ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Filtering by Category: Healthy Relationships

It’s Okay to be Sexually Confident!

Sex can be confusing! Not just the act itself, but all of the social and emotional aspects surrounding it. We are constantly given mixed messages about sex: Be dominant! Be submissive! Ask for what you want! Be coy! Too slutty! It’s a whirlwind of contradicting information. No wonder it’s so hard to be sexually confident. We want to be ourselves and have great sex lives, but we don’t want to get rejected or hurt anyone, and we want to protect ourselves. The first thing to remember on the path to sexual confidence is this: You deserve a wonderful, healthy sex life. Beyond that, everyone is different. Likes and dislikes, religious beliefs, long-distance relationships, sexual orientation—all of these things can determine a person’s current feelings on sex. But the key is in treating sex seriously, but with a dose of humor as well. Two willing adult partners in a safe environment sounds clinical, but it is really the starter for great sex for a lifetime. So long as we respect our bodies and each other, great sex is out there for the having.

The Changing Family

We all know that the two parent, two child household is now just one of many, many combinations that make up a family. That said, how do we navigate traditional family dynamics with the new reality? What is the polite thing to call a former mother-in-law? Do you buy your step-dad a Father’s Day card? Do you continue to call your uncle’s husband your uncle? Do you have to have your half-sister in your wedding if you aren’t close? You’ll find all of the correct answers to these questions and more below:

Just kidding. For every familial relationship, for every holiday and reunion, for every plane ride back to your home town there is a new set of rules. So why not just stick to the basics:

When in doubt, be as kind as you can. Your step mom knows she’s not your mom, there is no need to remind her. Odds are, she’s not trying to be, she’s just trying to make you (and herself) feel as comfortable as possible. Why not indulge her? Instead of acting defensive around new family, no matter who they are, don’t punish them for not knowing you yet. Offer gracious thanks and try to interact.

Sometimes, it’s gonna be awkward. And that’s okay. If you are in a new relationship with someone who has kids or your elderly parent is getting remarried, whatever the case may be, there is plenty of uncharted territory. The only recourse is to accept this as a fact and try to move forward. That may even mean acknowledging the surprising nature of life, making a joke of it and pushing along.

New and “non-traditional” family can provide new and “non-traditional” love. The beauty of forging ahead into an uncharted family dynamic is that there aren’t a million examples all around you. This can feel lonely, but it can also be a good thing. Most people could talk for hours about their relationship with their mother, and it’s easy to compare and contrast which can often lead to one party feeling badly. But a blended family might have less to compare it to, leaving more room to avoid unnecessary hang-ups.

Just be yourself. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a cliché, but it’s so true! Let these people in a little bit, show them who you are, and the family-like love we’re all supposed to feel for anyone who is remotely related to us, may flow more freely. Or it may not, but at least you can say you were kind, and that you tried.

Navigating your new relationship with your parents now that you are a grown-up

We all grew up differently. Some of us had married parents, some divorced. Rural, urban, only children, or one of many.  Some of us had lots of independence, some were nearly smothered.  No matter who you were or how you grew up, at a certain age there is a shift in the parent/child relationship. That is, when the child of this scenario becomes an adult, but the parent is still a parent.  Can you navigate that without anger, hurt feelings, confusion, and miscommunication? Well if there was an easy answer to that, we all would have heard it by now. It can be tough dealing with parents.  Maybe they let go a long time ago and you are still feeling lost.  Maybe you were independent from the moment the clock struck 18 (or 21 or 16 or, or, or…), and your parents are having a hard time letting you go.  The only consistent problem seems to be communication. Sometimes one party has a harder time admitting and accepting that kids grow up and often move on or away.

What to do? Talk about it.   Allow your new status as an adult to give you the confidence to approach your parents.

Make sure you’re honest about where you are in your life.  Show them that they are still such an important part of that life that they deserve to know about it. Career, relationships, milestones are likely to be important to them too, and they may bask in your successes and have sage advice for your struggles.

Speaking of advice, it may be more valuable than cash.  If you are having financial trouble (or any other kind), ask them what they think before you ask to borrow. Not only will they appreciate being used for their wisdom more than an ATM machine, you may even get something more valuable out of it.

Set boundaries. Both parties need to know what’s appropriate in your new dynamic, and this is different with every family. Try to tell them one thing about your relationship that you love for everything that you have an issue with. Be honest and direct, but kind.

Thank them. Profusely. Just do. And mean it.

What if You Are the Bully?

We live in a world of snark. Online comments, rude texts, flippant snarkemails, and snappy comebacks are all part of daily life for most people. Often we are the on the receiving end of rude remarks, but sometimes we are the perpetrators. Why do we feel so justified when we come up with what we think is a clever retort to someone’s perceived deficiency? For starters, snark is cyclical. When we feel threatened or stung by someone else’s rudeness, we carry that with us and in turn often throw it at someone else. If we read something uncomfortable directed toward us on Facebook in the morning, we keep that with us when we leave the house, we wear a scowl, we snap at the Starbucks barista. Then the barista feels stung and tweets something uncouth to someone she barely knows, and so on and so on.

We also use wit, sass, and sometimes outright meanness to protect ourselves.  It’s a classic defense mechanism: we say something nasty before someone else does. There is also a flipside to this. In a world where we are constantly plugged-in, it can feel boring when nothing happens for minutes, even seconds. So in the online world, it’s easy to prod and provoke, all in the name of playing Devil’s Advocate.

How do we stop negative behavior? Cold turkey. Before you type, before you speak, before you roll your eyes far back enough that you can see your own brain: think. Who benefits from what you are about to say? If the person you are saying it to doesn’t benefit in any way, stop and take a moment. Close your laptop, turn off your phone, shut your mouth and breathe. It’s a beautiful day.

Making up for our old wrongs

We’ve all done something nasty to someone. We all have at least one regret about how we’ve treated a stranger, a friend, or a loved one. More often than not, an apology (even a belated one) can mean a lot to the injured party. A heartfelt, apologysincere “I’m sorry” goes a long way in repairing relationships. But what if it doesn’t work? What if you hurt someone and they are not ready to accept your apology? That’s okay. It’s tough and it can make us feel heartbroken and vulnerable, but it is not our apology to accept. Once an apology is out there, hanging in the air, it’s no longer ours. The injured party has every right to reject apologies or even good wishes. This is one of the truest hardships about human relationships- there is no rewind button. If we are lucky the person we hurt will accept our regrets with warmth and strength, but sometimes the hurt is too deep, even if we never intended to cause any pain.

So how do we accept a refusal? Breathe in, breathe out and let it go. An apology is truly sincere if the goal is not for the other person to blindly accept it, but if the issuer is remorseful. Once a sincere apology has been put out there, all we can do is let it be.  With any luck, the other person will accept it and you can move on together. If not, you can still move on.

Learning to be Alone Makes us Better Partners

We’ve all been there:  basking in the glow of sharing a life, an intimate moment, a new experience. The googly eyes we get when someone has left us enchanted is all a part of what makes us human. Meeting someone new, or a change in a trusted relationship (like engagement, cohabitation, or marriage) can lead us to slip into what’s commonly referred to as “the honeymoon phase”.  But then in time something else happens. Suddenly the house, the apartment, the bed (heck, even the city) feel small. The charming nuggets about your partner can now feel like intolerable ticks. Being alone isn’t always easy, but neither is being with someone. The expression “the grass is always greener” was invented specifically for this type of conundrum. We want a partner, but we don’t want to lose ourselves in the process of finding a special someone. How can we adapt?

Maintaining some semblance of life separate from your partner may help. A social group, a class, a job, or a hobby that your mate could really care less about may not be a bad thing. If kids are in the picture, that may mean that a biweekly book club without your partner is not in the cards, and that’s okay. Start small. It can be helpful to have different tastes in books and movies and if possible allowing a little private time for yourself to enjoy your romcoms (romantic comedies)or war novels without the love of your life looking over your shoulder.

If you are wracking your brain to think of the last time you’ve been alone for a night, a meal, or even a few hours, it may be time to devote a little time to the other person in your relationship: you. An activity meant just for yourself will not automatically lead to separate bedrooms, so don’t hesitate to tell your partner if you need some time for yourself. The happier you are, the happier they are. Besides, of course you should hang out with yourself; who wouldn’t want to hang out with you?

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

The economy is in a rut and the student loan collectors are beginning to call. So where do you go next? The answer for many of us is moving back in with our “ ‘rents.” Moving home after being independent for an extended period of time can feel like a major downer.  It’s easy to feel demotivated and depressed as you confront this major lifestyle change.  However, it really doesn’t have to be that bad! Here are some tips to help make living with the “ ’rents” a more positive experience:

1)      Remember first and foremost that your parents are doing you a favor by providing you free or discounted shelter.  Remember to say thank you – your parents will appreciate your gratitude.

2)      Set a time frame for how long you plan to live at home. If you are job-hunting, don’t allow yourself to get too distracted.  Make yourself a schedule and stick to it.

3)      Set ground rules with your parents.  If you are living with any new roommates, it’s important to assert your needs and set boundaries.  Your dad might not want you coming home after the sun has already risen…however, you also have the right to tell him not to snoop through your stuff.   Mutual respect will go a long way.

4)      Remind yourself that your time with your parents is still an opportunity to move forward and build your life.  You can continue seeing friends, dating, and more.

5)      Establish local support networks.  Give your friend from high school a call, hang out in local coffee shops, and reintegrate yourself in your community.  Seek new friends.

6)      Stay the responsible adult you are or are becoming. Contribute. Regressing to being taken care of by our folks is so tempting but so stunting. You don’t want to be living on their couch in your 30’s.


Going Home for the Holidays? How to keep your cool...

You walk in the door and your mother nags you about your hair.  Your father comments on your lack of drive.  Your uber-successful big brother rubs his new car in your face.  Sound familiar?  Why is it when we go home we somehow become a kid again?  We resume our childhood roles –the older responsible one, the rebel, the baby.  How can we get through the holidays without letting our family drive us crazy?  The first thing to remember is that families install and push each other’s buttons.  Don’t take things so personally.  Parents are parents and it’s a job that never stops.  Mothers especially have a language all their own.  It’s their job to turn us into productive members of society.  Think of the National Geographic shows where the mother lioness cuffs her cubs.  It’s the same thing.  If we think of nagging as a mother’s way of saying “I love you,” it takes the sting out of it.

Try non-reaction.  We can’t change our family but we can change how we react to them.  When we stop reacting, things change.  When we don’t engage and let our buttons be pushed, the roles tend to change naturally.   Like a radio station, try a 10 second delay.  Before you react to something, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  You’ll be able to react more like an adult and less like a kid.

The Perfect Gift

No need to drive yourself crazy about presents. The holiday season hits and something comes over us.  We spend money we don’t have on presents no one probably even needs and stress ourselves out running from house to house or event to event.  We get angry when dinner burns or Uncle Ron gets drunk.  Why do we do it to ourselves?  Even Hollywood understands that the perfect holiday doesn’t exist.   

For one thing, our expectations get the best of us.  Perhaps if we know that something could happen to throw a wrench in things, we won’t be so upset when it happens.  It’s easier to go with the flow when we’re less rigid and when we remember the reason we are celebrating the holidays. “Holiday” comes from the words “holy days” as in, to make the day sacred, special, and peaceful.

The other thing is that we think that presents will let others know that we care-even if we can’t afford them.  Your presence is the best gift of all.  Instead of running around grabbing the last minute gifts or stressing over the money you don’t have, ask if you can help decorate, cook, bake, or set the table.  Ask about their childhood, holiday or other special memories.  Engage with those who are there.

Twenty years from now, no one is going to remember the gifts.  They will, however, remember the time and attention you spent with them because it will strengthen our family bonds and show others that we really do care about them.

Home for the Holidays – Sound Off

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and I am thankful for all the support they have provided over the years. Regardless, they constantly drive me up the wall. And between the crying children and my aunt’s smooches and all the awkward small talk, Thanksgiving dinner can make me feel as though I’m losing my head. So how do I cope with the holiday season? One strategy I’ve used is to avoid alcohol. I find that when myself or others around me are in a drunken haze, it is much more difficult to have meaningful and fulfilling conversations. Additionally, I am much more prone to spilling something embarrassing about my boyfriend or guilty pleasure CD collection that I wouldn’t normally want my second cousin to overhear. Being sober also enables me to guide the conversation. By asking my family members questions about their lives, I am able to avoid the awkwardness that comes from being put on the spot. Last, I always make sure to establish an escape plan before dinner begins. One year, I made a deal that I would text my best friend S.O.S. if I needed her to call me so that I had an excuse to step outside. Another year, I planned to step into the living room to watch some football if I was finding dinner overwhelming.

Since I’ve begun employing these strategies, I’ve been able to calm down and appreciate my family members. What do you do to remain cool and collected during the holidays? Sound off below!


Bullies at work

If you thought bullying stopped in high school, think again.  If you haven’t already experienced bullying in the workplace or in a relationship, you most likely will at some time.  Bullies don’t automatically outgrow their patterns of behavior.  It’s easy to laugh at the television show The Office or the movies Horrible Bosses and Office Space as extreme cases.  But bullying does exist at work, and more often than not it happens when no one is watching.  The difference between a boss who is having a bad day and one who is a bully is that a bully repeats the behavior.  This can include yelling insults, gossip, taking credit or sabotage. Here are Dr. Michelle Callahan’s top ten suggestions on dealing with workplace bullies:

1. Don't get emotional.

2. Don't blame yourself.

3. Do your best work.

4. Build a support network.

5. Document everything.

6. Seek help.

7. Get counseling.

8. Stay healthy.

9. Educate yourself.

10. Don't expect to change the bully.

No matter how old you are or whether it is in social circles, relationships, at school or at work, you don’t have to put up with being bullied.

So random… or not so random

An added incentive for doing “random acts of kindness” is that not only do you get a great feeling, but recent studies have actually shown that doing kind acts improves your health. According to Larry Dossey, M.D., former co-chair of the National Institutes of Health Panel on Mind/Body Intervention, an act of kindness gives you a “helper’s High,” which can boost your health both physically and mentally. Also, don’t forget that you are releasing stress from the person you are helping out. In the game of life, kindness is a win-win for everyone.(http://www.hearthealthyonline.com/heart-disease-overview/stress-management/random-kindness_1.html)

Smile at someone.  Send a card. Visit the sick. Lend a pencil. Hold a door. There are so many different random acts of kindness a person can perform on a daily basis.

How do we thank someone who does a kindness for us? Is there even something we can do to thank these people? Each of us has our own personal method of expressing appreciation.

It is especially hard to thank people who do us a kindness, but don’t ask for anything in return: for instance, our enlisted servicemen and women. Each and every day these men and women, as well as our fire fighters and police, go out and risk their lives for our safety. Now, how do we thank such a kindness?

Elizabeth Laird of Texas has affectionately been dubbed “the Ft. Hood hug lady.” She received this nickname because she waits at Ft. Hood during every troop deployment and homecoming, hugging each soldier as he or she gets on the plane or returns.  Laird has volunteered for the Salvation Army for many years and has been hugging these soldiers for almost 10 years now. She described this as her way of saying “Thank you” to the many soldiers who risk their lives daily to defend our freedom and preserve our safety. Many of the soldiers look forward to these hugs and describe them as “the last hug I receive before I leave and the first I hug I get when I return home!” (Watch her in action http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFdj-s08UJQ )

Elizabeth Laird has found her way of saying “Thank You.” What is yours? For more random acts of kindness, please visit http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/Kindness-Ideas/

How to Spot an Emotional Manipulator

Tricked, fooled, deceived, bamboozled, flim-flammed, used… It’s happened to all of us before, and it’ll probably happen again. There are some people out there who use manipulative tactics to get what they want, and they could be closer than we think. So how can you know that you’ve become the victim of such a situation? Here are some tell-tale signs: • Victimization and Guilt: Some individuals consistently make themselves the victim in any situation. Upon first meeting, they may seek to establish a false image of being vulnerable and quickly disclose personal information in order to gain sympathy. When confronted about anything, they quickly turn it into an issue they have with you, rather than something they themselves did wrong. Once they have you on the hook, they can make you feel guilty in nearly any situation when in fact, it was you who had a bone to pick with them.

• Egocentrism and Exaggeration: For a manipulator, a critical step in the guilt/sympathy game is constantly redirecting the conversation so it revolves around him or her. You will soon learn that there’s always some kind of problem or drama going on, and it will always be exponentially more terrible than whatever you may be going through.

• “Crazy Making”: It is not uncommon for emotional manipulation to be accompanied by skillful lying. You may hear this person saying something one minute, and later denying it.  He or she will rationally and convincingly persuade you to believe that you are imagining and inventing things and conversations that never happened, making you seem crazy.

• Passive-Aggressiveness: Emotionally manipulative individuals will rarely express themselves openly.  Talking behind someone’s back, for instance, creates a situation in which it’s his or her word against someone else’s. Guess who you’re going to believe… Another classic passive-aggressive approach is mind reading. Expecting you to know what they’re thinking without their saying a word sets you up in a perfect position to make you feel guilty for not being able to perceive their needs.

If this perfectly describes your friendship or a string of recent encounters, you now have some of the tools to recognize what may be going on here. My next piece of advice: run. The last thing you need is someone playing puppeteer and pulling at your strings to get what he or she wants. You should never feel that you need to stay in a friendship like this. When you start feeling out of control, claim it back. Don’t be afraid to walk out the door.

Original article: www.friedgreentomatoes.org/articles/emotional_manipulation.php

What's love anyway?

How do we know this love that will last? How do we ever know that they will stick around when times are hard or when we don’t feel so great or aren’t looking so great? We’ve got to look not only at their outside but also at their inside. Are they good looking to you on the outside and good people on the inside?  Are they kind – to you and to others? Are they loyal friends to you and have they held on to good friends over time? Are they considerate of your feelings and the feelings of others? Are they trustworthy - are they worthy of your trust? Do they have character; will they go to bat for someone else even though there might not be anything in it for them? How do they treat you after some of the first glow has worn off? Are they givers or takers? Are they emotionally healthy? Are their heads on straight? Are they carrying around so much baggage that it is weighing them down? It will weigh you down, too, in the long run.

Do they listen to you - not do what you say, but rather really hear you? Are they able to care and be caring, or is it all about them and their needs and wants? Can they share who they really are with you, their warts and all?  Do they share with others? Do they play well with others? Do they play fair with you?

Our Relationship with Things Over People

Name three things wrong with this picture. Thinking of that perfect gift?  As the holidays are approaching, when we consider what presents to get for others, we might reflect on the idea of giving the gift of being more present in the lives of those we really care about. Think about giving them the gift of our time, the gift of our love, the gift of our listening; the gift of caring, the gift of taking interest in their lives, the gift of lifting the spirits of another with honest words of gratitude, and letting them know that their being part of our lives is their gift to us that we so value and appreciate.

Before you walk the line, you’ve got to draw it.

What makes a relationship healthy? Good boundaries are vital. Setting healthy boundaries at the beginning of a relationship helps resolve conflict better than drama that occurs after someone has already crossed a line, which can lead to a big blow up. Raise your hand if you want to deal with that… (Silence, Crickets sound in the background) What does a good boundary look like in a romantic relationship? To form a good boundary, we have to know what’s important to us: what we value. We can then use boundaries – or limits- to protect those values and ourselves.

So, what do we value? Some things might be friends, good communication, education, family, responsibility, faith, independence, honesty, trust, commitment, etc. People in healthy relationships share at least some values. For example, if I value friendship and my partner wants me to be available every waking moment, there needs to be a boundary somewhere. If I value compromise and my partner is controlling, we may have an issue. If I value health and my partner eats only junk food, smokes and drinks, this can also be problematic. It’s important, when thinking about values, to decide which ones are the most important to me, which ones would be a deal-breaker if they are not shared or dismissed by my partner.

Healthy boundaries are never more important than when dealing with sexuality. We need to be clear about what we want, our comfort level, and our limits. In a healthy relationship, our partner will respect us and our wishes. If we say that we not ready, and our partner pressures us on a regular basis, then we may need to re-evaluate the relationship.

Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect. We need to communicate our boundaries clearly. Then, we must respect our own values and be guided by them, and if our partner doesn’t respect them, well, “Next one. Please.”

Q&A: I am in a new relationship with a nice guy after being in one with a “not so nice guy.” Should I be concerned about having gotten HIV from my last boyfriend and passing on something to my new boyfriend?

I can tell that this worrying you. It’s extremely important to know your status.Our short video, "A Life Changing Thing," points out what behaviors put you at risk of becoming infected with HIV. In short, if you’ve engaged in any behavior that has exposed you to someone’s blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, vaginal fluid, or breast milk, then get tested.

Click here to find confidential HIV testing sites locally or anywhere in the country. Doctors, even pediatricians, and college health centers can also screen for STDs.  The HIV test can tell you your exposure, if any, prior to 6 months ago. You’ll be advised to have another test in six months so you can know for sure.

As with any STD or other illness, the earlier a person who needs to get treated gets the medicine they need, the better the odds of the treatment will help.  So get tested for your own sake and for the sake of your new boyfriend.

I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life!

This past spring I was standing in line at the campus bookstore waiting to buy my cap and gown with my best friend and roommate for 3 years. Right as I was being rung up, Green Day’s Time of Your Life came on the overhead radio speakers and I started to cry. Until then, I had tried to stay strong, mainly by way of denial, but the looming fact of graduating and leaving this amazing world became all too real, and it finally hit me that College was about to be over. Everyone hopes their college experience will be full of the kinds of friendships, memories, and life experiences that mine was. College is what you make of it. You are going to be faced with a lot of decisions and new situations while you’re off on your own and you need to be prepared for that. Hindsight is truly 20/20 so here is a compilation of some lessons I learned along the way.

Stick it out. It truly takes a full year for most people to adjust comfortably into the college lifestyle. If you are not having the time of your life and are begging to come home or transfer closer to home or your high school best friend, don’t give up that easily. Don’t rush out of the situation or go running home because your first 3 months didn’t exceed your expectations. Stick it out. It’s amazing how much difference one semester can make in your overall perspective and experience at college. Stick it out for the second semester. Remember that classes change each semester, so you might find a new group of friends in the spring, who will make you feel comfortable and give you a better home-base feeling. Also, sorority and fraternity rush, which takes place at most schools in the spring, can be a great way for you to make those friendships and feel a part of a group and more comfortable in the larger campus community. And those bonds can last a lifetime. However, if, after your first year, you are still not happy, you can always consider transferring and beginning elsewhere in the fall.

Call your parents. Keep the communication lines open with your parents. They are going to be worried about you, but also curious to hear about all the new friends you are making, fun things you are doing, and interesting information you are learning. Share your stories with them. Whether it’s a short call or text in between classes or as you are getting ready to go out, they’ll be so happy to hear from you and see that you are doing well. They’ll also be less likely to hound you with missed calls and voicemails if you reach out to them, rather than leaving them in the dark. Plus, your parents, as much as you might not like to admit, can really offer some great advice and comfort in times of high stress or confusion.

Facebook. Everyone has one. Sure, you’re going to want to show off all the fun you’re having to your ex, your home friends, and your random Facebook friends or stalkers, but use some discretion with the statuses you post, and the pictures you leave tagged. Even employers these days check applicants’ Facebook pages and if you are looking a mess in all of your pictures, you won’t be getting that great summer internship you were hoping for!

Start Exercising Your Independence Now. Learn how to do laundry. Have your parents show you how to separate and do different loads of laundry at home before you are off on your own. Call and set up your own doctor’s appointments; learn how to deposit and write checks and how to check your account online. If you start learning to manage your own life and absorb some of the responsibilities that you have previously relied on your parents for, you will better adjust to the independence and self-reliance that comes with the beginning of college life.

Be safe, have fun, make friends, have fun, study, have fun. These words of advice are a combination of what my parents told me as they got into the elevator after helping me move into my freshman dorm four years ago. My Mom reminded me that I was here ultimately to learn, study, and graduate with a degree. My Dad continued to interject, “Yes, but have fun.” College is a time like no other. You will meet your best friends for life, you’ll just barely pass a class at least once, and you’ll discover what truly excites and interests you, both in coursework and lecture halls, and out of them. And, yes, while it is important to study hard and be safe throughout the next four years, it’s also important for you to enjoy the ride and make everlasting memories. But while you are out having fun and making these memories, there are some important points to keep in mind so that you wake up every morning safe and without stomach wrenching regrets.

  • Don’t leave your drink unattended. I’m sure you’ve heard this one over and over again, ever since you started going out in high school. However, this is college and you are going to be surrounded by lots more people, some of whom you won’t even know. You can’t trust everyone. There are people out there looking for an easy mark and things like roofies really do exist.
  • Party smart. Just because others are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, doesn’t mean it’s right and that you should, too. Stick to your beliefs and personal rules. Don’t compromise who you are to fit in with new friends. There are temptations everywhere and it can be really easy to get carried away and lose sight of your limit. But in the long run, if you let yourself get wasted, you’ll just end up feeling embarrassed…or worse.
  • “Hooking up.” College is a time to meet new people and form new relationships. But you need to be careful. If you have sex, always use protection, and remember that actions come with consequences. Alcohol can complicate hook ups and other situations, so be cautious with whom and how many people you get involved with, especially while intoxicated. Hangovers eventually go away, but a moral hangover can last much longer and an STD lasts a lifetime.

Smile. The thing that I loved so much about my freshman year was all the people I was constantly meeting! Some of them became my best friends, and some were acquaintances I’d see at parties, in the dining hall, or in classes. Especially during freshman year, everyone is new to the environment and looking to make those unrivaled bonds of friendship that you’ve heard older siblings, parents, and friends talk about. The diversity in a college community helps expose you to all kinds of people from different areas and backgrounds. You can learn so much about yourself just by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, and getting to know people you had never imagined being close with. This for me is when peer influences took on a positive connotation. I learned and gained so much from my friendships with others, and this helped shape me into the person I am today.

Now it’s your turn. I hope that when you are sitting in your cap and gown, waiting to be called up to receive your diploma, you can look back at your own college experience with pride, smile, and say that you, too, had the time of your life.

Rhianna’s “Man Down:” Pop Music, Revenge, and Violence Against Women

Recently pop star Rihanna released the music video for her new reggae-inspired hit “Man Down.” In this video, Rihanna’s character struggles with her decision to murder a man who rapes her. Unsurprisingly, this video has already been the target of controversy. Many critics believe that “Man Down” should be immediately banned for promoting unnecessary retaliatory violence. These critics are concerned that instead of using her celebrity to encourage victims of rape and sexual assault against women to seek help, Rhianna is encouraging victims to perpetuate further acts of unnecessary violence. Rhianna has also been accused of trying to profit from a sexualized display of violence against women.  Meanwhile, other viewers welcome the video as a critical protest in a music culture where rape and violence against women are often glorified and celebrated. How many times have you turned on the radio and heard lyrics about beating up or having sex with “bitches” and “hoes?” While Rhianna’s fans hopefully do not condone murdering perpetrators, they compliment “Man Down” for stimulating dialogue about rape, an issue that is often silenced and/or ignored in popular culture.

Rihanna herself is a survivor of domestic violence. Rihanna’s personal story and celebrity status further complicate the controversy over “Man Down.” Sharing one’s story is often an empowering act for survivors of gender violence. Should any celebrity, especially a celebrity who is in the process of healing, be asked to censor herself when addressing such a sensitive, personal issue? Why is a victim like Rhianna the target of controversy, when other violent, murderous images can be seen all over mainstream media?  Is violence in the media ever justifiable? What do you think? Sound off below!