Duke Nurtures a Transition from Hookup Culture to Dating Culture
by Sam Fox
Duke University is a fascinating case study in the development, progression and now atrophying of hookup culture, as well as the media’s treatment of that culture. Full disclosure: my daughter graduated from Duke in 2011. As a Duke parent, the campus culture had a large influence on my writing at HUS, as I was privy to a great deal of behind-the-scenes information about Greek life on campus.
For years, Duke has been a favorite target of the mainstream media, not without cause:
2004: Tom Wolfe largely bases his 2004 novel I Am Charlotte Simmons on Duke University.
Despite its academic prowess, this outrageous but accurate portrayal cements the school’s dubious reputation as the poster child for alcoholic and sexual debauchery.
2006: Three lacrosse players are falsely accused of rape, owing to an overzealous prosecution by Mike Nifong.
Duke professors known as the Group of 88 take out an ad presuming the players’ guilt and complaining of a climate of racism and sexism at Duke. Meanwhile, students rally around the accused players, and sales of Duke Lacrosse merchandise triples.
2006: Rolling Stone publishes Sex and Scandal at Duke, a scathing report on “Lacrosse players, sorority girls and the booze-fueled culture of the never-ending hookup on the nation’s most embattled college campus.”
2007: Washington Post reporter Laura Sessions Stepp publishes Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both.
Stepp got close to half a dozen young women at both Duke and George Washington University to better understand what hookup culture was all about.
“The women’s movement in the 60s and 70s said that women should be free to have a sexual appetite and act on it with as much abandon as women assumed men did. Sex was healthy, inside or outside of a relationship. With the pill and abortion available, “sleeping around” took hold. This got enormous media attention and came to define the era in the minds of many Americans.”
For feminists, marriage was slavery and love was bondage. Stepp:
“The message to girls today is: Get educated. Find a career. Be self-sufficient. And then find Prince Charming.”
Donna Lister, then Director of the Duke Women’s Center said, “These incredibly smart women are performing for the men. They think they’re free agents and don’t see the cultural pressures they’re caving in to.”
2008: Tucker Max publishes Assholes Finish First, chronicling many of his exploits as a student at Duke Law.
2010: Karen Owen publishes her notorious “F*ck List,” explicitly detailing her sexual exploits with 13 Duke athletes, giving each a score for sexual performance.
2013: Duke student and porn star Belle Knox is outed by a fraternity member after he recognizes her while watching porn.
Of course, only the lacrosse scandal is unique to Duke. Although I’m sure the school feels that it can’t catch a break, similar events regularly take place at colleges around the country.
What is interesting, and quite encouraging, is that Duke began to address how this was affecting its students. First, the 2006 National College Health Assessment data revealed some interesting findings about Duke students.
|Actual Data||Student Prediction|
|% sexually active in past year||67%||98%|
|1 sexual partner total||47%||19%|
|2 sexual partners total||10%||33%|
This misperception, known as Pluralistic Ignorance, is common among college students, who believe that hookup culture is entrenched at their school, even though most of their peers are not having casual sex.
Next, Duke conducted a study of its own student body in 2007. Distributing a survey randomly to freshmen and seniors, the researchers got an extraordinary 75% response rate. Here’s what they found:
One-third of students were in a committed, long-term relationship.
One-third had participated in at least one hookup, but only one-ninth had had sexual intercourse in a hookup.
One-third of students had participated in neither a relationship nor hooking up.
From the report:
Other key findings include:
• Nearly 60 percent of freshmen reported that they were still virgins.
• Race and ethnicity play an important role. Asian students were the least likely to be in a relationship or to have hooked up; Asians, blacks, and those who participate regularly in religious activities were significantly less likely to hook up than white or Latino students.
• Members of Greek organizations were much more likely to hook up than non- Greeks…Contributing to this statistic is the correlation between alcohol and hookups, and the fact that alcohol consumption among members of Greek organizations is higher than in the overall student population.
• Students had bought into the idea that hooking up was the behavioral standard. Most students estimated that at least half of Duke students were active in the hookup scene.
• Both men and women in committed relationships reported the highest level of sexual satisfaction and self-esteem, followed closely by those hooking up. (This contradicts assertions that hookups per se are demeaning to women.)
• Nearly all respondents plan to marry and have children; they said they do not plan to hook up after marriage—even when there is no chance of getting caught.
Meanwhile, the Student Counseling Center was full up with students having difficulty navigating “hookup culture.” Duke realized it needed to support and educate those students, eliminating the damaging false beliefs about student life on campus. Now each September, the counseling center offers a popular How to Be in Love series of lectures, comprising four sessions:
- How to Fall in Love
- Good Relationships
- Toxic Romance
- Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Duke research assistant and 2012 graduate Daniel Strunk wrote a political science thesis on hookup culture, “which uses game theory to model the hook-up culture and predict conditions under which the culture might dissipate.”
The Duke Social Relationships Project study was published in 2012. In addition to confirming the stats above around sexual behavior, the study also found that three-quarters of both male and female students would prefer to date more.
About half of the students describe themselves as light drinkers or non-drinkers. Just 11% of guys and 5% of girls describe themselves as heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers described using alcohol to medicate against social anxiety, and found that the approach worked for them. However, they were less engaged academically in general.
“The data from the study helps put assumptions about student behavior in context. The report has done what we hoped it would do—to discover the reality of the student experience and how we can build a dialogue to improve it.”
Duke stands out as a model example for other universities who seek to give students a more fulfilling college experience by dismantling the myth around sexual behavior on campus. Instead of attempting to eradicate the culture via shaming, warning or scolding, Duke has instead listened to its students and gotten the facts.
The small minority of sexually promiscuous students is free to pursue their agenda without fear of censure. For the 75% who want dating and relationships, Duke is providing the information, encouragement and support that just may enable students to change the culture on campus.