Yesterday evening students and faculty gathered for the highly anticipated screening of “The Hunting Ground”, a newly released documentary about the realities that student sexual assault survivors face on their college campuses. The film’s screening was hosted by this semester’s Senior Seminar in Sociology course, taught by Dr. Matt Ezzell, and the event received a great turnout.
The film follows two students, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, from their encounters with sexual assault at UNC Chapel Hill to finding each other and knowing they weren’t alone in their experiences. After reporting their rapes and receiving a total lack of support or action from their university, these women decided to take matters into their own hands. They worked tirelessly to educate themselves on the legal action they could take against their university. They discovered their ability to “file a complaint against their alma mater for sexual harassment using an unorthodox framing of the federal law known as Title IX.” In the summer of 2014, word of Andrea and Annie’s story had blown up across the media and full attention was being brought to their cause.
The two women became slowly aware of the patterns of sexual assault experiences across college campuses in the U.S. and made the connection that there could be more to these stories than the isolated incidences that we often view them as. Andrea and Annie became activists for survivors and their families and made it their mission to make these stories known. “The Hunting Ground” was an excellent portrayal of the narratives of college women who are forced into silence by their universities when they come forward with their stories.
Last night’s screening was especially significant because of its relevance to our own college campus. As many are aware, James Madison University is one of many colleges across the country this are under Title IX investigation. Although this film did not place a direct spotlight on JMU specifically, it did highlight the times in which JMU has failed to support survivors, most notably by including a clip from Jon Stewart’s segment on JMU’s “expulsion after graduation” sanction.
While it was jarring to sit in Grafton and watch JMU be brought up in this film, I thought that it sent a really significant message to students that it is our responsibility to address this issue and make it known that this matters to us. In dealing with response to campus assault, the film made a call for students to hold their administration and university presidents accountable for following through with promises made to protect and have the best interests of the students in mind.
For me, seeing JMU up on the screen was a reality check that we need to recognize the power that our student body could wield if we collectively took a stand against sexual assault on our campus. We may not be able to solve the nation-wide epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses overnight, but by doing our part to stand up against a culture of victim-blaming and survivor silencing, we can become the precedent of a model student body for other colleges to follow. Confronting this issue with a no tolerance mindset and standing in solidarity alongside survivors is the only way for our campus culture to change and accurately portray JMU as the great institution that we currently claim to be.
For more information about on how to end sexual violence on college campuses, you can visit Know Your IX, and for on-campus resources at JMU visit Campus Assault ResponsE (CARE) and the University Health Center.