“Ask yourself”, said the U.S Vice President Joe Biden to the crowd, “and I mean this sincerely — ask yourself: Are you doing enough?”. Nearly 1.000 college students of the University of Pittsburgh were listening carefully to him. Mr. Biden’s question was loud ‘n clear. Were these undergrads doing enough to stop sexual assaults on college campuses across the country? “Everybody has an obligation to speak out”, he said.
Mr. Biden’s speech at the University of Pittsburgh was part of his tour through colleges to promote the campaign It’s On Us, created to generate awareness around the sexual violence on campuses. If you don’t know how bad this problem is, here you have a few numbers. According to a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted during her college years. This data is bad, but there is one even worst. In a survey made last year by the Association of American Universities, 1 in 4 women reported sexual assault on campus. Anyway, it would still be an ugly number if the proportion were 1 in 1.000. Besides that, perpetrators were not being appropriately punished by universities in many cases.
Mr. Biden said in Pittsburgh: “Everybody has an obligation to speak out”. Yes, it is everyone’s job, and there are some organizations taking this responsibility very seriously and leading this fight.
We asked the Director of It’s On Us, Rebecca Kaplan, what improvements does she expect to see on campuses in this next academic year. “We’ll be expanding to additional campuses, as well as communities, across the country. Our hope is that with our growth we will be able to reach thousands of students and educate, engage, and empower them to become a part of the It's On Us movement. Over the next year, we will focus on building our campaign's infrastructure so that It's On Us can continue to work with students for many years to come. It's amazing to see other organizations doing the same and working together to create collaborative initiatives and outreach programs. We're proud to partner with dozens of advocacy organizations including RAINN and Men Can Stop Rape to raise awareness and increase bystander intervention.”
Yes, there are more organizations out there raising awareness. “We envision a world in which each individual has an educational experience free from violence, and until then, that all survivors are believed, trusted, and supported”, says the website of End Rape On Campus (EROC), one of the most influential organizations. EROC founders are protagonists of the documentary The Hunting Ground, that discuss if universities are punishing offenders appropriately. There are more players in this battle. The Girl Code Movement, for example. “I personally would like to see more undergraduate men join movements like The Girl Code Movement, It’s On Us and other anti-sexual assault organizations both at Syracuse University and across all college campus nationwide in the next academic year”, said by email Jacqueline Reilly, one of the founders of the movement. “The conversation and awareness about sexual assault needs to incorporate all genders.”
Jacqueline is absolutely right. Men play a crucial role on stopping sexual violence. The good news is that they are starting to realize it, and some men organization are also doing a good job out there. Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) in one of them, as Rebecca Kaplan mentioned. It has been promoting educational campaigns challenging men to stand against behaviors that encourages sex violence. “Men can be allies with women in the prevention of sexual assault”, said by email Patrick McGann, Director of Strategy and Planning in MCSR, for another Kwema’s article. Last year, Chaz Smith, a member of the One Student Org, recorded a kick ass video saying that the fight against sexual assaults on colleges should start with men, not with women. The video has almost 150,000 views on Youtube.
These are some examples of student organizations, but many others are popping up across the country, like Faculty Against Rape (FAR) or Not On My Campus. The message is always the same, they want to end sexual assaults on campuses, they want to support survivors and they want to see offenders being punished. More than 120 colleges in the U.S are facing lawsuits alleging Title IX violations. But let’s be positive, things are changing for better.
After receiving Joe Biden’s visit, a university published on its website: “Here’s where the University of Colorado Boulder stands: Every student should feel safe here. Every member of our community, student, faculty and staff, should be empowered to help stop sexual assault – and have the tools and knowledge of how to do that”. Over 350.000 people have taken the pledge supporting the It’s On Us initiative and, last week, a new law in Minnesota started to require all colleges in the state to provide an online platform where students can report sexual harassment and assault complaints.
The White House, through the It’s On Us initiative, and all these great independent organizations have been working hard to transform campuses in a safer place. But we can always go further and do more. You, reader, can do something. So do not forget the Vice President’s speech in Pittsburgh and ask yourself: Are you doing enough?