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Controversial article targets social scene

Meg Foran will be attending Duke in the fall, but recent media reports have made her question what, exactly, she should expect.

After two visits to campus during the past two years, Foran said Duke's environment was just what she wanted from a college.

"I liked the feel of the campus and it just seemed like a great group of kids," Foran said. "They were all nice, bright people, so I wasn't that worried about [the social scene]."

An article in the June 15 issue of Rolling Stone magazine entitled, "Sex and Scandal at Duke," however, raised questions for Foran about the social life she was about to enter.

The article, written by Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman, detailed the social lives of Duke girls through the eyes of a handful of students, both named and unnamed. Reitman focused on a group she referred to as the "Duke 500," made up of the male and female "core four" greek groups.

Rolling Stone published the article in the aftermath of the ongoing lacrosse scandal, which has brought an onslaught of national media attention to Duke. The piece's tagline, "Lacrosse players, sorority girls and the booze-fueled culture of the never-ending hookup on the nation's most embattled college campus."

"My mom told me about the article-she read it, I haven't actually read it," Foran said. "But she told me they portrayed Duke girls as huge party girls."

Initially, Foran said, Reitman's piece did not bother her. But as the article became a topic of frequent debate, she began to worry there was more truth in the article than she wanted to believe.

"I keep hearing these things, so I have to start getting concerned that Duke is going to be all about parties and drinking, and that it is not going to be a safe atmosphere," Foran said.

Foran has also become worried about the bad publicity Duke has been receiving in recent months.

Many of her friends, she said, have started poking fun at her about the very public tribulations of her newly chosen university.

"I chose Duke because it was the highest-ranked school I got into," Foran said. "Now I hear negative comments all the time.... My dentist said something about it-it's everywhere."

University administrators acknowledged the existence of the social climate portrayed in the article but emphasized it only applied to a small segment of undergraduates.

John Burness, senior vice president of government affairs and public relations, said the article may have a somewhat harmful impact on the public perception of the University. "If I had a concern, it would be that the public might generalize [the article] to the entire student body," Burness said. "We may need to think about more aggressively focusing [our marketing] on what the many students at Duke do who aren't sitting around trying to figure out which hottie is around the corner."

In an interview Wednesday, Reitman said she had originally included statistics about Duke's demographics and other facts in the article that made it clear that the students described were not representative of Duke's entire social scene.

"I had made it clear it wasn't all of Duke," Reitman said of her earlier drafts. "I distinguished the group as a very small number of a larger whole."

Like Foran and her mother, many people have expressed concern over elements of the article. Sue Wasiolek, dean of students, said she has received a large number of e-mails regarding the story's portrayal of the student body.

"It has clearly gotten the attention of a lot of people-from students to parents, alumni and the outside world," Wasiolek said. "What makes stories like that one misleading and dangerous is that they lead the reader to believe it is the norm."

Wasiolek is not alone in calling the article unrepresentative. On a message board on Rolling Stone's website, junior Bronwyn Lewis wrote a 2,795-word criticism of the media's portrayal of Duke in the Rolling Stone piece and elsewhere that would likely comfort Foran.

"I would submit that the number of Duke females who actively seek to better their social standing through sexual acts is startlingly small, the most insecure sliver of our female population that is still clinging to the idea that they need to measure their own self-worth by others' opinions of them," Lewis wrote.

"This is certainly not the majority of Duke females, in sororities or otherwise, and I would also suggest that this breed of insecure female just might be found on all college campuses. In fact, it might be found wherever there are females."

Even though the issue of Rolling Stone was published during the summer vacation, students read the article online and quickly passed it to each other through instant messages and e-mails.

"I posted it on my [AOL Instant Messenger] profile because I wanted lots of people to read it," said junior Chelsea Salyer. "She presented [women at Duke] as sluts. I took away that we didn't have any self-worth. It was more specific to sorority girls, which I'm not, but I still was offended by it."

A secondary aspect of the article that troubled some administrators was Reitman's portrayals of parties that may have violated fraternity rush violations.

Reitman describes a rush party "to which the choice women of Duke come, attired as skimpily as possible, on instructions to 'haze' the fraternity's freshman pledges."

Todd Adams, assistant dean of students, who is in charge of enforcing fraternity regulations, said the University will look deeper into some of the parties Reitman describes.

"We need to find out just how accurate the portrayal was," Adams said. "What was written may be one person's take-some of it was third-hand."

Adams also noted there was some confusion about the group responsible for the party in the article, which was described as being hosted by Delta Sigma Pi-a group that does not exist at Duke. There is a chapter of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity on campus, but no representatives could be reached for comment.


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