Students in the MIAC are standing together to raise awareness on sexual assault on campus.
By Kellie Lawless, Bri Shaw & Miranda Weippert | Feature Reporters
You are walking to your car with a friend after dinner one night when you see a couple on the side of the street. A girl is sitting on the curb and a man is shouting at her. Your shoulders tense, sensing that there is something wrong.
What do you do?
This is a real-life situation that Sexual Misconduct Prevention Program Director at St. Thomas University Emily Erickson was faced with. Her first instinct was to walk away from the situation. Last minute, she realized that she needed to step in.
“We walked back to the spot and instead of walking away, we made eye contact with the guy who was yelling at her and that was enough,” Erickson said. “It showed him that other people are paying attention to what is going on.”
In the intensity of the moment, Erickson knew how to respond. This is because of the Green Dot strategy. The Green Dot strategy is a comprehensive path for students and their peers to become educated in sexual misconduct and what to do in high risk situations. It is a different approach that focuses on the value of the bystander and seeks to equip them with the right prevention methods through real-time practice rather than educational videos.
“At its core, it is an initiative that hopes to set the culture on campus that we look out for each other,” Erickson said.
Eight different MIAC colleges practice the Green Dot strategy, it was introduced to St. Thomas three-and-a-half years ago. Bethel University is one of five MIAC schools that doesn’t participate in the Green Dot Strategy.
In 2012, Bethel’s Annual Security Report reported zero sex offenses in the Bethel community. Two years later, the 2014 report showed five sex offenses within a year; three of them on campus and two on non-campus property. In 2015, the report showed zero again.
“There is more we can do to increase awareness on campus.” – Andrew Luchsinger, Chief of Safety and Security
In spring of 2016, Bethel’s Campus Life Survey found that between 2015-2016, 10 out of 793 students (1.26%) indicated that someone affiliated with Bethel sexually assaulted them, or someone attempted to sexually assault them. Out of these 10 students, none indicated that they used formal procedures to report the assault.
“There is more we can do to increase awareness on campus,” Bethel’s Chief of Safety and Security, Andrew Luchsinger said. “I still think that we are underreported.”
For assaults that happen off campus or non-campus property, the Bethel safety and security officers have no jurisdiction, they can only be a voice of education and awareness, to advocate and help during the reporting process.
“Student Life’s main concern is to care for the students, keep them safe and give them the correct resources. We are listeners for students.” –Marie Wisner, Head of Student Life
They can help the students get connected with the correct resource to report the crime, if the victim so chooses.
“We don’t want to force a student to report something, but we do encourage it,” Bethel’s Head of Student Life Marie Wisner said. “Student Life’s main concern is to care for the students, keep them safe and give them the correct resources. We are listeners for students.”
“I want people to feel safe coming forward, not (afraid of punitive action) if covenant violations are being reported.” – Cara Wald,Chief of Human Resources Officer and Title IX Coordinator/Compliance Officer
Bethel has eight grievance officers. The grievance officers are fact finders, while two officers are assigned to cases as well, one to the complainant and one to the respondent.
“I want people to feel safe coming forward, not (afraid of punitive action) if covenant violations are being reported,” Chief of Human Resources Officer and Title IX Coordinator/Compliance Officer Cara Wald says.
Complainants, respondents and witnesses in sexual assault cases will not be disciplined in any manner, during or after the investigation, for reporting facts about the events that include violations of the Bethel Covenant. Bethel’s sole focus is learning about what happened during the incident so that a finding and resolution can be reached.
Luchsinger believes that Bethel could do more about sexual misconduct awareness, which lead him to partner up with Ramsey County Police Department and Bethel’s executive leadership team. Wald thinks that the new online tool Bethel uses for anonymous reporting has also improved reflection of what’s really happening on campus.
“One of the things I think I hear from students a lot is that they feel like we live in a bubble and ‘this won’t happen to me.'” – Emily Erikson, St.Thomas student
Back at St. Thomas, Erickson knows that there is more work to be done on their campus as well.
“One of the things I think I hear from students a lot is that they feel like we live in a bubble and ‘this won’t happen to me,’” Erikson said. “‘I get that it happens on other campuses but it really doesn’t happen here, right?’ And it does.”
Recently, a group of six individuals at the University of St. Thomas created a petition to require UST to send an alert to those in the community when and where an assault happens. They created this petition in response to an email about UST’s sexual assault prevention that failed to include any information about a recent rape in one of their own campus residence halls on Sept. 11.
“To create a more transparent relationship between Public Safety, administration, and the student body, we expect these UST Alerts to continue for other reports of rape and sexual assault on campus within five days of the corresponding reports,” the petition states.
The collective group of victim-survivor allies obtained over 1,200 signatures ranging from the St. Thomas community to people from across the country. As of Nov. 30, their petition was approved for a pilot run.
The students are thrilled to see the petition pass, but realize the fight isn’t over.
“While this is extremely exciting, it is important to note that as students we should not have to be doing this kind of work,” said Emma Lynn, one of the women calling for change. “The university needs to be more proactive in creating policy and more proactive in listening to students the first time when we make policy suggestions.”
Lynn is not alone in thinking university’s need to do more when it comes to sexual assault. In May of 2014, former St. Olaf student Madline Wilson was raped by a fellow student according to Star Tribune. She waited until September later that year to report. St. Olaf did not find her alleged perpetrator guilty. Wilson applied for an appeal and asked them to reopen the case. When the Title IX coordinator denied her request for an appeal, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Wilson came up with the idea to wear a t-shirt that said ‘Ask me how my college is protecting my rapist.’ She found ten other students who were either sexual assault victims or allies and started calling themselves the “grey shirt team.” The team wore these shirts around campus, raising eyebrows and awareness about the reality of sexual assault on campus. The grey shirt team has gained national attention from major media outlets such as Teen Vogue and Newsweek.
St. Olaf College isn’t the only school receiving backlash on their execution of the Title IX policy. Sexual assault on campus has become a hot button issue and many other colleges and universities have been crying out for change.
Inspired by the grey shirt team, a group of students at Gustavus Adolphus started the No More Fear at GAC movement on campus. These students carry around mattresses with the words “Carry the weight” ducted taped on the top all over campus to raise awareness on sexual assault and gender based violence.
Bethel’s administration is open to ideas and suggestions on how to improve the system so students aren’t fighting alone.
“I think anything that we can do that can better help situations like these are valuable for our campus,” Wald said. “You can never do too much in this area and the more we can help coach and watch out for each other, the better the community.”