Students Protest That All-Female School Is A ‘Rape Culture’ Stronghold

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A 97-percent female college has been assailed by student activists who claim the school, despite a near-total lack of men, has become a center of “rape culture” because it engages in business with the family members of a rapist.

St. Catherine University only accepts women at the undergraduate level, and is run by an order of celibate Catholic nuns. Nevertheless, some students argue the school is a stronghold of “rape culture,” a set of rules and cultural expectations that allegedly make sexual assault more common.

The controversy driving these allegations started June 10, when St. Catherine hosted a women’s leadership seminar put together by Heartland Inc. Heartland has held a workshop at St. Catherine every year since 2012. The issue is that Heartland’s founders, Craig and Patricia Neal, have a son, Alec, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for raping his ex-girlfriend at knifepoint.

During the seminar, a 27-year-old woman named Sarah Super, Alec’s victim, led a small protest outside. Super told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune she was upset that the Neals had organized a letter-writing campaign on Alec’s behalf prior to his sentencing, in an effort to help him get a more lenient sentence. Super argued that any support offered by the Neals on behalf of their son was wrong, and that their business should be boycotted in response.

At first, St. Catherine tried to make an appeal to Catholic values, saying that while they had ample sympathy for Super, they should also show mercy towards the Neal family.

“Our St. Catherine values of compassion and mercy must extend first, of course, to the victim and her family, but also to the family of the offender and even to the offender himself,” the school’s first statement said.

This statement only outraged Super and her supporters, though, who accused the school of effectively championing rape and having more sympathy for Alec than for his victim.

“It felt like they were giving more compassion to the rapist, in all honesty,” student Halimat Alawode told the Star-Tribune.

Their outrage prompted another statement from the school that completely reversed its earlier plea for mercy.

“In light of recent events, we have discontinued our association with Heartland Circle while we evaluate St. Catherine’s policies and criteria for partnering with external organizations,” the statement from college president Sister Andrea Lee says.

Even this wasn’t enough to satisfy protesters, though. On the protesters’ Facebook group, activist Maddie Harrison said the school had to take many extra steps, including setting up a committee to investigate rape culture on campus, before they would be satisfied.

As a result, activists held a second protest Monday that attracted about two dozen students, who carried signs bearing slogans such as “Rape culture is here” and  “Stop Raping Us!”

The Neals, for their part, said they are “saddened” by the school’s decision.

“As longtime nonviolence advocates, we abhor and condemn all criminal violence, including that perpetrated by our son,” they said in a statement.

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Blake Neff