Lisker ’88 dissects influences of sex, money, power

After rave reviews of her lecture on “effortless perfection” two years ago, Donna Lisker ’88, associate dean of Undergraduate Education at Duke University, returned to the College on Thursday to report on her new research. In her lecture, titled “Sex, Money and Power: Understanding Student Social Culture,” Lisker shared her findings on student life on Duke and how they apply to life at Williams. Lisker’s lecture was the first official Claiming Williams event of the academic year.

Lisker started off by discussing how Duke and Williams, although very different schools by the books, are actually quite similar in ideology. While one is a large research university and another a liberal arts college, both attract smart and motivated students with similar cultural values. As part of her research, Lisker filmed one-on-one interviews with both male and female students at Duke, garnering findings from verbal, physical, and emotional responses.

Considering sex, Lisker discussed how the relatively recent prominence of the “hookup culture” is not only very different from what older alumni from both Duke and Williams experienced but is also not entirely appreciated by those who are actively involved in it. Of the both male and female students Lisker interviewed, “no one claimed to like the hookup culture,” she said, “but everyone participates in it.” She went on to say that many students actually wish that there were more of a dating culture on their campus, a point to which audience members responded well.

Lisker also went into detail about how her female interviewees felt about sex and partying. She said that many women felt empowered and able to speak in the classroom but then became submissive and needy when engaging in Duke’s nightlife. She also stated that some felt that they needed to dress in promiscuous clothing in order to attract men. She gave one account of a female interviewee who felt uncomfortable wearing very revealing clothing to parties but was told by a male acquaintance that she needed to dress better because she “[wasn’t] even on guys’ radars.”

Moving onto money and power, Lisker focused on how even though many colleges, including Williams, have made great strides in increasing diversity in their student bodies, the students who have power positions on campus are still overwhelmingly wealthy. She cited the fact that work-study jobs often take away from the time that financial aid students have to pursue extracurricular activities. She also mentioned that, citing athletes in particular, the students who are the best at sports are often those who have had the means to participate in expensive training, like camps or travel teams, in high school and earlier.

Often during her lecture, Lisker spoke disapprovingly of the Greek system at Duke, telling one especially memorable story where, in a now-banned tradition, sorority pledges had to perform a song for fraternity members dressed only in “strategically-placed whipped cream.” During the Q&A session that followed her talk, an audience member asked why Duke doesn’t abolish its Greek system if it’s so problematic, to which Lisker replied, “I wish we could.” She commended Williams’ decision to do away with fraternities in the 60s, saying that now fraternities and sororities are so engrained in Duke’s culture that it feels too late to get rid of them.

Lisker seemed to strike a chord with audience members, many of whom saw all or parts of the lecture as a touchstone to their own lives at Williams. We may have a strong community here in the Purple Bubble, but it is apparent that not everyone fits right in.

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