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Sex & Scandal at Duke

Lacrosse player, sorority girls and the booze-filled culture of the never-ending hookup on the nation’s most embattled campus

statue, Washington Duke, Duke University, Baldwin Auditorium

The statue of Washington Duke on Duke University's with Baldwin Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina on April 11th, 2006.

Sara D. Davis/Getty

On a night in late April, barely a month after the rape allegations that have rocked the campus of Duke University, the brothers of Delta Tau Delta, one of the school’s top fraternities, are having a party at Shooters, a Durham, North Carolina, dive just south of the Duke campus. It’s a Saturday evening, and the men are celebrating spring: a new class of freshly initiated brothers, the imminent end of the school year, warm weather, girls in halter tops. It’s 1 A.M., and everyone’s covered in bubbles.

This is not just any fraternity party — it’s a “foam party,” a sweaty, alcohol-soaked bacchanalia that’s a little like taking an enormous bubble bath with hundreds of strangers. At Duke, where crackdowns on the previously party-hearty on-campus social environment have forced much of the scene off-campus, foam parties are promoted by frats as large, open-to-everyone events, and can either be totally fun or totally gross, depending on how drunk you are.

Tonight, just about everyone is drunk. Tiny soap bubbles that have been shot through a thick rubber hose into a mesh tent outside the bar cling to dozens of dancing kids. For Duke students, Shooters is usually the last stop on the bar-hopping circuit — the place you go when you’re almost too wasted to walk. It’s a grimy spot with an L-shaped bar, some dance platforms, video screens, a few picnic tables and a white alabaster horse that rears on its hind legs under a sign that reads WILD, WILD WEST.

Foam parties are events that beg for people to show up in clothes they don’t care about, and at Shooters everyone has come prepared: The girls, dressed in miniskirts, whip off their shirts to reveal bikini tops; the boys, who’ve come in ratty shorts, remove their shirts and leave them off. Thus attired, they fall into one another, spilling drinks. They make out. A few of them dry-hump while doing the grind. There is a metal go-go cage in which a group of Duke girls clad in tiny denim skirts and halters perform a modified pole dance, but no one seems to be watching. Bad techno-rap music pulses, the dance floor throbs. Tom Wolfe, whose novel I Am Charlotte Simmons is set in an orgiastic, booze-drenched version of Duke (given the fictional name Dupont University), couldn’t have thought up a better scene.

Away from this hedonistic stew, tucked in a corner of the bar, some of the men of the Duke University lacrosse team — the ones legally able to drink, anyway — are doing shots. There are maybe a dozen of them: big-shouldered, handsome guys in clean polo shirts, khaki shorts and baseball caps. Depending on which side of the story you believe, three members of this team — none of whom are at Shooters tonight — may or may not have raped a black twenty-seven-year-old single mother hired to strip for a frat party in March, at the start of spring break. DNA tests have been run on the team. The tests came out negative. Nevertheless, two young men have been indicted; a third would be indicted a month later.

Since the story broke in March, lacrosse parents have descended upon Durham in support of their sons, joining forces with a dozen or so lawyers representing members of the team — including Robert Bennett, who defended Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, hired as a consultant. The national media have arrived, en masse, and have set up a permanent base camp in Durham. Worried alumni have flocked to town — this Saturday night happens to be Alumni Weekend — filling Durham’s restaurants with hushed talk of the scandal. But yet, here at Shooters, surrounded by a horde of drunken, writhing students, the objects of all this attention — the Duke lacrosse team — are trying to forget all that. They are pounding beers, exchanging high-fives and throwing their arms around one another in brotherly, inebriated affection.

“Laxers,” shrugs my new friend Sarah, a Duke junior who’s taken me to this party. We’re standing a bit away from the action, on a sweltering balcony overlooking the bar. A pretty, tomboyish twenty-one-year-old wearing jeans and a T-shirt, Sarah smiles, knowingly. She’s spotted two of her friends, dressed in a shimmery halter top and a white tube dress, respectively, who have made it into the lacrosse team’s inner circle. They beam, throwing their heads back in laughter, and glom onto the players, whose focus is largely on one another.


This is a coup. “Laxers,” as lacrosse players are universally known, tend to be the most desired and most confident guys on campus. They’re fun. And they’re hot. It’s something that frustrates and often baffles other young men, particularly those who’ve had girlfriends stolen by these guys. But women understand. “It’s a BMOC thing,” Sarah says. She’s undecided about the rape charges but is much more certain about the boys. “They have it all — you want a part of that,” she says.

I‘ve come to Durham, like hundreds of journalists, to report on the scandal enveloping this campus. But in talking to women at Duke, particularly those who know or run in the same social circles as the lacrosse team, I’ve begun to see the story as not a “he said/she said” tale, nor a story about sexual violence, but rather a story about sex itself. Not sex in its nitty-gritty, anatomical sense, but more in the collective sense: sex as a sport, as a way of life, as a source of constant self-scrutiny and self-analysis.

Even as the “Duke Lacrosse” story, as it is called on the CNN news crawl, has captivated a nation of cable viewers, many female students at the university don’t have much to say on the matter. They are keenly aware of the situation, of course — some might say obsessed with it — but most are “reserving judgment,” as one woman tells me. Many of the women I spoke to say they are deeply concerned for the lacrosse team, whose “lives have been totally ruined.” They are not overly concerned for the victim, who, many girls point out, was a stripper. The boys, they add, were the kinds of guys who could get any girl they wanted. “They don’t need to stoop to that level in order to have sex with somebody,” one girl, a junior, tells me.

This retro view of rape is surprising. We have come, as a culture, to see rape, or even the suspicion of rape, as a violent crime that usually elicits a huge outcry from women. In Durham, there have been a number of protests and vigils spearheaded by women — but largely women from the town itself, not Duke students. Indeed, with the exception of self-described “feminists,” and African-American women, who see the case through its racial as well as sexual dynamics, there has been barely a peep out of the mainstream girls at Duke, unless it’s to support the players.

Nona Farahnik, for example, a sophomore who lives in the Edens 2C dorm, decided to hang a huge banner reading we support Duke Lacrosse: Innocent until proven guilty out of her dorm window, after her friends and fellow dorm mates Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were indicted on April 17th. Soon, Nona’s girlfriends and a lot of women she didn’t know followed suit, writing innocent until proven guilty on T-shirts, tank tops and baseball caps, which they wore across campus. It was a “statement,” says Nona, a sign of “student support” — for the players.

These women, who had won admission to one of America’s most selective universities, had grown up in an age of triumphant feminism, but as they talked about the rape case — as well as their own sex lives — there seemed to be a disconnect of sorts. Feminism, which most women saw as a throwback, a “past social inequality,” as one girl phrased it, has very little relevance to their lives. It was as if the endless discussion about sexual equality these women had been subjected to growing up had resulted in an almost abstract view of the topic.

Today’s female college students are the impressionable middle-schoolers of the late 1990s — the ones who made Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera icons of sexy, powerful young-womanhood. Now, these girls, too, can have sex — with whomever they choose and whenever they might want it, in a number of ways, without even thinking about what it all means. And they do, says a sophomore I’ll call Naomi (like several of the other women interviewed for the story, she asked that her real name not be used). “Sometimes, girls will be like, ‘I’m just horny and I want to have sex,’ ” she says. “I think you’d be a lot more pressed to find that attitude a little longer ago.”

Naomi isn’t 100 percent sure what things were like “a little longer ago” — a period she defines as vaguely pre-Bill Clinton — but she’s certain there was less “sexual equality.” Today, that topic really isn’t up for debate. That men and women play on an even sexual playing field is a given … or should be. As Naomi sees it, “It’s our decision if we’re going to allow ourselves to be subjected to negative treatment. It’s all framed by the way girls behave.”

Naomi and her friend Anna hang out at the Nasher Museum of Art, a modernist structure on the Duke campus. It has an outdoor cafe that serves wilted-lettuce and strawberry salads, along with endless rounds of iced coffee and Diet Coke; people sit there all day to get a tan. As a result, the Nasher is popular with Duke’s young women of taste, and on the day I have lunch there with Naomi and Anna, the patio is buzzing with pretty girls in silky skirts or skinny jeans, flitting back and forth between tables as if it were their cafeteria.

Most of these women are members of one of Duke’s elite sororities — known as the “Core Four,” home of the university’s most popular and best-looking women, Naomi and Anna say proudly. Anna, a dramatic-looking girl, grew up in Europe, where she and her friends were part of the “crazy” club-hopping set. An art-history major, she is cultured, has traveled widely and speaks multiple languages. She also has great clothes — today, she’s wearing a beige Donna Karan wrap sweater and a clingy chocolate-brown shirtdress, with a colorful silk scarf tied in her wavy brown hair.

Naomi grew up in a traditional Jewish home in California. A passionate Zionist, she was a straight-A student in high school and is outspoken when it comes to issues she cares about: campus racism, her hatred of political correctness and her staggering number of friends (150 people attended her last birthday party). A casual, T-shirt-and-sundress kind of girl, she has long black hair and is addicted to her Razr and her retro Marc Jacobs shades.

The girls light cigarettes and eye two boys who’ve arrived at the Nasher. They take a seat at a table close to ours and order a carafe of white wine. Both young men, one of whom talks in a suave English accent, are dressed identically in slouchy designer jeans and freshly pressed button-down shirts. “Those guys are in the center of the social scene,” says Anna, noting the leaner of the two, a good-looking member of a top fraternity. “He’s the kind of guy who can get laid twice in one night if he wanted to.”

Sex at Duke is a sport most students participate in, on some level or another. Boys report that it’s still a little tough to get a girl to get freaky — anal sex, for example, is still rare enough that “any Duke guy could look at a lineup of girls and point out the one who likes it,” notes one male student (“usually the girl who’s drunk and coked out of her gourd at a party at 4 A.M.,” he adds). But traditional intercourse is common, and oral sex nearly ubiquitous, regarded as sort of a form of elaborate kissing that doesn’t really mean very much. “Everybody gives blow jobs now,” says Naomi. “Before,” she adds — meaning a pre-Monica/pre-Britney “before” — “it used to be you’d have sex and then give one.” But now, girls give them freely — on their own initiative, she says. (They also tend to get as much as they give, at least according to Duke men.)

Whatever sex goes on, the girls say, is done in the context of the “hookup,” which describes anything from making out to full-on intercourse. Much to the disappointment of many students, female and male, there’s no real dating scene at Duke — true for a lot of colleges. “I’ve never been asked out on a date in my entire life — not once,” says one stunning brunette. Nor has a guy ever bought her a drink. “I think that if anybody ever did that, I would ask him if he were on drugs,” she says. Rather, there’s the casual one-night stand, usually bolstered by heavy drinking and followed the next morning by — well, nothing, usually. “You’ll hook up with a guy, and you know that nothing will come out of it,” says Anna. The best thing you can hope for, she says, “is that you’ll get to hook up with him again.” Some girls they know have managed to score a regular hookup — meaning consistent sex — but others play the field, bouncing from one guy to the next.

The vagaries of sex on campus have created a specific “hookup culture” at Duke, one that Charlotte Simmons fans might quickly recognize. As one male student describes it, it “exists in a whirlwind of drunkenness and horniness that lacks definition — which is what everyone likes about it [because] it’s just an environment of craziness and you don’t have to worry about it until the next morning.”

But this culture has its downsides, say some students. “I think the ease of hooking up has, like, made people forget what they truly want,” says Naomi. “People assume that there are two very distinct elements in a relationship, one emotional and one sexual, and they pretend like there are clean lines between them.”

Or at least boys do, she believes. Girls fake it. If so, they’re faking well. One male student I met told me he’d “never seen some of the catty, cougarlike behavior like I have at Duke, even in the clubs ofNew York City” — where he’s from, he adds. There, he says, “guys have to go all–out” to get girls to go home with them. At Duke, “there’s kind of a mutual acceptance that stuff can happen in one night, on your way back from Shooters.”

Among Naomi and her friends, a certain weariness creeps in when discussing the whole scene. “Girls reduce themselves a lot here in order to be able to have the sexual freedom that I think they don’t have by doing that,” says Naomi. She sighs. “There’s a big difference between the global values and feminist ideals we think we should be subscribing to and the behavior a lot of us exhibit — and I do it too,” she admits. But maybe not as much as some of her friends, she adds. “One of my friends thinks she’s the biggest feminist, but to me she is one of the biggest anti-feminists, just because of her sexual behavior” — which is hooking up with several guys in the course of a weekend, including one, a “regular” who “really treats her like shit.”

“But, you know, she’s doing it out of fear,” says Anna, smiling a bit. “It’s like, ‘Oh, yes, consistent sex — that’s great. And maybe he’ll invite me to this big frat formal that’s coming up that everyone wants to go to.’ ” She chuckles condescendingly.

Interestingly enough, this same young woman “got red in the face with anger,” the girls say, when discussing a sexually graphic e-mail written by Ryan McFadyen, a six-foot-six-inch sophomore from Mendham, New Jersey, whom many students — male and female — consider the most undeservedly maligned member of the Duke lacrosse team. McFadyen’s now-famous e-mail, posted widely on the Internet, was sent to his teammates after the party where the alleged rape occurred. In it, he wrote that he was planning on having some strippers over to his dorm the next night — where there would be “no nudity”; rather, he planned on “killing the bitches” as soon as they walked in, and then “cutting their skin off while cumming in my Duke-issue spandex.”

“I mean, his life is over,” says Naomi. She feels sorry for Ryan, who was suspended from Duke indefinitely — largely “for his own safety,” according to school officials. Though he was hardly at risk from other students, some of whom point out that his “killing the bitches” and “cutting their skin off” references were ironic nods to American Psycho, which has been taught in Duke classes.

“He was just like this big, goofy kid — not great with girls or anything, that’s the funny part,” says Naomi. “He was just a kind of meathead guy.” She looks at Anna. “Am I some kind of stupid girl?” she asks. “I just saw that e-mail, as inexcusable as it was, as kind of a joke — I got it.”

Hiring strippers is also a “joke,” of sorts — though there’s been a lot of fuss made over the lacrosse team having done so, which most of the students I talked to found puzzling. “I was like, wow — I didn’t realize that there was that stigma,” says Naomi.

What people don’t get, she says, is that none of this is shocking — to her or to anyone she knows, really. Girls, like boys, tell gross jokes. They go to strip clubs — there’s one in downtown Durham that students frequent every so often as “a joke.” Girls also hire strippers to dance at their birthday parties or other events — one sorority hires a stripper “in a tie-dyed thong and a flabby stomach” every year as part of its annual initiation rites.

“It’s totally gross, and we’re all like, blech,” Naomi says. And afterward, says Anna, “You’re like, ‘That was fun. That was a fun activity.'”

I always say going out should be, like, a fifth class,” says a raven-haired young woman I’ll call Allison, a junior from New York. “It’s exhausting.” She looks at her friends Kasey and Sarah — the latter being the woman who took me to the foam party — who nod in appreciation. It’s four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, the day after classes have let out for the semester, and the girls, all twenty-one-year-old juniors, have met me for lunch at the Washington Duke Hotel and Golf Club. The’WaDuke,” as they call it, is the most elegant and expensive hotel in Durham. It’s also, like the Nasher Museum, on the Duke campus, and as such serves as sort of an upscale cafeteria for students who are allowed to use their meal points to order anything on the menu. “We come here every day of our lives, pretty much, and order ten-dollar martinis,” says Allison, nibbling a cheeseburger.

The social scene on campus, as one Duke professor describes it, is part of “Night Duke.” Then there’s “Day Duke,” by which students get up, get dressed, go to class and work insanely to ace all of their papers and tests. This afternoon will be a precursor to what, for the girls, will be a serious “Day Duke” attempt at studying for finals, which begin in a few days. This is a deadly serious activity at Duke, which is ranked the fifth-most-competitive college in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Like Naomi and Anna, Allison and her friends are formidable young women. All were straight-A students in high school who played one, if not three, sports. All are stylish and popular. And all have impressive goals: Sarah, a talented writer, hopes to be a journalist and has already been published in national magazines; Kasey, who like many of Sex at Duke her classmates was considering investment banking, has changed her focus to consulting. Allison, poised, focused and meticulously well-groomed, wants to work in law. She’d be a shoo-in for a stint on The Apprentice.

Right now, though, these girls — like Naomi and Anna — are members of the most social segment of the Duke population. Known collectively as the “Duke 500,” it’s made up of members of the top four fraternities, the Core Four, and the lacrosse team, which comports itself as sort of an unofficial frat. There are also a few “independents,” like Sarah, who exude self-confidence and thus, just naturally, seem to fit in.

Members of this social clique hang out at a variety of Durham bars — a necessity, says Sarah, given that there’s no real on-campus social scene, thanks to Duke’s rules against alcohol on campus. “Personally speaking, I have no problem with throwing down plastic and opening up a tab — I open them up pretty much everywhere I go,” she says, yawning. The girls have just woken up. They’re also, they admit, a little sheepishly, deeply hung over.

The girls partied late last night, as they do every weekend — and most nights during the week as well. “There are times when I’m so tired, I’ve gotten, like, three hours of sleep,” says Sarah. “We do a shitload of work,” says Allison, who usually doesn’t leave the library until almost 11 P.M. and is a double major — psychology and German. Having double or even triple academic focuses is typical at Duke, where students study roughly four hours per day, on top of their classes. Kasey, an econ major with a psychology minor and a “markets and management” certificate, brings her books to the gym. “And a highlighter,” she says. “Not that I can actually read this small print on the treadmill, but it’s just the fact that it’s sitting there and that I brought it and the effort’s there.”

“Reading on the treadmill with the highlighter — see, that’s Duke in a nutshell,” says Allison. “You’ve got to do everything at once, and you’ve got to do it well.”

Or at least girls do. Boys at Duke don’t seem to feel that pressure. “The guys are always hanging out, playing video games — why don’t girls do that?” Kasey looks at her friends. The others shrug. “Girls will either be at the gym or doing something productive. They work so much harder — spending two hours at the gym trying to look good, and eating salmon.”

Allison adds, “If there’s ever a time when I just sit around, I get horrible anxiety.”

In 2003, Duke launched a yearlong study, known as the “Duke Women’s Initiative,” to look at the social attitudes and concerns of women on campus. What they found was alarming, says Donna Lisker, director of Duke University’s women’s center. The kind of hyperactivity Allison describes is typical among female undergraduates, whom, Lisker says, feel tremendous pressure “to excel both academically — get the right grades, the right internships, move your life in the right path — but then you also need to excel physically, if you will,” with perfect hair, skin, clothes, makeup and a size-four body. Women interviewed for the study spoke of the immense effort they had to put in to create this illusion of “effortless perfection.”

That phrase resonates with Allison and her friends, who tell me the Duke “ideal” is to be smart, studious, goal-oriented — and also cute, toned, fashionably dressed, dedicated to the gym “and fun,” as Allison notes.

“You have to be up,” Kasey agrees. “Because, like, if you’re a ‘terrible’ ” — they use the word as a noun — “no one will talk to you,” Sarah says.


The women laugh. But it’s part of an overall trend that worries professors like Lisker. “Our undergraduate women at Duke are the best of the best,” she says. “They’re so smart, so driven, top of their class, student-government presidents, lettered in every sport.” But when it comes to their personal lives, men set the social rules. “They throw the parties, they create the expectations, they create the standards, and these women — these incredibly smart women — on some level, being accepted by their peers is so important that they put aside their own values and standards. They dumb it down.”

Allison confesses, “I have done things that are completely inconsistent with the type of person I am, and what I value.” She hooked up with a guy in a high-profile fraternity for more than a year, a guy who was “very traditional”– meaning that “he could go to a party with all of his friends and do whatever he wanted, but God forbid I ever went anywhere without him.”

She went along with it, she says, out of “a constant fear of losing.” She explains: “When you’re in a relationship with somebody, especially with somebody in the frat scene, you’re lucky to be with him.” It’s never the other way around, she says — no matter how smart or attractive the girl. Which is upsetting, she adds, because she and her friends tend to look down upon the boys at Duke. “I’ll see this beautiful model-type girl walking with this little scrunchy five-foot-two guy, and it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s so lucky that she got him,” says Kasey.

“I found myself falling into this thing,” says Allison. “It made me very uncomfortable and unhappy, because it’s not a way to live. But if I didn’t do these things and he broke up with me for some reason, two days from now he’d have somebody else. That’s just how it works.”

“You’re just scared,” says Kasey.

Allison looks at her friends. “If my mother ever knew,” she says, “I mean, she would smack me across the face. I was not brought up in that kind of environment.”

A few generalizations apply to the entire ‘Core Four,’ ” an anonymous Duke student blogger who refers to himself as the “Dukeobsrvr” writes, in an entry he calls his “How-to Guide to Banging a Sorority Girl.” First off, “they are all insecure. The fact they joined a sorority is evidence that they feel a need to be labeled a part of a large group of attractive girls in order to feel good about themselves. Of course, they don’t realize that entering the sorority world is entering a world of intense scrutiny from all directions . . . which compounds their already existing lack of self-worth. In turn, these delightful young ladies deal with their massive insecurity by getting fucked by frat boys. Lucky for us guys, frat boys treat sorority girls like shit. As soon as Sally PiPhi thinks she has secured Johnny Soccer Player, Johnny is off boning Chrissy Tridelt. . . . All of this leads to unhappy, insecure girls all fighting to get rammed by someone of status.”

The Dukeobsrvr goes on to rank the women of the Core Four in terms of their “hotness,” or social standing. “I would include a ranking for sluttiness, but in general all four are equally slutty,” he adds. Naomi’s sorority, according to the Obsrvr, is one of the “hottest” sororities, and as such would prove difficult to tap into, he says, “unless you are part of the lucky group of dudes that pass these bitches around.”

The “luckiest” group of dudes, in many a Duke guy’s estimation, are the men of Delta Sigma Pi, the “alpha males of the Greek system,” as the Obsrvr writes, who, as such, “consistently attract the highest quality poontang.”

The most exclusive Delta Sig party, where girls are concerned, is “World War III.” It’s a rushing event, held every January at one of the fraternity’s off-campus houses or apartments, to which the choice women of Duke come, attired as skimpily as possible, on instructions to “haze” the fraternity’s freshman pledges.

Naomi and Anna were both invited to this year’s World War III, which they were thrilled about, they say, despite a few reservations about what allegedly goes on. The goal, for the men of Delta Sig, is to get their would-be pledges as wasted as possible, by having the thirty or so women in attendance douse them in massive amounts of alcohol, and then encourage them, in various suggestive and often sexual ways, to pledge.

“We were like, yes, we’re going to do this — because [the guys] choose,” says Anna. “They’re very selective.” Those who receive these choice requests look at it as an “honor.” To be invited, they explain, means “you’re the hottest of the hot.”

World War III is a “progressive” party, held in a series of rooms, each of them occupied by different groups of girls, and each with its own theme. One of the themes was Dazed and Confused — a reference to the Richard Linklater movie set in a high school in the 1970s, in which the seniors relentlessly haze the freshmen while getting totally wasted themselves. The girls wore short-shorts, tight, low-cut T-shirts and whistles.

The girls awaited the freshmen, who, dressed only in their boxers, were led into their room by some Delta Sig brothers. The girls had props: whipped cream, chocolate syrup, baby bottles, pacifiers. The “hazing” commenced: girls straddling the boys dominatrixlike, shouting obscenities, calling the boys “babies,” making them suck on bottles filled with alcohol. Girls poured shots of chocolate syrup on one another and smeared their chests with whipped cream. Then they made the boys lick it off. “It was like a huge dry orgy,” says Anna.

On the one hand, this was a powerful experience for the girls — they got to dominate the boys for a change. On the other hand, it was all done at the direction of the boys, for whom the party was designed.

“The girls are doing it as a friendship gesture for these guys, but when you think of it, it’s really kind of demeaning,” says senior Matt Sullivan, a brother in the Eta Prime fraternity.

World War III is hardly the only party like this at Duke. Another fraternity hosts an annual “Playboy” party, where the boys get the same girls who attend WWIII to dress up in Playboy-bunny outfits and walk around carrying trays laden with cigarettes and shots. There has also been a “Dress to get Lei’d” party, a “Presidents and Interns” party, a “Give It to Me, Daddy, I Want It” party, a “Secs and Execs” party, a “Snowjob” party (“Work Hard, Play Hard, But Bring your Lingerie…”). Even Duke’s Africa organization has had a party: “Pimpin’ All Over the World.”

Sullivan’s fraternity, Eta Prime, hosted a notorious “baby-oil wrestling” party during Rush Week in 2005, in which the brothers filled a kiddie pool with baby oil and invited girls to wrestle one another. “It was copied from the scene in Old School,” Sullivan says. Loud enough for neighbors to complain, it was broken up by cops after about an hour. “The police report made it look like a big misogynistic thing,” Sullivan says. “But the girls volunteered to do it.”

“The idea is that you come to these parties — they put women in a subservient role, to say the least — dressed as some fantasy, right?” says Lisker, who points out that this is not just a phenomenon at Duke but a fairly common experience at campuses across the country. “I want to say to them, ‘Why are you going?’ ” The problem is, women don’t always recognize it as demeaning or subservient. Anna, for example, sees it as powerful. “It’s kind of like domination through sex,” she says.

But Lisker maintains it’s exactly the opposite. “They’ve gotten this message from the media and other places that part of being a modern woman is sort of playing with your sexuality. But you get in this situation where they think at this party that they’re exercising control. They think that they’re showing these boys how it’s done by pouring grain alcohol down their throats, by dressing in a sexy way. What they don’t necessarily get,” she adds, “is that you put on that Playboy-bunny outfit and you’re stepping into a history of objectification.”

In a prior life, before it became known as the site of an alleged rape, the little white house at 610 North Buchanan Drive was called the “crack house.” Members of one of the school’s top fraternities lived there, and in other homes in the neighborhood as well. Students recall “a lot of late-night action, mostly cocaine-induced.” It’s an era that’s gone now, to a degree, given that Duke recently purchased most of the places as somewhat of a face-saving measure after neighbors repeatedly complained.

But 610 North Buchanan, until about two months ago, escaped the buyout and remained a top party house. And the guys who lived there — three team captains — hosted great, loud, Beirut-playing parties, to which they’d invite every pretty girl on campus.

“Their parties had more intoxicated cute girls taken off into rooms and having one-night stands than most,” says Sullivan, who stresses, “This wasn’t any sexual assault going on at these parties. The girls were fine with it. Because it would be like, ‘Ooh, it’s a lax player. Look what I did — I scored.'”

Sullivan finds the idolization of the lacrosse players mystifying. “I don’t know where this sensibility comes from. Maybe it’s just athlete glory, for girls. I don’t know…. It doesn’t make sense.” Even the vaunted Duke basketball team doesn’t get that kind of adoration, he believes.

“It’s the way they carry themselves,” says Sarah about lacrosse players, but really athletes in general. “Frat stars and athletes — those are the only ones that matter. I mean, honestly.” Sarah looks at Allison.

“And except for three of them, they’re not that attractive,” says Allison, sighing. “I can think of, Like, three or four guys that I’d be like, ‘He’s hot.’ But that’s it.”

“I think the girls here are so much better-looking — there are so many good-looking girls at this school,” says Kasey. As if on cue, a pair of gorgeous girls, one blonde, one brunette, show up dressed in tight jeans, pashmina shawls, gold jewelry and pearls. Both seniors, they’re graceful, poised and seem to have the concept of “effortless perfection” down.

The women approach, and then leave a few minutes later with two boys who were sitting near us on the patio. One of the boys wore khakis, a white Duke baseball hat and a button-down shirt; the other was also in a button-down, with jeans and loafers. Just a couple of twenty-one-year-olds, shuffling away.

The girls look at one another conspiratorially. “Those guys?” says Sarah. “Total frat stars.”

“Super-frat,” says Allison. “Frat-tastic.”

“And that guy,” says Kasey, referring to the guy with the hat — “he gets so much ass.”

It’s fairly amazing, since neither boy seemed to exude any charisma. “That’s what we’re saying!” the girls scream in unison.

“You see these girls and you’re like, wow,” says Allison. “And you see these guys and you’re like . . .” Once more they look at the guys, who’ve re-emerged on the patio alone.

“I mean, no. Just no,” says Allison about the guy with the hat. “But you see how he carries himself? Like, ‘I’m the man.'” She sighs. “I feel like in the real world, these guys would never be with these girls — they’re way too beautiful. And way too intelligent.”

In This Article: college, Coverwall


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