My biggest fear coming to Penn was not the academic rigor, or the hyper-competitive pre-professionalism, or whether I’d make friends. It was Penn’s hookup culture.
Imagine that you have never gone out to see a movie before. Maybe it’s because you felt too overwhelmed with all the studying you had to do that you didn’t make time for it, or maybe you just weren’t interested in seeing that particular movie.
Regardless of the reason, you suddenly find yourself in this new place where seemingly everyone has seen a ton of movies, and your social status is ostensibly determined by which and how many movies you’ve seen. Pressure and fear of missing out — FOMO — consume you to the point where you feel that if you don’t go see a movie soon, you will be socially behind or worse — people will think there’s something wrong with you.
Though this analogy is quite hyperbolic, it communicates the essence of what it’s like to come to Penn with no hookup experience whatsoever. And that’s a problem, because there shouldn’t be a stigma against not engaging in those activities.
Rewind: the “hookup culture” is not completely unfamiliar. I didn’t live under a rock nor in some rural, ultra-socially conservative place where the only sexual education is abstinence training — although, in retrospect, my high school’s sex education was pretty subpar. Hookup culture was a thing, but being my overly neurotic self, I actively chose not to participate because I irrationally convinced myself some chain of events would occur where I’d somehow get arrested and/or get chlamydia and die (thanks, "Mean Girls").
My reasons for not previously engaging in the hookup culture are a little extreme, but there are many reasons people choose not to participate. That’s actually the one thing I liked about high school: the message that it was fine, if not more responsible, to avoid “those” parties and instead participate in more "PG" activities.
But the message at Penn is the reverse, in that it is encouraged as a part of the social adjustment into college — a rite of passage even — to, if not actually hook up with someone, put yourself in a position or situation where hookups are more likely. And it’s not like you can remove yourself from this hookup culture; hooking up is perpetuated throughout campus as a part of Penn life, and as a Penn student, you are physically stuck here.
Case and point: during NSO, freshmen get bombarded with invites to frat parties. Facebook invites are seemingly endless. A perfect example of this is , where they suggested that freshman girls should show up to their party with the sole purpose of hooking up with their members. If this isn’t pressure to enter the hookup culture at Penn, I don’t know what is.
Though it’s OK to have maybe a few nights in the dorm studying or bingeing on Netflix, doing that every night is seen as missing out or antisocial. While I’m not advocating that students shouldn’t engage in such activities — parties can be super fun and students shouldn’t be shamed for their hookup choices either — this pressure to engage in this culture is too pervasive and needs to stop.
Perhaps the worst consequence of this message to participate in and inability to remove oneself from this hookup culture is the production of the isolating and FOMO-inducing notion that “everybody’s doing it.” This notion is completely false, and there is a huge difference between people’s skewed expectations of college hookups and reality.
In her study “” New York University sociology professor Paula England found that after surveying 14,000 straight students at 19 universities, college seniors have hooked up with an average of eight people over four years, while 24 percent of students never hooked up. The repercussion of buying into this spurious notion is even more pressure to engage in the hookup culture, which could lead to people making the wrong decisions for them.
I love Penn, and I’m so happy to be here, but Penn is also an incredibly stressful place. The pressure to succeed academically, extracurricularly and socially is intense, and often the correct course of action is to immerse yourself in this intensity in order to reach your goals. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to take a step back and critically evaluate the surrounding environment, even if that means going against the status quo. In the end, if I don’t want to “see a certain movie,” I shouldn’t have to, and people will just have to accept that.
JACQUELYN SUSSMAN is a College freshman from Westport, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. "The Objectivist" usually appears every other Wednesday.
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