On the Record with Julia Allison, certified internet celebrity and the original Hoya sex columnist
Julia Allison in Tombs
It’s a bit of a challenge to describe dating columnist and alumna Julia Allison (COL `04) to anyone who isn’t already familiar with her micro-celebrity—perhaps because no two followers’ characterization of her are alike. While Wired finds that her successful cultivation of herself and byline as an internet franchise makes her an item of curiosity and microcosm of modern media, a particularly vitriolic Gawker post described this same friend- and fame-making as “laying it on thicker than a toddler spreading peanut butter.”
But Allison’s observers do tend to agree that her life is prone to overexposure, with most bloggers concluding that other bloggers are guilty of giving her career and antics way too much attention. And Allison’s having “a Facebook account, a Myspace page, a Flickr, a Twitter, a Friendfeed, four Tumblrs, three Movable Type blogs, two Vimeos, [and] one YouTube,” certainly keeps her personal life in the public domain, if not in the limelight.
In fact, about the only portion of Allison’s career that others haven’t picked over or that she hasn’t divulged in intense detail is her two-year tenure at The Hoya as Georgetown University’s first sex columnist (which isn’t to say that her college career escaped scrutiny altogether; her relationship with Congressman Harold Ford, an incident in which she allegedly tried to get a free grapefruit by claiming to be from the Post, and allegations of plagiarism have all been much ballyhooed). So on Friday, Vox met Allison at Tombs to get her to do just that. Below is part of the resultant interview—which she kicked off, by citing her Hoya editors for limiting the scope of her columns.
Vox: Wow, I didn’t even have to ask you a question. So, how much freedom did you enjoy with your columns?
Allison: So, the administration didn’t step in and sanction my columns, but the editors did. Here’s the thing. The editor that I had my first semester Junior year was very supportive. And then you know, the editors change every semester, and by the time I ended my tenure there, I had an editor who was very conservative. In January of my senior year, I got fired, and it was very dramatic. I mean, it was massive.
Vox: Massive to you?
Allison: Well, he and I have since made amends, but at the time, we were both very hotheaded, extremely opinionated. I didn’t know how to deal with what I thought was censorship. I don’t know what the editorship is like now, but let’s just put it this way: when I was there, it was extremely controversial that I called it “Sex on the Hilltop.” And I was called the sex columnist, but I didn’t really discuss sex. Now, was that because I didn’t want to discuss sex, or I couldn’t discuss sex? I think that it was probably a combination of both …
So, I wanted to talk about what do you do when you have a roommate and you wanna hookup? I mean, this is a question that every undergraduate has struggled with. And I said, “If you want to have sex, and you have a roommate, you need to do this.” And they said, “No no no no no no, we can’t write ‘sex,’ let’s just say, ‘makeout.'”
Vox: And now that you’ve got more leeway?
Allison: Well, the irony here is that even though I was considered quite liberal here for the Hoya, I go to New York and I’m the biggest conservative in terms of sexual relations I’ve met. You know, I’ve been called a prude, you know, all these things, because … of what I saw at Georgetown and the kind of values that were ingrained in me, I learned to play by the rules. You know, “The Rules?” ….
I just spoke at NYU, about a year and a half ago, and they were doing this freshmen orientation with sex toys. And I don’t think that my mouth closed the entire time, it was so agape, because I was just so shocked that …. they were having, you know, this sort of open discussion. That was not a part of my Georgetown experience. … There was a letter, there was this editorial that a priest wrote that I discovered recently. Not recently, rediscovered recently, while I was at school, that basically compared students to monkeys with matches and me to—it wasn’t a fantastic analogy—me to a fire.
(The column by Father Maher that she recalls advises students against emulating “a monkey playing with sexual matches”).
Vox: What about from students?
Allison: You know students were, students were a mix. … I look back, and when I reread my columns, which is not frequently, I think, oh, these are so basic, for lack of a better word. But at the time, we really were genuinely struggling with those issues. I really didn’t know what to do when you have a roommate and you wanna hook up. The fact is, I think older writers and editors, because they’ve read everything—or they think they’ve read everything—they forget that a lot of people or young people, especially college students, haven’t.
So, at the time, I do feel like it was- i mean, it was the first dating column ever at Georgetown. And it [would have been] interesting to see what my response would have been had I written for the Voice, because it was so much more open …. whereas, the Hoya, it was like wearing a corset, or a chastity belt. I mean, I was writing with a chastity belt. Now given, I was a handful. There was a very conservative publication here, I think it was called the—
Vox: —Georgetown Academy?
Allison: Yeah. And they published a cover story that read something along the lines of—and you should look this up, it’s hysterical—”Sex, abortion, condoms, lies, and Julia Baugher.” And I was like, ‘What do I have to do with this?’ I think I became a lightening rod.
Vox: Do you think negative reactions were indicative of a more conservative campus atmosphere in general, or do you think it was a select group of people who were reacting vocally?
Allison: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer. I do know I had a friend who worked in the Admissions department, I’m sorry, in the Office of the President, and he told me that they actually received letters that certain alumni wouldn’t donate anymore because of my column. I’m totally serious. It was a really controversial column. And it was funny because, at the same time, there was a sex columnist at Yale who was writing columns about blowjobs. I could never ever write something like that.
Vox: Actually, the Hoya has run their sex column as a couple of different incarnations since then. There was “Between the Sheets” and Stephanie Hannah’s “A Compromising Position.” Her first column was about how to lose your virginity.
Allison: Wow, they would never let me run something like that, ever. I mean, they edited out the word “sex” from my column, and I am not making this up. … And that’s the funny thing, because they referred to it as “the sex column.” It was hysterical to me because outsiders got incensed about things they had never read. And if they had read it, they would have realized that—they wouldn’t have gotten incensed about it. I haven’t read my columns in a while, and I’m 100 percent sure that they didn’t say anything that you wouldn’t have been able to say to an Eighth-grader.
But it was the idea of a sex column, that it just drove them nuts. And I think that they conjured this image up in their head, because there were a lot of sex columns, the first wave of college sex columnists that I was amongst. There was one at Kansas and she had stripped for Playboy, and one at Yale, and I think that there were these ideas of what a sex column [was] that gave people preconceptions.
Vox: From all this, it sounds like the limitations on your column was less a product of the Hoya being stodgy than it was of certain groups within the University being stodgy.
Allison: The Hoya could’ve, whatever editors were there, could’ve done one thing or another, they had enough autonomy, but the culture as a whole was very conservative. That was when the LGBTQ movement was so controversial. Maybe now that seems silly. There were so many wonderful things about this University, but it didn’t open my mind in that manner. There was an image consciousness among students that I’m not sure existed at other universities.
Vox: Do you know if you were among the first sex columnists at a Catholic university?
Allison: Oh yeah. I might’ve been the first. That’s the reason it was controversial. Had I gone anywhere else, no one would’ve noticed.