An Open Letter To My Little Brother Before He Enters College

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If I told my brother the same things I was told before going into college, people would probably think I was giving him strange advice.

The first pre-college “gift” I received was a rape whistle (it was from my little brother). While it was a practical gift, I guess, it was also weird – it essentially told me that the first thing I should know about college was that it was a dangerous place for me to be. For the record, I never once used that rape whistle (or the variety of other anti-rape products I received during my years in college). I didn’t even take it out of the package. I went to a small liberal arts college and I never really felt unsafe. While I’m not by any means claiming that my college was perfectly safe (as the many sexual assault victims at my school could tell you), I myself never feared for my safety.

Thinking about it now, I may have never even opened the rape whistle, but I also didn’t get rid of it. Why? Because it seemed like something I could at some point need. It’s still sitting in my living room in my apartment in New York City, untouched, in one of the drawers of my coffee table. But if I had given my brother a rape whistle last Christmas, as I considered doing, it would probably also remain in the package – but it would probably also sit in his desk at home, or the back of some closet – he wouldn’t bring it with him to college and always know exactly where it was, despite not using it. He would probably forget about it. And that would be fine.

When my best friend, a guy, started college, his dad sent him a box of condoms. Again, a practical gift, but the message my friend received at the start of his college career was that college would be the time to have sex. We essentially received the exact opposite messages – I learned that I should be vigilant about unwanted sexual advances and he learned that society expected him to have sex. More basically put, men should seek sex, while women should fear it.

So I want to change the message. My brother, almost eighteen years old and a high school senior, is getting ready to embark on the “best four years of his life” (I would definitely say that description of college is up for debate). But as a feminist, a college graduate, and most importantly his sister, I have some advice of my own for my little bro.

Hey Buddy,

I can’t wait for you to go to college (hopefully on the east coast *cough cough* so we can be closer together). You’re going to have so much fun, learn so much, make so many friends, and become even more yourself. I truly can’t wait to see the person you become throughout your college years. But before you go, I want to give you some advice:

  1. Be yourself. When I got to college, I wanted to reinvent myself – I thought I could make myself into someone who was completely different than the person I was in high school (aka cooler, friends with more “popular” people, invited to the best parties, etc.) – that didn’t happen, and I’m so glad it didn’t. Just be you; don’t worry too much about what everyone else thinks.
  2. Be someone people can count on. Stick up for what you believe in, stand up for your friends, and stay strong.
  3. All that peer pressure stuff. Don’t give in to peer pressure and don’t pressure anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Whether it’s drinking, drugs, or anything sexual, don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with (and don’t make anyone else feel uncomfortable).
  4. Listen to your friends. If your friends tell you something is wrong, listen to them. Don’t discount them. Especially your female friends – if they talk to you about being catcalled, or someone making them uncomfortable, or anyone taking advantage of them – listen. Believe them. Be there for them.
  5. Don’t rape. Not that I believe you ever would, but for the number of times I was told how to not get raped, I think it’s fair that I tell you once how not to rape: If someone says no (or does not say yes) to your sexual advances, stop.
  6. Don’t let your friends rape or be raped. If you see a friend taking advantage of someone else or being taken advantage of by someone else, step in. Don’t be a bystander. Do something – it’s always better to have a friend be mad at you for a day for “cock-blocking” than to have someone be traumatized for life by a sexual assault.
  7. Be the feminist I know you are. Don’t shy away from the term “feminist” because of the negative stigma that is still associated with it. Think about all the strong women you know – me, Mom, your teachers, your camp coworkers – and remember that we are only this strong because of other women and men who aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists.

Love you always,

Your big sister