10 years later, Sjodin remembered

Although the murder of Dru Sjodin now seems like a long time ago, the impact is still felt by the community.

Former UND student Dru Sjodin poses. Sjodin was murdered in 2003. File photo.

November 22 marks the 10th anniversary of the murder of UND student, Dru Sjodin.  Although it has been 10 years since the tragedy, Dru’s legacy still lives on at UND and across the state and nation.

Because of Dru’s story, both Minnesota and North Dakota now have tougher punishments and provisions for level three sex offenders, and a nationwide database of sex offenders has been established, largely due to the efforts Dru’s mother Linda Walker.

“She’s an amazingly strong woman.  She’s brought more awareness to violence and the prevention of it,” UND Women’s Center Director Kay Mendick said.

For years, Walker fought for legislation of Dru’s Law, which is part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.  Dru’s Law established the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry website, which provides information to the public about existing sex offender information. The public can also search the website by name, state, county, city, address or zip codes, according to website.

“She is so strong, and hopefully she has saved others from violence,” 2012 Dru Sjodin Memorial Scholarship recipient Sonja Collin said regarding Walker.

North Dakota also has established its own database similar to Dru’s Law in which the public can search sex offenders by area and also receive email notifications when a sex offender moves into one’s community.

North Dakota now also has enhanced sentences for sex offenders, more penalties for the luring and possession of child pornography and expanded registration requirements, according to Fox News.

Minnesota also has changed their laws, since Sjodin’s killer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., was a level three sex offender in Minnesota. After serving 23 years in prison for past charges, he murdered Sjodin only six months after being released.  Minnesota now keeps offenders in prison longer, has closer provisions on those being released and tougher sentences for offenders — especially repeat offenders.

Campus changes

The Dru Sjodin Memorial Scholarship was established in 2004 by the UND Foundation “in loving memory of Dru’s vibrant spirit with the intention of turning grief into triumph” and continuing her legacy of involvement.  The scholarship provides funding for tuition and fees for a full academic school year. Any student may apply for the scholarship, but applicants must honor Dru’s memory by working toward promoting women’s safety and preventing violence.

“Her legacy lives on in what she accomplished as a student and through the scholarship,” Collin said. “I want to make Dru proud and keep her memory alive.”

When Collin was the recipient, she spoke at the annual Take Back the Night Rally, went to Greek houses and made Greek members aware of the safety programs on campus such as IMPACT.

IMPACT is a 20-hour self-defense course at UND that female students can register and receive credit for. The course teaches students how to defend themselves physically and emotionally against an attacker by learning in a hands-on environment.

Collin, said after taking the class it made her even more passionate about the work she was doing.

Mendick, the UND Women’s Center Director, is one of the many teachers of  IMPACT and says that this year may be even a little more emotional because the class starts on November 22 — the day Sjodin was abducted.

“I have made a promise to Linda Walker to always talk about Dru in regards to safety,” Mendick said. “In IMPACT, I ask students why they take the course, and most say, ‘I remember what happened to Dru.’”

This year’s Dru Sjodin scholarship recipient Sarah Borgen is working on educating students about consent.  Borgen has been planning a workshop that she will present with another student. The workshop will include re-enactments about consent, information about what consent is and pre-tests and post-tests relating to students knowledge about consent. Borgen plans to present the workshop to student organizations. Organizations interested in having Borgen present can contact the Women’s Center at 701-777-4300.

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to make people see the problem, but, because it did happen, we need to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Borgen said.

Both Borgen and Collin have been on the committee on sexual violence at UND, which focuses on making campus safer. The committee is currently working on a website and a pamphlet that will provide students who have been affected by sexual violence with more information on what they can do and who to go to for help.  The website is projected to be up next semester. The committee is also working toward hiring a sexual assault prevention coordinator.

“People remember Dru. She was a peer and people can relate,” Mendick said. “I hope she is never forgotten.”

Ashley Marquis is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at ashley.m.marquis@my.und.edu.