June 13, 2016
Dear St. Catherine University Community Members,
We released a statement last Friday about an event held by Heartland Circle, a local leadership training and development firm. The event sparked a peaceful demonstration, protesting both sexual violence against women and the presence of Heartland Circle on campus. The protest group included Sarah Super, the survivor of sexual assault perpetrated by Alec Neal, the son of Heartland Circle’s owners, Craig and Patricia Neal. Protesters believed that St. Catherine’s hosting of this event implied collusion in a rape culture that blames survivors and protects perpetrators.
As we said then, “We applaud courageous individuals who step up and speak out. As a college for women, this conviction comes into sharp focus when addressing sexual violence against women.” I want you to know I was listening to your messages. Your words were powerful and well-placed, and they deserve a personal response from me.
First, I want to clarify and reiterate our conviction: Standing in solidarity with victims of sexual assault always has been and always will be an unequivocal commitment of our University. St. Catherine University develops ethical, socially responsible graduates empowered to act in ways that reflect their convictions. Accordingly, I underscore our unwavering support for victims of sexual violence. We join all those who step up and speak out against rape and an entrenched social culture that marginalizes victims and shelters perpetrators. We stand in solidarity with Sarah Super and all victims and their families as we collectively say, “No more!” And, we will act in accordance with this conviction.
I regret—and I take personal responsibility for this—that our statement was interpreted in a way we did not intend, leading some to conclude that St. Catherine, in any way, condones or excuses the actions of a rapist. We do not. I do not.
I also regret that our meaning was not clear when we spoke of compassion and mercy. The Gospel values of compassion and mercy, to which our faith calls us, must extend first and primarily to the victim and to her family. Those same values absolutely cannot imply tolerance or pardon for the perpetrator. It is right and just that Alec Neal serve the prison sentence for his brutal crime. Understanding what these values mean within the complex and sometimes tragic circumstances of our lives is the supremely difficult, and always unfinished, work of a lifetime. Fortunately, God’s grace is amply abundant.
Finally, 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.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I am meeting with our Student Senate leaders and with others today and will continue to do so as needed or requested. Once again, I want you to know that I have heard your concerns and perspectives and I am sorry for any further anguish our statement caused.
Of this I am sure, St. Catherine University will never abandon its commitment to create safe and inclusive environments for all. Most importantly, our students deserve and will have a safe and embracing home during their years of study, as well as the opportunity to engage with University leaders, now and in the future, about what matters most to our community.
I wish you God’s peace always, and you remain daily in my thoughts and prayers.
Andrea Lee, IHM, President St. Catherine University