Vanity wasn't fair. Or so Brown University students and officials think.
Vanity Fair's February issue suggests that Brown University's apparent haute couture, replete with fashionable alumni and "children of A-List New Yorkers," has helped the university leapfrog Princeton – as well as Harvard and Yale universities – as the elite Ivy League school to attend.
The magazine takes a stab at Old Nassau and its Big 3 brethren, Harvard and Yale, with a graph called the "Fab Four: A freshman guide to Ivy League semiotics." Evgenia Peretz, the graph's creator, pokes fun at stereotypes attached to the four schools. With categories such as "drink of choice," "pickup line" and "extracurricular activity," the magazine tagged Princeton respectively with "Rolling Rock," "Can I buy you a Jell-O shot?" and "stomach pumping," as opposed to Brown, to which the magazine bestowed honors a bit more upscale and French.
The pickup line for chic Ivy Leaguers in Providence, according to the magazine? Je t'ai vu au Balthazar, non?
Students here felt the article was unfair not only to Princeton, but to all of the schools listed in the "Fab Four" guide.
"I think this is definitely exaggerated for all the schools," said Jen Gray '01. "Most of the people I've met here are pretty down-to-earth," she said in reference to the "extracurricular activity" section.
"I think of it as a fun way to point out the differences between the schools," said Peretz, who admitted she did not confer with any current students at any of the universities.
Vanity Fair editors could not be reached for comment.
In the eight-page piece entitled "School For Glamour," contributing editor Jean Connet drops the names of famous Brown celebs (classmates Duncan Sheik and Lisa Loeb '92, and John F. Kennedy, Jr '83,) details the rising popularity of European culture seen in student fashion and discusses how weekend jaunts to Paris are typical fare.
In turn, Connet makes accusations that Brown's students and administrators weren't willing to accept: that Brown's rise in prestige is really based on superficial and elitist notions, such as double-cheek kissing and Hermés bags lying next to Beef Stroganoffs.
All of this was particularly hard to swallow considering Connet never visited the campus to conduct interviews with current students, according to Mark Nickel, a Brown spokesman. In her article, the journalist spoke primarily with graduates from the late 80s and early 90s.
According to Brown students and faculty, even worse was the author's indictment of the university's outgoing president, Vartan Gregorian, whom the author claimed had admitted many students armed with heavy financial artillery to insure a promising and hefty alumni giving.
"He feels he was misrepresented," said Nickel.
In general the article had "a breathless tone to it," Nickel added, lamenting that the Rhode Island university is not as glamorous as one may think.
"The kind of school that Vanity Fair wrote about was not a place that most people here would recognize," he added.
Some students agreed. "I don't know where she's getting her information," said Caitlin Armistead, a freshman Brown Daily Herald reporter whose front page article criticized the magazine for unfairly taking a small segment of Brown's population and casting it as the norm for the student body.
The distant past
But Armistead did concede that perhaps this ritzy Brown culture – so disparate from the one that currently exists at Brown – may indeed have existed when the likes of Sheik, Loeb and even Diana Ross' daughter Tracee Ellis Ross '94 strutted around the Providence campus.
"Maybe it was like that before, but I haven't experienced Brown like that at all," she said.
Paul Langhammer, associate director at Brown's financial aid office, said about 40 percent of the student body is on some form of loan or scholarship program.
"(The magazine article) certainly didn't represent the students my office sees," Langhammer said.