Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Will Fear of Sexual Assault Quash Your Daughter's Dreams?

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MIT Report on Sexual Assault

I know a wonderful young lady who dreams of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–the famous MIT. You know how many young kids go through the “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up” stage? Well, this amazing teenager just never grew out of it.  

At 17 years old, she has already achieved so much in the world of science, most notably in robotics. She has represented her country several times at the World Robotic Organization, including leading the team to an impressive victory two years ago.

Since the time I met this impressive girl five or six years ago, she has known her dream and has taken steps to achieve it. She’s always wanted to study aerospace engineering at MIT and then work for a top aeronautical company leading in space exploration, such as NASA. The girl sets her goals high and with top marks, impressive entrance test scores and a remarkable resume, she is likely to achieve those dreams-that is if media hype and fears of a chauvinistic world littered with sexual assault and other scary incidents doesn’t thwart her.

Recently, a study revealed that one in six female students at MIT report being a victim of sexual assault. And, like so many news items in our fast-paced, social media world, most people just took the time to read this headline and leapt to their own conclusions. Reading this scary statistic makes one think that still, after over 150 years of existence and countless leaps forward, MIT remains no place for a woman.

I say, don’t believe the hype!

If someone took the time to read the article, they would discover that MIT is actually the first among the high-profile US colleges to put an estimate on sexual assault among its students. They conducted this survey precisely to gain more insight into the problem in order to take the necessary steps to curb such unwanted behaviour. Furthermore, reports highlight the concerning statistics across universities - many of which have avoided conducting such surveys, fearing what the results will reveal about their campuses.

By encouraging students to anonymously report their experiences, MIT is giving its female students a voice that may often be silenced due to a slew of fears and pressures. As we all know, especially in the light of current issues in Canadian media, it is hard for woman to come forward. And, when we consider the statistics for Canadian Universities, the numbers are even more frightening. According to the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton, a staggering 4 out 5 undergrdutates in Canadian universities reported violence in a relationship and of that number, 30% reported sexual asault. By conducting these surveys, universities are taking the necessary steps to tackle a very unsettling issue that can have a far-reaching impact in the lives of those affected.

How is it affecting this amazing teenage roboticist? Well, some of those who love her most read the headline and began to question her decision to go to MIT. They pressured her to consider other universities that haven’t published such alarming statistics.  

But here’s the thing-tragically, sexual assault is prevalent in our society. It happens on every kind of university campus and in so many other venues as well. We need to educate our girls and our boys about protecting themselves and about healthy sexual relationships. We need to talk about the problem. We need to empower victims to speak up. We need to continue seeking ways to reduce the statistics and to make campuses safer places for all our students.

None of that will occur by sweeping the issue under the rug. We can’t solve a problem if we are not willing to recognize it.  

Do I think MIT probably has a pretty significant old-boys-club attitude? Sure. I suspect that there are people there that look down upon women and mistreat them but I suspect this occurs everywhere. I also think the university should be applauded for taking the first of the many steps necessary for alleviating the problem. Should my young friend change her university application based on this headline? Absolutely not!

With nearly half of the student body being comprised of females and significant representation of women on faculty, MIT has come a long way from its early days. And, female scientists are kick-ass!  

I say don’t fall victim to a hyped headline! Don’t let the abusers take yet another thing from woman today. And never let fear rob you of your dreams.

Let’s keep the conversation going



You may also be interested in Would You Let Your Teens Have Sex In The House? and The Most Important Lessons We Forget To Teach Our Children About Sex.