Published November 17, 2014
It became the PowerPoint seen 'round the Internet.
A Duke graduate rated her sexual encounters with 13 university athletes in graphic detail, then e-mailed it to just a few friends, who forwarded it to a few of their friends, who sent it on to a few of their friends, and so on.
Then websites like Deadspin and Jezebel got a hold of it, and suddenly it had gone viral. The salacious interest isn't just because the 42-page PowerPoint involves sex: It's also because a woman wrote it and because the campus is Duke, where a stripper said three lacrosse players raped her at a party in March 2006. State prosecutors determined the attack never occurred. A few of the men Karen Owen included in her PowerPoint were lacrosse players.
"It's a girl basically bragging the way boys bragged when the double standard was in full effect," says Duke sociologist S. Philip Morgan. "It's a story about sex, and it's a story about gender."
Messages left for a Karen F. Owen in Connecticut by The Associated Press weren't returned, but she has told the website Jezebel that she didn't intend for the PowerPoint to be sent to more than three friends.
She said she regrets the list, titled "An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal activities," and that she would never intentionally hurt the men included on it.
Duke officially has been mostly quiet about the PowerPoint, with a spokesman saying only that the school has reached out to the students involved.
And Morgan said this week that a survey of Duke students he did last year shows that they're not actually hooking up all that much, despite what outsiders might think after reading Owen's PowerPoint. He described hooking up as some level of sexual activity in a relationship with no commitment.
"When this woman's thing went viral, everybody's interested," Morgan said. "Why? Because we're interested in sex. That doesn't mean all the undergraduates at Duke are having sex."
What Morgan found is that Duke students are just as likely to not be having sex or be in a committed relationship as they are to hook up. He presented the research in April at a nonprofit meeting, and it's under review at a journal.
The online survey of about 750 freshmen and 750 seniors (about half of each class) asked students about their sexual activity from mid-August 2009 to just before Thanksgiving 2009. Of the one-third who said they had hooked up, only a third of that group had had sex. For the rest, "it was what my generation called making out," Morgan said.
"All the attention is on hookups at Duke," he says. "But Duke is a very diverse campus, and there are large portions of the student body who are not participating. Over half the Duke freshman class before Thanksgiving were still virgins. The notion that this is the hedonistic center of the world just doesn't jive with the facts."
On campus, reaction has been mixed to Owen's presentation, in which she named her partners and included photos, then judged them by their attractiveness, creativity and other assets. They got bonus points for having Australian accents or being professional surfers and demerits for being rude — or Canadian.
Owen isn't "a crazy, promiscuous slut," says Martin DeWitt, 21, a Duke senior. "She's like a lot of college students. She, in many ways, is a normal upper-middle-class white female at a college, going to clubs with friends, mixing with the guys and going home with a guy whether you know him or not, then never talking to him again."
When Duke senior Kelsey Porter, also 21, learned of the list, her first thought was of the middle-school girls she mentors as president of The Girls Club. They often talk about the Internet and how it's not a private space.
"It just goes to show you that something you put on the Internet isn't private," she said. While she's surprised at just how widely distributed the list was, "it's the day and age we live in right now," she said. "Anything you put on the Internet becomes public property."