If you’ve ever witnessed an activism-based event on IUP’s campus, chances are you’ve seen Adrianna Branin.
Petite in stature but vehement in affecting change, 20-year-old Adrianna is a mighty force to be reckoned with, and she’s only just begun.
Adrianna, a South Philadelphia native, is a junior at IUP majoring in political science and religious studies. Wearing many hats on campus, she is the Humanities and Social Sciences senator for the Student Government Association, current president for United Against Islamophobia, co-president of Green Dot, chairperson of the retention committee for Student Government and peer educator for The Haven Project.
Adrianna has been involved with activism movements for about six years, and she’s been passionate to see a change for as long as she can remember.
“I came out when I was 14 as queer,” Adrianna says. “When you’re young, most people don’t believe you, specifically family. I just didn’t have community. I felt really ostracized and isolated constantly.”
Adrianna eventually found a community to which she belonged – the queer youth center in Center City Philadelphia.
“When I did find community after coming out, I realized there are so many populations, both including and excluding me, that are consistently oppressed in our society and are not able to obtain the same kind of opportunities, dreams and experiences that they deserve,” she said.
Activism has always clicked with Adrianna. To her, it’s never made sense that because of to whom you may be attracted, the religion you follow or the color of your skin that you should be treated entirely different or judged more harshly in any sort of way. She’s experienced harsh judgements as such, firsthand.
“I was spit on in the face, because I was holding hands with somebody of the same sex as me,” Adrianna says. “It was definitely not a great or successful or confident kind of moment. And it’s in moments like that I realize there are people who hate me who don’t know me at all.
"I think those kinds of moments highlight the way I want to help people. I don’t want anyone to ever look at another person and think that it’s acceptable to physically or verbally harm them just because of whoever they identify as.”
Adrianna was recently awarded with the 2019 Joe Biden Courage Award, an honor specifically given to students who stop sexual assault on a college campus. This past fall, she stopped a group of about 10 men from harassing and assaulting a woman.
“I was walking home from a party and glanced over at this girl and realized her breast had fallen out of her shirt,”she says. “I immediately heard male voices, really disgusting, vile, gross, sexist language. The men had surrounded her, and when I saw hands on her and flashes from cellphones, I went blind with rage that this was happening in front of me – that someone could do this.”
Adrianna ran towards the group of men, pushed through them, covered the woman and took her back to the safety of her friends. The men were yelling extremely sexual comments to her as well until they realized she was there to help the young woman. Then, their comments turned angry.
“I felt them grabbing me with their hands, too, but I took the girl and walked her up the driveway with complete tunnel vision, not thinking about anything else,” she says.
After she brought the woman to her friends, Adrianna chased down any person she could find to make sure the photos taken of the woman were deleted.
“I stopped everybody I could find, probably 15 to 20 people,” she says. “I was just raging. I told them if they had photos of this girl that they’re a monster, that they’re illegal and need to be deleted, that they’re not consensual, and they’re predators for preying on a vulnerable girl. I was using every word in the book to guilt the hell out of them, and I hoped I affected them in one way or another to delete the photos.”
The photos never did resurface, but Adrianna reported the incident to her boss, Susan Graham, in case they did. Graham, director of the Haven Project, later nominated her for the award. Adrianna felt that the chances of her winning the award were as likely as a free trip to Disneyland, but win she did.
She received her award in New York City and participated in a personal meeting with Joe Biden, who referred to her as the young woman who seems like she should be six-foot-four and 220 pounds for what she did.
For Adrianna, thinking twice about being an active bystander has never been in her nature. She reacts to situations that she sees fit for intervention and makes strides toward the hope of living in a world one day where everyone does the same.
I didn’t think of it as a big deal, because I thought any empathetic person would’ve done the same thing,” she says. “If I were in the same situation, I’d want someone to help me in the same way.”
Working for the Haven Project and Green Dot, Adrianna has always been an advocate for sexual assault prevention. It outlines a large part of her work, beliefs and passion, but it still only remains a small piece of her overall arching goals for equality. As president of United Against Islamophobia, her love for politics and religious studies, such as Abrahamic religion, have come to life in her work for this club. Her interest in the Middle East and studying theocracies drove her to be involved with United Against Islamophobia.
“Having a better understanding of their government along with the religion that orchestrates a lot of the laws and regulations of that government is extremely important to me,” she says. “Knowing how to address those populations and how to help raise their voices and represent them accurately; that kind of stuff matters to me. At the end of the day, I don’t want anyone to be seen as anything besides exactly what they are.”
Currently, United Against Islamophobia is inactive on campus. Accord to Adrianna, there are only so many people interested in actively changing their community and working toward making the culture different, so activism clubs can go inactive from time to time.
Even with the club’s current inactivity, Adrianna is still in contact with professors, working to educate them on events coming up such as Ramadan, a Muslim holiday that involves fasting. The holiday overlaps with finals, and Adrianna plans to hand out cards so that professors are aware that some students may be tired and dehydrated, and she wants them to know how to handle situations like this to the best of their ability. Adrianna plans to continue her work with United Against Islamophobia to bring awareness to the IUP community.
“Raising the voices of such a small and sometimes stigmatized population on campus means a lot to me,” she says.
Adrianna hopes to do an internship with It’s On Us, a national movement and campaign to end sexual assault. She’s worked with combatting sexual violence for so long, not just with the Haven Project but prior to college with her youth center. She’s worked specifically with queer and LGBTQ relationships, sexual violence and domestic violence, because it is so pervasive in her community. She’s always felt a passion for the subject and hopes to continue a progression that will eventually eradicate it.
For someone as ambitious, goal-oriented and passionate as Adrianna, her biggest dreams are really quite simple.
“I would just love if actively preventing harm in your community, regardless of where you are in the world, was really ingrained in us as people,” she says. “I would love to see it in my lifetime, and if I could make any effort or change in that I would love that.”
She even goes as far to lightheartedly say that she hopes to live in a world where “intervening is as normal in our culture as Sunday football or putting cheese on every food you can possibly think of.”
Adrianna’s hopes to improve the treatment and rights of oppressed and minority groups in her future and will continue to dedicate her life to the cause for it.
If you’d like to take the pledge against sexual assault and creating a culture of consent, bystander intervention and survivor support, it can be found at https://www.itsonus.org/pledge/.