Recently, a frustrating two-hour conversation about dance parties and the hookup culture at the five colleges inspired us to conduct a quick survey. We received 428 responses, 376 of which are from Pomona students. Having reviewed the data, we felt moved to share our results with the broader community. It has become clear to us that students are making many assumptions during and after our dance parties, and that these assumptions are not only unfair, but potentially dangerous.
Unfair assumption #1: If someone agrees to dance with you, he or she is into it.
At college dance parties, roughly half of men and half of women feel pressured to dance with someone who approaches them to dance, regardless of whether they find them attractive. One student describes “wanting to stop dancing with someone who [was] too aggressive, but not wanting to be rude.”
Many others seem to have trouble saying no when approached, and perhaps with good reason: over 40% of men and over 50% of women report that they have a negative impression of someone who says “no, sorry” when approached to dance. As one student recalls, “Multiple times guys have been offended that I wouldn’t dance with them or kept asking or trying to dance with me after I said no.” Another reports, “I’ve had a guy try to flirt with me and call me a slut when I walked away.”
Unfair assumption #2: If someone dances with you for more than a few songs, he or she wants to do more with you physically (i.e. make out or engage in some form of sexual activity).
This is a fairly common assumption: 44% of students report that they expect that those who dance with them want to do more than just dance later that night. Yet, as one student puts it, “Some people definitely do take my consent to dance as an invitation to do whatever they want, and try to take things farther than I would like.” One female respondent offers, “I often feel that there is a sense of pressure to hook up, and that if a guy has been dancing with you for a while he will probably make a move, at which point I’ve had a hard time saying no. I’ve gotten better at it but this was a big struggle/point of stress my freshman year, and my anxiety leading up to 5C dance events often led to me drinking too much (which, of course, in the eventuality of a guy pressuring me, made it still harder to turn him down).” One male respondent offers, “Although I like a forward girl, I’d appreciate it if you not try to take me back to your room when I’m clearly falling down drunk.” Still another student has actually come to take precautions in light of a negative past experience: “I’ve started wearing pants or tights to parties after a “friend” tried to aggressively finger me on the dance floor.”
Despite the prevalence of this assumption, in actuality under half of students report that generally when they dance with someone it means they want to do more. Furthermore, according to our data, women seem even less interested in doing more than men. Only 29% of women (as compared with 46% of men) report that generally when they dance with someone it means they want to do more than just dance. The numbers are even more striking when it comes to sex: whereas 11% of men report that generally when they dance with someone it means they want to have sex, only 1% of women report that generally when they dance with someone it means they want to have sex.
Unfair assumption #3: People only do more than dance because they want to.
Even though many students don’t want to do more than dance with their dance partners, many still feel pressured to: 55% of men and 47.4% of women report that after dancing with someone they find attractive for a few songs they feel pressured to do more than dance at some point that night. We will let our respondents speak for themselves:
“As a freshmen, I was often uncomfortable with people trying to hook up with me at parties but felt like I had to for some reason.”
“I’ve also had a guy pick me up to fuck me when I was passed out on the floor because I was too drunk to stand up and not conscious enough to fight back. Sexual assault and date rape happen here, all the time. The guys who do it aren’t creepy strangers, they’re our friends and classmates.”
“I was sexually assaulted just after a 5C dance party by a guy that I had been dancing with. He seemed harmless at the time.”
Unfortunately, our schools are far from immune to the global problem of sexual assault: roughly 16% of men and 30% of women report that they have been taken advantage of sexually in their time at the Claremont Colleges.
The unfair assumptions people bring to dance parties at the 5C’s produce conflicting pressures and expectations. Students who don’t want to do more than dance are forced to choose: confront those pressures or abandon dance parties altogether. We are concerned that too few students at the 5C’s are conscious of the way their dancing is being misinterpreted. We are concerned that too many students at the 5C’s are assuming that someone who “grinds” is asking for more. We are concerned with good reason: constant miscommunication at these dance parties is leading to situations that are not only uncomfortable, but sometimes alarmingly serious.
At the end of the night, we hope students will do a little less assuming, and a little more dancing.
*Footnote: Our sample is composed of 24.5% freshmen, 19.4% sophomores, 19.9% juniors, and 36.2% seniors. 35.7% are male and 63.1% are female. Unfortunately, this left us with a small sample size of students of other genders so we do not provide an analysis of these results.