite frankly, problematic viewpoints,” Andrew Gonzalez ’20, Diversity Initiatives Support Committee coordinator, said. “They say they don’t validate anything in particular because they are bipartisan but I think by simply bringing in speakers they stand by what they say.”

Morrison Family Director of the Institute Edmund Santurri emphasized the necessity of open dialogue in an academic institution.

“I can understand and respect the view that, in some cases, a certain kind of a position seems offensive – or is offensive from a particular kind of perspective and identity,” Santurri said. “But there is the view out there, which I think we have to make space for, that freedom of discourse involves the willingness in certain moments to hear offensive things.”

The Institute is a channel for the presence of diverse ideas at St. Olaf, regardless of political affiliation, Santurri said. He also noted widespread concern regarding the Institute Advisory Board, a committee appointed by the Board of Regents which seeks to ensure the Institute fulfills its mission and agreements with donors.

“[It has been] suggested that somehow the Institute Advisory Board was committed to a certain kind of political point of view and somehow governed the Institute with respect to Institute programming,” Santurri said. “That is not true. The buck stops here with programming. If they have a problem with programming, come to me.”

Santurri and IFC Assistant Director Greg Siems encouraged students to understand the goals of the Institute as facilitating open and productive conversation.

“Our feeling is that the Institute has become wrapped up in this whole swirl of misinformation and mischaracterization of our intentions and what we are trying to do,” Siems said.

SGA President Sarah Freyermuth ’19 contested this idea.

“It seems that there’s been an assumption made that when people are upset with the Institute, they are misinformed, not that they have legitimate [concerns],” Freyermuth said. “I think that’s something being used to disregard students’ voices.”