Notes on ‘The Hunting Ground’: CUNY Community Screening and Conversation

The Hunting Ground poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Julia Suklevski

Based on the well-publicized number of sexual assault cases on college campuses across the United States, many might assume that these assaults are occurring at an alarming rate. They would be correct. But this is no recent phenomenon. For decades, the epidemic that has been impacting our nation’s college students was something that administrations did not want to admit was actually happening. This resulted in injustice for survivors, their experiences invalidated by the institution that was to provide them equal access to a safe learning environment.

I serve as a volunteer Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies (DOVE) Program Advocate at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, and I’m a student studying in the Women’s Studies department at City College. So domestic violence and sexual assault are issues I think about and discuss often, and why I, along with Arlene Verapen, was inspired to help bring an important documentary,The Hunting Ground, a film that has been screened on college campuses all over the nation, to further the discussion at The City College of New York.

The Hunting Ground (2014), a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, was screened on April 22nd and April 23rd, to members of the City College community, as well as concerned members of the public. The film, directed by Academy- and Emmy Award-winning documentarian Kirby Dick, follows two survivors turned activists for a grassroots movement to strengthen alliances between survivors of sexual assault and the public. These advocates used their voices to raise awareness about how college administrations handle cases of sexual assault and violations of Title IX.

Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who were sexually assaulted during their first year of college, are highlighted in the film for their dedication to the idea that survivors of sexual assault do not have to remain victims of policies and barriers that prevent them from seeking justice. They advocate for thorough investigations of their respective university’s Title IX violation, an equality law that institutions receiving federal financial aid must uphold. Title IX protects students from experiencing discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities at universities that receive federal funding. Discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

If a university’s administration fails to uphold the Title IX policy by not responding promptly and effectively to sexual harassment or assault, it creates a hostile environment for the survivor. This hostile environment gives the student the right to proceed with filing a report to the Department of Education that the university is in violation of Title IX. Clark and Pino did just that at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill following their assaults. They inspire thousands of individuals across the nation’s universities to explore this option if they also experienced poor follow-through of their reported sexual assaults. Women’s Studies Program Coordinator Arlene Verapen says, “Opening the eyes of the general population is important for change. Annie’s and Andrea’s stories are catalysts for an important movement on college campuses. Educating our community about Title IX is the key to finding justice.”

The documentary goes on to explain the many layers and complexities that hinder survivors from receiving the justice they deserve. Universities are large institutions that receive funding from the government, as well as private donors and alumni. Its reputation oftentimes trumps the dignity of the survivor. In a society where rape culture is not only disturbingly present, but in some cases, encouraged, it is unfortunately easy to see how the epidemic continues to grow, silently but with great force.

Post-screening panel. From left: Professor Ackerman; Romy Fabal, Student Health Services Staff Nurse; Teresa Walker, Executive Director of Student Health Services; Michelle Baptiste, CCNY Title IX Coordinator; and Julia Suklevski.

Professor Patricia Ackerman, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at City College, moderated the community conversation following both screenings. Members of the panel included myself, Michele A. Baptiste, the Title IX coordinator for CCNY, Romy Fabal, Student Health Services Staff Nurse; Teresa Walker, Executive Director of Student Health Services; Dr. Laura Iocin and Dr. Erin Jeanette of the Counseling Center; and Professor Teresa Lopez-Castro and Professor Lesia Ruglass of the Psychology Department. The Office of Public Safety was also present.

As someone who has had individuals very dear to me experience sexual assault and did not receive adequate support from a school administration, it pains me to think that so many individuals have no option but to remain silent about assault. As a trained advocate and crisis counselor to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, I was heartened to see the number of people who made time to attend the screening. It was a powerful moment during a crucial time: we must continue to push awareness and ongoing dialogue in order to combat decades of negligence and injustice.

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Speak Up and Speak Out Against Domestic Violence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Gargi Padki, Community Engagement Fellow, Colin Powell School

Project Speak Up Speak Out will release a photo project that has been in development since early October on December 2nd at 12:30pm in the North Academic Center rotunda.

During our “16 Days Against Gender Violence,” we will display photos taken of over a hundred students, faculty, and staff at City College in order to start a dialogue about domestic violence awareness on our campus. Speak Up Speak Out is committed to breaking the silence of domestic violence and addressing violence in our communities as a public health issue. In the spring, we will begin recruiting volunteers to help in our continued efforts to engage the college community to speak out against domestic violence.

At Speak Up Speak Out we want to empower students to take a stand against violence, and we believe that starts by educating ourselves about abusive relationships. We believe that domestic violence is prevalent in our society, that it exists across race, class, and gender lines, that it exists on our campus, and that we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to put an end to intimate partner violence.

Abuse can often be tracked back to early signs of an abuser’s need to control one’s partner. A fairly innocuous request, such as asking for access to a partner’s email or social media accounts, can be a sign of unhealthy possessiveness or controlling behavior. An abusive partner will begin to isolate and control early in the relationship to assert power, and taking control of a Facebook or email account can lead to digital dating abuse.

Domestic violence is often hidden because of shame or embarrassment, but at Speak Up Speak Out we encourage students to begin taking the journey to better understand cycles of violence and gain access to the resources available in their communities by talking about the issue with others.

Next week we’ll be displaying our photographs around campus of students who support domestic violence awareness. Look for that, and in the meantime, visit projectspeakupspeakout.wordpress.com for more information.

Speak Up Speak Out is a project supported by the Community Engagement Fellowship at the Colin Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York, and is partnered with CONNECT NYC, a community center located in Harlem that works to build safe families and peaceful communities.