Powers attends “The Hunting Ground,” addresses sexual assault

Molly Putman / Layout Editor

Following the release of an open letter on the topic Tuesday October 20, UAF Interim Chancellor Mike Powers attended a screening of “The Hunting Ground”, a documentary about the sexual assault and rape of women and men on college campuses in the United States.

“What you’re going to see tonight is heart-breaking, outrageous, infuriating, inexcusable, and painful,” Mike Powers, UAF interim chancellor, said prior to the screening. “On the other

The Hunting Grounds is an oscar nominated film dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. Image courtesy of The Hunting Grounds

The Hunting Grounds is an oscar nominated film dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. Image courtesy of The Hunting Grounds

hand as you watch the drive to bring this issue forward, you admire the courage and the power and how admirable it is, and how bold this effort is and frankly how inspiring it is.”

After the film, several attendees questioned Powers on UAF’s statistics regarding rape and sexual assault. According to Powers and his staff, there have been 44 reported sexual assaults (ranging from sexual harassment to rape) so far in 2015. In addition, there have been two suspensions, and one expulsion relating to rape this year. Powers said this was a considerable increase over the past four years, which saw only 42 sexual assault reports over the entire period.

“So that increase, counter-intuitive to logic obviously, is a good thing,” Powers said. “This is the effort that’s been happening in this last year to bring things forward and get this issue addressed.”

The showing was hosted by the Student Activities Office (SAO), while “The Hunting Ground” was selected by the student-led Nanook Diversity and Action Council (NDAC). The council addresses social justice and diversity issues

In particular, “The Hunting Ground” focuses on how sexual assault cases are consistently mishandled by university and college disciplinary systems; victims are mocked, discredited, or simply ignored while the assailant faces minimal or no charges. Many of the survivors and families interviewed in the film went so far as to say the handling of their cases were worse than the assault itself. The documentary has been shown at about five-hundred college campuses nation-wide. It features first-hand accounts from rape and sexual assault victims.

“It just really wasn’t reassuring, and if I were to be assaulted on campus I honestly don’t know what I would do.” Jessie Wattum, a UAF student who attended the screening, said. “Mike Powers also said that there was only one expulsion and two suspensions with all of those reports. That’s not entirely reassuring either.”

Despite the negative light “The Hunting Ground” shines on college institutions, Powers and other UAF staff members made it clear that there is support in both showing the film and creating a discussion to determine how UAF will work to create a safer campus. On October 21 a town hall meeting will be held in the Wood Center multi-level lounge at 6 p.m. to discuss UAF’s response to sexual assault issues.

“I want this group to come back tomorrow and I want to go through the definitions of consent, and of assault, and the code of conduct, and I want to do some questions, answers,” Powers said about the upcoming meeting. “Then what I would like to do is start thinking about a way forward, where we become a very, very safe campus.”

“My hope is that students will see how activism on their campus can be a positive and powerful thing,” Cody Rogers, SAO’s Associate Director of Programming, said. “Hopefully it will help our students come up with ways they can contribute to the conversation on our campus on sexual assault and violence, and help students find out how powerful their voice really is.”

At the viewing it was also announced that a support group for students was starting on campus.

“It’s here to support, connect, and talk about your experiences by being connected and hearing other student’s stories on campus.” Ronnie Houchin, adviser for NDAC and UAF transition programs coordinator, said. “The group hopes to help each other heal and move past experiences. This is a place to feel safe, this is a place to not feel alone, this is a place to feel heard, this is a place to feel cared for.”

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