Biden’s visit from another view
April 27, 2015
Stephen Spector never expected to come to campus via Air Force 2.
Looking through the windows of the white and blue Boeing 757 as it glazed over the cornfields on its descent toward University of Illinois Willard Airport in Savoy on Thursday, Spector thought back to his graduation night from the University in 2011.
After the ceremony, he packed his bags and quickly left to return home to begin working the following morning for the Barack Obama reelection campaign in Chicago.
But when Spector drove off campus, he didn’t know that the next time he’d return, he would be a part of Vice President Joe Biden’s administration, which visited the University to promote the “It’s On Us” campaign.
Spector began the first part of a nearly five-year-long career that has taken him from sleeping on friends’ couches in Chicago to the Department of Education to the White House, where Spector now serves as Biden’s deputy press secretary.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling coming back to my old stomping grounds,” he said. “I was really proud, I was really proud not just of the vice president for being able to come to campus, but I was also really proud of my Alma Mater for being a leader on this.”
Spector said his passion for politics came from his time as a political reporter and editor for The Daily Illini, especially covering the 2008 election.
“Through writing all those stories and contacting sources, learning so much about the process, it really struck an interesting chord with me, and I really fell in love with the idea of public service and the importance of getting involved with the political system,” he said.
Spector said the administration believes that the University is one of the leaders for “It’s On Us,” principally because of efforts from the student government and students on campus.
More than 1,500 attendees were at Biden’s event at Campus Recreation Center East on Thursday, which cost nearly $30,000, according to Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman.
“There’s so many issues out there that deserve the attention they don’t get. Sexual assault used to be one of those,” said Matt Hill, vice president-external of the Illinois Student Senate. “(It’s On Us) is about putting the word out about how this is a problem and about how we can address it.”
For the students in attendance, the event was a crucial sign of the campus’ progress toward prevention of sexual assault.
“I think it’s important they got a big speaker like this to come talk and to show that they can bring someone like this down to campus, shows that this campus is going pretty well,” said Krishna Yarramasu, senior in Engineering, who was in attendance.
Spector said he believes the “It’s On Us” initiative, which was launched in September 2014, is promising because it is a “conversation starter.”
“I think people will say, ‘Look, well all you’re really doing is just talking about it’ — but that’s the point,” he said. “For so long, for way too many decades, we sort of brushed it under the rug, and said, ‘This is uncomfortable. This makes people look bad, let’s not talk about it.’”
Because of the campaign’s position on raising awareness around sexual assault — some took protest to Thursday’s event, citing reasons of inaction against the campaign and that Biden was an inappropriate figure to represent the “It’s On Us” campaign.
“I think that’s upsetting that people think the campaign is all talk because it’s an awareness campaign,” Hill said. “But before that we need to make sure people are comfortable to talk about it. We need to make sure people know it’s a problem and are there to support survivors.”
Hill said he believes the event was an incredible experience for the campus. He compared himself to Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, on NBC’s show “Parks and Recreation,” particularly when Knope met Biden on season five of the show.
“I kept joking around about this, but truly this was a Leslie Knope kind of day,” Hill said. “You see Leslie Knope on ‘Parks and Recreation,’ she’s one of my favorite characters. You see her hanging out with Joe Biden, this stuff happens to her — not me.”
Biden capped the visit to the University with a “local stop” at the Alma Mater with Hill; Mitch Dickey, student body president; and Sarah Hochman, vice president-internal of the Illinois Student Senate.
For Spector, the visit came through the windows of the Vice President’s motorcade — marking the significance for him and his return to the University.
“Fast forward almost four and a half to five years later, it’s all paid off,” he said. “I had this vision of what I wanted to do, and I just took it very disciplined and stuck to the things I knew worked, and got to meeting new people, that has led to where I am today.”