Lehigh to host screening of documentary film 'The Hunting Ground,' Q&A with director

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s campaign, facilitated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), focuses on the prevention of sexual violence on college campuses. In conjunction with the month-long focus on the issue, Lehigh will host a screening of the documentary film The Hunting Ground, which highlights the extensive scope and institutional handling of campus sexual assault through real-life stories and statistics.

The screening will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 22 in the Diamond Theatre of the Zoellner Arts Center. A Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Academy Award-nominated and two-time Emmy Award-winner Kirby Dick, will follow the screening.

In what the Sundance Film Festival website calls “a tour de force of verité footage, expert insights, and first-person testimonies,” The Hunting Ground chronicles the experiences of undergraduate rape survivors as they pursue justice despite institutional push back, ongoing harassment and trauma. The film examines the problems with how some of the country’s leading universities handle on-campus rape cases and puts names and faces to a serious and timely issue. 

The Hunting Ground isn’t the first time the director has explored the far-reaching impact and institutional management of sexual violence. Dick’s 2012 documentary, The Invisible War, exposed a culture of sexual abuse at Marine Barracks Washington and helped influence important policy changes to reduce the incidence of sexual assault in the U.S. military.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won 2014 Emmy Awards for Best Documentary and Outstanding Investigative Journalism, Long Form; a 2013 Peabody Award; and the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.

Dick’s prior films include Outrage (2009), which discusses the covert hypocrisy of closeted gay or bisexual politicians who promote anti-gay legislation; This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), which examines the standards and methods of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system; and Twist of Faith (2005), an HBO-produced documentary in which a man speaks out about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest.

The Hunting Ground premiered in February at the Sundance Film Festival. Over 200 college campuses nationwide have scheduled screenings of the film in the month of April alone.

“I think Lehigh does a really good job of addressing these issues,” says Brooke DeSipio, director of the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support. “We are constantly striving to follow best practices... [and] trying to be transparent with our students, so I think this just fits into what we already do. It fits into the fact that we are having these ongoing conversations [and] that we want students to be aware of gender violence issues on campus. My hope is that exposing the not-so-great parts about the way colleges and universities handle incidents of gender violence on their campuses....encourages [students] to learn and find out more about all of the policies and resources and things that we do have in place to support them.”

Members of the university counseling center, gender violence support advocates and gender violence prevention peer educators will be present at the film screening. Community partners including representatives from Crime Victims Council and SAFE nurses from Lehigh Valley Hospital will also attend.

Students are invited to participate in a brown bag follow-up discussion on Thursday, April 23 from 12-1 p.m. in Maginnes 113. Key campus stakeholders will be present at the discussion to answer student questions about how Lehigh handles gender violence incidents.

The Lehigh screening and Q&A, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by American Studies; the South Side Initiative; Visiting Lecture Series; Student Affairs; Residence Life; the Office of Graduate Life; Communication & Journalism; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Political Science; Dean of Students/Student Life; Gender Violence Education & Support; and the Women’s Center.

To learn more about The Hunting Ground, view the film’s official trailer or visit its website.