Way Back at Mac: sexual assault awareness over the decades

Katrin O'Grady

Please be advised, this story contains discussion of sexual violence.

In light of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, this article explores two experiences of Macalester community members surrounding this issue. Both of these perspectives were captured in letters to the editor in 1977 and 1991, respectively. The second piece refers to a lawsuit against Carleton College. In 1990, four women raised a lawsuit against Carleton College for mishandling allegations of rape on campus. The women reported that the administration discouraged them from reporting cases to local authorities and failed to adequately discipline their assailants. These excerpts raise both thought-provoking and heart-breaking issues that remain today. As we strive to be a community that believes survivors and proactively addresses sexual assault, we must recognize our past, the areas where we have progressed and those we have not, to responsibly shape our future.

To the editor on Feb. 18, 1977 from Rita Clare Steinhagen ’78: “Tonight I went to the presentation of ‘Raped’ performed by At the Foot of the Mountain. If anything the performance was too excellent — too piercing — and too shattering. I would like to thank the Mac Feminists Women’s Collective for making this experience available to the Macalester community. I think the performance had a message for everyone there. It had a personal message for me, and it brought to mind hard memories of my near and distant past. But I hope people left the Chapel with another message I think was shared by everyone present — the message of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. I realize it is a child’s dream to hope to cure the world of its problems, but this does not discount the beauty of that dream. Yet when we try to relay that dream to real life, we are confronted with reality itself. On the reality of the Macalester campus, this was shown only last week through the struggles of the Security Coalition. In an attempt for people to help each other, we have become involved in a serious and possibly suicidal personality conflict. I am only hoping that the Macalester Community gives the Coalition another chance and gives us their show of support. People on this campus have legitimate concerns about their security, and I feel the Coalition has goals which are well founded in these concerns. I can only speak for myself — but I hope we, here at Macalester, care enough about each other.”

Macalester’s Security Coalition was an organization founded to improve campus security and safety with specific programs, broaden the base of interest in security issues and dissolve as an organization once these goals were implemented.

From Roger W. Wolsey ’90 in Macalester Today during August 1991:

“I write in response to President Bob Gavin’s ‘reaffirmation of the Macalester policy on sexual assault’ [May issue]. I applaud Mr. Gavin for speaking openly about the problematic issue of appropriate management of on-campus sexual assaults. There have been campus forums to discuss date rape and I do believe that Macalester seeks ‘to create an environment in which such conduct is unacceptable.’ However, I do not rest as comfortably as Mr. Gavin does with the current policies and procedures for the management of sexual assaults that have already happened on the campus. Mr. Gavin states that victimized students have some options available to them in their pursuit of justice and closure. Options are important for victims as this has the effect of a catalyst for the regaining of personal empowerment. Two of the options available are an administrative hearing or the Judicial Council. I was a participant, an advocate, in a student Judicial Council hearing concerning an on campus rape situation. I guess that I should more properly say ‘inappropriate student behavior’ as rape does not happen at Macalester as defined by the administration. At any rate, my experience was a horrible one. The procedure for the hearing process was a disgrace. Nobody involved in the hearing was trained in rape/sexual assault issues nor was there much training concerning proper judicial conduct, deliberation or administration. I seriously doubt whether anyone who participated in that event is content with their roles or that experience. My point is that sexual assault is not a light transgression—certainly ‘inappropriate student behavior’ is a terrible understatement. If an on-campus procedure is to be available, it had better well be one which has trained participants who realize the seriousness of such violence. In closing, the recent lawsuit against Carleton College does not surprise me.”