Dittmann Center has officially been renamed to be the Center for Arts and Dance. On March 9, President David Anderson ’74 emailed a video message to St. Olaf students, faculty and staff announcing the removal of former St. Olaf professor Reidar Dittmann’s name from St. Olaf’s art building after administration was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations by former students against Dittman. Shortly after the video announcement, Anderson formally released a statement detailing the name change.
“St. Olaf is renaming the art building that in 2002 was named in honor of Professor Reidar Dittmann, a valued member of the St. Olaf faculty who taught from 1947-1993 and passed away in 2010,” Anderson said. The change was made in response to the formation of an independent Title IX Working Group last spring to review St. Olaf’s policies and procedures surrounding sexual misconduct.
“This process also resulted in several alumni coming forward to report that they had been victims of sexual assault and misconduct committed by staff and faculty during their time at St. Olaf. Many of the accounts involved alumni who were students of the College decades ago, but who finally felt open to sharing their experiences after observing a change in St. Olaf’s culture,” the statement read. As a result of this investigation, the college said “…we received credible evidence that Professor Dittmann engaged in sexual misconduct during his time at St. Olaf.”
The process leading up to the name change began last year.
“Allegations of sexual misconduct were made a year ago, but they were made anonymously in emails and blog posts, so we couldn’t investigate and act on them,” Anderson’s statement read. “Since then, the College has invited victims to come forward and continued to investigate these allegations on its own. In February the College was able to secure credible evidence that misconduct had occurred, and that led to the action we have taken.”
A number of news sources have reported on the change, including the Star Tribune.
“St. Olaf College is taking the unusual step of removing the name of a once-beloved professor from a campus building because of what it calls ‘credible evidence’ of sexual misconduct over the course of several decades,” the Star Tribune article read. Anderson, however, does not characterize the move as unusual.
“It’s not unusual for organizations to rename things when they have good reason to,” he said. “Yale University, for example, just renamed one of its residential colleges, and the City of Minneapolis is being lobbied to change the name of Lake Calhoun. But it’s true that St. Olaf doesn’t normally change the name of a building.”
The Star Tribune also reached out to the Dittmann family, who denounced “the process used to indict our father posthumously; the haste with which the college reached its conclusion; and finally, the public humiliation our family is experiencing as a result of the college’s communications of their actions.”
General Counsel Carl Lehmann ’91 refuted this claim.
“[The decision] was not made hastily by any means,” Lehmann said. “I understand the sadness and disappointment that the family is expressing. I am very confident that the process was thorough and fair.”
Many students supported the name change but felt that there was still more to be done to change the culture of secrecy surrounding sexual assault and misconduct. On March 12 at 10 p.m. a group of students staged a piece of performance art in response. Emily Newman ’17 was one of the members who planned the display.
“We hung gray shirts outside of the Center for Art and Dance,” Newman wrote. “This was an act of performative art. Although we support the removal of Dittmann’s name off of the building, more needs to be done to support survivors of sexual assault. It’s not just about big gestures, but listening to the stories of survivors (such as Madeline and the gray shirts last year). Articles such as one written in the Star Tribune focus on Dittmann’s family’s distress. When conversations focus on the accused, the rights and feelings of those accused of sexual assault are elevated above the rights and needs of sexual assault survivors. We wanted to draw attention back to the experience and needs of sexual assault survivors.”
Public Safety took down the gray shirts at approximately 9:20 a.m. the next morning.
“We have been extremely sensitive to hearing from, understanding, and listening to wishes of victims,” Lehmann said in response to criticisms like Newman’s. “The name on the building itself could have been done in a less public manner, but as President Anderson has said that would be inappropriate and wouldn’t be transparent, which is something we’ve strived to be. The removal of the art was not something that was elevated to the administration, it was something Public Safety did to enforce what, from my understanding, is a long standing practice.”
Together, the Dean of Students and a group of faculty are working to find a space for students to express their opinions without breaking college policy.
Anderson has confirmed that the college is aware of and addressing other cases of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.
“Over the years there have sadly been other cases of misconduct by faculty and staff that the College has been made aware of, and they have been addressed as the College has been made aware of them,” Anderson wrote. “Anyone with concerns about this matter is sincerely invited to communicate them to the College.”