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Joe Biden Comes to Mason for It’s On Us Campaign
Emiko Ellis stood next to the stage at George Mason University’s The Hub Ballroom, where former Vice President Joe Biden spoke on Wednesday, and hung on every word.
Biden appeared during Mason’s Sexual Assault Awareness month, part of an It’s On Us event to stop sexual violence on campuses. Ellis, a sophomore microbiology major and a sexual assault survivor, was pleased that such a well-known person delivered the message.
“I thought it was amazing,” Ellis said of Biden’s 40-minute speech before an energized and mostly student audience of about 700. “I thought his words were encouraging. He really made it personable and was able to reach out to the demographic he wanted to reach.”
Biden has been at the forefront of the issue since he initiated the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994. He’s also been a vocal supporter of It’s On Us, which he and then-President Barack Obama launched in 2014. The campaign focuses on raising awareness, encouraging bystander intervention, and creating a supportive environment for survivors of sexual assault.
“We will have succeeded, folks, when no woman who is abused ever instinctively asks the question, ‘What did I do?’ ” Biden said to huge applause. “I’ll know we’ve succeeded when no young man or old man can justify his actions by saying, ‘It was my right. She asked for it.’ That’s when we’ll have changed the culture.”
“College campuses are communities, the place where people’s attitudes are affected, changed, and altered. You all have an opportunity to begin to change the culture.”
— Joe Biden
Mason has been proactive in this area under the leadership of President Ángel Cabrera, who was on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Sexual Violence, and convened the Mason Task Force on Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence, which included a multidisciplinary team of faculty, students, staff and community members.
- The hiring of a full-time Title IX coordinator and investigator.
- Administering a university-wide survey related to sexual assault and interpersonal violence, with results scheduled for release in May.
- Updating university policy and student conduct processes regarding the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault and interpersonal violence cases.
- Training university police investigators for trauma-informed interviewing and investigation.
“We want to make sure everyone knows we are an affirmative-consent campus,” said Jennifer Hammat, Mason’s Title IX coordinator, who spoke at the event. “We have good resources here. We have good reporting. We want to expand our prevention, expand our training, expand our outreach. We want to change the culture.”
Said Cabrera: “For there to be a change on this campus, and on campuses across the country around this issue, it’s absolutely essential that everybody speaks up.”