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The Hunting Ground film shown in response to Title IX concerns

Experts on sexual assault and activism answer questions from students after the film showing. Photo by Jeff Li.

This week, “The Hunting Ground” offered a fresh perspective on the ongoing national conversation about how colleges and universities handle cases of sexual assault. The documentary, which was first shown at Grinnell on Thursday, April 16, and will be showed again tonight at 7 p.m., was accompanied by renewed discussion of Grinnell’s handling of Title IX policy.

Professor Theresa Geller, English, and Jim Reische, the vice president for Communications, brought the film to Grinnell in observance of National Faculty Day of Action, which was April 16. The day is put together by the organization Faculty Against Rape (FAR), which aims to demonstrate faculty support for the survivors of sexual assault on college campuses. Geller is the only member of FAR at Grinnell.

Both Geller and Reische said that they hoped the documentary showing and the panel would help develop campus conversations about sexual assault, which have been ongoing since President Raynard Kington’s request for the federal Office of Civil Rights to review the College’s handling of sexual assault cases and separate Title IX violations cases filed against the College in late February.

Experts on sexual assault and activism answer questions from students after the film showing. Photo by Jeff Li.
Experts on sexual assault and activism answer questions from students after the film showing. Photo by Jeff Li.

“Why aren’t we continuing that conversation so that we don’t end up on next year’s list as the second-highest rape reporting in the country?” Geller said. “One can say that more people feel safe reporting, but we have … no proof of that. I have seen no evidence to back that up … It’s a really powerful film that will hopefully get people to focus on the plight of survivors, especially when Title IX policy isn’t followed to the letter of the law.”

Both Geller and Reische said that they hoped that “The Hunting Ground” would start important discussions on campus.

“So much of what’s happened on campus this year has been about us and about people within our community, and we thought it was an important moment to look outward and realize that this is a national issue,” Reische said. “We think it’s important for everybody to look around, understand what’s going on across the country … and also learn from what other schools are doing or not doing so that we can actually get better at helping people.”

The panel of experts following Thursday’s showing was organized in an effort to contextualize the documentary and provide a space for communal conversation about sexual assault and Title IX policies at Grinnell.

“[We are] providing a more structured way [of viewing the film],” Reische said. “So you don’t just have people come in and see the movie and the lights go up and everybody goes out into the night, kind of traumatized—because it’s a very stressful movie—and with no way to process it.”

Geller invited panelists to Grinnell known for their involvement in feminist and transgender advocacy movements. Following the movie, panelists answered questions from audience members that focused on issues of organizing activist work both on Grinnell’s campus and on a national scale.

Dissenting Voices (DV), the student activist group that began publicly protesting Grinnell’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases in November 2014, was one of the groups that supported “The Hunting Ground” viewing at Grinnell, along with the Office of the President, the Rosenfield Program and FAR.

Geo Gomez ’15, the community and outreach coordinator for DV, helped organize a second panel that will follow the Friday screening of “The Hunting Ground.” The panel will showcase student perspectives from a variety of multicultural groups, a decision partially inspired by claims that DV has not been active enough in addressing issues of racism on campus.

“The student panel is supposed to be comprised of students, particularly from diverse backgrounds, gearing towards multicultural groups,” Gomez said. “If you want to attend the panel, you don’t have to agree with the actions or rhetoric of Dissenting Voices. We actually are hoping to address some of the points of disagreement on how we’ve been perceived.”

Anita DeWitt ’17, a board member of Concerned Black Students (CBS), will serve on tonight’s panel. DeWitt said that addressing issues of intersectionality in sexual assault is especially important in light of recent Yik Yak posts accusing CBS of defending alleged sexual assailants.

“This whole CBS versus Dissenting Voices thing has completely silenced all women of color on campus because, again, we are forced to choose sides,” DeWitt said. “Like, ‘Are you black or are you a woman?’ One, I’m Anita DeWitt, and then I’m a black woman.”

DeWitt, Gomez and student panelists representing a total of eight student groups will answer questions following tonight’s showing of “The Hunting Ground.” Dissenting Voices offered students the opportunity to submit questions anonymously online using their email

As the Grinnell community continues to discuss how the College should handle sexual assault cases, Reische said that he wanted to remind students that sexual assault is a sensitive issue and urges all participants in the discussion to be mindful of people from all sides.

“One of the things that’s been hard for me personally this year … has been the really hardened positions that we’ve seen on both sides,” Reische said. “There’s been a loss of perspective on the fact that everybody involved is a human being. This is a difficult thing for me to say, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m a survivor of sexual assault myself. I’m not just a vice president, I’m not just part of ‘the administration.’ People I love have been affected by sexual violence and that’s true of just about everybody involved on all sides of it.”

Geller suggested that the filmic format of “The Hunting Ground” can provide a particularly apt way of cultivating empathy and allowing viewers to understand the experience of student-survivors.

“Film and media provide us [with] … another mode of representing life,” Geller said. “We don’t have to go by the dominant order’s vision of the world. We can envision other worlds, and other ways of being in the world … I think that film helps us understand and give voice to those otherwise voiceless.”

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