Sharon Sullivan, professor of theater and women’s and gender studies, and Shelley Bearman, project coordinator for sexual assault education and prevention, screened “UnSlut: A Documentary Film” March 1 in Mabee Library Room 206B.
The documentary explores the harmful effects of sexual shaming by examining the experiences of several women who have experienced it. The film considers how positive change can be made both personally and institutionally. There is a particular focus on Retaeh Parsons, a teenager who committed suicide as a result of bullying, and her family.
The documentary also includes interviews with experts, such as Ebony Utley, associate professor of communication studies at California State University, and Shira Tarrant, author and professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at California State University.
People who have worked with victims, such as Mick Foley, who volunteered for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, spoke in the documentary.
“I cannot say how important of an issue this is right now,” said Lakpa Sherpa, graduate student in social work. “It’s a film that makes us aware about [shaming] which is the first step to doing something about it.”
An open discussion followed the screening. Audience members were encouraged to ask and answer questions or voice any thoughts or concerns they had. Topics included how men experience sexual shaming and how it differs from the way women experience it, the role of sex education and what age to start talking to kids about sex.
“I understand that it’s a touchy subject, but I’m hoping that by bringing more light and awareness to these things, like through Sexual Assault Awareness Month where we have a lot of things happening, that maybe it will be less taboo and we can start those conversations,” said Katie Wade, senior history major and president of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity’s Washburn chapter.
The event had a higher turnout the Sullivan expected and extra chairs had to be brought in. She also felt the sizable crowd was responsive and engaged in the film and discussion.
“I think people are going to continue to think about what we saw today and the discussion that we had,” Sullivan said. “I was really happy people were able to articulate some of their concerns for young people today, especially their concerns around sex education and bullying.”
Sherpa hopes this will show people who struggle with any of these issues they are not alone.
“If you look carefully, there are people you can reach out to,” Sherpa said. “There are people you can trust and there are people who will help you and support you.”
This screening is one of the programs funded by a near $300,000 grant provided to Washburn from the United States Department of Justice. The purpose of this grant is to fund a project to fight sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking on campus. Sullivan is project co-investigator, along with Joel Bluml, associate vice president of Student Life.
Sullivan currently has plans for four different programs. The first is online training on the subject to give students a common understanding of these issues. The training will be available to everyone, but it will be required by the Department of Justice for all incoming students.
The second program is bystander training to teach people how to safely intervene if they witness violence or abuse.
Sullivan plans to host workshops on healthy relationships.
“A lot of us don’t grow up seeing healthy relationships,” Sullivan said. “A lot of us come from divorced families and if you haven’t seen it how do you know how to do it.”
Sullivan also wants to offer programing on what she refers to as positive masculinity, a challenge to traditional notions of masculinity.
“There’s so many images of masculinity in our culture, in our popular culture especially, that are very harmful to men and women, but it harms men especially because they’re not allowed to be fully human,” Sullivan said. “One of the gentlemen tonight was talking about how boys get bullied if they’re not masculine enough.”
Washburn is currently accepting volunteers for this project. So far 40 students have volunteered for what is currently being called the Rollout Team. This team is responsible for promoting programing and assisting with activities and tabling.
“If this is something that you are passionate about and that you want to change something about on our campus, there are opportunities and ways for you to do that,” Wade said.
Any student who is interested can email Bearman to learn more.