Activists featured in documentary film share experience and advice with Notre Dame students
The Hunting Ground is a 2015 documentary about the rape culture that plagues college campuses. It features university student survivors who share their tragic experiences of sexual assault and relates how the university administration at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) refused to accept the legitimacy of these victims’ claims, making it very difficult for them to report.
The documentary ends with the single phrase, “We can stop this epidemic.”
This assertion is the reason that Andrea Pino and Annie Clark travel to college campuses, hearing survivors’ stories and doing what they can to change the culture surrounding sexual assault and rape in our country.
The Notre Dame Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, Gender Studies Program, Gender Relations Center, and Kroc Institute co-sponsored a question-and-answer session during which Pino and Clark talked with Notre Dame students about campus activism on sexual assault.
Pino and Clark are both UNC graduates and survivors of sexual assault. Frustrated with the lack of resources for survivors and the apathy of their university’s administration in regards to sexual assault, these women decided to take action.
“We decided to file a Title IX Complaint against UNC, basically as a last resort,” Clark said at the event. “We both loved our institution … It was a last resort of decades of protest and letter writing and being excluded from the conversation … If you love something, you hold it accountable … UNC is a microcosm of what is happening nationally …Three years later we were on the front of the New York Times, and we had started a national conversation, and that conversation is what you saw in The Hunting Ground.”
“There needed to be a combination of political activists and [an] ability to resist against what is being done with this issue,” claimed Pino. “[Sexual assault] is being framed as a singular problem that is happening with certain cases, certain Jane Does, certain schools, certain time periods, and we were not talking about how this is a national epidemic.”
One Notre Dame student recounted to Pino and Clark the extreme emotional response the Notre Dame campus had after three sexual assaults reportedly occurred during syllabus week this fall. The student asked the activists how the student body can channel these emotions into actual change.
Pino replied, “The way to combat that, and the way that we’ve been able to combat that, is to continue talking about it as more than those three cases—how it’s been happening for a very long time. For you in your four years here, how have things changed or not changed? How many friends do you have who have been through this? Do you feel safe here? Those are very difficult conversations, but they are very important.
“It is really about getting that collective voice out there,” Pino continued. “When we talk about episodic versus thematic framing, there’s a theme there. There are multiple people: Holy Cross, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame [students] that have experienced sexual violence for many years. It’s very different to hear it that way than to hear that there were three cases during syllabus week.”
Clark urged students to investigate the sexual assault cases at Notre Dame and to identify breakdowns in the system. “I would also ask for data,” she said. “How many reports there are … how many of those people choose to go through a procedure, how many people were found responsible, and out of those responsible, what are the sanctions? If you have 100 reports and only three people are going through the process, what is happening there?”
Leaving the audience with encouraging words, Pino claimed, “We can impact our communities. Even if it is that one survivor you believe who is then able to report it because of [your support]. It might be small, but you do impact that person’s entire life.”
She concluded, “You can change policy. Three years ago, UNC told us the policy was never, ever, ever going to change because it had been around since the 1700s. It is now changed … Things are possible. It sometimes does seem very difficult when things seem to be imbedded into our culture, but things are not impossible, especially when it comes to a student body. You are very powerful.”
Caroline Corsones is a senior English major with a minor in business economics. She found herself very lucky to be in the presence of women as inspiring as Andrea Pino and Annie Clark. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.