Humanitarian and University of Kentucky graduate Ashley Judd spoke “from the heart” during a lecture Friday in Lexington about how she’s using her voice in the fight against abuse and sexual misconduct in Hollywood and around the world.
At the Singletary Center for the Arts on UK’s campus, Judd told a hall full of students, university faculty and the family of Irma Sarett Rosenstein, for whom the annual social work lecture series is named, about the now well-known encounter she had with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Since the story about Weinstein, highlighted by Judd’s experience, was published by The New York Times in early October, a torrent of accusations against men in Hollywood, media and government have been made.
“There is naturally a chaotic, messy, unprecedented socio-cultural sexual change, a reckoning as some folks are calling it, happening around us,” Judd said Friday. “And it won’t be tidy and it won’t be easy. We don’t have a playbook.”
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Judd talked about the importance of believing women and men who come forward to talk about instances of sexual harassment, saying that statistically public claims of abuse are overwhelmingly found to be true. In the growing list of prominent men who have lost their jobs after accusations of sexual misconduct, the swift action of employers speaks to the validity of the claims, she said.
In Judd’s experience with Weinstein in 1997, she said the trauma is still so vivid that she clearly remembers the floor plan of his room at the hotel. To get out of the room as quickly as possible, Judd said she told Weinstein that she would have to win an Oscar for one of his movies before she would revisit his advances.
“I was proud of that for a while,” Judd said. “Because I knew that what happened was that I got out of a room where I was about to be physically assaulted. And I extricated myself from a violent predator without further damage.”
Judd’s father was downstairs in the lobby of the hotel when the incident occurred, and told her afterward that he knew from her face that something “devastating” had just happened to her, she said.
That day, Judd told her agent, but neither knew what to do.
“I didn’t even know that it was criminal,” Judd said.
Judd said she has been very vocal about what happened to her, telling colleagues, other actors and Variety in 2015, though Weinstein was not named in the story.
“I’m a teller,” Judd said. “And what’s so remarkable about this moment, this movement, is that now all of a sudden the world can hear.”
Judd also said she learned a valuable lesson about how to make people hear from a professor in a UK classroom.
“What comes from the head goes over the head,” she said. “What comes from the heart goes straight to the heart.”
She spoke without notes Friday as she weaved seamlessly through talk of the #MeToo movement, her education at UK and Harvard, and her work in non-governmental organizations.
Judd is an ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund, Population Services International and the Polaris Project, and serves on the advisory boards of Demand Abolition, the International Center for Research on Women, and Apne Aap Women Worldwide.
Her move toward humanitarian and advocate work was ignited during her time at UK, Judd said.
While she was a student, former Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler used a racial slur during a UK Board of Trustees meeting. The incident was documented in the Herald-Leader and the Kentucky Kernel, and when Judd learned about it she organized a classroom walkout, marched and protested for his removal from the board.
Judd was photographed by the Herald-Leader in 1988 demanding Chandler’s removal from the board during a 200-person march on the state Capitol.
Just before Judd’s lecture Friday, the university announced the creation of a new graduate fellowship in her name at the UK Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women.
“The Ashley T. Judd Distinguished Graduate Fellowship is a rightful way to honor Ashley’s efforts to end violence against girls and women, and an extraordinary chance to inspire the next generation of scholars and activists,” said Carol E. Jordan, the executive director of the office.