(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—There was a time when all you heard about Duke was winning NCAA basketball championships. But in recent years sex scandals with students have been the second major headline coming out of Durham, N.C. After the Duke lacrosse team did to lacrosse what Monica Lewinsky did to the term “interns,” the blue Devils have yet another sex scandal on their hands. And just like the last one, race, gender and class are at the root of the Karen Owens “F— List” scandal.
The Karen Owens saga began about a week ago when her senior thesis, entitled “An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics” hit the Internet and became a viral sensation. Of course it wasn’t a real thesis, Owens had created an elaborate somewhat humorous PowerPoint presentation of over 13 different men she had slept with over the last year and explained in graphic detail, their size, looks and ability to “talk dirty.” Initially sent to a few girlfriends as a joke the PowerPoint was nicknamed the Duke “F— List” and soon went viral. Within a week Duke administrators were angry, her conquests, whose photos were all over the thesis were furious and Owens’ presentation was all over CNN, ABC, Good Morning America and several blogs. She’s even been offered a book deal to chronicle her experiences by the likes of Harper Collins and dozens of other publishers. They think she’s the new Carrie Bradshaw, Chelsea Lately or even the female version of Tucker Max (author of the frat bible, “I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell”).
Owens, however, doesn’t seem all that excited about her newfound Internet celebrity. While Antoine Dodson can get rich screaming “Hide yo kids.’ Hide yo wife” to YouTube or Justin Halpern got books and a television sitcom off his Twitter account entitled “S— My Dad says,” Owens seems sorry and ashamed that her personal business got out into cyberspace and regrets embarrassing so many people. I believe her. While we can all wave a virtual finger at yet another young person who lacked the common sense to realize that anything you send via e-mail or post on-line could be in a million places before you click “log out,” remember that college kids have been making funny little sex rating lists for years. I’ve seen a few in my time, even electronically, and they seldom become national news. So why did this story get so hot so quickly?
While her little presentation is creative, it’s really Karen Owens’s race and class level that make her an object of fawning curiosity by the press that would not be afforded another type of woman. Owens is a White blonde female at Duke University. The 13 men she chronicles having sex with are all White varsity athletes of elite campus sports like baseball and lacrosse. The sex lives of upper class White women have always been the subject of curiosity from Madonna to Bristol Palin as the long held image of White female femininity and purity comes into bruising contact with the realities of today’s sexual behavior. Trust me, if this had been written by a Black female senior at Duke about the football and basketball players she had slept with the scorn would be raining down from all corners, especially Black ones. If Karen had slept with a few Black guys I’m pretty sure this story wouldn’t sound as cute to some readers.
Just four years after the Duke lacrosse scandal where rich White lacrosse players verbally assaulted a Black single mother who was stripping for them, America still can’t seem to have an honest conversation about race, sex, class and our fascination with the mixing of the three. Our inability to speak honestly as a society about sexual needs and proclivities leads to closet cases like Bishop Eddie Long, Oprah doing yet another show on “DL” brothers and idiot shows like “Teen Mom” taking the place of real discussions about sex in America. At one point in her thesis Owens reports that while having sex the guy kept asking her to talk about how much she liked having sex with Black men. When she responded that she had never had sex with a Black guy, he just asked her to pretend she had and tell him about it. That anecdote speaks volumes about where our society is. Perhaps the only time people are honest about their sexual issues in America is when they’re in the act. But why does it always seem to take a Blue Devil scandal for us to talk about it?
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)