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Dating website criticized for ranking colleges based on students' appearance

Posted by Your Town  December 19, 2012 01:33 PM

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A dating site geared toward college students ranked Boston College as the university with the most attractive men and women in the Boston area, according to the study that was released by the website on Monday. Professors at the schools that were featured in the report criticized the company for publicizing the data.

DateMySchool, a website aimed at college students and alumni, issued the 2012 Boston Hotness Index report based on data from the website. Melanie Wallner, a spokeswoman for DateMySchool, said the site calculated the ratio of the number of profiles saved at each school to the number of profiles at each school that had pictures.

Wallner said that although users on DateMySchool value more than just looks, they tend to filter potential dating partners based on appearance.

“The reality is that when our users are going through, reading someone’s profile, they are looking at the picture,” she said.

Wallner said there are 175,000 users on DateMySchool, with 15,000 from Boston colleges and universities. The study found that for the overall attractiveness of women, BU was ranked second, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was third, Tufts University fourth, Northeastern University fifth, and Harvard sixth.

For men, Harvard was second, Northeastern third, MIT came in fourth, Boston University was fifth, and Tufts was sixth.

Sharlene Hesse-Biber, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Boston College, said in a phone interview that the study might seem trivial and good-natured on the surface, but that it is part of a bigger, more serious issue of our culture objectifying women.

“I don’t think necessarily that any of this is meant to do harm, but it does,” Hesse-Biber said.

She said the company needs to ask whether it is worth it to put out these studies.

“Taken out of context [the report] seems silly,” she said. “But it’s serious.”

This isn't the first time that students in the Boston area have been rated on their looks. In early November, a poll on Bloomberg Businessweek’s website that asked readers to rate the overall attractiveness of women at certain business schools, including Boston University's, sparked an intense backlash, and led to Businessweek removing the poll.

An additional poll asked readers to rate the overall attractiveness of males at a select number business schools. On Monday, Bloomberg Businessweek issued an apology on its Facebook page, saying the polls were in “poor taste.”

“We regret issuing two online polls last week that asked our readers to comment on which business schools had the most attractive male and female students,” the statement said. “The Face/Off polls have been taken down from businessweek.com. They were in poor taste and undermine the tremendous value our Business Schools vertical provides.”

Sally Haslanger, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at MIT, said it seemed hard to believe there is a correlation between “hotness” and the school that someone attends.

“I am not one to deny that some people are more attractive than others, but is there a single standard along which we can all be ranked? Surely not,” Haslanger wrote in an e-mail. “‘Hotness’ is a pretty complicated phenomenon that is very sensitive to context, individual preferences, the full array of human capacities, and culture.”

Haslanger also said she thinks there is nothing being tracked in the study by DateMySchool. Rather, it is the manipulation of the market for profit.

“My guess is that they want to get people to think that they have a handle on who counts as ‘hot’ so they can market their product,” she wrote. “From their point of view, if they function as the popular kid who designates who is ‘hot’ then they will make money.”

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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