It May Not Seem Fair

A letter to my little brother before he starts college this week...
Another open letter to throw into the pile of Medium junk mail

Baby Brother,

For as long as I can remember I was taught to always look over my shoulder making sure that no one wanted to take something from me. It started with our big brother trying to steal my cookies, then it progressed to holding my first purse close on crowded streets and eventually it grew to safeguarding my body. These life lessons made me careful throughout my years in college. I took the long way home to stay in the well-lit areas, I carried my keys between my knuckles ready to put up a fight, I paid obscene amounts in Uber and cab rides so I wasn’t walking alone, I avoided prolonged eye contact with strangers on the street, I asked friends to walk with me, and I took numerous other precautions. That was just the way it was. It wasn’t fair but it was what I needed to do to protect myself and I was lucky enough to stay safe.

I am grateful to every guy that went out of his way to get me home safe. So little brother, please pay it forward like they did by making other sisters and daughters feel safe. Be a gentleman by respecting and defending every woman without asking for anything in return. Walk a girl home when its dark and scary out at the end of the night. However I wouldn’t be doing my job as your big sister if I didn’t tell you to also protect yourself. Lend her your jacket if she’s cold but don’t put your arm around her unless she asks. Take the well-lit route back to her dorm where there are other people around. Make sure when you get her safely to her dorm, you don’t go into her room and always stay in plain sight of the hallway security camera. You can let her order pizza for the two of you if she wants to repay you for your kindness but eat in the hallway or the lobby with other people or cameras around. This may not seem fair but it is what you have to do to stay safe.

Now little brother before you ask what you’re staying safe from or tell me I’m being a bit too overcautious, let me tell you a story. I had two male friends get suspended from school during their freshman year after he-said, she-said accusations of sexual abuse and neither guy returned to school following suspension. They both were well-meaning guys that could always put a smile on my face. I was not in that room with them either of those nights and I did not hear detailed accounts from the he-said or the she-said party of either evening. I only watched lives unravel one at a time. I remember one girl had a boyfriend. Maybe she woke up in the morning with a hangover and regrets and thought this accusation was the only way to remedy the situation short of turning back time. Maybe he did force himself onto her, stealing the most intimate and treasured part of her existence. I will never know how the events unfolded — if the accusations were false noise or were a sad truth. I do know that each night was compounded by excessive alcohol and that I watched two of my friends pack their bags and leave school with a permanent scar on their record.

Throughout college I was personally grateful that he-said, she-said cases favored the female party despite my guy friends' experiences. Little brother, you may think that makes me selfish or a bad friend but it gave me a bit of solace in the threatening moments knowing my voice would be heard if I needed to speak up. But now as you enter college, I worry that your voice may lost among the noise if you are not careful. The fact is some people are crazy; they want to feel powerful and in control so they sexually abuse or wrongly accuse someone of sexual abuse. In both situations the lives of innocent people are shattered forever so please listen up and avoid both at all costs. Walk a girl home if she asks, leave her safely at her door and then walk yourself home. I feel both saddened and comforted that I have to give you this advice. I am comforted that a piece of the burden of abuse is lifted from the typical female victims but I am saddened that it is moved to you specifically. I wish the abuse ended altogether so there was no burden and everyone could feel safe.

I admire your 18 year old confidence — ready to fly the coop with no fears of falling to the ground — but remember that you aren’t invincible. I understand that your lessons growing up prepared you for college in different ways than mine. I know you learned to take some hits playing lacrosse and you learned to crush beers with your boys. But I also taught you to put the toilet seat down and to put your arm out to steady me when I’m wobbling on high heels. So little brother before you run off to college, I have a bit more wisdom to impart. Do not let alcohol or anything else cloud your judgement when it comes to drugs, crime or treating a woman right. Little brother, I know you have a big empathetic heart and that you have great intentions but please make sure your actions can speak for you if your voice is silenced. Despite this slightly jaded advice, do not let fear stop you from living to your full potential and most importantly doing the right thing. I pray that you shape your life and the lives of those around you in a positive way. I can’t wait to see all you will accomplish as you grow into a true gentleman.

Big Sister