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Why we should see ‘The Hunting Ground’

| Friday, April 17, 2015

It’s Friday in South Bend, the end of another week in a city with five colleges and universities and countless activities for students. There are parties to attend, friends to see, Netflix to watch and perhaps, for the truly ambitious, papers to write and books to read as the semester winds down.

But amid the parties and papers, we as an Editorial Board would like to offer the Notre Dame community an important alternative to these diversions. At 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, “The Hunting Ground,” a CNN documentary about sexual assault on college campuses around the nation, will screen in the Browning Cinema at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The film features Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, among other colleges and universities, as well as the institutions’ responses to previous allegations of sexual assault. A panel discussion featuring both students and faculty will follow both screenings.

Not every member of the Editorial Board has seen “The Hunting Ground” yet, but we will be at DPAC on Friday, and we urge you, students, faculty and staff, to do the same. Regardless of how the film portrays Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, past allegations of sexual assault on these campuses or responses from the administrations, “The Hunting Ground” is already and will continue to be a catalyst for a conversation that must happen.

Nationally and globally, sexual assault — especially on college campuses — is a problem that has increasingly drawn public attention and outcry. It is a problem we cannot hope to address without greater awareness of the facts, but too many in the world of higher education are reluctant to discuss what happens to about one in five women and one in 16 men during their time in college.

We hear of allegations at other schools, including Florida State, Harvard and North Carolina, all of which are also featured in the film, and recognize Notre Dame is not immune. Every year, we receive emails from Notre Dame Security Police informing us of incidents of sexual assault. Just this Tuesday, the NDSP crime log included another student-reported rape on campus, though the alleged incident took place in January.

These emails are always quickly followed by messages from our student government leaders, inviting us to prayer services at the Grotto to help comfort those whose lives have been affected by sexual assault and to pray in solidarity with them. Prayers certainly aid in the healing of sexual violence survivors, but dialogue is just as important. We ask our fellow students to attend the screening of “The Hunting Ground” to encourage these exchanges. Do not shy away from the film or the ensuing discussion because the topic or the way it might portray Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s makes you uneasy.

Film critics have both praised the documentary’s subject matter and raised questions regarding the comparative lack of interviews with college administrators; The Observer cannot yet offer an opinion on the film’s merit in this regard. Rather, we choose to view “The Hunting Ground” with an open, attentive mind. We will be more informed, more aware and better prepared to engage in constructive dialogue and action by seeing it.

It is the responsibility of each member of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community to create an environment where everyone feels safe, welcomed and included. As the White House’s campaign against college sexual assault, which the Notre Dame student government has adopted, has taught, “It’s On Us.”

We hope this film, and its screening at both Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, will be the beginning of a new, candid, productive conversation about sexual assault in our community and around the country. The Office of Student Affairs will host a panel discussion entitled “Beyond the Hunting Ground” to address “Notre Dame’s prevention initiatives and care responses regarding sexual assault” on Monday evening at 7 p.m. in the Remick Commons of Carole Sandner Hall. We hope the dialogue that began last week with the screening at Saint Mary’s and continues Friday night will only continue to grow at Monday’s event and in dorm rooms, dining halls and classrooms across both campuses in the weeks and months to come.

We applaud College President Carol Ann Mooney for attending and speaking at last week’s screening of “The Hunting Ground” at Saint Mary’s. We thank Mooney for her candor in addressing the film’s reference to her involvement in one of the sexual assault cases. We hope the Notre Dame administration can do the same. We invite University President Fr. John Jenkins to follow Mooney, join us and become a leader in the dialogues to follow.

The motto of Our Lady’s University, the very creed by which we live as a college community is Vita, Dulcedo, Spes — Life, Sweetness, Hope. It is also a reminder of the environment we should strive for. Attend the screening, start conversations, and be a driving force for change. It is our collective duty to care for everyone who comes to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. This is a chance to ignite discussions that will better our University and College and prove Ally Week and Sexual Violence Awareness Month are not themes fit only for a part of the calendar year.

Go. Ask questions. Challenge and be challenged. Join the conversation.

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