INDIANAPOLIS — While greek life sometimes contributes to sexual violence on college campuses, fraternity and sorority members also have the power to change the culture, former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday afternoon at a fraternity conference.
“Fraternities are a significant source of the solution and the problem,” Biden said. “I’m not going to color this because you guys are all here.”
As part of the It’s On Us campaign, Biden spoke about sexual violence prevention to a crowd of thousands of fraternity and sorority members at the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values central conference in Indianapolis.
Since its creation under the Obama administration in 2014, Biden has become the face of It’s On Us, a national campaign to stop sexual violence. The movement has chapters at universities across the country, including IU.
Biden said greek members need to take action as campus leaders and talk with administrators to fix problems.
“You guys have to raise hell on your campus if your campus does not have adequate protection,” Biden said.
He mentioned victims' units and proper training for the right people as ways to offer this protection.
Jonathan Mathioudakis, IU’s Interfraternity Council vice president of risk management and standards, said the speech gave him a sense of what needs to be discussed.
With the help of others in the IU greek community, Mathioudakis said he hopes to use what he learned from the speech to fix problems on campus.
He also said he learned more about how this problem affects the country.
“We’ve become content as a nation,” Mathioudakis said.
Although women are responsible for taking action, Biden said, men need to become more involved in the conversation. He said he knew the students in the audience wouldn’t be afraid to call out racism they hear or see at a bar, and they had the same responsibility when it comes to sexual violence.
Not all men are abusers, Biden said, but the ones who don’t do anything are contributing to the problem.
“If you do not intervene," he said, "you are a coward."
Progress will only come when men stop thinking they own women and when women stop thinking sexual assault is their fault, Biden said.
The national conversation has changed greatly since 1994, which was the year Biden took a then-controversial position and advocated for Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act for domestic abuse protection, he said.
Women’s groups advocated against the VAWA at the time because they thought the legislation would detract from other issues, such as abortion rights.
With the #MeToo movement, more women are being taken seriously when they bring up issues of sexual violence. Biden said he doesn’t think there will ever be a total end to violence, but this is the first time he truly feels things might change. People have finally stopped ignoring women’s stories.
“Society is listening instead of dismissing and giving the benefit of the doubt, and that’s a gigantic change,” Biden said.
Before Biden began his speech, greek leaders spoke to the audience about their own experiences with sexual violence.
Ashley Vasquez, a senior in Delta Sigma Theta and Pan-Hellenic Council president at the University of Maryland, said she was assaulted her first week on campus as a freshman, which falls within a particularly vulnerable time called the red zone.
Vasquez said she is the first in her family to attend college, and she had felt so grown up and proud when she arrived. The assault stole her confidence from her.
“That feeling of a big girl, that feeling of being my mom’s proud daughter, went away,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez struggled with the assault for a while. It wasn’t until a year later, when she heard her friend had also been assaulted, that she said she realized she wanted to be a survivor and not just a victim.
In the years afterward, she said she staged a walkout with more than 500 participants to highlight a list of demands for minority students at UMD, wrote a proposal to centralize the location of UMD’s Title IX office and recently helped develop an online module to help UMD students identify and stop sexual assault.
“I do not want anyone – anyone – to go through what I went through and to go what millions of students, millions of women and men, both, in our nation and world, go through,” Vasquez said.
Biden thanked the people like Vasquez who talked about their experience with sexual assault.
“You give so many girls and women reason to hope,” Biden said. “They look at you and say, ‘Maybe I can make it. Maybe I can make it.’”