Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Sociology

First Advisor

Camille Charles

Abstract

Racial inequality extends beyond socioeconomic measures: it shapes social interactions. With the shift in sexual scripts (i.e., the normative means to obtain sex) for young Americans from steady dating toward hooking up, recent scholarship has identified how hookups reveal gender and class inequality. However, research has not yet sufficiently investigated racial inequality. Because hookups are by their nature non-committal, they have arguably fewer barriers (e.g., disapproval by family) than more committed relationships. While this indicates that hooking up is a personal choice, broader research suggests that race/ethnicity and gender intersect in ways shaping participation in hookup culture and the interactions across racial lines. This three article dissertation explores how race/ethnicity and gender structure the opportunities to hook up and social distance between racial groups. Using data from the Online College Social Life Survey (n = 18,347), this dissertation identifies racial/ethnic differences within gender in participation in hookup culture. While Asian men and non-White women are less likely to participate, they are more likely to desire opportunities to hook up suggesting that they are excluded from hookup culture rather than opting-out. Rates of interracial hookups additionally suggest that non-White students are less likely to hook up with a partner of another race/ethnicity than are White students so they have fewer potential partners. Social distance is further revealed by two measures of interaction. Women who report interracial hookups are less likely than those who report same-race hookups to be familiar with their partner before the hookup, and men in interracial hookups are less likely to communicate after the hookup. Survey findings are supplemented with self-collected interview and focus group data (n = 69), which reveal how minority students feel vulnerable to negative social consequences because of their small group size. Additionally, they are more likely to feel ignored or sexualized by other racial/ethnic groups than are White students. Overall, minority students have fewer opportunities to hook up, especially outside their race. This dissertation builds on extant research detailing how racial inequality shapes the college experience by revealing the opportunity structure of hookup culture and that interracial hookups reflect and reinforce social distance.

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