Friday, September 24, 2010

Who We Are and Who We Are Not

We aren't chimps but some readers might think we are.
Some readers and commenters have tried to figure out who Hopkins Underground could be. Several claims have been made and we are here to respond.

We are not former writers for the News-Letter who lost an editorial election. We have never been an editor at the N-L, been a candidate in an election, or seen the N-L's proofing process. What some call "inside knowledge" of the N-L is no more than honest and thoughtful reporting, communicating with sources and researching information.

We do not have a bone to pick with the paper. We write and report without malice or cruel intentions. We started this blog in September because the academic year begins at this time. Hopkins Underground is not connected to another publication,print or online.

Our consistent coverage of the reaction to Greg Sgammato's op-ed piece is purely coincidental. We have been online for only two weeks. On Sept. 16, we wrote about the shooting at the Hopkins Hospital, an important event at the University that warranted some thoughts. It was not until we discovered Sgammato's op-ed later that day did we decide to write again. We stuck with this story because of the widespread reaction, on campus and nationally.

So, who are we? We are writers through and through. That does not make us Writing Seminars majors though. This is not our first year at Hopkins. Apart from that, we direct you to our welcome post in which we explain why we write anonymously.

We hope that readers continue to come to Hopkins Underground, as we are working on stories that are unrelated to the N-L and should be of interest to the student body. We are not ignorant to the point where we think we will win over everyone.

To those who stick around, see you soon.

UPDATE 9/25/2010 7:55 p.m.: 
And a few of our promises to you:
  • We will not remove, retract, or un-publish posts that are deemed offensive or critical. No matter how much backlash a post may bring, we will always keep the information online. If there is a mistake, we will make a correction but keep the post up.
  • We will not remove comments that are critical of us or our work. We will not close or prevent comments on a post.
  • We will not peddle gossip or misinformation. Do understand, however, that we are human and will make mistakes from time to time despite our best efforts. Any publication that promises otherwise is lying.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Latest Apology, N-L Backs Away from Satire Reasoning

Having classified Greg Sgammato's opinion piece as satire less than a week ago, The News-Letter has seemingly ignored their first explanation in favor of a full and unreserved apology printed Thursday.

"Publishing these articles was wrong," wrote the N-L. "Without condition, The News-Letter issues its humblest apology."

This is a far cry from what the editorial board published online a couple days after the articles first appeared. While the N-L was willing to apologize for offending people, they did not apologize for its content and satirical intent. There was no effort to defend themselves in the latest version.

"Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article."

They argued then that Sgammato's piece was intended as satire and aimed to highlight societal problems. Thursday's explanation does not mention anything about satire, humor, or social criticism. It leaves readers to wonder if the original explanation of satire was sincere.

The N-L also promised readers that it is undergoing an internal assessment of its procedure in the hope that such mistakes can be prevented.

Oddly, the News-Letter did not write a news article covering the reaction, both supportive or critical, to the articles. When Jayson Blair was caught fabricating stories, sources, and information as a reporter for the New York Times, The Times published several objective news articles about the fallout from Blair's gross journalistic fraud.

Sgammato and Avitia's actions were not in the same nature as Blair's. The N-L will never be in the same league as the Times. Nonetheless, it is troubling to see the N-L not covering an important event on campus. Many students, faculty, and staff read and reacted, some negatively and some positively, to the articles. Reputable national blogs like Jezebel published three posts online. The posts garnered over 50,000 views each and hundred of comments from around the country. This reaction was hardly limited to the Homewood campus. It is troubling to see the N-L selectively cover topics and ignoring significant events. Will the N-L ever report back on the findings of its internal review and the changes it has made? How can concerned readers know that appropriate changes have been made?

They did however give an entire page to letters to the editor, removing its usual editorials. Something noteworthy we have not seen done as readers of the N-L. Publishing such harsh criticism is not always easy, especially for college students who do not have much exposure to it.

The two official explanations after the jump.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Qureshi Resigns in Aftermath of Sgammato's Op-Ed

Omar Qureshi, the News-Letter opinion page editor, has resigned amid the fallout from Greg Sgammato's opinion in the latest edition of the News-Letter, sources close to the paper tell Hopkins Underground.

As the opinion page editor, Qureshi would have been responsible for overseeing the content of the opinion page. He defended Sgammato, his friend and roommate, in an e-mail to members of the debate team of which he is the treasurer and Sgammato the president.

"What has been most hurtful for me, personally, is that my friends and those closest to me now think of me as a bad person," Qureshi wrote. "I will not attempt to claim that I am not."

We do not know Sgammato's fate or that of the two top editors, Sarah Tan and Lily Newman. Tomorrow, the News-Letter will be print a new edition, undoubtedly with some explanation of the events of the past week.

A source also says Qureshi was not the only pair of eyes to review Sgammato's piece. It had in fact been edited by other editors.

You can send us a confidential tip by e-mailing us at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does the HOP Know What 'Free' Means? (updated)

In today's announcement e-mail, The HOP, Hopkins Organization for Programming, advertised a raffle for a pair of Baltimore Ravens game tickets. The headline read, "Win a free pair of Ravens Tickets!" Sounds good, right? Read further and one will see that the winner will only get a pair of discounted tickets. Does somebody proof these things?

UPDATE 9/24/2010 3:04 p.m.: 
The HOP corrected it's mistake from Tuesday, telling students on Friday winners of the raffle got discounted tickets rather than free ones.

Unanswered Questions About Sgammato's Op-Ed

The fall out from Greg Sgammato's opinion piece in Thursday's News-Letter continues. National blogs have picked up on the story, many criticizing the article's content. The campus is still talking about it. But there are still some issues left to be addressed.
  • What sort of backlash is Sgammato facing at the News-Letter? Will he resign from his position as managing editor? 
  • How responsible were Lily Newman and Sarah Tan for this article? Did they proof the page and article at all before it went to print?
  • Did Omar Qureshi's close friendship with Sgammato influence his judgment in allowing the article to run? He is Sgammato's roommate (according to sources) and the treasurer of the debate team of which Sgammato is president.
  • What will the University do? Bill Smedick, the faculty adviser, and Susan Boswell, Dean of Student Life, have been unusually silent on this issue.
  • Will the News-Letter print the "apology" they posted online in the coming edition of the paper? Or will they write another "apology" with another explanation?
What questions do you think the News-Letter needs to address?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Debate Team comes to Greg Sgammato's Defense

Hopkins Underground has obtained an e-mail to members of the Hopkins Debate Team about Greg Sgammato's opinion piece on overweight women. Omar Qureshi, the team's treasurer and the opinion page editor for the News-Letter, sent the long-winded message to debate team members Sunday night. We have posted the entire e-mail after the jump.

You can send us a confidential tip by e-mailing us at

UPDATE 9/21/2010 3:00 p.m.: Sources tell us that Qureshi is not only part of the debate team leadership with Sgammato, but also Sgammato's roommate.  Sgammato is the president of the debate team.

Greg Sgammato's Controversial Op-Ed in Full

 We noticed that The News-Letter took down Greg Sgammato's controversial opinion in which he derides overweight women. A flurry of controversy erupted this weekend as students on campus and a national blog drummed up their criticism of Sgammato and his work.

Luckily, we were able to save a copy on our computers before the editorial board, undoubtedly in serious crisis management meetings, decided to remove the post from the internet. But fear not, readers. We have posted the full text of Sgammato's chauvinistic work after the jump.

We will get into the journalistic ethics of The News-Letter removing a piece from their website later. There are many problems.

UPDATE 10:32 a.m.: Hopkins Underground has learned that the News-Letter featured Sgammato's piece in its e-mail to readers Friday. A reader sent us a screenshot of the e-mail. Featured articles typically highlight good writing or reporting. Seems like this year's editorial board cannot judge good writing at all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Greg Sgammato and Overweight Women, an Analysis

Often times The News-Letter's page of ramblings opinion page can be inane. This week we noticed a particularly alarming opinion piece written by one of the News-Letter's managing editors, Greg Sgammato. We wonder: What does Greg Sgammato have against overweight people?

In his pieced titled "Local bison bear all at Phi Kappa Psi's annual Lingerave," Sgammato tries to understand why overweight women party and wear clothing that exposes their flesh. He identifies the problem (fat people), the cause (alcohol) and a solution (get drunk and try to hook up with them). Sgammato describes overweight women as animals. At various points in his opinion piece, he calls them fat chicks, buffalo, bison, blimp, grenades, hippos, wildebeest and livestock. At one point he does not even want to refer to them as humans let alone animals. He simply calls them, "it."

Sources tell us Sgammato is quite the gym rat and has a physical physique that would, if he were not so short, make some of the women at Hopkins Underground swoon. Is his dislike for overweight women a result of his all brawn and no brain view of life?

Sgammato's world is one in which the overweight are out of sight and out of mind. They must do their best to avoid the line of vision of normal-weight people. Ideally, overweight people do not go to the parties he attends. "If, in the near future, one determines a means by which we can separate hot chicks from the heavy, heavy burden of their larger peers, a Nobel will surely follow." He believes that the student body is only willing tolerate fat people so long as "direct interaction isn't necessitated."

Here are some choice quotes with some analysis.

Greg Sgammato starts off by conceding that the fat will always be among us. (Sort of like the poor.) He laments that when he was at the Lingerave party he only saw overweight women in their underwear and not the hot chicks.
"Under normal circumstances, fat chicks at a Hopkins party are neither a novelty nor a major problem. The student body has become accustomed to seeing the occasional bison at Pike; as long as direct interaction isn't necessitated, most Blue Jays are content with simply letting the livestock graze."
Insightful writer that he is, Sgammato asks his readers hypothetically,
"Why would the biggest chicks wear the least clothing? These are the girls who wear sweatshirts on sweltering summer days just to hide their -- admittedly substantial -- arms. The answer, of course, can be found in the staple of any decent frat party: alcohol...When buffalo -- especially those who frequent frat parties -- consume alcohol, they undergo an extreme and sudden inflation of self-image."
 When this happens, poor Sgammato must watch women with less than ideal figures will
"Flaunt it like she's got it, when in fact she never had it and probably never will. She will transcend 'sloppy' and become a force to be reckoned with, an 8-on-the-Richter-Scale Neuroscience major with no test on Monday, a full fridge and an empty bed.
Needless to say, a drunk plus-size is scary enough. Yet put her in an enviornment in which clothing is actively discouraged and we have added insult to an already egregious injury."
Sgammato gives in. He says that we cannot avoid fat people. He then tries to play psychologist even though he is an international studies and economics major.
"We must enter the mentality of the fat chick. She knows that, given her current situation, she will not gain admission to a frat party of her own accord. No one in his right mind would, given the chance, admit a herd of rhinos to his party...And once inside, the damage has already been done. It's only a matter of time until the mammoths monopolize space on the dance floor."
But alas, Sgammato concludes that if you can't beat them, join them. After all, according to him, if one wants a sure bet, there's nothing like a girl with low self-esteem to satisfy your needs.
"A seasoned veteran should have the confidence to wait until the bedroom to see his girl without clothing; don't subject the majority to the tyranny of the -- funnily enough -- enormous minority.

There is, of course, one more option: get obliterated. You'll be surprised how far you'll go with a half-naked wildebeest."
We are amazed that the editors-in-chief of The News-Letter, Lily Newman and Sarah Tan, and the opinion page editor, Omar Qureshi, would publish such an opinion piece that can personally offend not only a section of the student body but also larger segments of the country. This is not a piece that is in favor or against a certain policy. This is a chauvinistic piece that should offend everyone's sensibilities. For all those going out this weekend, beware.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shooting at the Hospital

A sniper at the scene on Thursday. (@justin_fenton)

Around 11:10 a.m. a son of a patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital shot Dr. David B. Cohen in the abdomen. Soon after, the Hospital was under lock-down and all people affiliated with the Hospital and the Medical institution were notified. Praise should be given to the Hospital for its swift action to keep its students, faculty, and staff safe. 

However, two hours passed before undergraduates and people on the Homewood campus were notified. In an e-mail timestamped at 1:10 p.m., Dennis O'Shea, Executive Director of  Communications and Public Affairs, informed the Homewood campus of the shooting. He described it as a "police situation," telling students to avoid going to the medical campus and to check with instructors about attendance. Two internet links were given for students to receive updates. Seventeen minutes later, O'Shea sent a follow-up email correcting one of those links.

It seems odd that the University would let the people on the Homewood Campus aware of the situation almost two hours after the incident and after the people at the Hospital were notified. Many students work at the Hospital, taking courses or working on research. In our opinion, two hours seems too long of a delay to notify Homewood. Students who may not be on the Hospital's emergency text message or e-mail list may have unknowingly gone down.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the University let everyone know in a timely manner about the situation? Does it matter when Homewood was notified?

Friday, September 10, 2010


 Gilman Tunnel

Welcome to Hopkins Underground, a blog dedicated to covering The Johns Hopkins University. We will not rehash stories that have been published in the News-Letter or the Gazette unless the two newspapers omitted important details. Instead, we will turn a critical eye on the faculty, students, staff and organizations that make up the university.

Blog posts will be anonymous for at least two reasons. One, the critical nature of our posts leaves us vulnerable for reprisal. Two, we want sources to be able to share information and tips with confidence. All e-mail and communication with Hopkins Underground will be strictly confidential. Our hope is that students and faculty will feel comfortable enough to bring up any grievances or concerns about the University.

We will not write spiteful or gossipy posts. We aim to offer substantive praise and criticism about one of the nation's most respected universities.

If you would like to contact Hopkins Underground, you can e-mail or follow us on Twitter at @JHUunderground.

Here's to a good year...