By Tracey Vitchers, Executive Director of It’s On Us
On Wednesday, April 18th, It’s On Us and the Biden Foundation hosted the Courage Awards at the Russian Tea Room in New York City. Activists, influencers, and movement leaders gathered to celebrate four student leaders for their dedicated work to stop sexual assault in their communities.
The Biden Courage Awards recognized students in four categories of action: Policy Change, Greek Student Organizing, Campus Organizing, and Bystander Intervention. We received over 800 nominations from students across the country. It’s On Us works with over 500 college campuses in the United States, and over 440,000 students have taken our pledge to stand against sexual violence in their communities. Out of this network of changemakers, four students stood out to us as leaders who embodied Vice President Biden’s mission to put an end to campus sexual assault. The Biden Courage Awards were dedicated to these four students and their leadership, action, and commitment to end sexual violence.
Kyle Richard, a junior kinesiology major and football player at SUNY Cortland, was awarded as an active bystander whose courage prevented a sexual assault in his community. Last summer, Kyle was at an off-campus party where he intervened when he and a friend noticed a woman being assaulted. Kyle confronted the perpetrator, who shot him three times. The perpetrator was caught a few days later and miraculously, Kyle was able to return to the football field that fall.
While Kyle’s heroic story caught our attention, we were just as impressed with his continued work as an advocate at SUNY Cortland and in his local community. Kyle’s example reminds us that anyone can be a hero if they have the courage to step up, if they refuse to be complicit in an assault of their peers. We are inspired by Kyle’s courage and are confident that he will continue to be a leader of character both on and off the field.
Cadet Theresa Hinman, a senior at the United States Military Academy at West Point, serves as the Academy’s It’s On Us lead campus organizer. Theresa has committed herself to combating sexual assault as the leader of the Cadets Against Sexual Assault and Harassment program. Through these roles, Theresa has organized three major It’s On Us themed sporting events throughout the year and brought the One Love Foundation to West Point to train over 70 cadets in an escalation workshop.
We are not alone in recognizing Theresa’s dedication and courage to changing the culture on her campus: Lieutenant General Robert Caslen wrote of Theresa’s leadership at West Point, “She has led with heart, compassion, and insight into refining our programming to address sexual violence prevention, response, and awareness in productive and culture changing ways.” We are proud to recognize Theresa’s courage as a cadet, student, and leader. We have no doubt that she will continue to change culture wherever she goes.
Kyle Sheppard is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and a graduate student in Educational Leadership at Delaware State University. His dedication to fighting sexual and domestic violence, as well as engaging men in bystander intervention, earned him an award for Greek Campus Organizing.
Kyle provides training on sexual assault prevention to the National Pan-Hellenic Council Executive Board, leads workshops at Delaware’s Annual Statewide Prevention Conference, and serves as the Men’s Initiative Coordinator for the Counseling Services and Sexual Assault Response Advocates program at DSU. He is also a member of the Men of Color Alliance, where he works to elevate the role men should play in bystander intervention. We are confident that Kyle will continue to inspire men and women alike to step up and assume responsibility in this fight.
Tori Schaefer is a senior at the University of Missouri and a leader of their It’s On Us chapter, where she has been involved in campus organizing efforts since she was a freshman. Thanks to her leadership, in 2017 the Mizzou It’s On Us chapter was recognized as the university’s “Best Student Organization.”
We were equally impressed by Tori’s advocacy for policy change off campus: Two years ago, Tori wrote a “dream bill” for a fellowship competition that would require Missouri public schools to teach consent in their sex education classes to help reduce sexual violence. Tori showed tremendous courage when she testified on the “It’s On Us” bill in front of the Children and Families Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives. The bill will soon be voted on in the Missouri state legislature. We can’t wait to see the waves that Tori continues to make on local and national levels.
As the inaugural recipients of the Biden Courage Awards, we could not be prouder of these four students’ commitment to changing the culture of violence and making college campuses safer for all. We hope that by elevating the work of these four students, the Biden Courage Awards will inspire others to say it’s on us — it’s on all of us — to end sexual assault.
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Tracey Vitchers is the Director of It’s On Us, and has served in the role since November 2017. Tracey has been a leader in the campus sexual assault prevention and advocacy movement for over a decade.