Sexual assault in recent years has been a major concern for college campuses across the U.S. The Student Health and Counseling Center helped host two showings of the film ‘The Hunting Ground’ and subsequent panel discussions about the film and sexual assault on college campuses last week.
“We wanted to bring a showing here because we need to show these things, and we need to have these discussions,” said Betty Bang of the Student Health and Counseling Center.
On Thursday, the Dean of Students Office, STAR, University Police, the Department of Justice and the Title IX Office were all represented on the panel to have a discussion following the film.
UAA Chancellor Tom Case opened the event by talking directly to the audience about the safety and wellbeing of students on college campuses.
“It’s going to take all of us to really focus on learning about the realities of this challenge. This is not a public affairs issue — this is a safety issue, and it is near and dear to my heart. I think of my daughter, and my grandkids. This is something very important.”
Michael Votava, the Director of Student Conduct and Ethical Development at UAA, explained the protocol that should be followed for sexual harassment and misconduct.
“We call the complainant and the respondent and give them an opportunity in separate meetings to review Title IX’s report. If the evidence is there, then I would make a recommendation for the student to be either suspended or expelled from the university system.”
Votava explained that after a case is referred to the Dean of Student’s Office, they aim to send a letter to both parties the next day asking for them to respond within five days to schedule a review, have the review and then get letters out within 10 business days. Both parties have seven days to comment, and then the case goes to the Vice Chancellor with Student Affairs who has 14 days, and then the Chancellor who has seven days.
The documentary-styled filmed described sexual assault on campuses as an “epidemic” that is a result of universities and even communities protecting sexual predators to try to maintain the reputation of the school, college sports, and large fraternities. The film suggested that the hundreds of millions of dollars in Alumni donations going to schools like Florida State University, Notre Dame, Columbia, Harvard and Penn State incentivizes certain administrations to turn a blind eye to assault and not take appropriate action.
“I’m glad that we have the film to bring this to light. I was very disappointed in learning about the number of cases at other major universities in the U.S. that went unaddressed, that made me very sad to see that,” said Votava. “I wonder how many predators those universities were allowing to remain on their campus. Part of Conduct is also to protect the community, and if it doesn’t appear as if the respondent is going to be able to be rehabilitated, then we don’t want them to come back.”
At least 15 individuals shared their stories in “The Hunting Ground” of being assaulted at their colleges, and when they went to their administration for help, faculty and staff told them not to talk about it, blamed them for assault, accused them of making it up, and even refused to investigate. One of the most striking accounts of an FSU student assaulted by at-the-time FSU football player Jameis Winston, detailed that administration claimed “they couldn’t find Winston” and therefore couldn’t investigate the assault. It wasn’t until Winston played in two playoff games that they officially opened an investigation. A Tallahassee police officer, an alumni of FSU, initially refused to open a police investigation. It wasn’t until a year after the initial assault that FSU even tested the victim’s rape kit, which tested positive for Winston’s DNA. At his trial, the judge presiding, who was also an alumni of FSU, found Winston not guilty.
“There’s someone I really care about who goes to one of those schools and it honestly made me scared,” said Andrew France, a student who watched the film on Thursday, Jan. 21. “I also got angry. People already hate the stereotypical top 100 colleges in America because of the price, but to hear about things that are so hidden is really frightening. Because it’s not just the school itself acting like a dictatorship, it’s also the community surrounding it and the government.”
The film unquestionably prompted feelings of frustration and shock in audience members; at one point in the film, a male student on camera dismissively asked, “So just because a woman says no, and then you have sex with her, you’re saying that’s rape?” Almost all members of the audience verbally responded, “Yes!”
The film emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability at universities, which many students feel is present at UAA.
“I think I realized more about my school, I mean I knew sexual assault happens, but I understood a lot more about UAA after watching that. I honestly just gained a lot of respect for UAA,” said France. “One of the schools that was mentioned, I have friends there and I walk around there, you can just walk right into the dorms and rooms. The safety precautions taken [at UAA] make a lot more sense now. If you compare the rates of sexual assault at UAA to other schools, it has to be the safety precautions that UAA uses that keeps us safe, and I really believe that.”
For more information about the film, check out http://www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com/the-facts/