NORTHFIELD, Minn. – Two days after racial unrest shut down his campus, St. Olaf College sophomore Andrew Morales said the truth needs to be told.
“The truth is this college is not racist. This college is not racist. This administration is wonderful. I can honestly say the administration is wonderful,” Morales said.
But he and other right-of-center students say they cannot declare that openly on campus or they will be demonized and attacked as racists by peers.
“We’ve been silenced. We’ve been repudiated for our beliefs. We’ve been demonized. It’s despicable,” Morales said.
Now demonstrators’ claims the campus is institutionally racist are being used to demand corrective measures that have nothing to do with racism, Morales and several other St. Olaf College students said in interviews last week with The College Fix.
For instance, one demand calls for removing alumnus Arne Christenson from the advisory board of university’s Institute for Freedom and Community because of his “political views and values as a Christian Zionist.” Another demands “visible and easily accessible gender neutral housing on all residence halls.”
“They want to totally rework the system,”Morales said. “They say the system is responsible for the actions that have been committed. We say it’s an individual actor or actors and they need to be brought to justice.”
Conservative students targeted at St. Olaf
After a string of racial incidents, students last weekend essentially took over the campus with aggressive protests that forced administrators to cancel classes last Monday so demonstrators could air their grievances in a day-long sit in.
Morales said protesters unfairly targeted the administration and used the incidents to push a left-wing, political agenda.
Similar sentiments were shared by three other right-of-center students who spoke with The College Fix about the recent events at the private, Lutheran college in rural Southern Minnesota.
Only Morales spoke on the record, with the other three student requesting anonymity to speak freely amid concerns they’d face backlash from classmates for speaking out.
The students’ comments come at a college where conservatives have voiced concern over being “violently threatened” by their peers. Two of students who spoke with The College Fix said they’ve been the targets.
Morales said he’s faced threats. Another student said he’s received “hateful messages” after voicing political opinions.
“I’ve been called every name in the book: bigot, sexist, racist, homophobic — everything. It’s silly,” Morales said.
‘Minnesota Nice applies pretty well to our school’
The students who spoke to The Fix denounced the racial incidents that have occurred at St. Olaf, which have included notes with racial epithets directed toward individual students. However, they feel the protesters’ claim that St. Olaf is wracked with institutional racism is wrong.
The protesters say the incidents are “symptomatic of institutional complacency and inaction.” But the institution, the four students said, isn’t to blame.
“The administration are reasonable people, but it’s just the students are radical. They are absolutely radical,” Morales said.
Added another student, “In my experience and in most others’ experiences, St. Olaf is a welcoming place that celebrates diversity; the term ‘Minnesota Nice’ applies pretty well to our school.”
One student said he empathizes and sympathizes with the students involved in the racial incidents but that his thoughts on the protest have evolved.
“If students can get away with that with students of color, they can also get away with that toward conservative or libertarian students,” he said.
His solidarity weakens with the allegations that the administration is at fault. He said the whole university shouldn’t be held responsible for what appears to be an individual actor or small group of actors.
“[I]n my experience, when I was attacked and left messages, that was more of one or two students,” he said. “A couple bad eggs, but overall my experience has been positive. I think that’s how I would expect these attacks to be as well.”
From a single issue to ‘catch all demands’
While it was the reported notes that sparked demonstrations on campus, right-of-center students argue the movement’s scope has extended past them.
They point to the lengthy list of demands issued by protesters. One calls for a Christian advisory board member to resign.
“We demand the removal of Arne Christenson from the Advisory Board of The Institute for Freedom & Community. Given Mr. Christenson’s political views and values as a Christian Zionist, St. Olaf College risks his influence upon the speakers brought to the school, the educational offerings, faculty development workshops, and scholarships sanctioned by the Institute through financial means,” the demands state.
They also seek mandatory sensitivity training and mandatory “sustained dialogue.” They want the school to acknowledge it was built on “occupied Dakota land” that was part of a genocide.
“I don’t like that it’s gone from a single issue to this kind of catch all demands that are very sweeping,” said one student.
You’re either with us or against us
Those who disagree with the protest tactics or the demands issued cannot speak out without being demonized by others on campus, the students said.
“The crux of the movement is ‘you’re either with us or against us. You’re either for fighting racism or you’re against it.’ But in reality, obviously everybody here is against racism,” Morales said.
Another student added: “All [protesters are] doing is further dividing the students that might be with you and you’re just further pushing people away that are willing to help.”