“Sex and Sewanee” panel exposes the reality of hookup culture on campus

“Sex and Sewanee” panel exposes the reality of hookup culture on campus. Photo by Lucy Wimmer (C’20).

By Caroline Nixon
Staff Writer

To discuss the hookup culture on campus, the Barnwick Women’s Center Activist Coalition (WAC) hosted “Sex and Sewanee,” a panel including Co-director of the WAC Emma Chinn (C’19); Co-director of the Wick, Eunice Muchemi (C’19); Peter Bahr (C’20); Student Government Association President Mac Bouldin (C’19); Miller Dew (C’19); Co-director of the Queer and Ally House Maria Trejo (C’20); and Hunter Swenson (C’19).

The panel was a part of the WAC’s initiative to engage the broader campus by discussing important topics that aren’t talked about in a formal setting. Hookup culture is a prominent and typically unrecognized aspect of Sewanee culture.

The panelists discussed all the implications of the term “hooking up.” Trejo explained, “Everyone defines it differently depending on the space you are in.” While most associate it with the implication of sex or a sexual act, some lump “‘making out” and “hooking up” together to assimilate better with the culture around them, leading the term to typically imply promiscuity.

This confusion in distinction is tied to a need from those who participate in party culture to belong. The panelists questioned whether Greek life promotes casual sex to the point of requiring it. “There is a pressure to hook up,” Bouldin commented. “You are either in a stable relationship or hooking up every night.”

This treatment of hookup culture by upperclassmen directly translates to the attitudes of freshmen. “Freshman year, an upperclassman will tell you stories that have taken place over the course of multiple years, but to you it feels like they’ve done all this stuff and you need to catch up,” Dew said.

The difficulties of hooking up also lie in campus size. “There is a code of who you can and cannot sleep with. Someone that you meet at a party could be your friend’s crush,” Swenson said. And if one looking for a hookup is successful, campus size ensures that they will see them everyday afterward. At Sewanee, public and private life are one in the same.

This is even harder for people of color and queer communities on campus. Many simply don’t participate, and for some it can be a matter of safety. “Sewanee is a small kiddie pool in Tennessee,” Swenson said. “Queer sex isn’t accepted.”

There is also risk of outing someone non-consensually. “A lot of people are discovering themselves in college,” Trejo said. “That’s why having a conversation about boundaries is so important.”

Talking about boundaries when hooking up is universal. “It may be uncomfortable, but ask them how you are talking to each other after,” Swenson said, “Make sure you know how they are feeling.” Communication is the key to successful and respectful hookups, the panelists stressed. One should not be discouraged to hook up, but encouraged, under the right circumstances.


  1. Wait: “One should not be discouraged to hookup, but encouraged, under the right circumstances.”? That is priceless. Has the Episcopal Church- to say nothing of all other Christian denominations, Judaism, and practically all religions- now changed her teaching regarding sex outside of marriage? “Encouraged” by whom? I certainly do not deny the existence of the hookup culture, but the idea that it is encouraged and recognized as acceptable behaviour is troublesome. I am no prude, but if one has matriculated in an Episcopal institution, then one would expect the students to respect the canons and teachings of the Church, at least publicly. Privately? There is Confession and no shortage of priests on the Domain.

    Sandford MacLean, C’84

    1. Hey there! I’m a current student who participated as a panelist for this event. I’m glad you brought up religiously-convicted abstinence because I think that’s a position that’s often forgotten or ignored when people talk about sex, especially in re. young people; however, while Sewanee is an Episcopalian institution, students are free to practice their personal religious convictions, or none at all. This event was not funded by the Episcopal church, but rather student organizations on campus. Similarly, the Sewanee Purple isn’t an Episcopalian newspaper, but rather a student newspaper meant to capture the goings-on on campus, not just those of its Christian population. As for the word “encouraged,” I think Nixon’s emphasis is on “under the right circumstances,” and I think those circumstances are that a student has already chosen to be participant in hook-up culture. I think the “encourage”ment is meant to lessen taboo for students who participate rather than recruit students who have chosen to abstain.

  2. Point of logic: To “encourage” is not the same as being neutral.

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