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NEW YORK, N.Y. GERALDINE BAUM

At NYU, but in a class of their own

September 13, 2004|GERALDINE BAUM

"Their reasons for going to college are not vocational," Pagnotta said. "They know a lot about lots of things from working in the real world since they were toddlers. This is their chance to explore." While both are taking a required writing course this semester, Ashley is signed up for Italian and is interested in pursuing psychology and business while Mary-Kate is enrolled in a photography course and leaning toward the arts.

They are also both "exploring" New York's nightlife, shops and coffee bars, even the swank Hamptons, according to reports in the tabloids the last couple of weeks. The gossip columns have also been filled with tidbits about Ashley and a new boyfriend, and Mary-Kate parting ways with an old one, a Hollywood mogul's son who is a freshman in Boston. The paparazzi seem particularly interested in capturing Mary-Kate at restaurants or walking around town holding a cup of coffee.

This would be deemed typical New York behavior if it weren't intended to raise speculation about how she's managing an eating disorder. Mary-Kate, the darker-haired twin who in the movies plays the funkier, more carefree one to blond Ashley's strait-laced character, was treated this summer at a center in Utah for the disorder, which frankly is one of the things that most likens this fantastically wealthy young woman to her college peers.

Universities increasingly are taking on freshmen who leave home plagued by enormous psychological problems. NYU has faced a particular crisis with suicides; the day before school started, a student with a history of mental illness leaped from a window of the university's Tisch School of the Arts, making her the sixth NYU student to fall to his or her death within the year.

The university has vastly beefed up its counseling services and now requires all freshman to take a 105-minute session during orientation that covers depression, stress, alcohol and drug use, safe sex and other topics.

Mary-Kate is surrounded by a team of people, in addition to business and security handlers, to help her with personal problems, said Pagnotta. She has a supervising psychiatrist in Los Angeles who put together a group of professionals, including a $1,000-a-day eating counselor, in New York.

"New York is already a second home to these girls, not a new frontier," said Pagnotta, explaining all that has been done to smooth their transition to the East Coast. "What they're trying to do is blend in as New Yorkers, living a day-to-day normal life, getting coffee at a deli, walking down a street without being bothered."

And if they can figure that out, the other 8 million of us would love to know.

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