Dani Robbins

An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own

In Advocacy on July 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I am so excited for you and so proud of you! College is great fun. It’s the first time you’ll be on your own without anyone checking in on what you’re doing and with whom. It’s the first step to being on your own.

It’s also the most dangerous time for young women. You are right smack in the middle of the danger years, which are ages 16-24. As such, here are my tips for you. Some may seem silly, some may seem paranoid, but bear with me; I have your best interests and your friends’ best interests at heart.

First, let me start by saying sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Never. There are some things that can contribute to being in a situation where you can get hurt. Try to avoid those things. Doing so may not necessarily protect you, but it’s all we have. To that end:

  1. I would prefer you don’t drink until you are of age and then only drink in moderation. If you do drink, don’t drink to the point where you do stupid things, and that’s a different place for everyone. Know your limits and mind them.
  2. Never leave your drink – alcohol or otherwise – unattended. Don’t leave it on a table while you go to the bathroom. Don’t ask someone you don’t know (well) to hold it or to watch it. If you feel more woozy or disoriented than you think you should, get out of there and call someone to come get you.
  3. Trust your instincts. Humans are the only animals that talk ourselves into doing something when our instincts are screaming not to do it. Never go against an uncertain conscience.
  4. You may love your friends but some of them will drop you in a second for a cute guy. Know which ones they are and plan accordingly.
  5. Make a deal with your friends to never leave each other alone and drunk at a party, drunk with a guy you don’t know, or drunk with a group of guys. Your friend may be totally pissed at you when you make her leave, but you have to make her leave. It will be easier when you all agree to that plan at the beginning of the night. Her fury at you will subside. Your guilt and her terror if something bad happens will not.
  6. If you get left alone in a place from which you do not know how to get home, choosing the person you ask for help is preferable to accepting help from someone that offers whom you don’t know. Better yet, keep a little extra money on you, the number of the local cab company and your phone charged.
  7. Your phone will not protect you, but you can use it to call for help. Take it with you into public bathrooms.
  8. When you get home, lock the door behind you, immediately. If there’s a black out, make sure the doors are locked. When you go to sleep, make sure the doors are locked. If it’s possible to lock the door while you shower, do so.
  9. Some men will think that if they buy you dinner, you will owe them something. They will be wrong. This is most easily avoided by paying for your own dinner.
  10. Violence and jealousy are not charming and do not signify love. They are signs of control and anger issues. Pay attention to how men talk about women and treat you. None of us are so special that a man who hit, punched, controlled, or hurt his ex-girlfriend will not also hit, punch, control, or hurt us.
  11. Professors who stop class – or stop you in the hallway – to tell you you’re pretty, ask you out or imply that you should sleep with them are also not charming. That is sexual harassment.
  12. Calling things what they are gives you power.
  13. The majority of men will not try to take advantage of you. Those that will do not have an R on their forehead for rapist. It will be very hard to tell the difference. It is not that any man may actually be a potential rapist. It’s that you won’t be able to tell the ones that are, from the ones that are not. (To my male readers, if that idea makes you sad or furious – and I hope it does – I encourage you to speak up whenever you hear comments that contribute to women being objectified, to intervene whenever you see situations in which women are being hurt and to also work towards eliminating violence in all its forms, including against women.)
  14. There has been a lot in the news lately regarding how colleges handle sexual assault, and for the most part, it’s not well. If you or someone you know is assaulted, my advice is to go (as soon as possible and before you shower) to the largest, non religious (so your options are not limited) off campus hospital and the city police first; go to the college officials second, even if it happened on campus. You may decide to not press charges later but get the evidence collected anyway. When you get to the hospital, ask that a rape crisis advocate be contacted.
  15. No one should ever be ashamed of something someone else did to them. That does not mean they won’t be.
  16. Controlling how you arrive at and get home from a date is preferable to getting in a car with someone you don’t know well.
  17. There will come a day when you will have to decide between being polite and being safe. Pick safe. Rude is always preferable to hurt.
  18. Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.
  19. Don’t drive drunk or get in a car with someone who’s drunk.
  20. Don’t compound stupid with more stupid.
  21. Women on TV have sex far more often and with way more partners than the vast majority of actual women. You can never go wrong by not going home with someone. The opposite is not true. Be careful who you allow access to your body and under what circumstances.
  22. Some things cannot be undone.

Finally, moving on to different topics:

  1. You are paying to be at school. If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you do. Any question you are brave enough to ask out loud, someone else is thinking. I promise.
  2. You are much more likely to get what you want if you can communicate what you want. That goes for professors, bosses, friends, guys and roommates. Don’t leave a note, send a text or post something on line when you are angry, frustrated, sad or confused. Gather your courage and say out loud and in person what you need to say and listen to what is said in response. Once you have, you can form your counter response.
  3. Everyone is not going to like you. It’s okay. You’re not going to like all of them either. Don’t waste energy being sad that someone you don’t like doesn’t like you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be who you are.
  5. Let other people be who they are.
  6. Don’t accept the options other people offer you. If you don’t like the choices presented, find new choices or new people.  There is always a choice.
  7. Surround yourself with people who are kind to you and make you feel good about yourself. We have all known people that cut us down and make us feel bad about ourselves. Minimize your time with those people.
  8. Don’t believe everything you think. Some of your thoughts will be based on biases you didn’t know you had and couldn’t articulate; some will be based on fear, negative messages or inaccurate information. Don’t believe them.
  9. Challenge everything. College is a time of inquiry. Poke at things until you are confident they are based on something you understand, agree with and can explain.

You are not in high school anymore. This is your life.

Stand tall. Be proud. Have fun. Be safe. Make good decisions. Call home every so often.

Be great!

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  1. […] not very long years ago, I wrote the post An Open Letter to College Bound Daughters, including My Own, for my step daughter and the thousands of girls like her heading to college. She, they, my current […]

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