Alum speaks on ‘hook-up’ culture

Duke University’s Dr. Donna Lisker ’88, associate dean of Undergraduate Education delivered a lecture last night on “Hooking Up, Effortless Perfection and Sexual Violence: Understanding College Social Culture,” the inaugural Claiming Williams event. The lecture was part of a two-day program focusing on gender equality and sexual assault and was sponsored by the Health Center.

In the talk, Lisker discussed the results of a study done at Duke in 2002 and 2003 about undergraduate gender relations and the dating scene there. It found that many female students were feeling an extreme pressure to conform and to “give off an air of effortless perfection,” Lisker said. This was manifested in the way they dressed and behaved, in addition to the prevalence of eating disorders among female students at Duke. “Many reported having lower social self-confidence after four years at Duke,” she added, even though women tend to academically outperform men at the University.

The comprehensive study came to some unsettling conclusions about the “hook-up culture” at the University. Neither women nor men particularly enjoyed it, but chose to perpetuate it anyway. “Women reported making themselves too available, even though they were very aware of their own actions,” Lisker said. Men, too, said they felt they had no choice in maintaining the “hook-up culture,” citing being intimidated by women seeking relationships.

The message of Lisker’s talk was ultimately uplifting. After the study was published at Duke, changes in the culture began to present themselves. Sororities began boycotting fraternity parties with misogynistic themes, such as “Pimps and Whores” and “Senators and Interns.” To give students the opportunity to voice outrage about such events, posters for them were collected and hung up in the student center on alumni weekend with a comment board. The study also began an open-ended conversation at Duke about gender inequality and sexual assault. “Many students felt a sigh of relief when the discussions began,” Lisker said.

In addition to the lecture, Lisker spoke with a women’s and gender studies class and she and Martin Liccardo, assistant coordinator for Sexual Assault Support Services at the Women’s Center at Duke, held a dialogue with the Women’s Center and the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN). The pair also discussed sexual violence prevention with varsity athletes from each sports team. On Tuesday, Liccardo attended an athletic coaches meeting, Lisker spoke at the Dean’s meeting and the pair moderated a forum at the Log.

The two day program tied in with the mission of Claiming Williams – a social awareness campaign founded last year by members of the Stand With Us movement. It was meant to generate discussion about respect for others at the College and to encourage an introspective look into Williams’ “hook-up culture.” This year, Feb. 5 has been set aside as a Claiming Williams day, on which no classes will be held. Instead students and faculty will be encouraged to attend open dialogues, panel discussions and other events to promote mutual understanding.