Scroll Top

Safety and St. Olaf: unfortunate realities


Content warning: this article mentions incidents of gun violence.


On Easter Sunday, my best friend from home said, “for such a small school, so many crazy things happen.” I nodded along. How could I deny that? What can I say when I’ve told her stories of my first roommate leaving the school after several violent fights with her peers? When one year a student is arrested for attempted murder, and the next year one is arrested for terroristic threats?


I remember her calling me during our sophomore year to tell me that a man threatened to shoot random women at her university. I stayed up all night reading the news. I also remember when our friend texted our friend group that they were safe. They texted us during the shooting at Michigan State in the building next to their residence hall. My friend hid, heard shots, and texted us. 


The unfortunate reality is that safety at St. Olaf exists only within the context of our world, our social reality, and the policies that govern our nation. We need to shatter the idea that up on the Hill, we are protected from the same situations that threaten our community members, loved ones, and strangers who happen to live in the same country. 


No amount of Public Safety transparency or emails about healing can solve the national emergencies around gun violence and intimate partner violence. We must move beyond simply thinking that the problems — the terrible, horrific, nightmare-inducing, panicking incidents at St. Olaf during the past few years — can be solved without a systemic change in institutions beyond the Hill. Let us not forget to continue asking for accountability from our college’s administration and nation. 


While St. Olaf may feel and sometimes act like a bubble separating students from the outside world, it is still part of a larger society. Many of us don’t have the luxury of forgetting that fact. Those impacted by racial discrimination, violence, and instability deal with the reality that St. Olaf and other elite institutions amplify rather than solve those issues daily. 


Our school’s small size means that when tragedy occurs — real or threatened — it involves nearly every student through the interconnected grapevine of the social world of a “highly residential” campus. However, we need to remember that we are also affected by the world outside of school.


I don’t mean to downplay the potential trauma of experiencing violence on this campus. The terror our community felt this week will undoubtedly stay with us beyond graduation. I mean to say that we should not treat the existence of violence at our school as a mere coincidence of the character of Oles. Safety threats like this and that of last spring can’t be simplified by the craziness of our school. This kind of thinking only shirks responsibility from the systemic causes of gun and intimate partner violence.


We must thoroughly investigate what in our institution exacerbates the occurrence of incidents on campus and look at how we can address them through policy change, and putting our thoughts into tangible action. Perhaps the Student Senate’s assessment of our safety policies will begin this process after two serious incidents. 


Only two months ago, a shooting that killed three college students happened one building away from one of my best friends. We will never be safe if we ignore the reality that violence happens every day and deny the possibility of it touching our lives.

Caroline Geer is from Northville, Mich.

Her majors are sociology/anthropology and race and ethnic studies.