CNN aired the highly anticipated documentary “The Hunting Ground” on November 22, which focuses on students who have been victims of sexual assault at colleges across the country. It also provides a critical eye to a few universities’ responses to the cases of sexual assault.
Florida State University and Harvard University are now enraged over the documentary, claiming it does not accurately display the nature of the sexual assault cases on their campus, and called for CNN to not air the film.
“It is inexcusable for a network as respected as CNN to pretend that the film is a documentary rather than an advocacy piece,” said John Thrasher, FSU president, in an online statement. “Yet with its co-production and airing of it, CNN is putting its imprimatur on a film that falls far short of the basic reporting standards we expect from a cable TV news outlet that calls itself ‘the most trusted name in news,’” said Thrasher.
It appears that universities like FSU and Harvard are simply continuing their normal practices of denying the obvious ugly truths that exist on their campuses concerning sexual assault. Harvard is especially known for their mishandling of sexual assault cases.
Harvard had the highest response rate of all schools surveyed in a national survey released by the Association of American Universities that showed 31 percent of female seniors at Harvard had been victims of non-consensual sexual contact.
These reactions from various administrators show that there is an institutional denial that exists at universities when it comes to sexual assault. Instead of accepting and listening to the criticism the documentary shared, FSU and Harvard are relying on pure denial and defending themselves by attacking the documentary and the filmmakers.
While the universities have many complaints about “The Hunting Ground,” neither school has asked for a specific retraction or change in the documentary. Their problems with the documentary lie solely with how it represents their university because it makes the administration look bad.
Because the universities cannot deny the facts of the cases of sexual assault, they are relying on attacking the documentary by insulting the filmmakers and their journalistic integrity.
Thrasher even went so far as to compare the documentary to Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia fraternity rape story, which was a story published by Rolling Stone that was later found to be completely fabricated.
The filmmakers of “The Hunting Ground” responded to Thrasher’s comments by explaining their role as journalists and defending their practices. A statement from the filmmakers said, “we are outraged by this comparison. Not a single case that we featured in the film has been discredited as being untrue and even President Thrasher hasn’t asked us to retract any piece of the film. He just didn’t want the film to be seen because it criticizes FSU for their handling of a sexual assault case,” said the filmmakers on their website.
Officials at FSU and Harvard are letting their pride get in the way of the well-being of their students. Student safety should be the number one priority of universities, and these reactions show that their priorities and main concerns lie in image and reputation.
Universities across the country are approaching sexual assault cases on their campuses in different ways to figure out the best method to handle cases of students who are victims of sexual assault. FSU and Harvard should use the criticism provided by “The Hunting Ground” as a wake up call to improve their current methods of handling sexual assault on campus.