A qualitative study on first-semester Penn State women's social networks, drinking patterns, and risk for sexual assault

Open Access
Love, Gillian Ashley Romberger
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Patricia Barthalow Koch, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. James Harold Marden, Honors Advisor
  • Dr. Stephen Wade Schaeffer, Faculty Reader
  • college transition
  • social networks
  • drinking patterns
  • hooking up
  • sexual assault
The purpose of this study was to explore first-semester women’s formation of their social networks at The Pennsylvania State University and how their networks influenced their drinking patterns and risk of being sexually assaulted. The overarching research question that was explored was: What is the socialization experience for first-semester Penn State women? It was hoped that more information regarding the "red zone," the time in which college freshmen are most likely to be to sexually assaulted, before the 6-7 week of their first semester, would be obtained. To study students’ views and experiences, focus groups were advertised to all first-semester students during fall 2011. When five women volunteered, they were scheduled for interviews. The interviews were recorded, then transcribed. The results were then qualitatively analyzed using grounded theory. The core theme that emerged was the “Fast Paced Transition to College.” The major sub-themes included: Fitting In, Everyone Drinks, Hooking Up is Easy, Unwanted Sexual Experiences Happen, and Safer Drinking Strategies Used for Protection. More specific open codes are provided for each of these sub-themes, as well as supporting quotes from the interviewees. Recommendations are given in an attempt to brainstorm how to decrease the risks of being sexually assaulted, particularly for women who are beginning their college careers.