Student files OCR complaint against St. Olaf College

Content warning: rape, sexual assault, intoxication (alcohol)

On a Saturday evening near the end of the semester, Madeline and her friends had dinner together before attending a house party on the edge of the St. Olaf College campus. She consumed alcohol with dinner and also later in a friend’s dorm room.

By the time she arrived at the party, she recalled being “really drunk.” One friend recalled that Madeline “didn’t seem like herself and appeared intoxicated, stumbling and avoiding eye contact.”

At the party, Madeline first met the student who later assaulted her. She didn’t know him before that. After talking for a while, he asked Madeline to walk back to campus with him. She agreed, though she has no recollection of this.

Madeline remembers almost nothing from after she began talking to him until she found herself in his dorm room. Following that point, there are short periods she recalls, but also long periods that she does not or in which her recollection is very unclear. 

She does remember falling asleep on his couch and waking up later, still feeling drunk but not sick, in the early hours of the night. She then remembers being in his bed with some of her clothing removed.

Madeline had been feeling agreeable to “making out” with him, but not to having intercourse. She believes that she told him, “I don’t want to have sex.” Indeed, when the college investigator interviewed him, he confirmed that Madeline made a statement like this.

Madeline doesn’t remember exactly what happened in his bed, but she remembers not wanting to do anything more than kissing. She states that she tried repeatedly to push him off from on top of her, but was unable to do so and felt that she “didn’t really have a choice.”

She also recalls asking him to use a condom because she wanted to retain as much control as possible under the circumstances, feeling that she “couldn’t stop it and couldn’t get away.” Despite Madeline’s lack of consent, he penetrated her.

Madeline felt that what had happened to her was “not okay,” but with finals, recovery from an elbow surgery, and other responsibilities, she felt emotionally incapable of acknowledging that she had been raped.

Over the summer, she tried to simply “shut it down” and not think about it. But she began experiencing a lot of anxiety about returning to school in the fall. In exploring these feelings, she realized she needed to confront the fact that she what had happened to her was rape.

The College’s Investigation

 Madeline reported the assault to the college on September 24, 2015. The college appointed an adjudicator and hired an investigator, who interviewed Madeline, the other student, and several friends of each who had contact with each of them that night.

Soon after the investigation started, the other student hired a well-known attorney to act as his ‘advisor.’ St. Olaf’s policies allow advisors in sexual misconduct investigations, as long as they don’t “actively participate in the process” and remain bound by confidentiality.

However, the student’s advisor proceeded to request delays in the process, which the college granted. The advisor also hired private investigators, a forensic toxicologist, and a second high-powered attorney to consult and collect evidence.

These private investigators collected information about Madeline from social media. They even contacted her former employer, two former coworkers, two friends, one former boyfriend, and that former boyfriend’s parents.

In conversations with these individuals, the private investigators informed them of the rape complaint and asked questions, including whether Madeline was flirtatious, sexually aggressive, or trustworthy, whether she dressed provocatively, and whom she had dated.

When Madeline learned of the activities of the other student’s private investigators, she immediately reported this to the college. The college warned the other student, but weeks later, Madeline continued to receive reports from friends that his private investigators had contacted them and continued to ask highly inappropriate and suggestive questions. Madeline reported to the college each time.

The other student’s advisor provided this inappropriately obtained evidence to the college’s investigator and adjudicator. The college did not seek out independent or neutral expert evaluations of this report. Madeline didn’t have the resources to match the information collected by the other student.

The Notice of Determination indicated that the other student’s version was more credible in part because he “appeared to have a clear memory of the events.” The college’s use of this justification makes it impossible to fairly adjudicate claims regarding sexual assault with an intoxicated victim, even though college policy states that “a person cannot give consent if that person[] is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.”

Furthermore, the adjudicator noted that the other student agreed that Madeline had indicated clearly that she did not want intercourse and never changed her position by verbally giving consent later, yet this admission was ignored by the adjudicator.

Madeline appealed the Notice of Determination on December 13, 2015. She cited as grounds (1) the college’s failure to complete investigating within 60 days (it had taken 77); (2) the other student’s retaliation and stalking of Madeline through the advisor’s use of private investigators; and (3) the college’s inclusion in the investigation file of the information collected by the other student’s hired advisor.

The college denied the appeal on December 22, 2016. It was only after Madeline herself pointed out in February that the other student’s actions violated the sexual misconduct policy that the college began an appropriate investigation into the stalking. In March, the college determined that the other student’s actions in hiring private investigators to stalk and intimidate Madeline violated college sexual misconduct policy. 

Madeline didn’t want anything like this to happen to another St. Olaf student again. On April 8, 2016, Madeline filed this complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces Title IX. The complaint requests that the OCR fully investigate St. Olaf College’s response and to require the college to remedy the effects of its actions, implement and enforce stronger policies and procedures.

Read the full complaint.