Documentary viewing and panel highlight issue of sexual assault on campus

Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 10:21pm

SAPAC Program Manager Heather Colohan, Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Seney, and Title IX Project Lab Manager Kamaria Porter discuss different parts of the film "The Hunting Ground" at the Ann Arbor District Library Thursday evening.

SAPAC Program Manager Heather Colohan, Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Seney, and Title IX Project Lab Manager Kamaria Porter discuss different parts of the film "The Hunting Ground" at the Ann Arbor District Library Thursday evening. Buy this photo
Keemya Esmael/Daily

On Thursday night, the Ann Arbor District Library, in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Michigan Community Scholars Program, offered a free viewing of the 2015 documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” which depicts sexual violence on college campuses and the failures of universities to appropriately seek action against perpetrators of sexual assault. 

The viewing was followed by a panel discussion led by Elizabeth Seney, senior associate director of the U-M Office for Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator; Heather Colohan, program manager for the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center; and Kamaria Porter, U-M doctoral candidate and Title IX Project Lab manager.

The film discussed the shame survivors feel in speaking out, the actions by universities to minimize reports of sexual assault and the role star atheletes have played in sexual assault allegations.

Because the film was made in 2015, Seney discussed the changes and lack thereof she has seen in the culture surrounding sexual misconduct. Seney said while there has been an increase in reporting incidents of sexual assault, that does not necessarily correlate with an increase in action taken against perpetrators because it is dependent on the outcome desired by the person reporting the allegation. 

“The reasons for actions being taken depends on a couple different things, and one is what — and the word we use in the policy is — proclaiment or claimant, what they want to see happen, and sometimes that’s an investigation and sometimes that’s an adaptable resolution and sometimes that’s no action from the University,” Seney said. 

LSA freshman Aaron Lev is part of the Michigan Community Scholars Program and attended the event as a requirement for his program. Lev said based on the panel discussion, he does not think there has been much improvement in the handling of sexual assault claims since the movie came out in 2015.

“It didn’t seem like that much has really changed since the movie happened,” Lev said. “That was my big takeaway.”

Colohan mentioned the tools in place to educate first-year students about sexual misconduct, including an online course about sexual assault, which students complete prior to arriving on campus, and the mandatory workshops known as Relationship Remix and Change it Up, which are required for first-year students to learn about consent and healthy relationships.

LSA freshman Grace Jung, said the panel discussion enlightened her about resources available on campus to report assault, such as SAPAC. 

“One thing I took away was the amount of research that goes into the policy behind sexual assault with SAPAC and the different organizations,” Jung said.  “If something were to happen within my four years here, I hope to see Michigan respond in a supportive way and in a way that leads the victim to the justice they want, need and deserve.”

LSA freshman Sukainah Khan had seen the documentary multiple times, and felt the panel discussion did not clarify whether the University effectively addresses assault.

“When we were listening to the responses (of panelists), some of it was a little dissatisfying,” Kahn said. “A lot of the answers were good answers, and I know they (the University) do have resources, but they didn’t really address the accessibility to them …Yes, there are measures to take, but whether or not they are being effective … It’s just questions to ask. There’s always room for improvement.”

During the panel, Porter said the improvement needed in addressing sexual assault is beyond University policy.

“I don’t think we’re there yet as a culture, and there is a lot more institutions can do to address these issues outside of policy,” Porter said.