By Madeleine Scully
My first exposure to Duke’s hookup culture was during O-Week, at the one and only Shooters Saloon. At Shooters, you are either drunkenly making out with a stranger, pressed up against the fogged up mirror barely able to move, or you are not. Though I have never really wanted to be that person, I have often felt pressure that I should be that person. There have been times in the middle of the dance floor that I have wished I was more drunk; I thought that if I had more liquid courage in me, I could get over my dislike of random hookups. Having that realization, and questioning why I felt that pressure, was when I first realized that I was unsatisfied with Duke’s hookup culture. Why does it feel like every person is hooking up with someone else, and if you aren’t, you feel like you should be? Why does no one talk about the hookup culture? Do other people feel dissatisfied in the same way that I do?
To answer these questions, I wanted to interview a variety of people with different sexual orientations to see how they felt. I attempted to interview students in different graduating classes for a range of perspectives. I want to make it clear that these interviews are in no way representative of the entire LGBTQIA+ community at Duke, nor do they represent the entire heterosexual community at Duke. They are simply a variety of interesting accounts about the culture at our school - a culture that I think is worth talking about.
“I was expecting a vibrant queer community”
Two different people said that, upon arriving at Duke, they hoped to find a gay community and were disappointed when they did not find a prominent one. Two different people that I interviewed said they had recently come out in high school, and were hoping to find the community they did not have in high school at college. However, it was not that easy. One student said “Duke hookup culture is weird in the gay community. You can’t hookup with someone and then not be friends with them. If you did that you would have no gay friends. It makes building a gay community difficult because we’ve all hooked up with each other.” On top of the small community of openly gay students, many feel that the gay hookup culture is more subtle and secretive compared to the straight culture. While there are countless heterosexual couples hooking up in Shooters, one gay man said that he would “not feel safe or comfortable doing the same, given the environment.” We must ask ourselves why certain gay people at our school feel this way, and whether this sentiment a bigger message about Duke heteronormative culture itself. Another student discussed how Greek life is also a barrier to gay hookups: “All but a few Greek frats are becoming more and more accepting of gay people, but Greek life also creates a barrier within the LGBT community and makes the pool of people to date or hookup with smaller.” While I have seen many Greek organizations post about upcoming trainings and events to further support LGBTQIA+ students in the system, there is clearly more work to be done.
“Why do we treat each other like we’re nothing?”
One student shared how unsatisfying hookups have been for them. After a hookup, they said, both people typically “pretend like it never happened.” They were frustrated with how much we have normalized the culture of drunk and unemotional hookups: “It makes us believe that it would be ridiculous to connect in any other circumstance other than under the influence and prepared for it to not be emotional.” While some people are completely fine with a purely physical interaction, many others are not and crave a connection with others. For this student, who wants more of an emotional connection, Duke’s hookup culture is unsatisfactory: “For something that, in essence, is supposed to be satisfying, Duke hookup culture is one of the most unsatisfying things I have ever been involved in.”
“Hookups in a heteronormative environment are made all the more difficult, and honestly require prior knowledge of whether or not the other person is also not straight.”
Multiple people discussed Duke’s heteronormative hookup culture; we have a tendency to assume that heterosexuality is the default. One first-year I interviewed expressed how the heteronormativity can be difficult to navigate, as you have to know what the person identifies as beforehand. We tend to describe hookup culture in general terms and assume that everyone navigates it just as easily, when LGBTQIA+ people do not share the same experience.
Through reviewing interview/survey results, it was very validating to have other people agree that Duke’s hookup culture is not perfect and can be disappointing for many people. There is still clearly a lot of work to be done to make people of all sexualities feel safe at Duke, and create a culture in which everyone can feel free to express themselves in public or private. While I do not have any magical solutions (though I wish I did), I think one of the first steps to fix a broken culture is to talk about it. Navigating the Duke hookup scene can be tricky, and we have to ensure that everyone student’s voice is being heard when we discuss it.