Storm of media coverage follows Chronicle profile on adult film actress
A storm of media coverage has followed The Chronicle's Feb. 14 article profiling an adult film actress in the freshman class.
After the article was posted, a number of news outlets covered the story from a range of perspectives—some penned by the film actress Lauren herself. The situation has frequently been portrayed by the media as fitting into a larger narrative of Duke's social culture, hearkening back to the 2006-2007 lacrosse case and Karen Owen's 2010 sex powerpoint. The University, however, does not expect the episode to incur any long-term negative repercussions.
David Jarmul, associate vice president for news and communications, said the University's prestige causes scandals to blow up throughout the nation.
"Stories catch fire on the Internet every day," Jarmul wrote in an email Thursday. "When they involve students at prestigious universities, they are more likely to attract attention. We’ve seen this before at Duke and we’ll probably see it again."
The "infamously worst college for women"
Several media outlets have used the situation to describe the University's treatment of women in a negative light.
In a Cosmopolitan article published on their website Feb. 19, writer Anna Breslaw used Lauren’s participation in the adult film industry to make inflammatory claims against the University’s supposed sexist and toxic atmosphere for women.
“It's no small feat being known as the infamously worst college for women in a country where a number of respected colleges cover up sexual assault reports, but then there's Duke University,” Breslaw wrote. “The elite North Carolina college has a heinous reputation for slut-shaming, double standards and overall sexual hostility towards their female students.”
Breslow embedded links in descriptors such as "heinous reputation" and "sexual hostility" to articles detailing previous scandals at the University, such as last year's Kappa Sigma ‘Racist Rager’ party, the Karen Owen powerpoint and Sigma Nu and Alpha Delta Phi’s 2010 Halloween invitations.
Although the Cosmopolitan article may have incited further controversy, Ken Rogerson—director of undergraduate studies at the Sanford School of Public Policy—said the important thing to remember is whether or not to consider the piece journalism.
“It’s an aggregation of links about Duke…with Anna’s commentary about it,” Rogerson said. “For me, that’s not journalism. It’s not journalistic coverage of anything. It’s somebody else’s version of what they think happened.”
Jarmul noted that such coverage of Duke scandals "rarely has lasting impact" and is "more than balanced by all of the positive news that comes out of Duke routinely." He added that tabloid and gossip sites tend to perpetuate stories of Duke scandals, which can then branch out to more "mainstream media."
"It's a fairly predictable arc, and tends to play itself out," Jarmul said.
Kaitlin Smith, Trinity '11, commented on the Cosmopolitan article, questioning why the magazine had not interviewed any female Duke students before making such claims.
“It seems the sole sources of your research for this article were the Duke Chronicle, [CollegiateACB] and googling Duke sex scandals,” Smith wrote. “Perhaps you should dig a bit deeper before proclaiming Duke 'the infamously worst college for women.'"
A New York Magazine Q&A with Lauren inquired particularly about how her lifestyle fit in with the national perception of student life at Duke's. The feature's introduction noted the "sensationalism" of the scandal as "somehow familiar," likening it to scandals in the University's past. When asked why Lauren's story became so prominent on campus, Lauren responded by describing the University's "culture that disrespects and slut-shames women" citing the website Collegiate ACB as her primary source for these claims.
Lauren has released multiple accounts of her story, including on Develle Dish—the Women's Center blog—and in an article entitled "I'm the Duke University freshman porn star and for the first time I'm telling my story" on XOJANE.com.
Still other media outlets have used different approaches to the story. The Washington Post and Forbes have both published blog posts analyzing Lauren's situation through the lens of privacy in the digital age, and she has conducted interviews with RealClearPolitics and WRAL News in Raleigh.
Scandals and admissions
Some concern has turned towards prospective students reading the media. But Dean of Admissions Christoph Guttentag said that he does not anticipate the scandal affecting this year's admissions pool whatsoever, noting that students come to Duke for the quality of the education and the experience they can get here. He added that this will stay constant despite any scandals the University may weather.
“In terms of the broader perspective, I see this from an admissions perspective,” Guttentag said. “[Duke] is a place of incredible opportunities for students and…that will continue to drive decisions.”
Regardless, the admissions office is attempting to deflect any possible questions on campus tours, as proven by an email sent to University tour guides Feb. 19 by Undergraduate Admissions Officer Adam Tomasiello, Trinity '13. In the email—which was obtained by The Chronicle—Tomasiello said that after discussions with Guttentag and the Tour Guide Executive Board, the admissions office had reached the decision that all tour guides "will provide a stock response to any questions regarding the pornography actress."
“If a visitor asks for your views, you are to respond that 'the University does not have an official opinion one way or the other on the student or her choices, and as a representative of Duke I uphold that stance,'” Tomasiello wrote in the email. “If the visitor wishes to learn more, guide them to The Chronicle’s website.”
Tomasiello added in the email that tour guides should never bring up or joke about the topic.
Still, it is not very common for parents to enquire about the latest scandal on a campus tour, said junior Stephanie Egeler, the co-head tour guide for the admissions department.
Egeler said parents and prospective students will sometimes ask questions that “dance around” the issue but never directly mention it, such as wondering whether Greek life has a negative impact on social culture.
She added that the stock answer corresponds with the mission of tour guides, which is to talk about the University rather than supply their own thoughts on a given situation.
“It’s not my job to give my opinion,” Egeler said.