As part of the annual Senior Transition Day, the school organized a screening of “The Hunting Ground,” a shocking documentary about sexual assault on college campuses nationwide, produced by parent Amy Ziering (Hannah Kofman ’14, Emma Kofman ’16). Having seen this film once before, along with a question and answer panel with three of the many sexual assault victims featured in the film, I can full-heartedly say that this documentary is insightful. And while it is commendable that the school arranged for our graduating class to see it, the screening seemed to be far from a success – at least initially.
Several times throughout the showing, the film stopped due to technical difficulties. We saw less than half the film after skipping several parts. The disappointing showing of this film was a disservice to and lessened the impact of this serious and important film. To make matters worse, during the pauses in between glitches, a few students – albeit a select number of the students in the room – thought the pauses were hilarious and started making loud clicking noises in jest. These actions were especially jarring as they came on the heels of a woman in the film discussing her terrifying sexual assault.
After we were dismissed from the theatre due to the technical difficulties, something incredible and spontaneous happened: three students stood up and decided to facilitate an impromptu forum discussing the unfinished topic at hand. What initially felt like a competitive screaming match over who understood the effects of sexual assault best – each student wanting a round of applause for being the most conscientious and righteous person in the room – grew into a fruitful and genuine conversation. Slowly, the discourse evolved and, one by one, my classmates stood up and shared their views about and personal experiences with sexual assault. Many boys asked thoughtful questions about how to interact with girls without making them feel threatened. Some girls expressed their frustration and anger with being called “sluts” for the way they dress and the demeaning terminology used to describe girls in general. Others commented on how sex with a girl is often viewed as a conquest that defines a boy’s manhood. Some acknowledged how sexual assault happens everywhere by every type of person, even in our world of privilege.
It became overwhelmingly clear to me during this student-driven conversation that we live in a bubble. Our world at Harvard-Westlake is both isolated and unique. On the one hand, we have a collective inability to fully understand the hardships of those who lead less privileged lives. On the other hand, we have an incredible ability to create a productive discussion about some of the most controversial issues that face our nation. I don’t know how many high school students would voluntarily – without adult supervision or coercion – spend an hour of their time debating and discussing sexual assault despite a truck full of Original Tommy’s Burgers reserved for their consumption waiting outside.
This day made me the most proud to be a Harvard-Westlake student. I can’t count the number of times I have been asked by a parent or potential student if I regret coming to Harvard-Westlake. I genuinely have trouble answering this question. Many who have asked me this question fear our heavy workload, competitive nature and intense environment. While I believe these fears are legitimate, I think it is equally important to recognize that Harvard-Westlake students have a hunger for knowledge, a ferocious desire to challenge themselves and an open-minded approach to addressing sensitive issues – as exemplified by this day’s eye-opening events. We will all graduate from this school with the tools to confidently articulate our ideas and the potential to be positive agents of change in our society and that is why I am proud to be a Wolverine.