Hookups, Parties, Classes and the Friends we Make Along the Way

Students discuss Mindy Kaling ’01’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and what held true about social life, hookup culture and friendship.

by Adriana James-Rodil and Allison Burg | 1/19/22 2:25am

sexlivesofcollegegirls
by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth has quite a name for itself: a member of the Ivy League, the birthplace of beer pong and, most importantly, the alma mater of Mindy Kaling ’01. Dartmouth clubs tend to boast if Kaling, or should I say Badly Drawn Girl, was once a member, as she is widely known for her work in “The Office,” “The Mindy Project,” and, more recently, “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” an HBO Max show depicting four freshman girl roommates’ journeys through their first semester at the small and prestigious Essex College.

To further these much-awarded bragging rights, in February 2020, to conduct research for The Sex Lives of College Girls, Kaling and co-writer Justin Noble made the trek back to Hanover to interview members of the The Dog Day Players, the Jack-O-Lantern and the Rockapellas — all groups in which Kaling was a member of. Through speaking with Dartmouth students, along with Yale students at Noble’s alma mater, they hoped to more accurately depict the current college life and social scene. 

“I didn’t want the show to seem like some old person reminiscing about college,” Kaling revealed in a Q&A with The Dartmouth in May of 2020. “Basically, I just wanted to see how you guys talk, I wanted to see what social interactions are like, and I wanted to see the dynamics between men and women on campus.”

As of November 2021, the show has aired and Dartmouth students have scoured through the episodes not only out of love for Kaling, but also in hopes of finding snippets of Dartmouth culture in its creation. Obviously Hanover impacted the picturesque New England setting of Essex, but did the conversations with Dartmouth students also influence the characters and underlying culture of “The Sex Lives of College Girls?”

Olivia Gresham ’22, an editor-in-chief of the satirical magazine Jack-o-Lantern, was at the meeting with Kaling and Noble, where there was, in hindsight, questioning surrounding Bella, a character who desperately wants to get into the campus comedy publication, “The Catullan,” but faces sexism along the way. Besides the members “working really hard to be funny in front of her,” as Gresham noted, the Jack-O team may have helped shape some of Bella’s character, although there appears to be a discrepancy between Bella’s experience and the members of Jack-O’s. 

“[Kaling] asked us a bunch of questions about the process for getting into Jack-O . . . and if there was a rift between upper and lower classmen,” Gresham said. “She also asked our female identifying members [about] our experience doing comedy at Dartmouth. It was mainly positive reactions, so it’s been funny watching the show and seeing how ‘The Catullan’ is very opposite from what we told her.”

Meanwhile, Jessica Weil ’21, president of the Rockapellas, noted that her conversation with the masterminds of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” was more general, with inquiries about a cappella, Dartmouth culture, Greek life, hookup culture, the living situation and freshman challenges. Also, the ABC — Anything But Clothes — party was definitely discussed, so frat brothers can rest assured that Dartmouth parties have made it into more productions than “Animal House” and “22 Jump Street.” 

Unsurprisingly, Kaling’s show especially struck a chord with freshmen at Dartmouth who believe “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” despite exaggerating some aspects of college life for comedic effect, was relatable and relayed positive messages about the importance of friendship.

Megan Apfelberg ’25 thought the show was “really entertaining” yet dramatized — at least in her experience so far as a first-year college student. 

“It kind of was the extreme end of a lot of things, but it definitely has some good messages in it, and it does show a lot of the experiences of first coming to college and how that can be uncomfortable for people,” she said.  

The show depicts how women discover their sexuality and form their own identity when arriving at college that may or may not differ “from how you felt you had to be at home or around your parents or old friends,” Apfelberg said. However, the extent to which this sexual exploration occurs, according to Apfelberg, “was a little extreme” and — from what she has seen so far — “people aren’t that sexually active.”

Similarly, Nell Harris ’25 “really liked the show overall,” and although she said the personalities of the four main characters and their experiences felt “exaggerated,” she felt that in the context of Dartmouth hookup culture, “it was relatable.” 

“The Sex Lives of College Girls” offers a sneak peak into college hookup culture and, often, the unneeded drama and toxicity that comes with it, and also explores — more importantly, of course — the value of friendship. 

What viewers, like Harris, ultimately take away from the show is not how to best navigate hookup culture, but rather, “that friendship is the most important part of the college experience,” Harris said. “You go through a lot with college friends — and you can really tell that through the show — and friends are the most important thing and will always be there for you when you need them most.” 

“You go through a lot with college friends — and you can really tell that through the show — and friends are the most important thing and will always be there for you when you need them most.”

Upperclassmen, such as Gresham, have also been able to see the show and reflect on their own Dartmouth freshman year experiences. 

Gresham noted that the pressure to fit into the Greek and party scenes is prevalent amongst students, especially freshman fall and winter, adding that she feels “the wealth disparity” experienced by Kimberly “is really present at Dartmouth.”

Along with the fraternity she found eerily similar to Theta Delta Chi, Weil affirmed that “freshman struggling to come to terms with their own identity, coming out when they get to college, or not being out to their parents but automatically being out when they get to college” is very common and well-depicted in the show. 

Likewise, Hannah Burd ’22  — who created a Youtube video on her channel, Hannah Likes Science, reacting to “The Sex Lives of College Girls” —  said she “really enjoyed watching the show” and found it more entertaining thanks to what she described as “easter eggs” Kaling left about her own Dartmouth experience.

In terms of the show’s relatability, when thinking back to her own freshman year, Burd comments that much of the characters’ experiences were “relatable but also not so relatable” — most notably because in the show, the girls spend much of the first few weeks going out, yet Dartmouth first-years have a six week frat ban during fall term. 

However, Burd found the character Kimberly to be relatable.

“[Kimberly is] a financial aid student from the middle of nowhere, and she came to Essex and experienced a little bit of shock by how wealthy everybody is, and that’s something that I definitely related to coming from a low-income background to a place like Dartmouth.” 

Burd also found one particular plotline in the show memorable when one of the characters was sexually assaulted.

“She brought [her assault] to the attention of the directors of a male-dominated club, and though there was a little backlash at first, they were ultimately receptive and immediately made a change, at least in the moment, and that was something that was really good to see in that context,” Burd said. “That maybe might not always happen here.” 

In the end, we — like Kimberly, Leighton, Bela and Whitney — are simply freshman college girls trying our best to stay afloat as we figure out how to navigate the isolated world that is Dartmouth,all with lifelong friends by our side who will not only help us through this journey, but be there even after we cross the finish line. 

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