An engaged crowd of 1,500 - mostly students – were in attendance at the CU Recreation Center Friday afternoon to listen to Vice President Joe Biden talk about the importance of involving all members of a campus community in curbing sex assault and supporting victims.
Biden was at CU-Boulder as part of the “It’s On Us Week of Action.” The crowd erupted with loud applause once Biden took the stage. Backed by a group of students and campus leaders, Biden said he wanted “to do nothing short of change our culture as it relates to sexual violence and rape.”
He told the students that their parents have high hopes as they drop them off at college - but also a nagging fear due to well-known stats on sexual assault: “Will she be OK?”
The Office of the Vice President chose to visit CU-Boulder due to its strong efforts to support the “It’s On Us” campaign denouncing sexual violence and encouraging bystanders to be more effective in prevention efforts. Biden also visited University of Pittsburgh and University of Nevada.
Daymond John, a “shark” on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” and creator of the hip hop-inspired clothing brand FUBU (For Us, By Us), helped introduce the VP, noting that the issue is “near and dear to his heart” because he has two daughters. He encouraged everyone in the crowd to take the “It’s On Us” pledge
. During Biden’s talk, members of the audience raised their right hands and verbally took the pledge with the vice president – joining 350,000 others who have made “a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault.”
Biden drew the loudest cheers when he said there was “no cultural justification for genital mutilation” and when he reinforced – in a very loud voice – the message that “no means no!” He also spent some time praising CU-Boulder, calling it a “great campus” and commending Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano for taking full advantage of federal research funding.
“Your university is one of the reasons why the United States is in a better position than any country in the world,” Biden said.
Sophomore Melanie Lauener, who is studying psychology, said she learned a lot from Biden’s talk.
“He said what needed to be said. This is still a big issue. To see him talk about it makes us feel like it's OK to talk about it.”
Junior Victor Lemus didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to get up close and personal with Vice President Biden.
“It's not every day you get to see the Vice President,” Lemus said. “Even though I'm studying computer science, I like to stay informed about politics.”
Lemus said he also cares about the cause of ending sexual violence.
“In the past, there have been situations where things could have been handled better,” Lemus said. “This starts a conversation. There needs to be action as well from the institution itself, but this gets the conversation going.”
The CU-Boulder mascot Chip worked the crowd that began filling the gymnasium a couple hours before the event. After a rousing national anthem, students listened to a jazz band and other performances as they waited for the Vice President to arrive.
Valerie Simons, director of institutional equity and compliance and Title IX coordinator at CU-Boulder, described the university’s commitment to ending sexual assault and providing support to victims. She echoed comments made by another speaker from the national organization End Rape on Campus that higher sex assault numbers on campus mean students feel safe reporting.
“We have to increase reporting,” Simons said. “We have to make sure everyone feels safe to report… and knows where and to whom to report, on campus or off campus.”
Simons highlighted CU-Boulder’s Report It campaign, which allows students and others to get confidential support and file complaints.
Max Demby, the Ralphie handler who stopped a sex assault in progress on campus one year ago, talked about the important role student athletes play as role models. He said the suspect in the attack he interrupted is still in jail.
“Our responsibility is to set the tone for the rest of the student body,” Demby said, “It starts with us.”