Something Doesn't Add Up for the Women of the 'New Math on Campus' StoryS

Some of the women in the New York Times story about the gender ratio at UNC—and the horrible things the imbalance makes ladies do—say their quotes were taken out of context and the story has ruined their lives.

Alex Williams' story, "The New Math on Campus," highlighted the shabby dating prospects at UNC, whose student body is nearly 60% female. In the story, women are portrayed as boy-crazy banshees who claw other women out of the way to get to the few eligible, attractive men on campus, who then don't text them the next morning.

But after the story was published, a couple of the of the women quoted in the story reached out to Gawker because they say that Williams took their quotes out of context to make the problem seem worse than it actually is. Emily Kennard, a 21-year-old junior, is quoted in the story saying that cheating is "a thing that girls let slide, because you have to. If you don't let it slide, you don't have a boyfriend."

I spoke to Kennard this morning, after she emailed Gawker with a letter—signed by two other people quoted in the story as well, Kelly Lynch and Austin Ivey—taking issue with the story. "[Williams] brought up cheating," says Kennard. "I made it clear that first of all, I don't have a boyfriend. Second of all, I clearly stated my strong opinions about how I don't like cheating, and don't tolerate it or condone it, but that I do know people who do cheat and stay together. I'm not saying the majority of people at UNC do it. I said I know people who have done it. I was not talking about myself. I was not saying I think you have to lie. I don't think you should."

The irony, Kennard says, is that she was in a long-term relationship that ended because her boyfriend was cheating on her—and she dumped him.

I emailed Williams earlier today to ask him for a response to his subjects' complaints. He said he wanted to respond but had to run any statements by the Times communications department. When he — or they — send anything, I'll add it here.

Update: Williams just responded to us via email. He writes, in part:

First off, I want to say that I'm genuinely sorry the students who wrote this note feel this way. I had a particularly long interview with Emily and Kelly in which we went very deep into the issues involved, and I tried to reflect that reality in the most honest terms possible.

I would certainly not agree that I came into the story with an "agenda," however...In the course of my reporting, I interviewed students at a number of schools-San Diego State, University of Vermont, University of Georgia, College of Charleston, Florida State, UNC-asking them whether the gender imbalance had consequences in their dating life, and many were quite emphatic that it did. UNC was a good test-case school, since the ratio is 60/40, but it is hardly a unique example, as I state clearly in my piece, quoting students from many different schools, as well. Any themes that I was pursuing during my time reporting at UNC had already been suggested to me in interviews prior to my trip—in many cases, with UNC students.

I am happy to provide clarification about Emily's quote. It is very true that she was not saying she condoned cheating in her personal life, and I understood that to be the case, and I regret the fact that some people read the quote as if she was speaking from personal experience. The ambiguity I think is just rooted in the way people speak conversationally. She starts the quote in the third person, shifts to the second person ("you"), which some people might read as the first person. To us, it seemed clear that the whole quote was intended to be read in the third person-other people do this, I'm not saying I do-as a general observer of dating culture in general, not from personal experience.

Kennard and Lynch seemed most upset, however, at how the story has been received—both on and off campus. "People are telling me I've labeled my entire generation as slutty in seven words, that I'm an embarrassment to the school," says Kennard. "I had to change my name on Facebook because people were harassing me from all over the country."

"Professors have approached me about it and said, you should watch what you say," says Lynch.

"The worst thing about it is I'm in the journalism school here, and I'm making the school look horrible—apparently it's my fault because I'm a journalist and I should have known this was going to happen," says Kennard. "My response is when I interview people and record people I wouldn't do this."

Maybe UNC needs to add some Janet Malcolm to the syllabus.