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This week is Sexual Assault Awareness Week at MIT. I would like to encourage everyone to not only go to events, but to think about what an event like this means.

I have to imagine that the MIT community is one of the world’s most forward-thinking, rational, and reasonable groups of people. The fact that an institution where brilliant men and women come together to solve some of the world’s greatest problems is holding an event to prevent sexual violence should tell you something about how prevalent this problem is. This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart, and I curse myself every day for not doing enough to combat it.

Feminism has been a big part of my life. The first thing I can remember my mother teaching me is “If a man hits you, you leave.” My parents made it clear to me that I could grow up to be whoever I wanted and I should never let a man stand in the way of that. “Don’t ever let a man make you feel badly about yourself,” my parents lectured me, “Always be in control of your life. Always be able to support yourself.”

I truly believe that women can do everything that men can do. But there are so many people in this world who think differently.

Sexual violence is just one manifestation of this, but it is certainly the most damaging, both physically and emotionally. And it is so much more widespread than most people realize.

In high school I had a friend who went to a small basement party at the house of one of her friends from church. She was drugged and raped by an unknown number of men, most of whom she had probably been acquainted with, some of whom were probably friends. I had another friend who was raped on a first date, and another who was raped at a fraternity party. My circle of friends is not that big, and I know three people who have not only been assaulted, but raped. Considering the corner of the world in which we live, this is a painfully disturbing fact.

What does it say about the position of females in modern society when someone who grew up in upper-middle class America knows so many women who have been sexually assaulted? What does it say about how far women have to go?

There are a few things that can change this. First, I think we need to work harder to empower women. There are too many girls who grow up without a strong sense of who they are in this country and even in the world. Parents and schools can do a better job of teaching young girls that they have the power to define their own lives. I encourage everyone who reads this to raise their daughters as freethinking, independent women who are aware of their surroundings, their abilities, and their opportunities.

But it shouldn’t just start with women. I have a dream that every parent would raise his or her son to believe that women are equals and not subordinates. I want everyone reading this to vow to convey to their sons the value of women in not only everyday society, but in intellectual society as well.

We (by which I mean both women and men) were all accepted to MIT because we were capable of learning the same material, studying for the same number of hours, and solving the same problems. I hope it is evident, at least in this country, that our minds are equal. When will we finally be equal?