The After School Specials (ASS), a 5C a cappella group, received an email on Apr. 7 informing them that they had won the national “Til It Happens to You: Sing for Survivors” contest and were invited to perform the song at the White House on Apr. 14.
The competition called on college a cappella teams from across the country to tape their own renditions of Lady Gaga’s popular song, “Til It Happens to You.” The song and the music video, which were originally released on the film The Hunting Ground, drew attention to rape culture on college campuses.
The students are excited for the opportunity to perform in front of Vice President Joe Biden in an event hosted by It’s On Us, a nonprofit organization that promotes student activism around sexual assault prevention.
Russell Salazar CM ’18, a member of ASS, reflected on the school’s quick response to their funding requests. He said, “There was amazing support from all of them. Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pomona College responded immediately, saying that it was an amazing opportunity and that we should definitely do this. Pitzer College and Scripps College followed up shortly after that. The fact that they were so willing to help us get to DC was great.”
However, the 5C response to their victory has raised questions among some of the team members regarding the colleges’ motivation for supporting ASS’s trip. ASS member Pranay Yeturu PO ’17 said that, while he appreciates that the five colleges funded the a capella group to travel to the White House, he is skeptical of the schools’ support.
“I can't avoid the nagging feeling that our group is being paraded around as a public relations stunt to alleviate concerns about the lack of resources the college offers to sexual assault victims,” Yeturu said. “I hope that the support the colleges offered our a cappella group carries over to those affected by sexual assault and doesn't simply publicize the funding of our performance as a symbolic action to avoid taking any real action for victims. “
The song itself has received many awards and has been called “an anthem for a movement” by Bonnie Asaunto, the director of social activism for The Hunting Ground. She went on to call it “a real call to action” and “empowering.”
Amelia DeSnoo PO ’16, the President of ASS, spoke to the importance of the song’s message.
“It is saying that people that aren’t involved directly in the issue of sexual assault still need to be cognizant and aware of the fact that it happens,” she said. “You don’t understand the magnitude and the gravity of it until it happens to you.”
DeSnoo also talked about the song’s positive impact on her political engagement.
“After we started performing this a lot, I became more involved in this conversation on campus and starting these dialogues with my friends,” she said.
Rachel Bolton PZ ’17, a member of Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault actively involved in raising awareness about campus sexual assault, believes the song can have a negative psychological effects on victims of sexual assault.
She said, “I personally dislike Lady Gaga's song, and her use of the phrase, 'Til it happens to you' because I think it is pretty isolating for a survivor and anybody who is trying to support them.”
The music video released by Gaga on Sept. 17, 2015 follows three women who experience sexual assault while on campus. The video is prefaced with a disclaimer that reads, “The following contains graphic content that may be emotionally unsettling but reflects the reality of what is happening daily on campus.”
ASS did not attempt to imitate Gaga’s music video. Albert Chang PO ‘15 filmed the students singing at different places across the Claremont campuses. The response to the team’s video was predominantly positive.
Salazar was inspired by the overwhelming support students expressed for the video, saying that friends had reached out to him and thanked him for his contribution to the dialogue.
When asked about the “After Schools Specials” rendition in particular, Bolton said, “I thought the a cappella group did well [to] film at all five schools during the night and during the day…it goes beyond the traditional narrative of nighttime and sexual assault.”
DeSnoo expressed her interest in engaging in more activism as an a cappella team.
“Music is a very strong mode of communication and expression, and to be able to use that medium to communicate such an important idea to the larger college community in a way that people will listen, I think, is a moral obligation of sorts,” she said.