Taking Their Power Back

I wasn’t sexually assaulted in college. I was one of the lucky ones. I went to a small, private, liberal arts college in Minnesota filled with wholesome, community-minded students and a faculty of passionate, dedicated, hard-working mentors.

But I’m not naive. I know the statistics. One out of five college women are raped during their time in school, and one out of sixteen men. The survivors were my friends and my classmates. And the attackers were, of course, their friends and classmates.

It is no secret that we are failing sexual assault survivors on virtually every level in this country (and around the world, but that is for a much bigger, more involved conversation). The epidemic was beautifully and heart-wrenchingly shown in 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground. News articles with headlines like “X University’s Rape Problem” and “The Problem with Title IX” pop up in my feed on a daily basis. So I wasn’t surprised to find my own beloved St. Olaf College in the news for failing to protect and defend its’ students.

But I was inspired. Not by the reports of severe case mismanagement, fishy legal gymnastics, and utter disregard for the survivors’ emotional and physical well being. I was inspired by how these brave survivors have responded to St. Olaf’s failings.

Madeline Wilson (and a group of other kick ass survivors) brought these issues to local and national attention this week by wearing ASK ME HOW MY COLLEGE IS PROTECTING MY RAPIST shirts around campus. They’ve also launched a website outlining their grievances with the institution and offering a safe space for other survivors to come forward and enter the conversation. They’ve banded together to support one another emotionally, and hold St. Olaf accountable for its failings. Instead of allowing their experiences to silence them, they are taking their power back. And while my heart breaks for what they have experienced, they are the reason I am proud to be an Ole.

Unfortunately, I think it is going to be a very long time before sexual assault survivors are treated with the care, attention, and compassion they deserve. And I think it is going to be an even longer time before sexual assaulters are treated with the severity and consequences they deserve. But in the meantime, Wilson and co. are setting an incredible example of how to work around a flawed system and to inspire change from a grassroots level. It’s inspiring, brave, and revolutionary.

Thank you, Madeline, for channeling your power, your brain, and your voice. I am so grateful for how you are drawing attention to this horribly pervasive problem.

Check out their work here:

https://mycollegeisprotectingrapists.wordpress.com/

Angela Gulner, St. Olaf Class of 2009

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