College Democrats to host sexual assault survivors advocate
Courtney Becker | Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Just over a week after Amy Ziering, documentarian and producer of “The Hunting Ground,” spoke at the University, the Notre Dame College Democrats will host Kamilah Willingham, a lawyer and author whose story is featured in Ziering’s film, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in DeBartolo Hall.
Willingham’s lecture, entitled “Courage Through Controversy: Standing Up to Rape Culture,” comes in the wake of the University releasing the results of the 2016 Campus Climate Survey results on March 29. The results revealed that 5 percent of female respondents and 1 percent of male respondents reported experiencing non-consensual sexual intercourse while a student at Notre Dame.
Senior Grace Watkins, co-president of the College Democrats, said while the fact that bringing two people involved with “The Hunting Ground” to campus was a coincidence, the group invited Watkins with the goal of addressing sexual assault on campus was a timely event in light of the survey results.
“I sit on [the Committee for Sexual Assault Prevention], so I knew that the results were coming out, and I knew that April 12 was Denim Day, as well, so that was part of the decision for scheduling it then,” she said. “My personal background is in sexual assault advocacy, so I knew about Kamilah’s work for a long time before and really respected her, and admired her.”
After opening up about surviving sexual assault while she was a student at Harvard Law School and the counterproductive manner in which Harvard handled her case in “The Hunting Ground,” Willingham also co-organized the #JustSaySorry campaign on social media. The campaign brings together survivors of campus sexual assault and their allies “in demanding apologies from the schools that failed them,” according to Willingham’s website.
Her courage in sharing her story, as well as her work following the release of “The Hunting Ground,” Watkins said, has made Willingham a prominent figure in combating sexual assault on campus.
“I think her story is really important to hear,” she said. “She’s also brilliant and has a lot of ideas about how sexual assault advocacy should be moving forward.”
Watkins said the College Democrats’ decision to host Willingham was not a partisan decision, but was prompted by various instances throughout the 2016 presidential election.
“In terms of the decision for bringing her as the College Democrats speaker — given what’s she’s talking about isn’t a partisan issue, it was just kind of the language we’ve seen — it was a response to the language we’ve seen about women from the Republican party during the election season,” she said.
This rhetoric, Watkins said, contributed to the rape culture that is prevalent in today’s society, something Willingham is working to shine a light on.
“[I hope students] just [learn] what rape culture is — because it’s a working definition — and realizing that it’s not partisan,” she said. “It’s something that we should be using to explain why sexual assault is so prevalent on our campus and off, and what kind of conditions lead to that kind of sexual violence being possible.”