Since its 2014 kickoff, President Obama’s “It’s On Us” initiative has led to over 350,000 people pledging to actively combat sexual assault on college campuses nationwide. Now, with a little star power serving as a catalyst to the campaign’s incentive, it looks like “It’s On Us” is headed for continued success.
Fighting against the No. 1 violent crime on college campuses, Vice President Joe Biden announced that both he and “Born This Way” singer, Lady Gaga, would be joining forces to further efforts made thus far, stopping by campuses, including University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Pittsburgh.
Although the two might seem like an unusual pairing, the 30-year-old singer has weaved social change into her released tracks, accompanying music videos and media interviews since her 2008, “The Fame” breakout.
Noted for her support of the LGBTQ+ community, Gaga added sexual abuse awareness to the litany of initiatives she publicly stands behind this past fall, releasing “Till It Happens To You.” The supporting track for the documentary The Hunting Ground highlights the graphic nature of on-campus abuse. Gaga, a survivor of sexual abuse, performed the Oscar-nominated piece at the 2016 Academy Awards, where she was introduced by Biden and joined onstage by fellow sexual abuse survivors at the performance’s ending.
According to Clare Howland, a student at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the setup of the duo’s visit to her university served as an expanded version of Gaga’s Oscar performance.
Howland, a sophomore hospitality major, said that Biden provided a speech on sexual abuse, while Gaga performed an emotional rendition of “Till It Happens To You.” Howland added that attendees also heard from sexual abuse survivors, too.
“The event took place at the Cox Pavilion, which allows 3,000 people,” Howland said. “There was really high security and it was a ‘standing only’ event. It was only decorated with an American flag and there was a piano for Lady Gaga to sing. We heard from survivors of sexual assault and what Joe Biden’s plans are to address the issue on college campuses. Everyone took the pledge to stop sexual assault from occurring and be compassionate towards those who are brave enough to speak out.”
Howland added that the combination of spoken and sung sentiments made the event all the more impactful, leaving her with one, definite takeaway.
“The message I took away was basically “If you see something, say something,” because no one should ever have to suffer,” she said.
Howland said she’s confident “It’s On Us” will have lasting impacts on her campus. For students at Bonaventure, a university announcement released this past weekend notifying students of an on-campus sexual assault has encouraged discussion of sexual violence in a very different way.
According to Malaika Worsham, a junior human movement major and Resident Assistant, St. Bonaventure isn’t any safer than other campuses in terms of sexual assault.
“From my experiences and from my residents telling me stories, I don’t think it’s safer at all,” Worsham said. “On this campus, people get really drunk and, unfortunately, sexual assault occurs soon after. I also notice that people don’t know what consent is.”
Worshman added that going out in a group on the weekends is a good way for students to avoid putting themselves at risk.
Sophomore education major Kelly Shantler agreed and added that students’ personal safety shouldn’t be their only concern.
“When you go out, it is pretty easy to tell when someone needs help,” Shantler said. “If you see someone being overly touchy and the other person isn’t into it, go up and make sure the person is okay. Better safe than sorry.”
Shantler said that while the university does an ample amount of sexual abuse education for freshman students, Bonaventure could do more to inform upperclassmen.
“I feel like as an incoming freshman last year, the university did a really good job of talking about sexual assault with all the programs they had about it,” Shantler said. “I think they should continue to have mandatory programs on the subject each year to remind students that this is still happening on our campus and how to help stop it.”
Worsham said that students often fail to realize the severity of sexual assault, until the issue affects them, a similar idea to the sentiments of Gaga’s “Till It Happens To You.”
“I think students on this campus take it as a joke until it happens to them,” Worsham said. “I hear a lot jokes about consent, and we need to build a culture that frowns upon those jokes. People don’t realize how much damage occurs when someone is sexually assaulted. Psychologically and physically everything changes for that person. Some people never feel the same again.”
While Biden and Gaga might not plan to visit Bonaventure, students can still educate themselves on sexual violence at itsonus.org.