Play promotes dialogue about sexual assault

By Neala Berkowski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 2, 2014

The University is trying to renew the conversation about sexual assault on campus by taking it to the stage.

As part of the University’s new sexual assault awareness campaign, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance debuted Naomi Iizuka’s play, “Good Kids” Thursday evening in the Arthur Miller Theatre on North Campus.

“Good Kids” is the first production from the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative. Produced with support from the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the play is part of the University's Expect Respect: Flip the Script campaign to prevent sexual assault.

“I think that theatre as a whole is incredibly powerful because it transforms an audience into a story,” SAPAC director Holly Rider-Milkovich said. “It asks them to imaginatively contemplate this happening in their own lives or the lives of someone else. And that is a different kind of learning than in a workshop or in training.”

Set in a Midwestern high school, the play is loosely based on events that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio in 2012 when the rape of a female high school student by two football players was documented and posted on social media, gaining national media attention.

Sexual misconduct has also been a prominent topic on campus in the last year. The University’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Last year, the University ranked second nationally among colleges and universities in the number of reported sexual assaults, though officials have attributed the increase to higher reporting rates.

In recent weeks, the University announced plans to hire a sexual misconduct program manager and to release a full report on sexual misconduct on campus, separate from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution’s annual report.

“We know that sexual assault happens at the University of Michigan,” Rider-Milkovich said. “We know that alcohol-facilitated sexual assault happens and we know that students are victimized by social media. All those things happen on our campus happen too, so it’s very relevant.”

In the play, Chloe, played by Music, Theatre & Dance junior Daisy Bishop, becomes intoxicated at a high school party and can’t remember the events that proceed. After live tweets and YouTube videos begin to unravel the mystery, the media arrives and everyone begins pointing fingers.

Christopher Kilmartin, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington who attended the performance, said blaming the survivor was a common occurrence in the play.

“This is a very common reaction in this case where people are asking, ‘Why did she drink so much? Why did she dress that way?’ Victim-blaming is a security operation. It’s a way for people to feel safer. I’m going to find something that the victim did and attribute her victimization to that then because then if I don’t do that, I’m going to be safe.”

Music, Theatre & Dance senior Jocelyn Weberg, who attended the performance Thursday, said the play was successful in exploring themes surrounding sexual assault.

“The script is new and it’s really relevant,” Weberg said. “I really think it brought up a lot of issues that people don’t really talk about. A lot of people aren’t really educated in what’s right and what isn’t in these kinds of situations.”

After the show, Rider-Milkovich and Kilmartin moderated a discussion where audience members had a chance to ask questions and share their comments with actors and others involved in the production.

Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Tara Stallion, who plays the character of Madison, said some characters in the play have a hard time speaking up for themselves and the victim.

“When you’re around your friends a lot of times it’s harder to speak your mind and say, ‘Hey, that’s wrong,’” she said. “When you have a bunch of girls together, it becomes a lot harder to stand out as an individual and to point out things that are messed up or that you don’t agree with so you kind of just go with the flow.”

“Good Kids” runs Oct. 3, 4, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 5 and 12 at 2 p.m.