Updated: Sept. 19, 2014 at 6:52 p.m.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched a nationwide campaign to prevent sexual assault on college campuses at the White House on Friday, surrounded by advocates, survivors and college administrators.
The initiative, called “It’s on Us,” is looking to support students, especially young men, who try to shape campus cultures that reject sexual violence, promote bystander intervention and support victims. It was created with the support of 200 colleges, the NCAA and the Center for American Progress’ Generation Progress.
GW administrators, including University President Steven Knapp and Athletic director Patrick Nero, went to the White House for the event. Here are some of the highlights.
1. Survivor voices can help shape response
Lily Jay, a sexual assault survivor, introduced Biden before he spoke. She had been raped during her first week of freshman year, and explained what she called the “terrible irony” of sexual assault activism as a survivor.
“Whether you’re thinking about it because you’re scared of the boy down the hall or because you’re meeting with the college president, recalling rape always hurts,” she said. “Using your experience to protect others from rape is so empowering and so important but it also tethers you to your pain.”
2. Society asks the “wrong question”
Biden said sexual assaults will continue to occur as long as people blame victims for the attacks.
“Our culture asks the wrong question. Never is it appropriate to ask ‘What did I do?’ The question is ‘Why was that done to me, and will someone do something about it?’” Biden said.
“The mark of success would be when not a single woman blames herself and every man in America understands there’s no circumstance at all except self-defense when it he has a right to raise a hand on a woman. None. Zero,” he said.
3. Men should be part of the conversation – and the culture shift
Biden also called on men to push for change and prevent assault.
“To the guys out there: Step up. Be responsible. Intervene. You have an obligation to make a pariah of those on campus who abuse others. That’s how we can change this culture,” Biden said.
Biden is leading the White House’s task force on sexual assault. Last spring, the group released a set of recommendations for handling assault on campus. GW already meets many of the benchmarks, like conducting an anonymous campus climate survey.
4. Schools are stepping up
Student leaders at 200 colleges and universities have already signed the “It’s On Us” pledge, promising to focus on sexual assault prevention on their campuses. Student Association President Nick Gumas, who also attended the campaign launch, signed the pledge last week.
In his speech, Obama highlighted the efforts of the Department of Education, which is investigating more than 70 schools for their response to sexual assault. GW is not on that list.
He said schools that have mishandled sexual assault cases serve as examples of administrators “fumbling” and “dropping the ball.”
“When you read some accounts you think, ‘What were they thinking?’” Obama said.