Filmmaker Kirby Dick has directed over 10 featured documentary films, including “The Invisible War,” and “Twist of Faith,” — both of which were Oscar-nominated. Dick was in the process of making another film, when he learned of the severity surrounding the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. He felt this issue was more pressing.
“We thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great story. Let’s follow that,’” Dick said.
As a result, “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses and administration cover-ups, was produced and released this year.
As part of a series of events surrounding Sexual Assault Awareness month, Lehigh’s American studies department sponsored a screening of the “The Hunting Ground,” followed by a Q&A session with Dick, the director and writer, on April 22.
Dick opened the event by explaining the inception of his newest film and how it has sparked national buzz surrounding the issue of rape and sexual violence on college campuses.
Brooke DeSipio, the director of the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support, and John Pettegrew, the director of the American studies department, also gave brief remarks aimed at making survivors aware of resources and support available to them.
“We know that gender violence on college campuses is a huge national issue right now, so it’s a great opportunity to have the film screened here and the filmmaker here to engage in conversation with,” DeSipio said. “I’m really hoping that it encourages Lehigh students to become more aware about what the resources and reporting and options are for them on our campus.”
The film follows two sexual assault survivors, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, as they travel cross-country to develop a national support network for other victims, later teaming up with student activist Sofie Karasek from the University of California at Berkeley.
Through a series of vignettes, the film tells the stories of dozens of students who were under-supported, or in some instances silenced and victim-blamed, by their university’s administration in response to their assaults.
Following the films screening, Dick took the stage in Zoellner’s Diamond Theatre to respond to questions from an audience of students, community members and over a dozen faculty and administrators.
The Q&A session addressed issues of university response to assault, national legislation changes and patterns of sexual misconduct arising from the group mentality of athletic teams and Greek organizations. It also addressed how best to support victims and grassroots changes that students can begin to make on their own.
“I’m hoping (students) can take (the) larger national conversation and then apply it down to what’s happening on our campus around these issues,” DeSipio said. “Lehigh has a lot of great resources available to them.”
Addressing the university staff and administration in the room, Dick reiterated their responsibility to advocate for victims until they are able to do so for themselves, by cooperating fully with protocols and legal sanctions to ensure justice for survivors.
“A school has to first, publish the information and two, they have to release it,” Dick said, referring to the numerous universities in the film who failed to accurately report sexual assault on their campuses. “If they don’t, they’re participating in a cover up.”
In a powerful conclusion, Dick addressed his own anger over this issue and the leniency often extended to aggressors. Each university featured in the film had issued hundreds of expulsions over academic honor code violations but as little as zero over sexual assault cases.
“I don’t just want rapists expelled,” Dick said. “I want rapists in jail.”
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