As Adrianna Branin left an off-campus party in the early morning hours one day last fall, she saw six men catcalling, surrounding, and photographing a drunk woman whose bare breast was exposed.
“In a blind rage,” the 5-foot-2-inch, 110-pound Indiana University of Pennsylvania junior confronted the hecklers, covered the woman, and escorted her home.
“I told them that if they had photos of that girl they needed to delete them ... that she was vulnerable, there was no reason to take advantage of someone like that,” said Branin, a political science and religious studies double major. “I was trying to guilt anybody I could find into making sure that these photos were deleted.”
For her efforts, Branin, of South Philadelphia, received the Biden Courage Award, presented by former Vice President Joe Biden, on Tuesday evening at the Russian Tea Room in New York. The event — hosted by It’s On Us and the Biden Foundation — celebrates students for combating sexual assault. Honorees are recognized in four categories: Policy Change, Greek Student Organizing, Campus Organizing, and Bystander Intervention.
The other local award recipient, Vlad Carrasco of Elizabeth, N.J., is a senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick studying political science and public policy. During his junior year, Carrasco escorted a man from a party after he noticed him grabbing women’s waists and making them uncomfortable.
“We shouldn’t necessarily focus on one thing, but making it a lifestyle of being an active bystander,” he said. “That means whether it’s calling out your friends ... for using rape jokes [or] calling out a stranger that’s catcalling someone on the street, if we all play this tiny role in our daily lives, we can really create a cultural shift."
Biden founded It’s On Us with President Barack Obama in 2014 to end sexual assault and in 2016 hosted the first Courage Awards at the White House. A national movement, It’s On Us works with the Biden Foundation and collaborates with 95 partners, including students on more than 500 college campuses and organizations such as Men Can Stop Rape and Only With Consent. Almost 300,000 people have signed the campaign’s pledge condemning sexual violence in the last two years.
Branin, a 2016 graduate of Franklin Learning Center in the city’s Spring Garden section, said she was “honored, starstruck ..." by the award.
“I’ve dedicated so much of my life to ... keeping my community safe, and to get recognized for that and become any kind of example, I’m in awe every moment,” she said.
Branin, who describes herself as a survivor of sexual assault, has worked for three years as a peer educator with IUP’s Haven Project, the campus department that helps students with sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking.
Nationally, nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center. Up to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are raped while completing their degrees.
“Understanding the pain and the trauma and the degradation that happens to your body and your mind when you go through something like that, I’ve gained a lot of agency talking about those issues, learning about them, working to have other people be educated about them,” Branin said.
At work, Branin uses the Green Dot Curriculum to teach students how to interact with perpetrators and victims, how to get help, and how to divert a perpetrator’s attention from the victim.
Michelle Fryling, the executive director of media relations at IUP, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, said the college community couldn’t be more proud of Branin.
“Her story is so compelling, and she’s an incredible advocate for caring about her community, for teaching and really walking the talk of bystander intervention,” she added. “She’s not only a great educator about this issue, but she lives it every day.”
Branin was nominated for the Biden Courage Award by Susan Graham, the clinical case manager in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s counseling center, who described Branin as “a fearless active bystander.”
“She has spent her college career educating others on these issues and trying to change the culture of our campus,” Graham said in a news release.
Branin came out as bisexual at 14, and started working with the Attic Youth Center, educating people on LGBTQ identities and lifestyles. She was named the 2015 Youth Grand Marshal.
Her advocacy for social issues stemmed from seeing her parents act as bystanders throughout her childhood, Branin said of her mother who walked women to their cars when they were being followed and of her dad, who once rushed into a burning building to remove flammable objects in hopes of quelling the flames.