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Living Feminist Theory at Grinnell: Takeaways from “The Hunting Ground”

Last week, a number of students and faculty attended two campus-wide screenings of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary that exposes rape culture on college campuses across the country. The documentary centers around the actions of Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, two former students at UNC Chapel Hill who, after learning they both had similar experiences reporting their rapes to administration, filed a Title IX complaint against their school, and have gone on to lead a nationwide movement holding schools accountable for sexual assault. Here are some lessons that I think we can take away from the film, as well as the student-led panel discussion that followed Friday night’s screening:

• “The Hunting Ground” does a great job of putting on record the lengths to which colleges will go to cover up rates of sexual assault in order to protect their institutional image. For that reason, one of the most important takeaways is transparency. If school administrators are so proud of their improvements, then why are covert meetings still taking place without input from students? We need to demand transparency, in all things, and demand participation beyond the vague “working group.”

• One of the best ways for the administration to become more transparent, and win student trust back, is to get rid of their legal consultants, Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez. We are seeing the same divisions at Grinnell as those that appeared at Occidental College, another school that was under the watch of Smith and Gomez.

• While the recent petition demanding the removal of Yik Yak represents a step forward, bullying is not the same as the harassment and silencing of survivors. Survivors have had their physical safety threatened and terrible things said about them publicly not just on Yik Yik, but everywhere on campus. This sexual terrorism silences survivors from coming forward and reporting to school administrators. The school does not even have to suppress numbers, because the harassment and threats made towards survivors who bring cases forward effectively already does this for them. This sexual terrorism tells other survivors to shut up and not bring their cases forward, or they will become targets for harassment and threats of violence too. How can we actually stand with survivors as a campus? 

• To take a campus-wide stand with survivors first requires us to believe in them. Only about two percent of sexual assault allegations are false, and as “The Hunting Ground” shows, there is very little for survivors to personally gain from coming forward with a report. We need to build a community that recognizes the bravery of survivors who decide to come forward and report. Survivors do not ask for our pity, they ask for our respect to listen and act.

• We need to stop derailing the conversation and changing the topic. The activists in “The Hunting Ground” were not calling for their college president’s resignation, and neither are we. Calling for President Raynard Kington’s resignation renders survivors invisible and silences them once again. Instead, we need to make concrete and practical changes now. 

• We need to form a committee of faculty, staff and students who will choose Title IX advisors to replace Leslie Gomez and Gina Smith. They have failed to gain trust from survivors and activists. If we have committees voting on architecture firms to design buildings that won’t even be able to use while we are on campus, then why do we have no say in those who shape the sexual assault policy and procedures that immediately impact our lives? Survivors need to have a say in who we seek for council for compliance with Title IX.

• We need a semiautonomous Title IX office, built on the model of the Ombudsperson. This will provide much needed structural autonomy, so that those invested in the brand of the College hold less sway in this area, which requires compliance with the federal government.

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