Saint Mary’s students lead discussion on “The Hunting Ground”
Haleigh Ehmsen | Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Student Center Atrium at Saint Mary’s was standing room only as ten student panelists and the audience discussed CNN’s documentary “The Hunting Ground” and how to take action against sexual assault. The discussion was co-sponsored by the Justice Education Program and the Gender and Women’s Studies department.
Senior and panel moderator Elizabeth Maloney said she has two friends at Harvard Univeristy and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, neither of whom had heard of the documentary. She expressed gratitude for the College’s screening.
“I want to thank Saint Mary’s for showing [‘The Hunting Ground’] here,” Maloney said. “Saint Mary’s empowers women to seek change, and we are here today to talk about change.”
Panelists were senior Callie Brown, junior Angge Rocal, junior Maggie Langenfeld, junior Kaitlyn Baker, senior Amy Piekosz, junior Bri O’Brien, sophomore Caylin McCallick, senior Meredith Mersits, freshman Alex Shambery and freshman Nicole Caratas. (Editors note: Caratas is a news writer for The Observer.)
Brown, president of the Student Diversity Board, said her initial reaction to the documentary was fear for herself, peers, faculty and staff.
She said the documentary showed that sexual assault is happening not only at Saint Mary’s and at Notre Dame but across the nation.
Brown said “The Hunting Ground” showed the difficulties of faculty being penalized for advocating for student rights.
“I think it’s very sad that professors or administrators would treat me with anything but trust and respect, could be targeted or terminated for standing up for what they believe in and advocating for students, when I think it’s an educator’s first priority to advocate for students and act on their behalf,” she said.
Brown said college and university marketing campaigns and statistics are partially to blame for the low number of sexual assaults handled appropriately.
“I think that something that is the most difficult aspects of this issue to change, but probably the most important, is how universities market and brand themselves,” Brown said. “I think it’s time for universities to stop branding themselves as, ‘University X proudly reports zero sexual assaults a year, but University X, which reports 100 sexual assaults and 100 expulsions a year.’ I think that’s at the core of this problem and absolutely needs to be changed, and I think Saint Mary’s could be a leader and should be.”
Lagenfeld said one of the biggest things students can do is to change the way they talk and educate about sexual assault and consent.
“Being asleep doesn’t mean yes,” Lagenfeld said. “Being drunk doesn’t mean yes. Wearing a short skirt does not mean yes.”
Baker, the Saint Mary’s student body president, said she wants to understand the concerns of students moving forward,.
“My plan is to continue the conversation with the students and the administration, and my goal is to act as the liaison and make sure [the administration] is hearing us and that we’re hearing them as well.
“I want to make sure [the administration] knows where we’re coming from and make sure they know that we’re not attacking them, and we’re just trying to have this conversation and trying to move forward as a college.”
Baker said she attended the screening of “The Hunting Ground” at Notre Dame last Friday and heard the panel discussion.
“I know that a lot of [Notre Dame] students are ready to talk to Saint Mary’s [students],” she said. “They are ready to have this conversation with us and they want to change the way our relationship is. They want to change the way they talk about Saint Mary’s women.”
Baker said she plans to work with Notre Dame’s student body president and student government to address to issue of sexual assault on both campuses.
Junior and audience member Vanessa Troglia addressed the email sent out to students answering questions about “The Hunting Ground.” She said the email was the first time she had heard Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame addressed as two separate entities.
”Ever since I came to Saint Mary’s, everything has been about Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s as one community, whether it be through academic, extracurricular or socially,” Troglia said. “The thing that I critique most about that email is saying that we are two separate entities. We are not two separate entities, we are one community. We may have been admitted to two distinct schools but we are one community.”
Piekosz said she felt unbelievable sadness after watching the documentary. She said she wanted more explanation from President Mooney after the screening of the film on April 9.
Piekosz said “The Hunting Ground” shows viewers that sexual assault is not just a Saint Mary’s problem.
“It’s a problem in school systems across the nation, and if we’re going to fix this, we need to be the spark,” Piekosz said. “We need to be the ones to start that domino effect at Saint Mary’s.
“I’m not going to place blame on the administration. What’s done is done. It’s in the past. Let’s move forward and discuss ways we can potentially fix our system.”
O’Brien said it is important to note that what was shown in the documentary were short segments, which she said don’t cover the whole story of sexual assault on Saint Mary’s campus.
O’Brien said it is not sufficient to say that alcohol is responsible for sexual assaults.
“Alcohol isn’t the one assaulting our students; it’s other students.” she said.
“The Hunting Ground” revealed that much of sexual assault on college campuses involves repeat offenders, and bystander intervention is not enough, O’Brien said.
McCallick said the director of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), Connie Adams, will support students and present students with options for proceeding with a sexual assault charge. BAVO provides resources and education on sexual assault to Saint Mary’s students.
McCallick said reporting can be difficult for survivors of sexual assault, and she believes the legal system is skewed in general, though this is not necessarily an issue with BAVO.
Mersits said Saint Mary’s is the perfect place to start change.
“Often sexual assault feels far away, but this film put it in my face,” Mersits said.
Senior and audience member Nora Clougherty said “Take Back the Night” on Wednesday could be the start of making change regarding sexual assault and a demonstration of support by both campuses. “Take Back the Night” is an annual event hosted by BAVO and the Gender Relations Center at Notre Dame for students to show support of survivors of sexual assault.
“This is the start of the two campuses working together … ” Clougherty said. “I want all of these people in this room to go, because that’s where we’re going to make a difference and show we care.”
Senior and audience member Claire Boyd said the dialogue around sexual assault needs to be a tri-campus conversation.
Boyd said a new initiative this year, sponsored by the Office of Residence Life, was “Belles Banding Together.” The initiative is a bystander intervention program for incoming first-year students during orientation.
O’Brien said students will not change without the administration on board. She also noted that BAVO is under the administration.
“We need to make sure that we are not only putting responsibility on students, but we’re holding everyone accountable,” she said.
Shambery suggested further education of first-year students on how to report sexual assaults.
Sophomore and audience member Chisom Igwe said students need to look at the sexual language they use on a daily basis.
“We can talk about changing the system, but if you don’t stand up in your daily lives, nothing is going to happen,” Igwe said. “ … Individually we need to look at ourselves before we try to change the system.”
Student panelists created a recommendation list for the administration, and they asked audience members to help them critique the list, which will be submitted to the administration after they make the suggested edits.
One of the recommendations suggests that faculty and staff should undergo training on sexual assault, not limited to Title IX training.
Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Johnson, along with other members of the College administration, was present and said faculty and staff go through training regarding Title IX, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Maloney said students attending the panel were able to leave their emails and have the finalized letter forwarded to them for them to sign.