An advisory group is urging St. Olaf College to hire a full-time case manager just to handle complaints of sexual misconduct on the campus of 3,000 students.
That is one of the key recommendations in a lengthy report released Thursday in response to campus protests this spring.
St. Olaf commissioned the report in April after a group of students accused the liberal arts college in Northfield of mishandling allegations of campus rape, which has become a growing nationwide issue.
Thursday’s report, by a group of students, faculty, staff and outside experts, concluded that the college needs someone to devote full time to managing complaints filed by or against students.
Over the past school year, St. Olaf received 14 reports of sexual misconduct, which can range from unwanted fondling to stalking to rape, according to Carl Lehmann, the college’s attorney and a member of the advisory group.
St. Olaf President David Anderson, who received the report Thursday, did not have an immediate comment. But he has planned a 10-day comment period before deciding whether to adopt the suggestions this fall, officials said.
The advisory group, which spent weeks listening to students, alumni and others about the problem of campus sexual assault, said it “heard a clear call to action” to improve the way the college handles those complaints. Many “expressed distrust and a lack of familiarity with the process,” the report said.
Tim Maudlin, the group’s chairman, praised those who “had the courage to come forward” to share their personal experiences and said that the recommendations are designed to make a “more compassionate and streamlined process.”
He said that a full-time case manager would encourage students to come forward, guide them through the process and ensure that they’re kept informed. “I can’t speak to whether it’s unusual or not, but it’s the right thing for us to do,” he said.
The report also said that, in light of mounting concerns, St. Olaf should make its policy for investigating those complaints less confusing and more consistent, and rely on outside professionals, rather than college administrators, to determine if the evidence warrants disciplinary action. Under federal rules, colleges must investigate allegations of sexual assault or risk losing federal funds.
‘Opportunity to improve’
But the advisory group declined to embrace some of the changes demanded by student protesters, including a proposal to require “verbal affirmative consent” to prove that a sexual encounter was not sexual assault. The report concluded that verbal consent is preferable, but that such a definition “would be problematic and lead to a host of unintended and negative consequences.”
In April, senior Madeline Wilson launched the campus debate over sexual assault with a website and a T-shirt that read: “Ask me how my college is protecting my rapist.” Wilson said she was raped by a fellow student last year; she and her supporters criticized the college for clearing her alleged assailant during a campus investigation.
Wilson said Thursday that she hadn’t had time to study the report. But Steph Hagan, a member of Wilson’s group, said she was “very pleased” with the idea of hiring a case manager to improve communication with students. “I think we’re all kind of holding off on celebrating to see what policies are actually changed,” said Hagan, who graduated in May. The suggestions “look really good,” she added. “But it is on the administration to accept them.”
Maudlin said he appreciated hearing from Wilson and her group, who became known as the “Gray Shirts,” about their concerns. At the same time, he said his group tried to balance fairness for all sides, including those accused of misconduct.
“The working group’s view is that we have a strong foundation on which to work, but part of our ethos at St. Olaf is there’s always opportunity to improve,” Maudlin said. In his introduction to the report, Maudlin wrote: “Some may feel that we have gone too far; some, not far enough. In reality, there are many ‘right’ ways to respond. Our goal was to find the right way for St. Olaf.”
Among the other recommendations: create an online reporting process for anonymous complaints; improve training and education about sexual assault for incoming freshmen; and establish “guiding principles” for disciplinary action “that will be assessed consistently in each case.”
Asked if he thought the proposed changes would make the campus safer, Maudlin said: “I hope and pray that it would.”
The full report can be found at: stolaf.edu.