Duke Essays 2011

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It was not only an attempt to distance sorority life from the antics of someone like Karen Owen, it served to underscore the disdain that the actual Karen Owen seems to have engendered in her fellow students, whose closed social system offered her no safe harbor.

One of the many implausible aspects of the entire incident is the notion, which Owen has forcefully asserted in her brief communications with the press, that she sent the Power Point to only three friends, and then was shocked when it was sent onward, ultimately reaching a huge audience, including the men whom she describes.

That program is intended for creating a visual accompaniment to a lecture, keeping audience and speaker on track by reducing the essential ideas of a complex presentation to a series of bullet-pointed phrases and concepts, the irreducible takeaway.

But the 42 slides of Owen’s report on her “horizontal academics” are so dense with narrative detail, bits of dialogue, descriptions of people and places, and reproduced text-message conversations that they are a chore to read.

One encounter that occurred during an alcoholic blackout was still, as Karen Owen would say, “baller,” because in the shower the next day she found bruises on her body; another was great because it was so “violent”—and she means that “in a good way.” He was “throwing me around like I weighed nothing.” Her modus operandi for initiating these assignations seems to have been hanging out at bars frequented by Duke athletes, getting hammered, letting a “subject” know she was open for business, and then grabbing a cab back to his apartment; she seems to have been willing to do absolutely anything to please the men, which often meant hanging out with their boorish roommates until it was her time to perform.

What a glittering social world came along with these athletes.She rates each of these experiences on several criteria, among them physical attractiveness, penis size, sexual talent, and—tellingly—aggressiveness.For all the attention Owen has received as a boundary-breaking, sexually empowered new woman, there has been almost no discussion of the fact that the kind of sex she most enjoyed was rough to the point of brutalizing.Max, a brainy and reasonably attractive kid from a troubled family, attended the University of Chicago, graduating in three years and earning a scholarship to Duke law school, where his life changed.He ascertained quickly that sexual aggression—not just in the act of sex, but in the way a man can choose to treat women, verbally and emotionally—is a force to which a huge number of educated, liberated young women are deeply attracted.(I was a college counselor at a prep school in the ’90s, and the zeal with which Duke gunned for our top students was unseemly.) In some respects Duke has never moved on from the values of the 1980s, when droves of ambitious college students felt no moral ambivalence about preparing themselves for a life centered largely on the getting and spending of money.With a social scene dominated by fraternities and sororities (a way of life consisting of ardent partying and hooking up, offset by spurts of busywork composing angry letters to campus newspapers and taking online alcohol-education classes), with its large share of rich students displaying their money in the form of expensive cars and clothing, and with an attitude toward campus athletics that is at once deeply southern (this is a part of the world where even high-school athletes can be treated with awestruck deference by adults) and profoundly anti-intellectual, it’s a university whose thoughtful students are overshadowed by its voraciously self-centered ones.The overwhelming sense one gets from the thesis is of a young woman who was desperate for human connection, and who had no idea how to obtain it.The thesis, which was prompted into being when one of Owen’s partners asked her where he stood on her “Fuck List,” includes a section for each of the 13 athletes, containing a slide of flattering photographs of the young man, and then an evaluation of each sexual encounter she had with him.She’s like a fraternity’s ideal pledge: she races around to deliver hot breakfasts to the brothers, drives them to practices, hangs out loyally on cold streets while they work out potential DUI hassles with the cops, listens to them chew over their buddies’ girlfriend problems, tells them—with apparent sincerity—that they’re awesome at spitting Biggie raps, never demands her own turn at Mario Kart.Even her attitude toward (and during) sex seems to have been dreamed up during a Sigma Nu smoker: she’s certainly not the first young woman to perform fellatio in a crowded college library, but surely there aren’t many others who in the middle of this act earned an appreciative—and robustly returned—high five.

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