Kate Taylor got Penn wrong.
In a lengthy article in last Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too,” Taylor tried to explain a trend at colleges across the nation that she termed the “hookup culture” by focusing on Penn. Taylor’s article went viral on the Times’ website, over email and on social media, prompting response pieces from past and current Penn students in Cosmopolitan, Philadelphia Magazine and The Huffington Post. The response has been largely critical, and for good reason: In her failed attempt to glimpse a part of Penn’s culture, Taylor drew conclusions that inaccurately represented and overly generalized the University’s student body.
As the very students about whom Taylor makes overarching generalizations, we are disappointed that she failed to account for the rich diversity of our student body by only acknowledging the responses of a subset of single, straight women — an unrepresentative sample tainted by its homogeneity. It is immediately apparent that the voices of males, of LGBT students and of students in committed relationships are missing.
First off, statistics from Penn’s Office of Admissions show that the Class of 2016 is composed of about 50 percent males, a trend throughout all the undergraduate class years. Yet not a single male student was quoted in Taylor’s nearly 5,000-word article.
It is ridiculous for Taylor’s article to claim to represent the University’s “hookup culture” without including the perspectives of half the people involved in hooking up. This presents the issue of sex on campus as one-sided and biased, and raises concerns as to why she made the choice to exclude testimonials from men.
Even among the straight women Taylor describes, she fails to paint an accurate picture of student relationships, incorrectly chalking up romance as a secondary concern for most of the women at Penn. In doing so, she ignores those students who are in — or are seeking — a committed relationship while at Penn.
In February of this year, the most recent 34th Street “Love Survey” showed that 25 percent of those who took the survey reported they were “taken” — a much larger percentage than the amount of space Taylor devoted in her article towards covering Penn students in committed, long-term relationships.
Penn is much more than the heterosexual hookups that Taylor makes it appear. The University has been consistently ranked as one of the most gay-friendly colleges in the country, yet not a single same-sex hookup or couple was featured, much less quoted, in the article.
In addition, the dismissive attitude with which Taylor approached the topic of sexual assault, especially for students under the influence is unacceptable.
In the section of the article titled “The Default Is Yes,” Taylor acknowledges that students are uncomfortable hooking up without the aid of alcohol, or other drugs. Often, the use of these drugs results in sexual assault, and even rape.
We are appalled at Taylor’s flippant mention of the frequency of which sexual assaults occur. In doing so, she continues to foster the negative mentality that these acts of sexual assault under the influence are common and unimportant, despite many organizations and resources at Penn devoted to bringing light to and taking action to counter incidents of sexual assault.
We are not challenging every aspect of Taylor’s article, or declaring any of her anecdotes to be fabricated. Some of us may agree with, or fit, the fraction of responses she included in her article. But in the end, we cannot let her depiction of Penn slide, considering the choices she made in selecting the voices to feature in her story. We refuse to allow Taylor to misrepresent Penn students in this way because we each hold unique experiences we have — or haven’t — had with the “hookup culture.” We can play that game, too.
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