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You should be mad about “The Hunting Ground”

| Thursday, April 16, 2015

“‘The Hunting Ground’ … an unblinking look at sexual assaults on campus.” — New York Times

On April 17th, you have a choice.

You can walk across the Notre Dame campus to DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, cough up $4 and watch the documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

Or.

You can stay in your room for a Friday night, chip in $4 for a couple cases of Natty Light, play two hours of beer pong with your friends and get wasted.

Pick one.

“The Hunting Ground” takes direct aim at the integrity of college institutions, including Notre Dame, for not effectively dealing with the nationwide problem of campus sexual assault.

It blames (pick your favorite elite college) for an unwillingness to prosecute cases of campus sexual assault, mainly due to a perceived desire to protect the university brand. It portrays colleges as faceless monoliths mostly interested in the success of their respective athletic programs.

It also makes no mention of federal privacy laws or offers any rebuttal from college administrators.

Its fairness can certainly be debated. Its fortitude, however, cannot.

Fueled by the testimony of female victims and the inspiration of their actions, “The Hunting Ground” stirs the pot. It angers the audience. It demands a call to action — a call to stop campus sexual assault.

As a father preparing to send three children to college during the next few years, “The Hunting Ground” makes me extremely angry.

Angry at the rape culture that infests college campuses. Angry at the collective male student indifference towards protecting female students. Angry at the “The Hunting Ground’s” willingness, and our willingness, to allow the most obvious villains in this sad narrative off the hook: Drunk men.

The vast majority of campus sexual assaults are acquaintance rape. The vast majority of those acquaintance rapes involve alcohol. The vast majority of us do nothing to prevent it. We accept our alcohol-soaked campus culture as the norm.

While the institutional issues raised in “The Hunting Ground” are troublesome to say the least, no issue addressed in the film is more accessible for students to change than this.

If you want to help prevent campus sexual assault, here’s an idea.

Notre Dame men, stop getting drunk and stop getting others drunk. Stop accepting a culture of alcohol abuse.

As students, you have no control over post-sexual assault investigations, hearings, convictions or expulsions. However, you do have the power to prevent future sexual assaults by taking ownership of the alcoholic culture on this campus and changing it.

But how?

Last fall, the White House launched the “It’s On Us” campaign, designed to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. You’ve probably seen the “It’s On Us” public service announcements. Dozens of universities have produced cloned versions of the commercial that essentially say: “Everyone is responsible to help stop sexual assault.”

The NCAA’s video features student-athletes reading this script:

It’s on us to stop sexual assault. In any way we can. To get a friend home safe. To never blame the victim. It’s on us. To stand up. To make our community safe for all. It’s on us. To look out for each other at parties. It’s on us. To be more than just a bystander. To step up and say something. It’s on us. All of us. To stop sexual assault.”

I applaud the effort to raise awareness.

However, a PSA featuring designated drivers reciting catchphrases isn’t going to change an alcoholic culture of peer pressure, which leads to alcohol abuse, which leads to sexual assault.

Unfortunately, “It’s On Us” passively preaches to a sober choir of few and makes us feel like we’re doing something positive.

Feed The World. Just Say No. It’s On Us.

Instead of taking pledges, it’s time to start calling out the abusers whose behavior leads to sexual assault. Reverse the peer pressure. Read the new script.

“Why is it on us to drive you from bar to bar?”

“Why is it on us to wait for you to finish that last drink? Again. And Again. And Again. Why is it on us? To prevent you from raping my friend.”

“I don’t care about your keg. I don’t want your jello shot. You’re a drunk.”

We, as a campus, permit an alcoholic culture. We celebrate it Saturdays every fall. To keep the peace, we arrest the few belligerent drunks and a couple of the less fortunate fake ID holders. But essentially, thousands of intoxicated fans on any given football Saturday party alongside students.

In fact, for most of them and most of our students, drinking is a sport. It’s a competition. Who can drink the most without puking? Who can “rally” when they’re hungover? Who can win beer pong tonight?

Until we decide that we’re sick of coddling our drunk campus, we are allowing a fertile ground for sexual assaults to be committed. We are enablers of “The Hunting Ground.”

However you, the students, can change the culture. Here’s a radical how.

Use social media. Associate campus drinking with sexual assault. Attack the companies that peddle alcohol to a young demographic (which would be just about all of them). If the marketing team at Absolut Vodka wants to sell its product by associating vodka with sexual innuendo, then why not associate vodka with sexual assault?

Tweet photos of empty vodka containers in your dorm Saturday night. #AbsolutPromotesSexualAssault. That might get you a few retweets.

Attack the companies that associate happiness with alcohol. If Anheuser-Busch wants to take credit for all the good beer times in our lives in their ad campaigns, how about taking responsibility for the bad ones too?

#GrabSomeBudsRapeAFriend.

Whoa. That’s out of line.

Really? That happens.

Force the massive producers of alcohol to take more responsibility for the actions of their young consumers … something more than adding the tiny tagline “Drink Responsibly.”

Think it can’t happen? Ask Philip Morris.

And how about the young consumers taking responsibility? Here’s a very simple pledge for Notre Dame students. Pick one Friday each semester … and don’t drink.

One day. One weekend. Don’t drink.

Pick a color. Make a t-shirt. STOP SEXUAL ASSAULT. DON’T DRINK TODAY.

Wear it on a Friday. Start there.

Can we, as a campus, get through one Friday night without alcohol in the name of preventing campus sexual assaults?

If not, we have a serious problem.

 

Ted Mandell has taught film and video production at Notre Dame for the past 27 years, specializing in documentary production. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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