Author: Conlan Campbell

Umbrella causes campus lockdown

Without advance explanation or warning, students were asked to leave Rolvaag Memorial Library and other campus buildings on the night of Monday, Sept. 18. The buildings were then locked down and searched by Public Safety while Northfield Police patrolled the campus. An email from Public Safety Director Fred Behr later in the night explained that the search was the result of a report from a student of a potentially armed, unidentified individual on campus.

The initial report was filed to Public Safety at 8:45 p.m. after a student saw a group of three white males walking between Mellby Hall and Larson Hall, one of whom was carrying a long, thin object the caller believed could be a firearm, but was later confirmed to be an umbrella.

Public Safety contacted Northfield Police about the situation, and met with a number of officers at 9:05 p.m. The police officers were briefed on the initial report before being deployed on foot and in vehicles. Additional Public Safety staff was also dispatched. After searching footage from campus cameras, Public Safety officers identified and interviewed another witness, who offered additional information.

According to Behr, Public Safety made the decision to close campus buildings for the sake of locking and checking them without students present.

At 10 p.m. an announcement over the intercom in Rolvaag instructed students to leave the building. Public Safety officers went through Buntrock clearing out students.

“The usual statements would be something like ‘A situation has developed that requires us to lock this building early. Please leave through the nearest exit,’” Behr wrote.

Many students were confused about the situation. According to Public Safety dispatcher Sarah Kalsow ’19, who went into the dispatch office around 10 p.m. after being asked to leave Skifter Hall, the night was very busy.

“We had a lot of people calling wanting clarification,” Kalsow said. “We could only tell them so much. Usually when events like this happen, we have a prepared statement that Marketing and Communications prepares for us that we are allowed to tell us, but we are not allowed to answer further questions.” 

At 11:02 p.m. a text message and email were sent out to students via the OleAlert system, a program designed to inform students about relevant emergencies on campus. As of 2015, all students are uploaded to the system by default. 

With the subject line “Current Campus Lockdown,” the email and text read “Buildings were closed early tonight. There is no credible threat at this time. Please check your e-mail for additional details.”

At 10:52 p.m., prior to the OleAlert message, an email from Behr established that the object previously believed to be a gun was an umbrella, asked any students with information regarding the situation to contact Public Safety and notified the campus that they did not determine a current risk.

Behr isolated sending an OleAlert earlier, streamlining the notification process and specifying that it was not a lockdown but that buildings were being locked as the source of issues that would be considered in future situations.

“An Ole Alert would be issued to the campus when we felt there was a ‘credible threat’ or ‘hazardous situation’ on campus or near campus, Behr wrote. “Due to the very vague and conflicting information we were working with initially, we elected to hold off on sending the message prematurely.”

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Title IX

On March 30, 2016, Madeline Wilson ’16 and the Gray Shirt team donned their “Ask how my college is protecting my rapist” T-shirts and sparked a campus-wide debate on how the College handles sexual assault cases. Since then, the College’s Title IX policy has experienced a massive overhaul. Now, national changes may impact St. Olaf’s policy.

On Sept. 22, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) – the arm of the Department of Education that handles Title IX policy – sent out a letter rescinding Obama-era Title IX guidelines, including letters from 2011 and 2014. The now-retracted suggestions established standards that required schools to complete sexual misconduct investigations within 60 days and use a “preponderance of evidence” or “more likely than not” standard for rulings.

While some schools have resisted rolling back these guidelines, St. Olaf is already in compliance with the new standards.

“None of the new guidance or anything the OCR is pointing to is inconsistent with our current approach,” said Carl Lehmann ’91, Vice President and General Counsel for the College.

It’s true. In regards to the time limit, current St. Olaf policy states that the College strives to complete investigations within 60 days, but will extend that period if necessary. Violation of the former 60 day rule is one of the charges filed against the College in an ongoing investigation by the OCR.

“One of the allegations against the school is that we didn’t complete our investigation within 60 days. We took 72 days,” Lehmann said. “We never felt like that was something to be concerned about. We thought it was more important to get it right than to get it done within 60 days.”

Still, it is unlikely the school will change its policy of striving to complete investigations in under 60 days.

“At the moment we are anticipating we will keep our current policy,” Vice President for Mission and Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld said. “It has worked well for us. When you think about 60 days, it’s a half a semester, and that’s a very long time for students to be in that situation of being in an investigation.”

The rollbacks could also affect St. Olaf’s standard of evidence.

“Under the new guidance, schools can either adopt a preponderance of evidence or a clear and convincing evidence standard,” Lehmann said. “Right now we are in compliance with our preponderance of evidence standard.” 

The clear and convincing standard is not required by law and would require more evidence of guilt before making a final determination. Whether St. Olaf will keep its old standard or adopt a new one is not something that will be decided without student feedback.

“On Thursday, Oct. 19, during community time, we will have the beginning of that conversation with a general question and answer [session],” Beld said. “Go over what this guidance is, what we are going to do and then give people a chance to ask questions.”

While St. Olaf is in agreement with these guidelines, the College will always avoid conflicting with OCR guidance.

“We’re going to make sure we are in compliance, because being able to participate in federal financial programs is vital. If our students can’t participate in those programs, we’re out of business,” Lehmann said. 

Being found non-compliant with OCR standards triggers a sequence of events in which a school would be asked to change the policy. If an institution were to refuse to change its policies and ignore letters of Finding and Enforcement Action, then its students would be disqualified from federal aid programs. This includes grants, student work support, student loans and parent loans. At St. Olaf, these federal programs provide over $15.6 million.

Beld and Lehmann also clarified these recommendations are interim guidance and that they do not necessarily reflect a permanent policy change. 

“Since we don’t know what that final outcome is going to look like, we don’t think it will serve our community well if we make a change now, and then maybe the new final guidance will be different in some ways,” Beld said.

Instead of focusing on ongoing policy changes, the College looks to training and prevention as the next step. They have begun by expanding training for first-year students beyond the previous online training.

“This year in particular we’ve been investing a lot of time and energy thinking about prevention and education, and we’ve got now a subcommittee of the Title IX team that includes people who are not on the Title IX team to wrap our heads around a coherent and systematic approach that is infused throughout the student experience,” Beld said.

These changes are in part informed by the Title IX Advisory Group, formed as a response to the Title IX Working Group. It consists of representatives from Student Government Association, the Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN), Gay, Lesbian or Whatever (GLOW), the Student Life Committee, a college pastor, the Wellness Center director and a senior female administrator from athletics. Every year this group takes in feedback from the student body and offers recommendations. Following the massive overhaul in the summer of 2016, this summer’s changes were less substantive.

“It was more adjusting organization, making sure that, wherever possible, we were using plain language and not legal jargon, making sure that we eliminated any gender bias – we wanted to use gender neutral language,” Beld said.

Still, the College believes that students feel more comfortable using the school as a resource in situations of sexual assault than they had before, as evidenced by this year’s record of reports.

“They show increase in reports of sexual misconduct, which I would take as a good sign, because I don’t think that means there’s been an increase in the number of incidents on campus, I think there has been an increase in people on campus who feel comfortable reporting it to us,” Lehmann said.

An upcoming HEDS survey will explore student perception of how the College deals with sexual assault. This report will be released soon with feedback from the college.

“The main takeaway is that St. Olaf looks like the other institutions,” Beld said.

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the process by which the federal government could remove funding for not adhering to Title IX guidelines. It has been updated to reflect the complexity of the process.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

St. Olaf Considering Changes to Mental Health Services

Cost cutting efforts have been a priority for St. Olaf this year. One possibility for saving college money is to outsource Boe House Counseling Center, the college’s primary mental health service, to a third-party organization.

Students fear that Boe House could be closed entirely, but Kari VanDerVeen, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications for Media Relations, said there is no threat to Boe House.

“Boe House is not going to be shut down,” VanDerVeen wrote, specifying that for the time being Boe House’s operations will not change. “Students can and should continue to access services at Boe House as they usually do.”

However, the College is considering other options for on-campus mental health services.

“Allina Health is in talks with St. Olaf about some kinds of collaboration, but discussions are very preliminary and there are no details we can share at this time,” Spokesperson for Allina Health Timothy Burke wrote.

While a future partnership with Allina is possible, the College has not received enough details to determine what the new arrangement could look like.

“We have not had any proposals from any providers, so we don’t know what that health care might look like or whether it would be good for the College,” VanDerVeen wrote. At press time, the College is expected to receieve a proposal from Allina within two weeks.

Regardless, a number of students feel they may be left out of the decision altogether.

“My worry was that if we waited two weeks to see what the proposal was and then fight it and say that ‘no, this is not what students want,’ then by then it is going to be too late,” Greater Than Campaign Chair Sarah Freyermuth ’19 said. Greater Than is a student organization that advocates for mental health and connects students with mental health services on campus.

Although the details are unknown, out-sourcing services could change the future operations of Boe House.

“One of our biggest concerns is that it would be insurance-based,” Greater Than Campaign Community Director Julie Johnson ’19 said. Johnson elaborated that for students without comprehensive insurance, it could become more difficult for them to access services. A record of treatment would also be reflected in shared family insurance, creating a barrier for students who wish to keep their treatment private.

“You can see Boe House right now without your family knowing about it, which is crucial for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “College is one of the most volatile, difficult parts of your life, in which you probably need mental health care more than after.”

If the college were to outsource mental health services to an outside organization that required insurance, it could also mean students would have a copay for services.

“In order for your mental health services to be billable to insurance, you need to have a diagnosis. Right now people can go to Boe House and see them for anything,” Freyermuth said.

There is precedent for outsourcing college services, according to VanDerVeen, who cited the partnership with Bon Appetit for catering and dining services and the partnership with Northfield Hospital and Clinics for Student Health Services.

“It always makes sense to ask whether the things that need to get done at the college should be done by the college or by another entity that has expertise in that area,” VanDerVeen wrote. She is hopeful a deal could improve Boe House.

“There may be an opportunity here to provide better services than we do now for the same, or lower, cost,” VanDerVeen wrote. “If we were to get a compelling proposal, we would certainly want to share it with the users of our health services for comment.”

However, Greater Than advocates expressed doubt.

“This might not be a bad thing if they can handle everything that we are asking, but it’s scary because there is a huge chance that they can’t,” Johnson said.

Moving forward, Greater Than hopes that students will be involved in the decision.

“Maybe nothing will happen, but maybe Boe House will be completely changed, and the thrust of the problem is that students won’t really have a say in what happens,” Freyermuth said. 

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote