Updated: May 1, 2019
*Updated to include the website created by Samantha Josephson’s parents. Please support their mission. Click the link below to learn how you can help.
"Our mission is to educate the world on ride share safety and the simple precautions one can take to ensure no other family has to suffer this unspeakable tragedy. Samantha may be gone but our goal for the rest of our time on earth is to share her story and make a lasting change. Before you get in a ride share ask “What’s my name?” and remember hers." #WHATSMYNAME? ~Seymour and Marci Josephson www.whatsmyname.org
I read with horror the news about a murdered student at USC, and as the details unfolded I wept for senior Samantha Josephson’s parents, family and friends. They must survive something unimaginable.
I have no idea how.
How do any of us live in a world where this happens to our children? Where it keeps happening. Where the list of grieving parents continues to grow. I’m left dumbfounded, angry, and disillusioned.
And as we make our rounds of accepted student visits, I’m laser focused on safety, and living a Subaru commercial. Looking at this group of fresh faced kids carrying matching VA Tech string bags, all I can think of and see is them as pre-school kids heading out for their first few classroom hours.
Remember those days?
Would they make friends? Be quiet at nap time? Actually try the healthy snack? Would they learn to share? Master the monkey bars?
I want those worries back.
Because these worries, the ones I can’t shake as we walk by West Ambler Johnston Hall and Norris Hall are crippling. The only question I want to ask every speaker at every college is “How will you keep them safe?” I want to scream it. Demand it. I want an iron clad contract and blood oath guaranteeing it. I know, but I still want it.
We dance around the topic at home.
‘Have fun, enjoy every minute of college life, soak it all in’. But don’t go running at night, don’t go anywhere without a buddy, carry a rape whistle, pepper spray, take a self defense course. Use tracking apps, be vigilant, if you see something say something. Don’t drink and drive, ever. Don’t get in the car with anyone you don’t know. Ask your driver “What’s my name?” Don’t drink anything made in a giant trash can. Don’t drink anything you didn’t open yourself. And to quote Tina Fey: “When the crystal meth is offered, remember the parents who cut [your] grapes in half and stick with beer.”
Actually her whole “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter” in BossyPants; I want it all:
“First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers and the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
Parts of that poem are hilarious and I’ve lived l-o-t-s of those stanzas, but parts of it are so real, and such dangers I can’t swallow around the lump in my throat.
Especially in the days after Samantha’s death.
How do we teach them about all the dangers in the world without damaging their optimism and faith in humanity?
How do I explain to my daughter and her friends the published college sexual assault statistics? Those statistics and survey methodologies vary greatly, and the debunked Rolling Stone Article and Duke Lacrosse case confuse us all. Discussions devolve into arguments about how the statistic isn’t that high and it’s not that prevalent, burying the issue in an argument about numbers of all things.
ANY assault is one too many, and far more than one has occurred. So let’s work together to stop it. Sexual assault occurs every 92 seconds in America (that’s about 5 victims in the time it takes to read this post).
We must do better in communicating, educating and reinforcing the importance of consent and of creating a culture of respect, sexual safety and shame-free reporting for all.
And though it shouldn’t feel different sending my daughter off to college then it did sending my son, it does.
This song explains why. (*Please don’t get defensive here. Though the singer wrote it in response to a comment President Trump made about Brett Cavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, she addresses bigger issues that concern us all regardless of political party). It went viral because it resonated with so many people (not just women).
Now I’m out of the Subaru commercial and done humming ukulele songs and onto channeling Julia Luis-Dreyfus in Enough Said (if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it lately and have a high school senior, go watch it) when she says she’s building a cage for her daughter in the basement so she can’t go back to school after Thanksgiving break. Yep, that’s exactly where I am right now. But maybe not a “cage” cage, more like a lounge she’ll never want to leave.
Again, I know, but I still want it.
So I’m doing everything I know how to do, and according to an anonymous source I’m coming dangerously close to “Leslie Mann-handling” her ala Blockers, which is hilarious, but also terrible and irreverent and I swear I am not even coming close to her character in that movie. But I am having all the talks about all the uncomfortable subjects. It’s awkward as all — insert expletive of your choice here, I gave up cursing for Lent (it is not going well). The talks are going slightly better.
My pediatrician gave me the best advice about these conversations “keep having them.”
None of these topics: sex, drugs, alcohol, bullying, anxiety, self-care, safety, consent, consent, consent are one time conversations. They are ongoing, continual dialogues. With resources. Going to your parents with a problem in any of those areas is not easy, regardless of everything but a teenager’s sense of fear and shame, so if you can, give them a go-to person. Someone both of you trust. Make sure your child’s friends have your contact info too.
One of mine once needed to reach a friend’s parent in a scaryish situation and was quick enough (and lucky enough) to use the friend’s passcode and phone to call them. It was a learning experience for everyone (especially me).
Make it easier for them. As awkward as it is, have all the talks, and give out your number. Ask for their friends’ contact info. Insist. They won’t want any part of this. Do it anyway.
As for the rest? The rest is so big this blog can’t touch it. I wish I could make the rest safer, easier, better. Our children’s world is exponentially more dangerous than ours was.
And those dangers are in their faces, and on their news feeds. Constantly. “Intruder drills” at school are their norm. An alarm rings and they scatter to hide behind doors, inside closets, under piles of coats. Alone. There is never enough time for them to find a place that feels safe. How terrifying is that? We had bomb drills in my elementary school days. A teacher led us to the basement. We held hands as we walked, and then crouched on the floor, side by side, arms covering our heads.
I know none of it offered any real protection, but at least I wasn’t alone in that basement. My friends surrounded me, and our teacher corralled and calmed us. We felt safe. And I never heard about a single school bombing during my entire childhood. Not one.
How often have our kids watched, heard and read about school shootings? Columbine, Redlake, Nickel Mines PA, VA Tech, Oakland, Sandy Hook, Roseburg OR, Parkland, Santa Fe. The list, the newsreels, the worry endless.
How do we change that? I don’t know.
I do know, regardless of your political, religious or fiscal beliefs, we all want the same thing. We want an end to violence, sexual assault, cruelty.
We want a safer world for our kids, and this is bigger than how you vote, what you earn or where you live. Help in your community, your child’s school. Your local, county, or state elected officials not aligned with your political party? So what. Get involved anyway.
They are your elected officials. They represent you, so make your voice, your goals, your safety concerns heard and addressed. We have to work together to protect each other, and change our culture. Teach your children how to carry that torch and advocate for themselves too. And listen to them, this is happening in their world, to their peers.
#WhatsMyName was created as a response to a horrific, gutting loss.
Samantha’s family and community banded together quickly to spread that message. Their social media movement and safety tips for ride-sharing will save lives.
“Asking ‘WHAT’S MY NAME?’ must become as automatic for you as putting on a seatbelt in your own vehicle”. ~University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides
He is so right, and I’ve added that topic to the list of “the talks” to have with my kids. I encourage you to do the same.
That’s what we can do right now as parents to protect our children’s safety: share information and ideas. Educate. Start and follow safety campaigns.
Remember her name, Samantha Josephson, and remind everyone you love to ask “What’s My Name?