News from 2005

For those of you who wanted to relive John Leo’s now infamous (and poorly-researched) 2005 op-ed on Wesleyan, here you go.


John Leo: “I’m an intellectual! Really!”

Breaking my Silence on Wesleyan U

By John Leo–Townhall.com–01/04/05

In the fall of 2000, I promised my daughter the freshman that I wouldn’t write about Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn.) until she graduated. As a result, you readers learned nothing from me about the naked dorm, the transgender dorm, the queer prom, the pornography-for-credit course, the obscene sidewalk chalking, the campus club named crudely for a woman’s private part, or the appearance on campus of a traveling anti-Semitic roadshow, loosely described as a pro-Palestinian conference.

Instead of hot news items like these, you usually just hear that Wesleyan is very “diverse.” Newsweek once hailed the school as the “hottest” diversity campus in America, apparently using the word diversity in its normal campus meaning of “no diversity at all.” A one-liner about the campus is that “Wesleyan is so diverse that you can meet people here from almost every neighborhood in Manhattan.” And the students tend to have opinions from every known corner of MoveOn.org.

After the 2000 election, my daughter told me that 80 percent of the students had voted for Al Gore. “Bush got only 20 percent of the vote?” I asked. “No, Dad,” she explained, “the 20 percent was for Nader.” Visiting speakers who challenge any aspect of campus orthodoxy are as rare as woolly mammoths. However, columnist Nat Hentoff, whose son had gone to Wesleyan, showed up in 2002 and criticized the lack of intellectual diversity and free speech.

At a Manhattan holiday party last week, hosted by a friend with Wesleyan ties, I overheard my daughter explaining that no real debate takes place on campus. This was a major frustration, since she is feisty and brilliant and loves to argue ideas. She is politically liberal but wonders how Democrats of her generation will be able to speak convincingly to the middle of the political spectrum when so many of them shun the complexity of arguments and simply spout the party line.

Two years ago the Argus, the student newspaper, ran a survey and found that 32 percent of the students feel “uncomfortable speaking their opinion.” Orthodoxy plays a role, of course, but so does an exaggerated fear of giving offense. Identity politics is so strong that criticizing other students’ ideas can seem like a faux pas, if not a challenge to their core identity. Better to keep your head down and stick to standard opinions.

The naked dorm and the porn course were both examples of Wesleyan’s determination to accommodate as much sexual confusion as possible. The porn course, which had some students filming S&M scenarios, ended when the teacher died. The popularity of the naked dorm, which featured nude wine and cheese parties, seems to have faded. “I just sometimes feel the need to be nude,” a Wesleyan male told the New York Times in 2000. “If I feel the need to take off my pants, I take my pants off.” The obscene chalkings, which included colorful references to the sexual practices of professors, are now forbidden, possibly because they were upsetting donors and enraging some faculty.

But the Wesleyan campaign to stamp out diversity continues, this time in a move against fraternities. The university is pressuring its frats to accept women as members or pay a stiff financial price. The antifraternity campaign is standard on the politically correct campus these days, usually with an announced aim of reining in a boozy, sexist, right-wing culture. But this is Wesleyan, which has no right-wing culture and no sexist, out-of-control frats. The Argus has quoted gays and women saying mild and kind things about the Wesleyan frats, some of which are receptive to gays and set rooms aside for female residents. Much of the opposition to the frats seems to depend on the gross national image of fraternities, not the essentially harmless frats at Wesleyan. The administration and radical feminists oppose the frats for violating the campus nondiscrimination rule by not allowing women as members. However, they don’t bother to apply the same objection to Womanist House (a residence for females) or Malcolm X House, which caters to blacks.

I should add that I think my daughter got a decent education at Wesleyan. You can do this if you are strong-minded, independent, and willing to pick your courses very carefully. But admission to the university should come with a warning label: If you are fainthearted, go somewhere else.
——————————————————————————–
John Leo writes for U.S. News & World Report.

Hear that, wimps? We don’t want you here. Go to Brown or something. I quote the great Lola Pellegrino ’08: “This is WestCo, not wuss-co!

Most of you know this, but I went to high school in oh-so-red Alabama. When I returned to visit friends over spring break, I can’t even count the number of times people asked, “Where do you go again? Wesleyan? *shuffle, shuffle, awkward silence* …Wasn’t there a…news article about that recently…?” One close friend even recounted how her mom burst into her bedroom with newspaper in hand, exclaiming, “What have they done with our Xue?!

2 thoughts on “News from 2005

  1. Anonymous

    Back when this “article” was “published” in a “respected news-magazine,” I wrote an angry response, which was summarily ignored by the publishers in preference for letters from people saying “Yeah, that John Leo sure has a good point.” I shall here reproduce the letter in its entirety.To whom it may concern:I am writing regarding John Leo’s 01/10/05 column “Campus Life, FullyExposed.” I am currently a junior at Wesleyan University, and I stronglyobject to much of Leo’s portrayal of my school. Leo presents both opinionand untruth as fact, and in doing so, slanderously misrepresents theuniversity. A sampling of Leo’s mistakes:•There does not exist, nor has there ever existed, a “naked” or”clothing-optional” dorm. The “naked dorm” myth most likely started aroundWest College, an art-themed housing option available to all students. WestCollege (or “WestCo”) students are notorious on campus for being some ofthe strangest folk Wesleyan has to offer. It’s a small wonder, then, thatthe rumor began that their communal living agreement intentionally didn’tinclude a requirement to wear clothes. But clothes are no less required inWestCo than in any themed housing; indeed, WestCo recieves more oversightfrom the Wesleyan administration than most interest-based program housesat Wesleyan. But this amusing myth, combined with WestCo freshmen’sillicit tradition of hosting “wine and cheese” parties, leads to Leo’swholly erroneous accusation of those parties being naked, with the equallyfalse but far more slanderous implication being that Wesleyan supportedthese parties. In fact, WestCo’s wine and cheese parties are againstWesleyan’s party regulations, and are often broken up by Resident Advisorsor Public Safety. There were, however, naked parties, traditionally hostedduring the pre-finals reading period by Art House, a program house whichwas disbanded by the university at the end of the 2002-2003 school year.There have been perhaps two failed attempts at reviving naked parties,which essentially ended with Art Houses’s closing, but these events seemto be fading into myth. Even the naked parties which did occur aremisrepresented by Leo. AFA Online, the website of the American FamilyAssociation, writes that Leo “points out that his daughter told him that,as far as she has heard, only the men tended to show up naked at theseparties, and she never knew a woman who did so.” While I can’t speak forLeo’s daughter’s experience, I would say that far more of my femalefriends went to the two naked parties (one of which, I might add, wasswiftly broken up) thrown before Art House closed. Every single one of myfriends, male and female and genderqueer, gay and straight and bisexual,has said that the tone of the naked parties was one of total comfort andcamraderie, an exuberant release of the stresses of the school year. Ihave never heard of a single instance of harrassment, or even ofdiscomfort, arising at a naked party. For my own part, I’ve had plenty offun attending fully clothed, and fully sobe,r parties, and staying inchatting with my friends when the naked party was the evening’s mainevent.•There does not exist, nor has there ever existed, a transgender dorm.During the 2003-2004 school year, there was a single hall in aprimarily-freshmen dorm set aside as a safe space where transgender orquestioning students could live either in singles or with roommates,either fellow trans students or students who specifically said they wouldfeel comfortable in such a setting. Most of the students on the hall,including the Resident Advisor, were not transgender. This hall has sincebeen abolished, and future plans to create transgender-friendly housing,as drawn up by adminstration, faculty, and students together, were alsoentirely scrapped by the administration. The issue of transgender-friendlyhousing, and the parallel issues of, for example, homosexual same-sexroommates, have not been addressed.•There are conservative students at Wesleyan. Leo quotes his daughter assaying that 80 percent of students voted for Gore, and the other 20percent for Nader, in the 2000 presidential elections— and he lets thiscute one-liner stand as a statement of truth. While Leo references a 2002Argus survey regarding students’ comfort in speaking out, heignores Argus pieces that disagree with his point. These include along tradition of student opinion pieces, some of which challenge both”orthodox liberal” views and the pressure on conservatives not to voicetheir disagreement. The Argus has also run investigative articlesexploring the seeming lack of conservative voices on campus; one articlequotes a conservative student as saying “I don’t feel out of place.Rather, I feel I provide a necessary alternative of thought.” The studentadds that “[t]here are more conservatives here than four years ago. Witheach new class, the number of conservative kids is increasing.”•Wesleyan fraternities should not be compared to interest- orethnicity-based program housing. Leo writes, “But this is Wesleyan, whichhas no right-wing culture and no sexist, out-of-control frats. The Argushas quoted gays and women saying mild and kind things about the Wesleyanfrats, some of which are receptive to gays and set rooms aside for femaleresidents. Much of the opposition to the frats seems to depend on thegross national image of fraternities, not the essentially harmless fratsat Wesleyan.” This is not true; opposition to some of Wesleyan’sfraternities is based on specific incidents of discrimination and abuse,be it percieved or real. For example, many women of color were offendedand frightened when two black women were denied entrance to a party at afraternity. One of our fraternities recently sent a number of freshmeninitiates to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. A close friend of minehad the terrible experience of having to argue down a fraternity man whowas physically pressuring an obviously-drunk female friend to return tohis room for sex. Some of these experiences might be misunderstandings;certainly, no Wesleyan student believes that every frat member is adrunken Republican lout. However, it is highly misleading of Leo tocontrast the fraternities with program houses such as Womanist House orMalcolm X House. He writes, “The administration and radical feministsoppose the frats for violating the campus nondiscrimination rule by notallowing women as members. However, they don’t bother to apply the sameobjection to Womanist House (a residence for females) or Malcolm X House,which caters to blacks.” What Leo intentionally leaves unsaid is that asuniversity-sponsored program houses, Womanist House and Malcolm X Houseare already required, and have been since their creations, to admit allstudents regardless of race or gender. In fact, I was once informed thatthere was a point in Malcolm X House’s history at which it housed onlywhite students. The fraternities are, quite simply, the only studenthousing options that have any gender strictures. I am opposed toWesleyan’s recent attempts to force fraternities to house women, but thisis because those frat houses are owned by the national fraternities andnot the university. As a member of the Alpha Delta Phi Society, a co-edliterary society with a privately-owned house on the Wesleyan campus, Isupport my fellow Greek societies. But the fact is that it’s a rare Greeksociety that can fill its house entirely with members; all theprivately-owned Greek houses, Alpha Delta Phi included, have deals withthe university to house borders when we are unable to fill our houses.Although I am not fully versed in the practices of the fraternities, thismay well be what Leo refers to when he says that some frats “set roomsaside for female residents.” Or perhaps, like a recent New YorkTimes piece about Wesleyan’s crackdown on frats, Leo has mistaken thecoed Alpha Delta Phi Society for a fraternity hosue.These specific points are emblematic of Leo’s greater dishonesty. It istruly unfortunate that his article is framed in terms of thesereactionary, anti-liberal half-truths. I would be the first to agree thatconservative students at Wesleyan, while present, tend to be a quietminority. I would be the first to agree that this is a real problem. Butit is not a problem specific to Wesleyan; rather it crops up at collegesand universities across the country, especially those that have strongliberal activist traditions. Leo could well have written a thoughtfulpiece regarding an interesting, timely, and difficult issue in highereducation. However, by couching a real issue in intentionally misleadinghalf-truths and myths, Leo creates the sense that Wesleyan is home to agroup of truth-hating liberals bent on indoctrinating the world with theirlibertine ideals. He also implies that the administration is in cahootswith the students to promote “sexual confusion,” homosexuality, S&M, andso on. In truth, the issue of the conservative voice on campus issomething which nearly all Wesleyan students, no matter their politicalviews, struggle with.Wesleyan is far from perfect. No school is. But Leo has attacked theintellectual responsibility of the school, implying that free thought ishated above all else– even extending this, by implication, to ourfaculty, with his admonition to “pick your courses very carefully.”U.S. News and World Report has earned a great deal of respect as afair and even-handed publication. Moreover, your publication is seen as animportant resource for the college-bound, who often turn first to yourannual rankings of colleges and universities. By publishing John Leo’sextremely one-sided and poorly-researched piece, you have not only done agreat disservice to intelligent high school students and their parents,you have offended the very journalistic standards which you so proudlyclaim to uphold. A simple fact check would have revealed a great many ofLeo’s misconceptions, such as the naked and transgender dorms. By allowingLeo to state such myths as fact, you have unfairly harmed the reputationof a university of the highest caliber.As a Wesleyan student, as a journalist with the Wesleyan Argus, and(as much as Leo would hate to admit it) as a lover of truth and honesty, Idemand that you print a formal apology from John Leo for the many mistakespresented as truths in his article. John Leo, and the editorial staff ofU.S. News and World Report, should be ashamed for printing such apoorly-researched piece. It is your duty to Wesleyan University, to thethousands who turn to your magazine for fair assessments of colleges, andto the ideal of journalistic standards to run a retraction of thoseuntruths which you have so recently printed.Yeah._Nat_

  2. Anonymous

    Back when this “article” was “published” in a “respected news-magazine,” I wrote an angry response, which was summarily ignored by the publishers in preference for letters from people saying “Yeah, that John Leo sure has a good point.” I shall here reproduce the letter in its entirety.

    To whom it may concern:

    I am writing regarding John Leo’s 01/10/05 column “Campus Life, Fully
    Exposed.” I am currently a junior at Wesleyan University, and I strongly
    object to much of Leo’s portrayal of my school. Leo presents both opinion
    and untruth as fact, and in doing so, slanderously misrepresents the
    university. A sampling of Leo’s mistakes:

    •There does not exist, nor has there ever existed, a “naked” or
    “clothing-optional” dorm. The “naked dorm” myth most likely started around
    West College, an art-themed housing option available to all students. West
    College (or “WestCo”) students are notorious on campus for being some of
    the strangest folk Wesleyan has to offer. It’s a small wonder, then, that
    the rumor began that their communal living agreement intentionally didn’t
    include a requirement to wear clothes. But clothes are no less required in
    WestCo than in any themed housing; indeed, WestCo recieves more oversight
    from the Wesleyan administration than most interest-based program houses
    at Wesleyan. But this amusing myth, combined with WestCo freshmen’s
    illicit tradition of hosting “wine and cheese” parties, leads to Leo’s
    wholly erroneous accusation of those parties being naked, with the equally
    false but far more slanderous implication being that Wesleyan supported
    these parties. In fact, WestCo’s wine and cheese parties are against
    Wesleyan’s party regulations, and are often broken up by Resident Advisors
    or Public Safety. There were, however, naked parties, traditionally hosted
    during the pre-finals reading period by Art House, a program house which
    was disbanded by the university at the end of the 2002-2003 school year.
    There have been perhaps two failed attempts at reviving naked parties,
    which essentially ended with Art Houses’s closing, but these events seem
    to be fading into myth. Even the naked parties which did occur are
    misrepresented by Leo. AFA Online, the website of the American Family
    Association, writes that Leo “points out that his daughter told him that,
    as far as she has heard, only the men tended to show up naked at these
    parties, and she never knew a woman who did so.” While I can’t speak for
    Leo’s daughter’s experience, I would say that far more of my female
    friends went to the two naked parties (one of which, I might add, was
    swiftly broken up) thrown before Art House closed. Every single one of my
    friends, male and female and genderqueer, gay and straight and bisexual,
    has said that the tone of the naked parties was one of total comfort and
    camraderie, an exuberant release of the stresses of the school year. I
    have never heard of a single instance of harrassment, or even of
    discomfort, arising at a naked party. For my own part, I’ve had plenty of
    fun attending fully clothed, and fully sobe,r parties, and staying in
    chatting with my friends when the naked party was the evening’s main
    event.

    •There does not exist, nor has there ever existed, a transgender dorm.
    During the 2003-2004 school year, there was a single hall in a
    primarily-freshmen dorm set aside as a safe space where transgender or
    questioning students could live either in singles or with roommates,
    either fellow trans students or students who specifically said they would
    feel comfortable in such a setting. Most of the students on the hall,
    including the Resident Advisor, were not transgender. This hall has since
    been abolished, and future plans to create transgender-friendly housing,
    as drawn up by adminstration, faculty, and students together, were also
    entirely scrapped by the administration. The issue of transgender-friendly
    housing, and the parallel issues of, for example, homosexual same-sex
    roommates, have not been addressed.

    •There are conservative students at Wesleyan. Leo quotes his daughter as
    saying that 80 percent of students voted for Gore, and the other 20
    percent for Nader, in the 2000 presidential elections— and he lets this
    cute one-liner stand as a statement of truth. While Leo references a 2002
    Argus survey regarding students’ comfort in speaking out, he
    ignores Argus pieces that disagree with his point. These include a
    long tradition of student opinion pieces, some of which challenge both
    “orthodox liberal” views and the pressure on conservatives not to voice
    their disagreement. The Argus has also run investigative articles
    exploring the seeming lack of conservative voices on campus; one article
    quotes a conservative student as saying “I don’t feel out of place.
    Rather, I feel I provide a necessary alternative of thought.” The student
    adds that “[t]here are more conservatives here than four years ago. With
    each new class, the number of conservative kids is increasing.”

    •Wesleyan fraternities should not be compared to interest- or
    ethnicity-based program housing. Leo writes, “But this is Wesleyan, which
    has no right-wing culture and no sexist, out-of-control frats. The Argus
    has quoted gays and women saying mild and kind things about the Wesleyan
    frats, some of which are receptive to gays and set rooms aside for female
    residents. Much of the opposition to the frats seems to depend on the
    gross national image of fraternities, not the essentially harmless frats
    at Wesleyan.” This is not true; opposition to some of Wesleyan’s
    fraternities is based on specific incidents of discrimination and abuse,
    be it percieved or real. For example, many women of color were offended
    and frightened when two black women were denied entrance to a party at a
    fraternity. One of our fraternities recently sent a number of freshmen
    initiates to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. A close friend of mine
    had the terrible experience of having to argue down a fraternity man who
    was physically pressuring an obviously-drunk female friend to return to
    his room for sex. Some of these experiences might be misunderstandings;
    certainly, no Wesleyan student believes that every frat member is a
    drunken Republican lout. However, it is highly misleading of Leo to
    contrast the fraternities with program houses such as Womanist House or
    Malcolm X House. He writes, “The administration and radical feminists
    oppose the frats for violating the campus nondiscrimination rule by not
    allowing women as members. However, they don’t bother to apply the same
    objection to Womanist House (a residence for females) or Malcolm X House,
    which caters to blacks.” What Leo intentionally leaves unsaid is that as
    university-sponsored program houses, Womanist House and Malcolm X House
    are already required, and have been since their creations, to admit all
    students regardless of race or gender. In fact, I was once informed that
    there was a point in Malcolm X House’s history at which it housed only
    white students. The fraternities are, quite simply, the only student
    housing options that have any gender strictures. I am opposed to
    Wesleyan’s recent attempts to force fraternities to house women, but this
    is because those frat houses are owned by the national fraternities and
    not the university. As a member of the Alpha Delta Phi Society, a co-ed
    literary society with a privately-owned house on the Wesleyan campus, I
    support my fellow Greek societies. But the fact is that it’s a rare Greek
    society that can fill its house entirely with members; all the
    privately-owned Greek houses, Alpha Delta Phi included, have deals with
    the university to house borders when we are unable to fill our houses.
    Although I am not fully versed in the practices of the fraternities, this
    may well be what Leo refers to when he says that some frats “set rooms
    aside for female residents.” Or perhaps, like a recent New York
    Times piece about Wesleyan’s crackdown on frats, Leo has mistaken the
    coed Alpha Delta Phi Society for a fraternity hosue.

    These specific points are emblematic of Leo’s greater dishonesty. It is
    truly unfortunate that his article is framed in terms of these
    reactionary, anti-liberal half-truths. I would be the first to agree that
    conservative students at Wesleyan, while present, tend to be a quiet
    minority. I would be the first to agree that this is a real problem. But
    it is not a problem specific to Wesleyan; rather it crops up at colleges
    and universities across the country, especially those that have strong
    liberal activist traditions. Leo could well have written a thoughtful
    piece regarding an interesting, timely, and difficult issue in higher
    education. However, by couching a real issue in intentionally misleading
    half-truths and myths, Leo creates the sense that Wesleyan is home to a
    group of truth-hating liberals bent on indoctrinating the world with their
    libertine ideals. He also implies that the administration is in cahoots
    with the students to promote “sexual confusion,” homosexuality, S&M, and
    so on. In truth, the issue of the conservative voice on campus is
    something which nearly all Wesleyan students, no matter their political
    views, struggle with.

    Wesleyan is far from perfect. No school is. But Leo has attacked the
    intellectual responsibility of the school, implying that free thought is
    hated above all else– even extending this, by implication, to our
    faculty, with his admonition to “pick your courses very carefully.”
    U.S. News and World Report has earned a great deal of respect as a
    fair and even-handed publication. Moreover, your publication is seen as an
    important resource for the college-bound, who often turn first to your
    annual rankings of colleges and universities. By publishing John Leo’s
    extremely one-sided and poorly-researched piece, you have not only done a
    great disservice to intelligent high school students and their parents,
    you have offended the very journalistic standards which you so proudly
    claim to uphold. A simple fact check would have revealed a great many of
    Leo’s misconceptions, such as the naked and transgender dorms. By allowing
    Leo to state such myths as fact, you have unfairly harmed the reputation
    of a university of the highest caliber.

    As a Wesleyan student, as a journalist with the Wesleyan Argus, and
    (as much as Leo would hate to admit it) as a lover of truth and honesty, I
    demand that you print a formal apology from John Leo for the many mistakes
    presented as truths in his article. John Leo, and the editorial staff of
    U.S. News and World Report, should be ashamed for printing such a
    poorly-researched piece. It is your duty to Wesleyan University, to the
    thousands who turn to your magazine for fair assessments of colleges, and
    to the ideal of journalistic standards to run a retraction of those
    untruths which you have so recently printed.

    Yeah.
    _Nat_

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