A Journalist Who Isn’t Afraid to Ruffle Feathers
Issue   |   Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:25
Photo courtesy of Ethan Corey
Corey has written about sexual assault, college alcohol policy and the ban on fraternities, among other controversial subjects.

“Ethan Corey” is one of those unmistakable, larger-than-life names at Amherst. It is placed right at the top of fiery opinion articles and murmured among friends whenever something unsavory might be afoot on campus. Ethan Corey is a unique figure in the community because mentioning his name alone can terrify the entire college administration. He is one of the most prized contributors to journalism at Amherst, a gadfly the size of a dragon.

Keeping Them Honest

During his time at Amherst, Corey has made a name for himself in student publications, publishing provocative articles on a range of campus issues.

“Whether it be AAS, the problem of sexual assault or the college’s problematic response to its exposure as an issue, the role of athletics, or the ongoing attempts to ‘manage’ student life … Ethan has elevated discussion at this school like no other student I have observed in my 30 years here,” Professor Thomas Dumm of the political science department said.

Corey’s attributes his passion for journalism to both his personality and his beliefs.

“I guess I like pissing people off,” he said. “I like finding things that people aren’t talking about, or are already talking about, but in a way that misses the key issue, and identifying what that is and bringing it to people’s attention.”

Before Amherst, Corey lived for most of his life on a farm outside of Baltimore, where his family raises animals, including llamas, which he actively dislikes.

From a young age, Corey displayed the defiant attitude and incisive thinking that would later come to characterize his journalism.

“I’ve always sort of been preoccupied with this idea of ‘fairness’ from a pretty young age. I’m not sure if fairness is the right term, but frustration with arbitrary stupidity would be another way of putting it,” he said.

One of his early confrontations with authority took place during middle school. The administration put in place a ban on chewing gum because students were sticking gum under their desks.

Corey wrote a long letter to the principal pointing out that the reason his classmates were sticking gum under the table was precisely because of the ban, since they could not openly spit their gum in the trash.

“So I told them, ‘This is stupid, unfair and infantilizing,’” he said. “It didn’t work, but it felt good.”

In high school, Corey was involved in speech and debate, and used the opportunity to get himself into intellectual confrontations with his peers. This zeal for argumentation began to show itself in full force when he arrived at Amherst.

Burning Questions

During his first year of college, Corey joined The Amherst Student as a staff writer. As it turns out, his formidable body of journalistic work partially owes its origin to a lucky coincidence.

“For whatever reason, I put my name on the email list for The Student, and unlike the 12 other clubs I put my name on the list for, I actually showed up to the introductory meeting, and there were cookies, and people seemed cool, so I thought, ‘I’ll stick around,’” he said.

Corey joined The Student at a particularly controversial time on campus. He was a member of The Student’s news staff in fall 2012, when an article by former student Angie Epifano pushed the issue of sexual assault to the front of the college’s consciousness.

While researching an article about sexual assault, Corey attended a large student protest in front of Converse during a meeting of the board of trustees.

“It was raining, and I was just wearing a sweater, and it got totally soaked and I kinda got hypothermia,” he said. “But it was cool, because there were several hundred people there, and I was just going around to random people asking them ‘Why are you here,’ and I was able to get an understanding of an issue that I honestly didn’t know anything about. That’s what really got me into digging more deeply into things.”

Digging for Answers

Corey eventually became The Student’s managing news editor, working in that position until the end of his sophomore year. He eventually left The Student and began writing for AC Voice, which was then still relatively new.

Corey said that the logistical burdens of having an editorial position at The Student were preventing him from writing the articles that he wanted. Since then, he has published AC Voice articles about sexual assault, college alcohol policy and the ban on fraternities, among many other subjects.

The summer after his sophomore year, Corey wrote an article about the e-CHUG survey, which asks students about alcohol use and awareness. After finding that some questions on the survey linked alcohol use and sexual assault in a way that implied that alcohol alone was the decisive cause of sexual assault, he decided to interview the dean of students and the dean of student conduct.

“I was really using the situation as a way of getting them to say things that they would later regret, and they did,” he said.

After the interview and the article’s publication, Corey said he began to notice “terseness” in his interactions with the administrators, who explicitly requested in their emails that he send them the interview questions ahead of time.

“It’s definitely uncomfortable for me to go anywhere near the Office of Student Affairs, because I know that several people there are not necessarily friends with me,” he said.

Off the Court

It doesn’t come as a surprise that this skilled journalist is an impressive presence in the classroom as well.

“Like a musician with perfect pitch, Ethan has an uncanny ability to hear the false notes in my discourse, and to call me on them in no uncertain terms,” Adam Sitze, an assistant professor of law, jurisprudence, and social thought said. “The result is that I have to choose my words all the more carefully, which in turn, I like to think, makes me a better teacher. Ethan’s very presence in class thus ups the quality of class in general.”

Corey said his most intellectually fulfilling course at Amherst was called Black Marxism, a class taught by former professor of black studies Jose Castro-Alvez. The course was a weekly two-hour seminar, but would often go far overtime, once even spanning from 2:30 to 8 p.m.

“It wasn’t a class about plowing through the syllabus, doing the material, weekly response papers. It was much more organic. I thought, ‘This is what I came to Amherst for,’” he said.

One of the class sessions, in which they projected an image of the controversial T-shirt made by an underground fraternity in 2012 and analyzed its subtexts, was one of the events that convinced Corey to so doggedly pursue the complexities that his work has exposed.

According to his friends, despite his stature in the Amherst community, Corey never takes himself too seriously.

“Out of the public eye, Ethan is just a goofball,” Gina Faldetta ’16 said. “He is really, really, smart, though. The thing is, he’s never made me feel bad for not knowing something.”

Another surprising quality of Corey’s is the underlying optimism in his journalism. One of his firm beliefs is that although there may be serious issues that cause pain and confusion in the community, the fact that people created these issues means that people can correct them.

“There’s a quote from Antonio Gramsci. I like translating it as, ‘I’m a pessimist of the mind, but an optimist of the soul,’” he said.