On Thursday, May 8 in HUB 302, 20-year-old American actress Alisha Boe spoke to around 400 UCR students about the prevalence of sexual assault in American society. On screen, Boe is best known for playing Jessica Davis, one of the lead female characters of the Netflix original series, “13 Reasons Why.” Her character has sparked controversy, with many critics blaming Jessica for her rape and not getting help immediately, to which she has responded in an interview with Elite Daily that, “We as a society are not able to not blame the victim … the conversation still hasn’t changed.” During the event, Boe connected Jessica’s experience with sexual violence to the millions of silenced rape and assault victims in America and made it known that such an occurrence is real, not merely something portrayed on a TV show.
“Press Play with Alisha Boe,” the official title of the event, was coordinated by ASPB as a part of the national It’s On Us campaign, which “13 Reasons Why” has partnered with. It’s On Us is a social movement created by Barack Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls that aims to bring awareness and increase the understanding of sexual assault on college campuses. Moderated by Karla Aguilar, assistant director and advocate of the on-campus CARE program at UCR, the discussion initiated with questions that mainly revolved around Boe’s personal experiences with mental illness, suicide and sexual violence.
In response to a question regarding how she connected to the suicide and sexual assault portrayed in “13 Reasons Why,” Boe revealed, “I’ve dealt with depression my whole life and I’ve had family members who have been suicidal, raped. To me, the show has provided me a platform where I can talk about it and advocate the awareness about it.” She provided advice for expressing self-love, sharing, “It’s all about self-care and just finding something constant that you love and can always turn to when you’re really down, when you don’t want to do anything. For me, for example, I really love washing my face, taking long showers, going on walks — anything that’s relaxing and takes my mind away from everything for a while.”
One of the most vehement responses from the audience, characterized by an instant round of applause, passionate cheers and snaps of the fingers, was when Boe addressed the so-called “bro mentality”: “Guys have this whole ‘bro’ mentality where they think it’s OK to treat a girl badly and that they have the power to treat them like shit.”
Aguilar also asked Boe about her experience meeting and speaking with former Vice President Joe Biden, to which she gushed, “I never would have thought in a million years that I would even meet Joe Biden.” On Wednesday, April 26, Boe promoted the It’s On Us campaign at George Mason University along with Biden as part of the campus’s mission of eradicating sexual assault, with Biden pressing for the inclusion of intervention and a higher understanding of consent in campus culture and Boe assuring victims that their voice matters despite feeling ashamed, guilty or scared. These were all feelings that Jessica experienced following her rape.
But she was overwhelmed by the rape and being lied to by the person she thought loved her most. Background and family problems do not excuse letting something like that happen.
During the student Q-and-A portion, in response to a question asking how she felt about her on-screen boyfriend, Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), undergoing family problems during the time he was trying to hide the fact that his best friend, Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice), raped her, she stated, “Yes, she was aware of his problems. But she was overwhelmed by the rape and being lied to by the person she thought loved her most. Background and family problems do not excuse letting something like that happen.” Aguilar added, “It’s important that we know that even if you care about someone, sometimes you have to do you and do whatever you can to get help for yourself.”
Another student’s question delved deeper into her thoughts about Justin as a character. In response, Boe stated, “I get angry when people say, ‘Take him back,’ and especially with the younger audience who takes his side because of his looks and say, ‘He’s hot. Take him back.’” Furthering her repudiation of bystander culture, she added, “Even despite what happened in his childhood, it does not excuse him being a bystander and letting his girlfriend get raped.”
Boe made it a central point of the lecture that external issues should not make someone immune from guilt if they witness abuse in any form. However, she empathized with Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford)’s character for her inability to stop Bryce from raping Jessica, declaring, “She was extremely drunk that night she saw him kicking Justin out of the room. Bryce is huge and it happened so fast so she just couldn’t process anything that was happening.” Boe made the distinction that, as opposed to Hannah, Justin was willing to live the rest of his life withholding Jessica’s rape, while Hannah succumbed to the weight of her guilt.
Despite that, she still cautioned college students to party in moderation and with responsibility. In response to someone asking her feelings on college drinking, she responded, “It’s OK in moderation. Don’t do too many drugs. Know your limits so you’re not on the floor at a party.” After answering other additional questions ranging from her hair routine and future plans, to which she revealed that she’d love to play a superhero, the event promptly ended.
The event, albeit short, was an enlightening hour for many college students. Just in that hour, Boe managed to shift some negative opinions of her character’s choices. Ashley Hooks, second-year theater major, commented, “After coming to the event, I feel like I have more empathy toward her and her character and I feel like the content of the show feels more real to me.”
Other students managed to see the show itself in a different light. Jennifer Mann, second-year chemistry major, stated, “She definitely humanized the show for me and made me realize it’s more than a Hollywood show. I was worried about my boyfriend’s little sister watching the show because of it how it might affect her, but now I can see that the things they talk about are real and it’s not just a joke.”
Boe’s visit to campus shed light on a myriad of issues that perpetuate on campuses worldwide and society on a macro scale.
Boe will reprise her role as Jessica in season two of “13 Reasons Why,” which is expected to air in 2018. She revealed during the event that a substantial amount of the season will be dedicated to Jessica’s road to recovery as well as insight and narration from each individual character besides Hannah.