Vice President Joe Biden Talks to CMC Students about Sexual Assault Prevention

On Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m., a small group of students sat around a table in the Curb conference room at Claremont McKenna College. They were “waiting, waiting, waiting,” as participant Michelle Goodwin CM ‘16 described, along with students from across the nation, for Vice President Joe Biden to come on the line.

Biden spoke with a select group of CMC students Oct. 28 as part of a national conference call about It’s On Us, a national campaign launched by the White House Administration to fight sexual assault on college campuses. During the call, which had students participating from over 500 colleges nationwide, Biden spoke about the problems surrounding sexual assault and strategies college students can use to end sexual assault on their campuses. Throughout his time on the U.S. Senate and in the White House Administration, Biden has been an advocate for raising awareness of and preventing sexual assault, with efforts such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the establishment of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in 2004.

Launched on Sept. 19, 2014, It’s On Us is a national initiative that encourages students to “recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault; to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur; to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given; to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported,” according to its website.

Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) President Will Su CM ‘16 has been involved in coordinating the initiative efforts with the national leaders in Washington, D.C. and bringing It’s On Us to CMC, and was consequently in contact with the leaders when the opportunity for the call arose.

Su believes that the conference call, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, will serve as a constructive tool for moving forward with sexual assault prevention efforts at CMC.

“I thought it was inspiring to hear about his work and his efforts to stop sexual assaults on college campuses,” Su wrote in an email to TSL. “I think students who attended the call realize the impact they can make.”

On Oct. 27, Su sent an email to CMC students inviting them to participate in the call on a first come, first serve basis. Approximately 20 students were invited to participate. While some individuals were previously involved with sexual assault advocacy groups on campus, many committed to helping out with the upcoming It’s On Us Week of Action, which will take place at CMC from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14.

Celia Flinn CM ‘16, a call participant and coordinator of the It’s On Us Week of Action, said that she gathered some ideas from the conference call for this year’s event. With experience at the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, which was founded through Biden’s efforts in passing the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, she admires Biden’s work in raising awareness of this issue on college campuses and around the world.

“I really appreciate all the legislative and activist work he has done for the Violence Against Women movement,” Flinn wrote in an email to TSL. “Vice President Biden has a lot of clout in the field and also a ton of influence, given his position.”

The call began with an introduction from White House Associate Public Engagement Director Kyle Lierman, followed by a short speech from the It’s On Us College Liaison. Biden then spoke for approximately 30 minutes about his work in the area of sexual assault prevention, beginning with a brief history of how sexual assault has been discussed and approached in the United States. Goodwin said that Biden was a passionate proponent of students taking a pledge to help prevent sexual assault, as well as ensuring that college administrations are supportive in making policy changes. At the end of the call, he explained that the White House would be mailing Kickstarter Kits to participating colleges to support them in sexual assault prevention.

Though students were initially told that they might have the opportunity to ask Biden questions, Biden left the call shortly after his speech due to other engagements. Michelle Goodwin CM ‘16 said that she wished students had the opportunity to ask more focused questions.

“There were some questions that I had based on the rhetoric that he was using,” Goodwin said. “It sounded primarily like [he was referring to] violence against women rather than sexual assault as a whole because it can be perpetrated against a male. There’s a lot of violence specifically here on campus against guys that I think needs to be brought up. To continue that rhetoric is actually more harmful, and so that was my main question for Biden.”

Still, Goodwin found the speech to be impactful in part because of its wide reaching participation, but it also made her think about the colleges and universities that were not on the conference call.

“We need to get to the campuses that are not already there because I think that’s where the majority of the discussion is lacking,” Goodwin said. “It [sexual assault] happens everywhere, and that’s the problem. It’s an issue on every campus. Every campus should be on this conference call.”

With the It’s On Us Campaign Week of Action in the works, Flinn hopes that the conference call will encourage students to get more involved in efforts to raise awareness of sexual assault at CMC, the 5Cs, and across the United States.

“My goal for the Week of Action is to reach as many community members as possible with the message of raising awareness of how to prevent sexual assault at CMC and on the 5Cs, all while supporting survivors,” Flinn said.

Update: This article was updated Oct. 30. It previously stated that over 500 students participated in the conference call. Students from over 500 colleges participated.

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