UMD Students Push for Change After Professors Resign Over Sexual Harassment Allegations

Olson and other fellow students decided to start the group: Students for Equity and Accountability in STEM at UMD, or “UMD SEA STEM.”

DULUTH, Minn.- UMD students are speaking out after the second professor in three years resigns from her position claiming she experienced sexual harassment and discrimination in her department.

While an investigation was conducted two years ago, students say it was not enough and are demanding the administration take more action. Now Dean Wendy Reed has agreed to meet with the group.

“I certainly did find the culture and the work environment intimidating, hostile and offensive,” said Dr. Tracey Bibelnieks, Associate Professor at UMD.

Earlier this year Dr. Bibelnieks announced her resignation from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, citing sexual harassment and discrimination.

“And at the point when I resigned I could no longer bear the effects and the long term effects of what that was doing to me both personally and professionally. I could not do my job,” she said.

Her job, which impacted many of her students — like Kari Olson: “It was just such a big loss for students.”

“I mean Tracy is a dynamite educator and we were like, ‘what are we gonna do, how are we gonna hold the department accountable for this?” said Olson.

Olson and other fellow students decided to start the group: Students for Equity and Accountability in STEM at UMD, or “UMD SEA STEM.”

Olson said she was surprised to learn Dr. Bibelnieks was not the first female professor to resign at UMD due to alleged sexual harassment and discrimination.

Dr. Kristine Synder left in 2018 for the same reason, she says. An investigation was launched through the university’s Office Of Equal Opportunity And Affirmative Action.

It concluded in a report a year later that “unwelcome conduct created an environment that a reasonable female department member would find to be intimidating, hostile or offensive.”

“Y’know, I’m a reasonable woman, a lot of students at UMD are reasonable women, we thought it was completely unacceptable to hear this,” Olson said.

Dr. Snyder released a statement to FOX 21 which reads in part:

“Without actual objective evidence of change and with continued evidence of hostility, it is impossible for me as a scientist to conclude that the department is any less hostile than it was when I left almost three years ago or two years ago when the EOAA finding was determined. I realize cultural change is difficult, but it is not as difficult or harmful as it is for women to work in a hostile environment.”

And after Dr. Bibelnieks’s resignation, Olson says more has to be done.

So UMD SEA STEM has three demands for the department:

  • That they acknowledge the relationship between the EOAA letter and Dr. Bibelnieks’s resignation
  • Seek external help from another office on campus such as the Office of Diversity & Inclusion
  • Implement trained bystander intervention and ally and advocate training requiring staff and faculty commit.

“The undergraduate education at this university is compromised when it’s not an equitable space for all of our instructors and students,” said Olson.

Dr. Bibelnieks says the work the students are doing is a step in the right direction. “I validated Kari when she put that together she let me know what they were doing, and I didn’t tell her to do that.”

“I’m very proud of her I think the students can take ownership of wanting change, of expecting change.”

At the end of it all she feels it’s more important to create a safe working environment going forward.”This is beyond me, it’s not about me anymore.”

“I want it to go beyond my resignation, I want it to go beyond me, and I want it to be a catalyst for openness, I don’t want further women to be harmed,” said Dr. Bibelnieks.

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