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Panel discusses college hook-up culture

Kaitlynn Riely | Monday, February 16, 2009

Seven members of the Notre Dame community, including freshman Melissa Buddie, whose letter published in The Observer last fall inspired much debate about the college hook-up culture, spoke Friday about hooking-up and inner and external beauty.

The panel was part of the fourth annual Edith Stein Project Conference, which addressed the topic “Love: What Hurts and What Works: Engaging Self, Society and God.” Senior Natassia Kwan, an Edith Stein Project Committee chair, said the purpose of the panel, and the conference as a whole, was to emphasize the dignity of all people. The panel, she said, would discuss how beauty, both internal and external, play into the hook-up culture. Kwan described a hook-up as a “one-time physical encounter that can range from making out to having sex.” People crowded into a room in McKenna Hall, sitting in the aisles and standing on the edges, to hear the panelists discuss the topic.

In her Nov. 19 Letter to the Editor, Buddie addressed the six guys “I’ve hooked up with this semester,” questioning why they have ignored her following their hook-up. The point of her letter, she wrote then, was to declare that she “won’t hook-up with any more random boys.”

The letter drew many responses which, Buddie said Friday, were “at times hurtful and demoralizing.”

In her talk Friday, she addressed her motivations for writing the letter and the outcome of her declaration.

When she arrived on campus in August, she met up with a fellow student she knew and had talked to over the summer. They kissed, she said, and it was the first time she had been intimate with someone outside a relationship.

But then he ignored her, she said.

“It is impossible for me to convey to you the magnitude of the effect this experience had on me,” she said. Buddie said she became “obsessed with the idea that something was wrong” with her and lost sight of her inner beauty and her self-respect.

“I would look to guys at the party to help me feel beautiful again,” she said. She never got the affirmation of her inner beauty that she was looking for, but after each hook-up she felt a momentary boost to her self-esteem, and fell “into a pattern of repeated hook-ups, at which point my self-respect began to disappear.”

“I began to realize that none of the guys who I hooked up with, by the very nature of the hook-up culture, were concerned about my inner beauty,” she said. “They either saw me as hot or as just an opportunity. Maybe they were looking for the same self-validation I was.”

Buddie said she is thankful she did not reach the point where she was sleeping with men when she decided to write her Letter to the Editor.

It was hard to read the criticism of her in the paper, she said, but people she knew and didn’t know gave her support.

“These people pointed out so many things about my inner beauty that I had never known before,” she said. “Discovering these qualities, I was able to discover all the parts of my inner beauty and learn to cherish it.”

Buddie said she knows the attention paid to her letter has taken away her anonymity at the University.

“I will never just be another student at Notre Dame,” she said. “I will always be that girl from The Observer, but I’d rather be that girl who loves herself, who celebrates her inner beauty and who respects herself and others, than the girl that I was before.”

Caroline Murphy Lashutka, a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame, also spoke, testifying about her personal experience battling an eating disorder. Like eating disorders, Lashutka said, the hook-up culture is the process of “splitting the person away from their body, engaging in a deeply-felt schism of the body.”

Lashutka said she thinks the hook-up culture is created by a “desire to experience really genuinely good things,” but said it results in self-fragmentation.

“We are saying that, ‘I am going to make out with you tonight, but I am not interested in having a relationship with you,'” Lashutka said.

Notre Dame seniors Nathan Loyd, Mark Skylling and Katie Michel, junior Jim Redden and sophomore Michael Bohnert offered their own views on the hook-up culture and the definitions of internal and external beauty.

Instant gratification has become a priority, Loyd said, so “external beauty rules our society.” People do not want to have to take the time to learn about a person’s inner beauty, he said.

“We tend only to want enough to pacify our carnal desires,” he said, and it’s a trend that hurts both genders. Those who engage in hooking-up may “justify it as a necessary release of pent-up sexual energy,” Loyd said.

“We need to embrace our sexuality as a blessing and a gift,” he said.

People need to re-examine definitions of beauty and attraction, Skylling said. The images in the media make it seem as though beauty is something to strive for.

“Beauty is something that every single one of us has inherently because we are children and we were created in God’s image,” he said.

Skylling said he sees the Notre Dame hook-up culture as stemming from a desire for affirmation.

“We want to be wanted,” he said. “…It’s a way to get that instant gratification that ‘yes, I’m wanted. I’m desired.'”

Many people engage in hook-ups in an effort to start a relationship, Redden said.

“I think this approach is fundamentally flawed because it forms as a foundation of a relationship physical attraction, and this physical attraction is fleeting,” he said. “What really needs to form the foundation for a lasting relationship is friendship.”

Bohnert said college life, especially at a demanding school like Notre Dame, encourages hook-ups because time to foster relationships is limited. The hook-up can seem attractive because it’s a one-time thing, with no strings attached.

Michel said she is infuriated by objectification of women, in society and on Notre Dame’s campus.

“If I have to hear ‘Notre Dame girls are ugly’ one more time, or hear one more ignorant wise crack about our women’s rowing team, I may explode, because I’ve heard it for four years,” she said.

She said she is frustrating by disparaging remarks about women in the Keenan Revue and Observer comics.

“Notre Dame women are beautiful,” she said. “They are beautiful because they are successful, faithful and smart.”

The Edith Stein Project Conference, the largest student-run conference at Notre Dame, lasted two days and also explored topics including marriage preparation, domestic violence and contraception.