President Olson aims to address ‘growing discord’ on campus

Mitch Prosser and McKenna Scherer

On Nov. 1, 2021, Winona State University President Scott Olson sent out an email reinforcing student athletes’ Northern Sun Conference pledge to treat all with respect and stand up against discrimination.

The email came after Olson stated he had sensed a “growing disrespect and discord on [Winona State’s] campus,” although he did not state what events he felt displayed this.

The pledge states, “We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We will stand up and speak out to create and inclusive environment for all. We see the need for improvement, and we will use our platform to be influencers of change.”

The pledge finishes by stating, “Together we can foster a culture of kindness and respect for all. We invite you to support this offer.”

President Olson said the pledge was a reminder that, “[The pledge] is a call to learn and grow, to build community and to make things better – essentially a call to our WSU mission.”

This email came after much discourse occurred on the university’s campus following some tense events involving differing viewpoints on polarizing topics, including political views.

Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance, Breana Larsen, said she was not aware of Olson’s email being released prior to its hitting email inboxes and does not believe student athletes were aware of it either.

“I do not think the student-athletes were aware of President Olson’s email prior to it being sent out, but I do whole heart[edly] believe our student athletes, coaches and staff not only support the message of respect, kindness and dignity for all but are examples of this at WSU and in our community on and off the courts/fields,” Larsen said.

Olson stated in the email he felt the university community “must stand actively against discrimination; we must stand up to be influencers of change; and we must respect the rights and humanity of others.”

“We won’t ever be the Winona State we want to be, and are committed to be, unless and until every member of our community feels welcomed, respected, included and dignified,” Olson continued.

Discourse regarding politics and issues on campus has been bubbling its way to the surface within the last month.

Looking back to an on-campus event a few weeks ago, a speaker from PragerU, Amala Ekpunobi, came to campus, which awoke many emotions in students and resulted in a silent protest and food drive put on by the College of Democrats club.

Soon after the PragerU speaker event there was a chalking on Main Campus with pro-life statements and in counter protest, many wrote statements in support of pro-choice and related viewpoints.

Some students have regarded this email as somewhat cryptic considering these recent events on campus and Olson’s email not directly stating any of them.

Breanna Davidson-Ho, a third- year student-athlete majoring in political science and mass communication: journalism, said she also was unaware about the email involving the student-athlete pledge until before a volleyball game on Nov. 6. However, she recognized the campus climate has been a bit more ‘tense’ this year.

“In the Athletic Department everything seems normal,” David- son-Ho said. “I think the campus climate is a bit more tense this year. COVID has been somewhat divisive and I think that’s led to further disputes and anger. Idon’t think any of this was ever not there, I think things are just beginning to be unearthed.”

Director of Athletic Communications, Pete Watkins, said he believes the department is proud to be part of the initiative the NSIC has undertook in valuing a diverse student body.

“Warrior Athletics, like many athletic departments across the upper Midwest, is invested in and holds up the value of a diverse student body,” Watkins said. “As is said in the pledge, we hope the WSU campus community and the greater Winona community join our student athletes, coaches, staff and administrators ‘to support our efforts’ in the goal to be more inclusive and welcoming to all.”

President Olson finished off the email by including resources on campus for people who are experiencing ‘discrimination, disrespect, exclusion or indignity,’ including Director of Conduct and Citizenship, Alex Kromminga’s, contact information as well as Lori Mikl’s contact information as director of affirmative action/equity and legal affairs. The Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence was also cited along with the school’s counseling services.

Olson concluded with a final line in the email stating, “Please join me in answering the call for our student athletes and building a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive WSU.”