It has been two weeks since Madeline Wilson and other students on this campus donned gray t-shirts and decided to publically critique St. Olaf’s Title IX policies. Thanks to their activism and reporting by the Northfield News, Star Tribune and MPR, St. Olaf is now permanently a part of conversations about rape on college campuses in the United States. Pacific Lutheran University has started a campaign devoted to changing sexual assault policies that mirrors the concerns of our own campaign, and Harvard grads are ordering Madeline’s t-shirts. What isn’t captured by the national attention or the emails we’ve received from President Anderson is the silence from students not immediately involved with Madeline’s protest. Madeline and other survivors have brought the issue of sexual assault at St. Olaf to light, and while several administrators and students have started work to change our school’s policies, our first instinct was to wait.
Waiting is a problem, and most people at St. Olaf do it without recognizing or admitting to themselves that they are waiting. We wait because the issue of sexual assault is uncomfortable to talk about and because knowing the policy in question would require time we pretend we don’t have. Madeline Wilson was forced to wait 25 days past the St. Olaf policy deadline for the verdict on her case. She waited for the administration to respond to her complaints with her case’s procedure, and now she waits with other survivors as the school tries to figure out what to do next.
The tendency to wait is not restricted to the issue of sexual assault on campus either. Our campus waited when administrators took down Black Lives Matter signs hung on the Buntrock Christmas tree. We waited when “Death to Gaza” was graffitied on a poster in Boe and a Palestinian flag was stolen from a display. We waited when concertgoers shouted at Vic Mensa to stand up after he sang the song “16 Shots” and we’ve waited as Madeline and others try to change the school’s sexual assault policy.
Waiting is part of being an Ole.
At St. Olaf, there exists a silent group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and administrators who watch and listen as smaller groups of students close to an injustice stand up for what they believe in. Oles are good at waiting, good at following standards set by state and federal laws, good at finding complexity in an issue to justify a neutral position. I know we have a problem with waiting on this campus because I am one of the many students guilty of passivity and complacency. I am someone who waits.
Our school has always known that certain problems exist. Every time a sexual misconduct case is reported to Public Safety we all get an email from Fred C. Behr. It has taken over 20 of these emails over four years and several brave survivors making their stories public to stir our campus, and we’re still waiting. I am glad a working group designed to investigate the concerns brought forth by students has been called. I just wonder whether the working group would have been called if Madeline and other survivors hadn’t made their stories public, and whether they will conclude that we do have a problem that demands policy change in the fall.
We can’t wait. People are hurt.
I have never met President David Anderson in person and, before last week, I didn’t know the faces of Jo Beld and Fred Behr. Our conversations have only ever taken place over email, and as much as I have been frustrated by their response to Madeline’s story and student concerns, I’m as much to blame because I waited for Madeline to make her story public. I waited for other students to speak out and say what I have known in my heart. I waited for a shirt that called me to ask.
As students, we don’t have daily contact with our administrators. Instead, we have each other. We live together. We learn and grow together. We make music together. We compete in sports together. But we don’t hurt together. I am not proud of my waiting, and I am not proud of my school. I am working to change that. Our time to affect St. Olaf does not end when we graduate, and I am excited to work as an active alumni for change on this campus. There is always time to start, a time to work towards understanding our campus’ problems. This start doesn’t require an encounter with harassment, racial prejudice or the use of the wrong gender pronoun, and it doesn’t begin with a conversation with a survivor, an international student or a transgender peer. We are not a diverse student body, but even if we were, it is not the responsibility of minorities to educate those of us who are choosing to wait. It starts with recognition that injustices exist on this campus and deciding to act on what is right.
One thing I am proud of is that on May 29 I will get to walk with Madeline and those involved in the protest of St. Olaf’s sexual assault policies at graduation – students who haven’t waited, students who I know have made St. Olaf a safer place.
Andrew Hoffman ’16 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Walla Walla, Wash. He majors in mathematics and physics.