What I Wish I Knew Before Freshman Year of College

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By: Marissa Blanchard

As high school graduates gear up to go back to being at the bottom of the food chain, they hunt for blogs and websites with the best tips for a great freshman year at college. Writers post about everything from the proper way to play flip cup to dorm room necessities.

I feel slightly nostalgic as I remember my freshman year experience, but I am slightly nervous to enter my junior and notice these freshman girls in the party scene. They may know how to take a proper tequila shot or play beer pong, but they are also probably unaware of the shockingly real statistics surrounding sexual assault for an underclassman, especially over the first few weeks we call the Red Zone.

It is something our moms tell us about since the dawn of time—never leave your drink, live by the buddy system and older boys always are after only one thing. We hear these things over and over again that we end up tuning it out.

These are the real tips you need before your freshman year of college. Whether you are 10 minutes or 10 hours away from home, the first semester of college is an adjustment for everyone. Here are some tips that I wish I knew before my freshman year.

1. Enjoy the Freedom, Take on the Responsibility

The freedom of college is overwhelming in the sense you sometimes really do feel invincible. No curfew, easy access to alcohol, dozens of new friends, it all is exciting and new.

I am guilty of underestimating what to expect in college.  I had the freedom to do what I want when I wanted. Not everyone has the same freshman year experience, but that rush of freedom is familiar to all of us.

Don’t let it consume you. Don’t think you are invincible, because no one is. Part of this new freedom is the responsibility of setting your own limits.

You have the freedom to go out on a Tuesday night, but the responsibility to make that 9:00 am lecture. You have the freedom to take as many shots as you want, but the responsibility to make it home safe and take care of that hangover in the morning.

2. Trust Your Instincts

My mom always repeats a fact she heard on Discovery Channel: humans are the only species to go against our instinct of fear. We go to grimy bars, crowded fraternities and houses just a bit too far off campus because all of our friends seem to think it’s alright to go. We take another shot because everyone else seems to be able to handle consecutive shots.

We rationalize our fears.

You have your limits. It might take a while to find them, but when you do trust them. If you feel you shouldn’t go out, don’t. You will most likely regret it. I can’t count the amount of times I pushed my limits and regretted it. When it comes to drinking and partying, the comfort zone is a great place to be.

If your friend looks like they are in trouble, they most likely are. Being an empowered bystander can save someone from the lifelong struggle of dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Trust your instincts because it could change your life or someone else’s.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say NO

Don’t compromise yourself for anyone. College is the time to make friends, learn and discover who you are, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise your core values to do so.

Do whatever you want because you want to, not because someone else convinced you to.

Try new things because they interest you. Sometimes saying no can save you a lot of heartache. Stand up for what you believe in and say no to that tequila shot, or club your friend wants you to join, or to the upperclassman boy or to the yoga class all your friends want to take.

4. You Are Never Alone.

If you are feeling homesick or alone freshman year, you can bet your roommate is too. Some days putting on a happy face for the world is easy, and other days it’s impossible. I didn’t feel like I belonged at Syracuse until the last month of freshman year. Some people take longer than that to adjust, and some transfer.

Your first months at school are most likely the longest you have ever been away from home, it’s normal to feel lonely or homesick.

As corny as it sounds, talking to someone really does help. Call your parents, your brother or sister, your childhood best friend. Talk to your roommate, RA or even a counselor. Building a support system at college is important.

5. You are strong. You are worth loving. You matter.

The worst feeling I had after my sexual assault is that I felt worthless. How could someone take control over my body without my consent and with no regard of me as a person? My friends and family are living proof of my self-worth. Working with Jackie, Caroline and Julie on The Girl Code Movement has empowered me to take control of what happened to me and work to abolish the rape culture.

My sole regret, and also more important advice, is that I didn’t go to the hospital after my assault. I thought that if I went home and showered, took a nap and continued on with my day that I would forget about it. The more and more I pushed it aside the more pain I felt.

If you or a friend has to deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault, there are resources on campus to do so. It is imperative to go to the hospital and get a rape kit. Do everything in your power to make sure you are safe, healthy and have the tools to report your assault.

Your university’s Counseling Center, Advocacy Center, or Health Promotion Office have the tools to help you deal with the aftermath. The Girl Code Movement is here to unite college women across the country to become active operatives to stop a rape from happening.

Freshman year is an amazing time to grow in the independent person you want to be. Try not to be intimidated and take it all in.  Don’t be afraid to take chances, be bold and have fun. The college experience is the best four years of life, but we should be aware of how common sexual assault is and contribute to the movement to put it to an end.

I’m a Feminist, Hear Me Roar.

I am proud to call myself a feminist.

So many women shy away from the term. Why does it have such a negative connotation? Just because I stand up for gender equality does not mean that I am a non-bra wearing hippy that views marriage as a form of slavery.

I only make that statement because that is what men think a feminist is—they use it as an insult. Go on any website like Total Frat Move or Bro Bible and there will be an article with a “manly” rant about feminism.

Why would a man use this term as an insult? They wouldn’t condone a pacifist, a democrat or a Christian. This are all terms that classify a set of beliefs, whether it be political, religious or social.

The only answer I can come up with is that a feminist intimidates them. There are intimidated by women’s power to tell them “no.”

I believe that more laws should be put in place to ensure women’s equality. I believe that the portrayal of women in advertisements, film and television needs to change. I believe that there need to be more female political and business leaders in the United States and around the world.

If someone thinks that this makes me a feminist go ahead and call me a feminist, because I will not consider it an insult in the slightest.

Some women react negatively to the term as well saying, “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist because I like men too much.”

Feminism is not about hating men, it is about loving being a women and demanding to not be discriminated based on gender. 

I would never have had the chance to play soccer, go to Syracuse or pursue a career in broadcast journalism if it were not for so called “feminists.” I am a part of a sorority that was established at Syracuse fifteen years before women had the right to vote.

Even though I usually am wearing a bra, stay far away from tye-dye and hope to get married someday, I embrace the term feminist. I see feminism as women empowerment, and all women should too. Women throughout history have paved the way for us now. They faced men calling them much worse than feminists.

From earning the right to vote, to earning our place on a soccer field, there is still more change to come, and it will come from this generation of feminists—women who will demand respect and change.

If being called a feminist puts me in the same category as Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Walters, and Michelle Obama, I will gladly accept that. 

Marissa Blanchard

Twitter: @@marissablanch

Redefine Sexual Education

One distinct memory I have from my high school PE class is the day a man named Antonio came to teach a group of 17-year-old girls self-defense techniques. At the time I though absolutely nothing of this; when was this typical suburban girl ever going to need to use an “eye gouge” or a “groin scoop”? Not to mention pretending to beat up your best friend in gym class was way more fun than badminton.

Why did this memory suddenly anger me? Well, Nia Sanchez, the newest Miss USA pageant winner, has been under fire for an answer she gave to a question regarding the campus rape epidemic.

"More awareness [of the issue] is very important so that women can learn to protect themselves … You need to be confident and be able to defend yourself. That’s something we need to start to implement for a lot of women,” said Sanchez.

I applaud the Miss USA pageant for allowing women to address this issue on a literally huge stage, but this is not exactly the response feminist women wanted.

Sanchez is a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so naturally self-defense found its way into her comments on rape culture. It’s incredible she had the opportunity to show her passion for the issue, but how she phrased her statement is precisely what needs to change.

Shouldn’t we try to stop rape and sexual assault attempts at the source rather than just prepare women for the seemingly inevitable?

To be perfectly honest, three years later I have never put these self-defense skills to the test. I do not think two 80 minute self-defense workshops, or any extensive defense course, properly prepares a high school girl for the world she will face in college.

We have heard the statistic over and over. One in four college women will be sexually assaulted. I am the one in four. Not even a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do would have prevented my rape.

Teaching women to defend themselves is important, but not in the case of preventing rape. Requiring every high school girl to go through an intensive self-defense course would do absolutely nothing to change the rape culture. In fact, this would only reinforce it. Why? Because this does not address the root of the problem.

Someone who says self-defense is the answer has never been raped. They don’t understand what it is like to be out of control of your body or to have someone knowingly take advantage of your body.

The Big Bad Wolf

Let’s revisit the childhood fable of the three little pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Building a house of straw or wood is like learning self-defense—it may work for a while until the Big Bad Wolf decides to huff and puff and blow the house down. Building a house of brick may keep him from blowing the house down, but there are still windows and the chimney. Building up a defense is not going to stop the wolf.

What if the wolf just knocks on the front door and pretends he has changed his ways? If he really has, he will stop trying. If he can’t blow down one brick house, that’s not going to stop him from blowing down any straw or wood house he wants to.

Self-Defense is NOT the Answer

Self-defense is not the answer because it does not stop rape culture. Changes in laws and beliefs change a culture. If men felt like there would be serious consequences for sexually assaulting a woman, they would think twice before doing it. Too often stories like Daisy Coleman’s surface the news cycle. Even with substantial evidence, rapists can walk away with no jail time. What message does that send?

The fact that women should feel the need to learn self-defense tactics is a sign of the issue. Women should not feel constantly in danger of sexual violence.

Every woman has the right to take whatever preventative measures she feels are necessary to defend herself. If you want to take self-defense courses or carry pepper spray to feel safe, I encourage you to do so, but do not accept this state of fear. 

The only thing that will rid this constant fear is making rape culture not just a women’s issue, but a men’s issue as well.

Redefine Sexual Education

I don’t know why my high school decided to provide ONLY the females in my PE class with self-defense sessions, but if that’s what they consider inadvertent sex-ed they might as well just hand out cans of pepper-spray along with our diplomas at graduation.

They teach girls to fight rapist rather than teach people not to become one.

The traditional argument of teaching safe sex or abstinence in schools has become obsolete. High school is to prepare students for college. Turning a cheek to the sexual content teens are exposed to and the culture they enter into in college is ludicrous.

Teaching students about sexually transmitted diseases and safe sex can be life changing, but so can teaching them the definition of consent.

Marissa Blanchard

@marissablanch