Especially relevant in the wake of the two assaults reported last week, Assistant Sociology Professor Kaitlin Boyle presented her upcoming research in rape and sexual assault reporting on college campuses in Fralin Auditorium on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The presentation was organized in conjunction with the Women’s Center and the Women’s and Gender Studies department.
“It’s actually a really exciting time to be talking about this. A lot of these conversations that are happening today were not even on the radar when I went to school,” Boyle said. “There just have been so many new and helpful policies that help survivors.”
Boyle’s research questions focus primarily on why people shy away from defining sexual assault as rape, and what keeps survivors from reporting to the authorities. Although her current research focuses on college students' experience with reporting rape, she also talks about societal barriers in general that might affect if a survivor chooses to report or not.
“There are two main and related takeaways: one being that there are very real aspects, even biological reasons, that people don’t label or report rape so it’s important not to judge them or blame them,” Boyle said. “The other being (there) are lots of things on college campuses and beyond to assist people and make it easier for them to report and seek justice.”
This particular lecture is a part of a series through the Women’s Center called “Through Feminist Eyes” with the objective of exposing students and faculty to an array of different subjects through the perspective of feminism.
“My biggest need in planning this round of 'Through Feminist Eyes' lectures is to make the feminism on campus more intersectional in terms of how does gender identity meet race, meet socioeconomic status, meet other identities,” said Mallory Foutch, Women’s Center program coordinator.
Topics in the presentation included not only subjects of sociology, but also law and public policy related to Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law that dictates how universities handle sexual assault investigations. She also discussed some of the chemicals that the brain releases during a traumatic experience that would affect a survivor's flight, fight or freeze response.
“The fact that I study the topic of rape from so many different angles has the capacity to pull interested people in from a lot of different areas,” Boyle said.
The lecture lasted for 45 minutes, and Boyle gave audience members the opportunity to ask her questions afterward. The conversation steered toward the subject of mandated reporting through Title IX and the legal process that occurs after a survivor chooses to report.
“It gets people to have conversations and possibly be challenged in their current notions of what they think or understand or know about campus sexual violence and gives them outlets to continue learning or to get involved,” Foutch said.
One audience member, freshman marketing management major Jessica Nankin, related Boyle’s lecture to "The Hunting Ground," a documentary released in early 2015 that followed the activism of two rape survivors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nankin visited a presentation by the two survivors, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, at American University in Washington, D.C., over the summer.
“It was one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve ever seen. It was inspiring to hear from survivors in person who wanted to help others,” Nankin said. “I wanted to see what (Boyle’s) lecture was like compared to how I felt after watching 'The Hunting Ground.' It was two very different ways of representing the data; it was informative, but I don’t know if it was as gut-wrenching as the documentary.”
The "Through Feminist Eyes" lectures will continue throughout the semester, with focus on how race and sexual orientation play into gender dynamics. The next topic is about LGBTQ+ representation in Latin-American film on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. in Fralin auditorium. Other programs that the Women’s Center is supporting include the national campaign “It’s On Us,” which is a pledge to stop sexual assault that will launch on Oct. 5.
“It’s cool to work at an office that’s very much needed on campus for talking about women’s empowerment, especially in a campus that is somewhat masculine in terms of our leadership and in terms of our militarized presence,” Foutch said.