Halloween festivities were placed in the back seat this past Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the actual horrors that occur on college campuses: sexual assault, violence, and domestic abuse. The college hosted a viewing, and a follow-up discussion, of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which portrays the reactions of colleges and universities (such as University of Notre Dame, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Harvard) after female students reported incidents of rape by their male classmates.
A young woman from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill reported her rape to the university, but was blamed for dressing provocatively and consuming too much alcohol. This same story resonated with a student from Harvard Law School, whose rapist was brought back to the school after expulsion. At the University of Florida, one female students was told by her very peers that she should not report a successful student athlete to the administration, potentially damaging his athletic career. These women were left helpless because the colleges chose to protect their own reputations, their athletics, and their internal organizations.
The documentary commentary regarding the University of Florida case cited that colleges and universities often depend on large donations from their alumni—athletes and the fraternity members donate millions of dollars to their respective institutions. Therefore, according to the documentary it is in the best interest of the institution to avoid any internal conflict that may deter potential donors and prospective students, who are deciding where they will be spending their next four years.
The system is designed to discourage women from reporting their cases to avoid any legal troubles for the college, the documentary argued. Reported statistics of rapes in colleges and universities across the United States reach as high as one or two hundred students. Of expelled offenders, there has either been only one person, or none at all.
“The Hunting Ground” featured a particular dark anecdote of a male college student, who was accused of rape, stating, why he committed these acts and how he chose his targets. He candidly answered that he selected his victims ahead of time and sought to isolate them at parties or social gatherings; alcohol largely contributed to his actions.
While the film focused on the female perspective, the following evening exhibited a male focus, featuring an emotional discussion by one victim’s father, Malcolm Astley, whose daughter, Lauren Astley, was murdered by her boyfriend the summer after senior year of high school. Astley spoke of ways one can identify signs of violence in young boys and suggested providing them with counseling and guidance to avoid the escalation to domestic violence. In a speech free of hate and blame, Astley called for open discussions about domestic abuse: shedding light on a difficult topic could help young men express their concerns among peers, while promoting a future of safer relationships. Astley argues that domestic violence and abuse stems from the need for young men to express themselves. Without a clear avenue for discussion, male students turn to assault. Solutions included bystander intervention, creating new norms and counseling to help men at risk cope with their emotions.
Some students responded to Astley and the film by posing questions to Sexual Assault Victim Advocate (SAVA), Hannah Johnson, about how Bates would handle reports of sexual assault, violence and domestic abuse. Others took the time to reflect on Astley’s remarks and remained quiet.
These two events emphasized the importance of changing our colleges and universities to provide proper guidance and counseling to avoid violence from occurring. In many cases, the very institutions that we value and trust to bestow knowledge upon us fail to support us emotionally. Hannah Gottlieb ’16 reflected on the lecture–“I think one of the most important takeaways was needing to reframe the language around break-ups and how that is important in self-esteem and preventing violence and the need to have support networks because as [Astley] said, men often lack those more than women. He compared break-ups to mourning; someone was taken away, out of your life, and it needs to be a community effort.”