I just got back from speaking about Alcohol Awareness and Assault Prevention at Elmira College in upstate New York. It's a beautiful, charming campus with buildings that look like Harry Potter's world.
There are huge trees and green lawns all around and it seems hard to imagine anything violent happening here.
I think that this is how most campuses look to people from the outside looking in. It's much easier to think of assaults happening in lower-income neighborhoods or on military bases, than in the world of higher education.
And hopefully, nothing will happen on Elmira's campus. The Dean of Students, Brandon Dawson, is all over this issue. Their Orientation was 4 days! The orientation leaders had lots of fun activities planned with required educational teachings peppered in.
Friday night, I spoke to the freshmen and transfer students about the dangers of binge drinking and of doing any kind of drugs. There is so much going on when anyone first comes to college. The lines are easily blurred with all of the new freedom, social pressure, and academic challenges.
It seems so innocent just to buy a bag of "whatever" from your roommates, brother's, cousin's friend, who seems totally cool. But then does it ever occur to anyone to "Think It Thru"?
Who had the bag of "whatever" before the brother's cousin's friend did?
Was anything else put into the bag? Could the "whatever" be laced with anything else?
And you can't go onto Google to check out your dealer's customer service rating.
You can't google the drugs to find out if there are any nuts or wheat gluten or whatever you could be allergic to in the bag.
I try hard to not get too preachy because I hate that when a speaker gets like that too. The years of being a stand up comedian have trained me well. The audience and I have so much more fun when we're having a conversation With each other, instead of At each other.
And yes, the energy in the room can feel pretty intense at times. After all, we are discussing drugs, alcohol, addiction, and risky behavior. So when people stop breathing, I start telling more jokes to get the oxygen flowing again.
Laughter is a release of tension. Laughter raises serotonin levels, the feel good chemicals in your brain. Laughter is a natural high. Laughter releases toxins and it burns calories.
Elmira's Orientation started again on Saturday morning at 7am. Lucky for me, I didn't speak until 9am. This time, we talked about Sex and Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness.
I've never told my story that early in the day before. And I was just as nervous as if it had been later. The judge that sits on my shoulder, full of criticism, was awake and loud and clear.
"Oh my God, this is way too early.
They are going to stone you.
They are going to fall asleep after they sit there and hate you first.
They're probably already sick of your stupid jokes."
And so on.
My inner critic gets the loudest and meanest when I feel the most vulnerable.
But my commitment to make a difference and to use my life experience to help others is bigger and louder.
We talked about assault, and the connection it has to drinking and drugs. I taught them about undetected rapists and why it's so important to report every single incident, even if you don't want to do it for yourself, you can do it for someone else.
And that just because you go to the hospital and get tested and taken care of, that doesn't mean you have to go to court. You don't have to make all of those decisions right after a traumatic event.
We talked about rape culture and that we, as a collective, can start saying no with our voices and our dollars to brands like: American Apparel for their porn-like ads with teen age girls who look like they are having orgasms from their socks.
We discussed how consent must be vocal and ongoing and that just because you leave a party together or fall asleep on someone's couch, that does not mean consent.
We talk about active bystander intervention and how the sexual assault issue is everyone's issue and that we can all Stand Up and Speak Out. We can be a voice of reason when we see a couple leaving a party or a bar together and one or both have had too much to drink.
And just when the air has been sucked out of the room and no one is breathing again, I tell some more jokes about my kooky life and we all laugh together again at life.
When I am truly connecting with an audience, it is hard to describe what happens in words. There is a feeling of love and connection and "we're all in this together so let's help change our world". I have a sense that something much bigger then me is coming through and reaching them.
At the end of the day, I just hope that we get the sexual assaults to 0 everywhere. It's a ridiculous waste of time and energy. The more we focus on raising awareness and educating everyone about prevention, the less energy we have to spend on recovery and healing and criminal justice.
And so I thank you, Brandon Dawson, for the work you are doing at Elmira College. You help make a difference more than you know. The leaders at Elmira are doing all the right things and having the tough conversations to make it a safe and happy campus. And who doesn't want more of that?