Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films and director of movies such as Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Pulp Fiction (1994), was publicly accused of sexually harassing over 100 women in early October. The scale of the subsequent investigations has shed light on the widespread presence of sexual assault in Hollywood and in society, leading the Deerfield community to reflect on these issues on campus.
“He was too powerful for anyone to say anything about it, and that’s what’s scary,” said Alexis Levit ’18, one of three Feminism Club leaders. “[Sexual assault] is obviously rampant in the movie industry, which makes me think that it’s rampant in every industry.”
Lily Louis ’18, another club leader, explained that the response to this scandal “is indicative that times are changing, and that it is already a big step forward that he is being condemned, and he is being demonized, which is something that hasn’t happened in the past.”
Louis added, “[This] is a big moment, especially in the feminist movement, because women aren’t being [blamed] … because he is the perpetrator and that is very important.”
Levit additionally mentioned that Weinstein’s exposure has catalyzed increased awareness of sexual assault, stating, “Now that it’s all come out, now there’s a huge campaign, the ‘Me Too’ campaign, for people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in any industry.”
Relating to the Weinstein case, Deerfield’s administration has taken noticeable steps in recent years to protect its students from sexual misconduct. Amie Creagh, Assistant Head of School for Student Life, listed a series of initiatives designed to promote a safe and positive attitude towards relationships on campus: “Health class in sophomore year covers healthy relationships; the Transition to College Program for seniors includes a showing of The Hunting Ground followed by breakout discussion groups; Date Night, an initiative specific to Deerfield, is designed to help promote healthy relationships; last year’s Gender Symposium comprised ten different events focused on healthy relationships and gender; we also have Open Dorms and open common rooms, both of which are in place to ensure that Deerfield students can spend time with one another as friends,” she explained.
Dorms were reconfigured in the fall of 2015 to address gender relations on campus. Ms. Creagh specified, “We aimed for mirrored dorms for boys and girls with a shared quad in the middle. Mather and Scaife are a perfect example.”
Deerfield instituted several rules to ensure safety during private co-ed visitations. “When students do get visitations, they’re supervised, they check in, the faculty resident gets a visual from the kids and says, ‘Yes, you can have visitations,’ and … when the student is checking out, there’s a clear sense that ‘Yes, we’re all good,’” explained Ms. Creagh.
Levit mentioned that the healthy balance of safety and privacy during visitations demonstrate a significant effort to prevent sexual assault on campus, specifying, “Parietals are supposed to be Deerfield checking on [students]… and to prevent people from being pressured into doing things they don’t want to do,” attests Levit.
While visitations may have the most obvious results, each of the administration’s initiatives strive to ensure students’ safety. Helen Hicks ’18 said, “The Deans are very aware of what’s going on… and if something seems out of the ordinary, they’re not afraid to step in.”
However, the most distinct influence on Deerfield’s culture regarding sexism may be the community as a whole. One Love Club Officer Kevin Hendrick ’18 reflects, “Even though there’s some unfortunate sense of masculine superiority that everyone’s trying to deal with, I think that’s a lot different than a rape culture.”
Additionally, Deerfield’s Head of School and Student Body President are women, and the Feminism Club is an active campus organization that takes a vocal role in political discussion and holds regular student meetings.
Hendrick said, “Faculty can say a lot, and you can have Ms. Creagh or Dr. Curtis stand on a stage and tell you to do this or do that, but if your friends and your peers are willing to say what’s really right for you, I think that’s where you make the most impact.”
Ms. Creagh added, “Sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual mistreatment work is never done. [Our job] is to ensure that we are steadily maintaining sexual assault prevention as a priority at school.”