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OP/ED: Students Drop Ball On Take Back The Night

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“You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time. You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine. Tell me what the hell do you know? Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.”

Nominated for an Oscar, these are the lyrics to the hit song Till It Happens To You from the ground breaking documentary film The Hunting Ground.

Released on Jan. 23, The Hunting Ground made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival and quickly became recognized for its efforts to shed light on the growing issue of sexual assault in colleges and universities.

The film focuses on Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students, who were victims of sexual assault while they were in school. Both women were model students who came to Chapel Hill for a full college experience; getting involved in Greek Life and extracurricular activities were all part of the plan. However, much to their surprise they unknowingly signed up for something else. Something that they didn’t mention in the tours and open houses of UNC Chapel Hill.

After reporting their sexual assaults to UNC Chapel Hill’s administration, Clark and Pino filed a Title Nine complaint against UNC in response to how poorly their cases were handled. The Title Nine or Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act states that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Clark and Pino just wanted justice, little did they know that they would become the faces of the movement to end sexual assault in academics.

The Hunting Ground implies that many college officials are more concerned with minimizing rape statistics for their universities than with the welfare of the students. Shockingly enough, the film also contains interviews with college administrators who state they were pressured into suppressing rape cases.

The film presents cases, aside from Pino and Clark’s, from students who alleged that they were sexually assaulted at their college campuses. It also touches on the controversy surrounding college administrators and how they either ignored the students, or required them to navigate a complex academic bureaucracy to have their claims addressed.

The Hunting Ground is only one way in which students have been coming together to help stop sexual assault. Other students have found different ways of combatting the issue, Emma Sulkowicz of Columbia University is among the many who have creative ways of spreading awareness.

Aided by four friends, Sulkowicz carried a 50-pound mattress onto the stage at her Columbia University graduation ceremony. The art-performance-slash-protest was very much publicized due to the fact that Sulkowicz had carried the mattress everywhere she went on campus since the beginning of her senior year in the fall, vowing to continue to do so until she graduated, or until Columbia expelled the classmate she accused of raping her at the start of her sophomore year in April 2013. Sulkowicz’s artistic protest caught the attention of many students, including some here at Mercy.

Take Back the Night is an international event and non-profit organization whose mission is ending sexual, relationship, and domestic violence in all forms. Hundreds of events are held in over 30 countries annually. Events often include marches, rallies and vigils intended as a protest and direct action against rape and other forms of sexual, relationship, and domestic violence.

On April 6, Student Life coordinated a Take Back the Night event at Mercy with hopes that women all across campus would attend. However, much to their surprise, attendance to the event was more than lackluster.

According to the National Sexual Violence Recourse center, rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. If that doesn’t sound alarming enough, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

Maybe we should reiterate the last part of that, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

Take Back the Night is an event that brings people of all ages and different walks of life together in order to fight something that is the same in every religion and culture. Some of the most groundbreaking Take Back the Night events take place on college campuses. To have one that was successful at Mercy would have been not only great for the community, but for students who may be suffering from being victims of sexual assault.

The event consisted of a lecture, and then a march in silence with signs to protest sexual assault as well as honor those who are victims.

Poor attendance has been attributed to the time of the event, with many students complaining that the time slot was inconvenient for their class schedule. Some blame the advertising. Yet not everyone was in class during the few hour stretch, and signs for the event were posted all over campus.

Very little responsibility has fallen on to the students, and maybe that should change.

It may be due to Mercy’s “commuter school” status or the blame of advertising of events, but for one reason or another, it appears that some Mercy students may think they are too cool to attend school events.

We can sit here and blame administration but the bottom line is that the failure of this event is a result of student engagement, or lack thereof. Although the college has made strides in improving student life and engagement, it is still up to our student body to want to become more involved. Take Back the Night could have been a great way to display how far we have come.

The important thing to remember is that no one is exempt from rape, it is something that we are all at risk of. We have to realize that the end of sexual assault in college starts with us, the students who come together to mobilize greater dialogue and social action about this growing issue.

For years, students have screamed for a voice. Don’t silence yourself, and take advantage of the opportunities presented to you.

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OP/ED: Students Drop Ball On Take Back The Night