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SGA candidates forced to change SARN proposal

The lead up to the Student Government Association elections has been packed with drama, with posters defaced and accusations flying on Yik Yak. In the midst of all this, some students may have missed a recent debate over a proposal in the campaign platform Kyle Wilmar ’17 and Héctor Poveda ’19. The pair – running for student body president and vice-president, respectively – proposed to make the Sexual Assault Resource Network, or SARN, a branch of SGA. This was a radical proposal and it surprised many members of the campus community, including the SARN staff.

Kaelie Lund ’16 and Natalia Soler ’16, the SARN co-chairs, promptly wrote to Wilmar and Poveda explaining why their proposal was unnecessary and potentially harmful.

“We believe that SARN best serves students on campus when it is a separate, autonomous entity away from St. Olaf’s Student Government Association and request that you immediately remove it from your campaign platform,” Lund wrote. “We also request that you post a clarification about your stance on SARN remaining independent from SGA on your Facebook page.”

According to Lund, Poveda and Wilmar did contact the organization the day before their platform was released. However, SARN staff were not made aware of the details. They were quick to express disappointment that the organization was not briefed on the magnitude of the proposal.

In their response, Lund and Soler detail why SARN functions best as an independent organization. One key point involves the distinction between SARN and the It’s On Us campaign; Wilmar and Poveda conflated the two in their platform. Launched last year as an SGA initiative, It’s On Us seeks to raise awareness about campus sexual assault. While SARN also aims to educate the campus, it has a direct service aspect that makes it unique. SARN is a confidential resource center for sexual assault survivors; it does not involve itself with student government. For Lund, to speak of SARN’s lack of power as Wilmar and Poveda did is to misunderstand SARN’s mission

“SARN is powerful on its own because of who it represents: the survivor. SARN exists to empower survivors of sexual assault – not the student government,” she said. “To say that SARN needs more power is an unnecessary statement because it is the only resource of its kind to exist in the St. Olaf community.”

To their credit, Wilmar and Poveda responded promptly. After discussing the issue with SARN staff, they agreed to drop the proposal from their platform. Both emphasize that they want to support SARN and its mission.

“Our main goal wasn’t to get involved with SARN as a confidential resource or with SARN affairs because they’re doing a great job. Our purpose was to support SARN and their mission on campus,” Poveda said. “We wanted a student representative from SARN on Senate who could say, ‘Is there a way we can make campus safer?’ We don’t want to get involved in the way they are handling their affairs.”

At the time this article was posted, the SARN proposal was still featured on the campaign Facebook page, as well as the candidate profile.

In addition to educational events and mental health services, SARN serves as a liaison between the campus administration, the Wellness Center, the Title IX Committee and health services in the surrounding area. Its unique position requires that trained SARN staff make decisions for the organization, rather than the student government bureaucracy. Lund makes this quite clear.

“No other resource at St. Olaf is student-supported and a confidential resource,” she said.