SMC student panel to discuss “The Hunting Ground”
Haleigh Ehmsen | Friday, April 17, 2015
On Monday, the Saint Mary’s Justice Education Program, along with the Gender and Women Studies Department, will host a student panel discussion about CNN’s documentary “The Hunting Ground” from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Student Center Atrium.
Junior Bri O’Brien said eight students will share their reactions to the film and to the Saint Mary’s administration response and will also suggest what needs to be done by students and administration in response to “The Hunting Ground.”
Bri O’Brien said the idea for a student-led panel on the documentary was brought up in a discussion after her Feminist Philosophy course taught by Dr. Adrienne Lyles-Chockley.
“Some students expressed discontent and disappointment with how [last Thursday’s] panel was conducted and the administration’s responses to student questions,” Bri O’Brien said. “Many questions that were asked during this after-class discussion were able to be, at least partially, answered by fellow students.
“Because students have different experiences and perspectives at Saint Mary’s, we can often turn to one another for answers, advice and opinions, especially in those times when our administration fails to adequately address and answer our questions. Furthermore, we realized the need for students to have their voices heard by not only fellow students but also by the administration.”
Director of Media Relations Gwen O’Brien said Saint Mary’s has a long history of fostering dialogue on important issues.
“We are glad to know that our students are continuing the dialogue started last Thursday night when the College screened the film,” Gwen O’Brien said. “Students need to talk about this heartbreaking issue.”
Senior Elizabeth Maloney will moderate the panel, Bri O’Brien said.
Maloney, also a student in Lyles-Chockley’s Feminist Philosophy course, said it is important for students to speak out because the issue of sexual assault is “ours.”
“We are affected by this and must start to speak up,” Maloney said.
Maloney said since the panel last Thursday only had one student on it, the students in Lyles-Chockley’s course wanted to provide a safe space where students could discuss more of the issues brought up by the film.
“As Dr. Davis pointed out during the April 9 administration-led panel, students hold the power to move forward on these issues,” Bri O’Brien said. “With everything we have learned, discussed and questioned in Feminist Philosophy this semester, many of us felt it to be our responsibility, as women with the ability to do something, to do something.”
It is necessary for the panel discussion to be student-led because often college employees — not just at Saint Mary’s — are led to censorship because they are employed by the university administration, Bri O’Brien said.
“Whether or not this is the case at SMC, the motives and interests of administrative members may not be in the best interest of students,” she said. “Additionally, administrative members are employed by the College, which obliges them to censorship. While students also have vulnerabilities, a collective discussion led by students, for students is significantly less vulnerable to censorship and undesirable consequences than the statement of an administrative member is.”
Aside from issues of censorship and vulnerability, Bri O’Brien said, the student perspective on the issue of sexual assault is the most important one.
“We choose to attend this institution, we pay to attend this institution, and we do so under the mutual agreement to receive an education, feel supported and safe on campus and express academic freedom in exchange for our tuition and participation,” she said. “Therefore, it is appropriate for students to address the concerns of students.”
Gwen O’Brien said the president and administration knew “The Hunting Ground” did not portray Saint Mary’s in a positive light, but they felt, because of the subject matter, it needed to be shown at Saint Mary’s last Thursday.
“The evening was an important step for our community to acknowledge the frustrations with the legal and college/university disciplinary systems,” Gwen O’Brien said. “Together we will work to understand what each other is saying — students, faculty and administration — and improve procedures where needed. Our students should feel respected, supported and empowered.”
According to Bri O’Brien, the students who will speak on the panel are highly qualified and representative of each class year.
“They have personal experience with sexual assault, encounters with administration of similar natures, knowledge of relevant policy issues such as Title IX, holding a leadership position on campus, and, above all else, being a woman and a student of Saint Mary’s College,” she said.
The panel discussion seeks to voice the concerns of students through an academic and justice-focused perspective, Bri O’Brien said. It is important to distinguish this event from responses that originate outside of the Justice Education program.
Bri O’Brien said Monday’s panel discussion will allow students to speak out and be heard by fellow students and take advantage of the sisterhood at Saint Mary’s.
“We — the students — need to be heard and this is the way we are choosing to have our voices heard. The sisterhood among Belles is so unique, and it is because of this sisterhood that we must converse with each other, understand each other, and advocate for each other,” she said. “That’s what we are doing — we are women advocating for women. This is not to say that SMC does not advocate or support its students. It is to say that students should express their concerns the same as administration did on April 9.”
Gwen O’Brien said it is important to note that, even though Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame are separate institutions, many protocols, policies and procedures have changed for the better at both schools over the past five to 10 years.
“Student voices helped bring about some of those changes, and we appreciate their voices now,” Gwen O’Brien said. “Dialogue always makes a difference.”