Penn Students & Student Paper: New York Times Campus Hook-Up Piece ‘Irresponsible Journalism’

The New York Times and University of Pennsylvania are currently fighting over “the game.” Specifically, The Daily Pennsylvanian and some students at the Ivy League school are pushing back against a NYT feature on campus sex that depicts most female Penn undergrads as casual-sex-ified, relationship-averse, drink-up-get-lucky creatures of the night.

While confirming certain parts of the piece ring true, the DP and separate student critics are decrying it as mainly inaccurate, wholly agenda-driven, and often “one-sided and biased.” 

The Times report that has provoked their ire, written by Kate Taylor, focuses on how and why women are now driving the college hook-up culture just as much as men. The headline: “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too”


To get a better handle on this game playing, Taylor interviewed more than 60 female students “from all corners of Penn’s population.” According to Taylor, the large majority of her interviewees cited hook-ups as the only palatable social option during their time at Penn.

Among their reasons:

1) The competing demands of their schoolwork, extracurriculars, and internships.

2) Their intense focus on self-development and dream-career fulfillment.

3) The looming uncertainty of their post-grad lives. In the words of one student, “Well, then what do I do when we get to May, because we’re graduating, and so where do we go from there?”

4) The similar hook-up habits they see among their peers, making casual sex and low-key entanglements seem like what’s expected. Taylor: “Some women went to college wanting a relationship, but when that seemed unlikely, embraced hooking up as the best alternative.”

5) Tons of alcohol and alcohol-fueled get-togethers.

6) A lack of interest in settling with a single partner so soon when someone better might be lurking. As one young women tells Taylor, “We are very aware of cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be too tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months.”

In response, Daily Pennsylvanian editors are blunt: “Kate Taylor got Penn wrong.” As they argue in an editorial, “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. . . . We refuse to allow Taylor to misrepresent Penn students in this way.”


The editorial rightly points out that Taylor’s piece only touches on the sexual desires and dating routines of straight women — especially ironic at a school known for being gay-friendly — and is also missing any male student perspectives.

The DP: “It is ridiculous for Taylor’s article to claim to represent the university’s ‘hook-up 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.”

The editors’ biggest complaint centers on settling down. From their view, the report discounts the many Penn students in relationships. According to the editorial, Taylor “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 a separate DP news report on Penn student reactions to the piece, a junior at the school who was interviewed by Taylor for the article (but ultimately not quoted) called it “one-sided [and] flat . . . [G]iven the fact that I talked to her for so long, I saw it as irresponsible journalism.”

As seen above, the photo illustration run with the DP reaction report depicts a female student in bed — similar to the main Times story image — holding a message: “Penn is much more than a ‘game.'”


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