(UPDATE 12 p.m. Monday: This story has been updated with additional information following a sit-in held Monday.)
St. Olaf College students continued a sit-in Monday at Tomson Hall and offered a list of demands to St. Olaf College administration following a wave of reported racial slurs around campus.
The sit-in began at Tomson Hall at 7:50 a.m. and continued throughout the day. The presence first started on Saturday, when students started occupying Buntrock Commons after a student of color reportedly received a threatening note that contained a racial epithet.
St. Olaf College President David Anderson briefly answered questions from students, though he declined to immediately agree to conditions outlined by the drafting committee of a group called, “The Collective for Change on the Hill.”
“I want to find a positive way to move forward,” Anderson said. “I’ve offered to sit with the drafters before we go to demands. I don’t want to do it in a room of 500 people. I think the best path forward is to identify a group that can sit with me.”
The Collective for Change on the Hill released the document outlining its mission and terms of engagement.
According to the document, “Our conditions are the following:
1. The Administration, by which we specifically refer to the President’s Leadership Team, will publicly acknowledge the receipt of this list of demands and acceptance of the terms of engagement.
- The public acknowledgement has to be in the form of an email to all the constituents of St. Olaf, St. Olaf parents, and Alumni.
- This public disclosure has to occur within three hours of the President signing this agreement.
2. The Administration will pass on the list of demands to the Board of Regents and make public their correspondence with the Board of Regents. The Administration will provide the space and time for the drafting committee to meet with the Board of Regents in person.
- The plans for such a meeting will have to be made public within 48 hours of the President signing this agreement.
- The meeting itself must take place within a week of the President signing this agreement.
- This meeting will be open to the public, and streamed online by the Broadcasting Media Services.
- The Administration will not mediate or intervene in this meeting. The Board of Regents will be directly answerable to the drafting committee.
3. The Administration will release a public document addressing all the demands expressed in the following sections and disclose in this document, their understanding of the demands, and their plan of action, or lack thereof, regarding each demand. This undertaking has to be concluded before the end of this academic year, i.e. May 20, 2017.
- The public disclosure will be a document signed by the Board of Regents and all the members of the President’s Leadership Team.
- The document must address each demand separately. For each demand, the document should contain a statement of understanding, outlining how the administration perceives the nature of the demand, and correspondingly a statement of undertaking, outlining how the administration wishes to act or respond to the demand.
4. Once the document with the official response of the Administration is released, the Administration will set up a Team of Investigators, no later than May 24, 2017, with the approval of the Drafting Committee to research the topics raised in this list of demands and the Administration's response to it.
- The Team of Investigators will consist of members nominated by the administration and the Drafting Committee.
- The Team of Investigators will include members of the St. Olaf community and members external to the community will need the explicit approval of the Drafting Committee. The names of the members of this Team will be made public.
- No administrative members or students from SGA branches will be permitted to be in this Team. This will ensure autonomy.
- The Team will publicly report their findings. This document will be published between September 20, 2017 and October 14, 2017.
5. The Administration will consider the report published by the Team of Investigators seriously and will publicly disclose their plan of action. This disclosure has to occur within 30 days of the report of the Team of Investigators becoming public.”
The Collective for Change on the Hill also wanted:
- Anderson to agree to those conditions before beginning discussions on administrative changes; faculty recruitment, training and evaluation; publishing a report at the end of each academic year highlighting how the administration has been meeting the strategic plan.
- A mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum for all students, staff and administration. The program will be vetted, maintained and overseen by a board of students, staff and faculty, 50 percent of which identify as people of color.
- A reconstruction of the general education requirements to include a minimum of two mandatory general education courses in race and ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies.
- A strict zero tolerance policy on racial, sexual and homophobic epithets.
- A more accessible discrimination and bias report form, along with semester updates from the President’s office and other campus entities highlighting specific actions that have taken place.
- The hiring of people of color as a counselor and nutritionists for the Boe House Counseling Center and a health professional for the Health Center for the well-being and mental health of marginalized students. The group wants a plan in place by the fall of 2017 for the hiring of additional staff.
According to a 2016 profile of St. Olaf College, 63 students identified as Black or African-American, non-Hispanic.
The college has listed in its strategic plan to increase the racial, ethnic and geographic diversity of St. Olaf students, faculty and staff.
The plan includes the goal of increasing at least 1 percent of the domestic minority students enrolling each year, increase the sustained engagement among students who are demographically different from one another so that by the spring of 2018, St. Olaf’s “Discussion with Diverse Others” engagement indicator in the National Survey of Student Engagement exceeds the mean indicator of other baccalaureate colleges.
The school would also aim to increase faculty diversity through recruitment so that 30 percent of new tenure-track faculty hires (on a rolling three-year average) will be diverse, and continue to increase staff diversity through recruitment so that by 2020 the diversity demographics of staff reflect the diversity demographics of the college’s hiring markets, according to the plan.
Story as originally published at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 29
St. Olaf College students started occupying Buntrock Commons Saturday night after a student of color reportedly received a threatening note that contained a racial epithet.
The student, Samantha Wells, said she found the note on the windshield of her vehicle outside Skoglund Center around 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The letter included her name and allegedly read, “I am so glad that you are leaving soon. One less [racial slur] this school has to deal with. You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up.”
It wasn’t the first instance where a student of color was targeted, according to students on campus. On April 23, another student reportedly found a note on his car as well. Then on April 24, student Sahreenah Glispie said she found a note in her book bag that said, “Go back to Africa.”
Students say the racial slurs have appeared in public spaces throughout campus this year and they’ve not been satisfied with the response from the college’s administration.
“It’s been something that’s been going on all year,” Wells said. “We’ve done so much digging and this stuff has happened for decades. There’s one thing that happens and it stops and then it happens again and then it kind of stops. I think the big message is we shouldn’t let this happen again. The administration needs to do something that stops it indefinitely.”
St. Olaf College President David Anderson addressed the campus in an April 21 email sent to students, which was forwarded to the Northfield News.
“I am as angry and frustrated as you are at the repeated violations of our values and community norms by someone who defaces the campus with scrawled racial epithets,” Anderson wrote in the email. “I would love nothing more than to discover who is responsible for these acts and to remove that person from our community.
“I say 'that person' because I am pretty sure that this is the work of one or a small number of people. (It may not even be an Ole). This person uses the same modus operandi every time this happens; even the handwriting on the notes is similar from incident to incident. This person has adopted a strategy similar to the one terrorists use: under the cover of darkness and anonymity engage in acts that frighten, dishearten and frustrate people with a goal of unsettling the community and turning people against one another.
“When this person first struck in the fall, I swiftly informed the community and unequivocally denounced the person and this person’s acts. I implored anyone in the community with information about the perpetrator to come forward, and I reinforced the values of this place. I have deliberately not repeated my announcement every time this person scrawls another racial epithet somewhere because then this person wins. I don’t want to give this person the power to evoke at will a message to the campus from the President.”
Hundreds of students turned out to Buntrock Commons on Saturday evening to protest what they felt was an inadequate response from the administration and planned to occupy the building until they saw some change. Students planned to skip classes Monday to continue the protest as well, student Krysta Wetzel said.
“We take issue with simply responding to this as though this is an isolated incident,” Wetzel said. “We take issue with the emails that are sent out after each incident that say, this person may not even be an Ole, this person may not even be part of our community, that’s what we take issue with because it’s happening here.”
The school has a town hall scheduled for Tuesday in the chapel at 3:05 p.m.
“We’re looking for some concrete examples of what the administration, the school is going to do to change this community,” Wetzel said. “Not just the one quick fix. Not just the town hall that’s going to address us for five minutes and wait until we’re done talking and forget about it. We want something to actually be written and implemented in the structure to change this institution.”
St. Olaf issued a press release about the protests Saturday evening, saying, “The repeated violations of our values by people who have sent hateful and threatening messages to members of our community are simply unacceptable.
"We are doing everything we can to catch the people involved in perpetrating these hate-filled acts. An active investigation is under way, and there are several leads that we are following up on using every tool we have at our disposal. We have also notified the Northfield Police Department and have a protocol in place to ensure their full cooperation.
"Someone, somewhere knows who is perpetrating these acts of racism. We are asking for the St. Olaf community’s assistance in identifying the individuals involved. If you are aware of any information that could assist in identifying anyone responsible for perpetrating these or other offenses, please immediately contact the St. Olaf 24-hour Public Safety dispatch at 507-786-3666. Be sure to maintain an accurate record of the timeframe for when events may have occurred, any photographs or other records, and information about any individuals you observed in the vicinity.
"We appreciate the members of our campus community who are advocating for meaningful action in response. We are supporting their efforts and, most importantly, listening to their insight and concerns."