Mail Room

By The Editors / July / August 2006
December 6th, 2006

Truth and Memory

Robert Scholes writes that he commented to William Faulkner that the imaginative reconstruction of events is perhaps closer to the truth than even (or especially) eyewitness accounts (“Mr. Faulkner Comes to Class,” May/June). The comment surely must have resonated with the novelist. The first sentence of Chapter 6 of Faulkner’s Light in August says it all: “Memory believes before knowing remembers.”

In the literature class that I currently teach in a medium-security men’s prison, we read Faulkner, as well as Shakespeare, Sophocles, Camus, Alice Walker, and just about everyone else. We talk endlessly about memory, which is all that some of the inmates have.

Especially for the long-timers, what they remember, or misremember, is the stuff of their lives. From now on, I’ll remind them that they are imaginatively reconstructing events, which feeds their minds, hearts, and souls, and probably helps them to get up the next morning. And I’ll confess that I do the same.

Dick Shohet ’59
Carlisle, Mass.


After Katrina

Thanks to the BAM and to emily Gold Boutilier for a comprehensive and thoughtful piece on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf coast. Your article captured the complicated nature of what we face down here each day as we restore and rebuild. I am happy to report that since I was interviewed for the article my husband, Julian, has returned his business full-time to New Orleans and has hired an assistant. Our family is committed to this community and is very glad to be back.

While it is wonderful to read and view photos of New Orleans and its people, it is far better to visit in person. Consider this an open invitation to the Brown community to visit New Orleans. Come enjoy, come volunteer, come spend your tourism dollars, and come see. Here is a place in the United States where you can be part of history, where you can make a significant difference. A group of Brown alumni down here would love to show you around. Your heart will be both broken and uplifted in this city that is all about heart.

Wendy Schornstein Good ’80
New Orleans


Kudos to the Brown students who spent their spring vacation in New Orleans helping with the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina (“A Different Spring Break,” May/June). That kind of voluntary effort is laudable, but it can’t compensate for the fact that federal and state government agencies have walked away from one of the most pressing post-Katrina threats: toxic contamination left by receding floodwaters.

A February ana-lysis found high levels of arsenic, lead, and dangerous petroleum compounds across the city at levels that should have triggered a mandatory cleanup—or at least additional investigation. Gina Solomon ’86, a medical doctor and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, conducted that analysis. Solomon also oversaw the NRDC’s independent sediment and mold tests in New Orleans last fall.

Solomon’s findings stood in stark contrast to assurances by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that contamination levels in the city pose no “unacceptable” health risks. Long-term exposure to the worst contaminants that the flood left behind can cause significant health problems, including liver and kidney damage, cancer, and brain damage in infants and children.

Solomon’s detective work helped prompt a coalition of more than a dozen civil rights, religious, and environmental-justice groups to petition the EPA in March to clean up the toxic contamination blanketing the Crescent City. As of this writing, they’re still waiting for a response.

Elliott Negin ’76
Washington, D.C.

The writer is Washington communications director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Put yourselves in the shoes of a poor New Orleans family with minimal resources in stocks, bonds, and savings who lost children, pets, a house, and jobs in Katrina and for whom this represents stark catastrophe and irredeemable loss, not opportunity. Now, imagine their reaction to your cover.

Rosemary Michelle Simpson

Cake v. Rice Cake

While i have no quarrel with Anna Lappe’s claim that “access to healthy, affordable food is a human right” (“What We Eat,” Arts and Culture, May/June), I also have taste buds. So I don’t always choose to eat healthy food. Let’s face it: many people prefer seven-layer cake to “a rice cake spread with peanut butter.” Such people also have a right to access the food of their choice.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman

The writer is a professor of philosophy.

The Ultimate Sport

Terrific story on Brown’s ultimate Frisbee team (“The Ultimate Sport,” May/June). In an age of carefully scripted and micromanaged sports, it is refreshing to know that students still organize and run teams. It is mindful of the formative years in Brown athletics when undergraduates initiated football and other sports before there was an athletic administration.

Peter Mackie ’59

I read with great interest the article on Ultimate Frisbee. My son Stephen ’89 plays (and has played) on a number of teams that have participated in the UPA National Championships in Sarasota, Florida. In November, his coed team lost a heartbreaker in the finals. As a ninth seed, this was a sterling showing. Thanks for highlighting the sport, and kudos to the Brown teams.

Bob Feldman ’58
Portland, Ore.

More Personal

Thank you for your latest issue. As an alumnus of the Ultimate Frisbee team, I’m glad to see the players getting the respect and coverage they deserve (“The Ultimate Sport,” May/June). The article “Starting Over in the Gulf” was also great, providing a different, more personal view into the situation there.

Brendan Miller ’96
Santa Fe

Jobless in Racine

Many thanks to Charlotte Bruce Harvey for a smart, thoughtful review of our film The World’s Best Prom (“The Mother of All Proms,” Arts and Culture, May/June).

Ms. Harvey mentions that one high school senior in the film puts the unemployment rate in Racine, Wisconsin, where the film is set, at 10 percent, then she notes that this figure is incorrect. Given that this young man is a high school dropout and confessed scoundrel, we did check his numbers. In 2001, when he was interviewed, that figure was absolutely correct.

For any other publication I would have let that be. But for Brown alumni we had to let it be known we did our fact checking! Read more about the film at—we’d love to hear what you think.

Chris Talbott ’93
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Charlotte Bruce Harvey replies: In my review, I relied on the 2001 unemployment rate for the Racine metropolitan area, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 5.5 percent. The filmmakers, however, used the BLS rate for the city proper, which was indeed 10 percent.

The Real Story

I found the Alumni P.O.V. on juvenile diabetes (“Keeping Danny Alive,” May/ June) to be reactionary and biased. The author describes her family’s experience over the past four years with her son’s diabetes and the difficulty of maintaining her family’s sanity.

I have had diabetes for the past thirty-three years, with no long-term complications. I eat a fairly normal diet and take four to six injections per day. I have been maintaining the diabetes on my own for about twenty-three years. Although the disease requires consistent and constant therapy, I lead a near-normal life: I work full-time, I am planning a wedding, and I am able to adapt my therapy and diet so that my blood sugar is maintained.

The author mentions that her son’s “blood sugar levels are well below those recommended by the American Diabetes Association.” I should point out that this is not necessarily desirable: Danny may become unable to recognize hypoglycemia until his blood sugar becomes dangerously low.

Gregory Clark ’94
Odenton, Md.

Call to Action

I propose that the phrase Brown, Be Bold become the new sub-line in University materials, either as a replacement for or as a next generation of the current Boldly Brown slogan. Brown, Be Bold is a call to action in line with the message of the senior leadership, as articulated by outgoing provost Robert Zimmer (“Back to Chicago,” Under the Elms, May/ June).

As Mr. Zimmer says, it’s easy for a top university to become complacent. The University needs to be ambitious, to constantly challenge itself to reach ever higher standards for academic differentiation and recognition. Being nervous and driven can be a good thing in the quest for continuing academic excellence in a highly competitive world.

Creative new ways of approaching subject matter, whether through academic collaboration, new course offerings, or novel faculty research, will not only enrich the University but will also make Brown even more attractive to prospective students and faculty.

The University should go with the imperative. Brown, Be Bold. It has a strong, resounding ring.

Richard E. Garabedian ’63
Hillsborough, Calif. 

Senior Citizen

Harold Cohen ’01 RUE, who graduated at the age of 84, is an inspiration to older students (Boldly Brown advertising supplement, May/June). His endowment of a scholarship fund for students who have resumed their education is commendable.

In 1979 my father, Saul B. Torrey, graduated magna cum laude at the age of 69 from Western New England College in Springfield, Massachusetts, with a degree in government. Born in Lodz, Poland, he was a Holocaust survivor who came to the United States in 1949 with his wife and two young children. He committed his life to supporting his family and to ensuring that his children receive an education. A self-taught intellectual, my father was able to attend classes only after his retirement. His graduation at such a late age made news locally and nationally. Twenty-seven years ago it was highly unusual for someone of his age to attend college. His goal was to attain a law degree, but failing eyesight put an end to his formal education.

Harold Cohen and my father serve as examples to other seniors who may fear being out of place among younger students. Though the older students have to acclimate themselves to the classroom, their life experiences can benefit the entire class.

George Torrey ’61
Longmeadow, Mass.

O’Reilly, Warts and All

Anything smacking of conservatism, in this case Bill O’Reilly’s coverage of the SexPowerGod party at Brown, evokes some pretty vacuous stuff, as evidenced by the letter from Philip Gibbons ’78 (“One Bad Weekend,” Mailroom, May/June). That letter also contained an error: Fox News did not describe the Brown weekend in question as “pure debauchery.” I did. Mr. O’Reilly simply read my letter containing those words, and agreed with them.

It’s easy not to like Mr. O’Reilly, but I overlook his faults. Fox News is the only television outlet where my moderate/conservative opinion can be heard. When Charlie Rose interviewed Ruth Simmons on PBS, he made no reference to that weekend’s activities. I watched that painfully boring interview from beginning to end waiting for a mention, but he gave President Simmons a pass. Schadenfreude maybe, but I’ll take O’Reilly with all his warts. At least he invites a conservative viewpoint.

Geraldine Nelson ’51
Middlesex, N.J.

Voice of Brown

My thoughts about WBRU (“Radio Heads,” January/February) have turned 180 degrees since back in the day. When I was general manager of the station in 1966 and 1967, my constant drumbeat was “We have to run this place like a business.” I was fully committed to making the station a commercial success. I remember thinking that with FM in its infancy, we would have gold turntables in twenty years—as if that were something to look forward to. At the same time, we were “The Radio Voice of Brown University.” We broadcasted Brown sports, did news and public affairs shows, and tried to bridge the gap between entertainment and education.

When I look at WBRU today, I sometimes think it would be best for the University to try to force the sale of the station and put the money into scholarships for needy students. I use the words “force the sale” because the license is not in the name of the University. Rather it belongs to the nonprofit Brown Broadcasting Services Inc.

If WBRU exists only to make money and does nothing to bring Brown to the southeastern New England community, it serves no useful purpose. It certainly is not enough to say that it provides a training ground for future broadcasters. For that, there is Brown Student Radio and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.

Richard E. Brodsky ’68

Commencement Now

The Brown Club of Rhode Island sponsored the Commencement Pops Concert for forty-one years, but now the tradition has come to an end. Given the shorter reunion weekend and the resulting time constraints, the University has advised us that it no longer wants us to offer the event.

On behalf of the Brown Club of Rhode Island, I would like to thank the thousands of alumni, parents, and community members who supported the concert over the years. Thanks are also due to the many representatives of the University who gave their time and support. We will treasure our memories of Pops performers, from the legendary Ray Charles to our own Lisa Loeb ’90.

As the daughter of a founder of the Pops Concert, I am especially disheartened by the cancellation of the event. However, the Brown Club of Rhode Island will move ahead, offering many programs to serve the University and its alumni. For years a highlight of the Pops was the presentation of the Jean and Francis Madeira Scholarship Award to a graduating senior in the music department. The club will continue to fund this important scholarship.

Virginia Tortolani McQueen ’81
Barrington, R.I.
The writer is president of the Brown Club of Rhode Island.

I’ve recently returned home from my 25th reunion, which was the first Brown reunion I’ve attended. What a glorious experience!

The Brown tradition of holding reunions in conjunction with Commencement is truly special. As an academician, I’ve been associated with several other universities, and nowhere else have I seen reunions that so successfully create a bond between past and current students.

To alumni, if you haven’t been back for a reunion, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you haven’t marched down College Hill (and stayed for the entire procession), you’ve missed the best part. My arms may be tired from clapping, and my voice a little hoarse from cheering, but the tradition of every class honoring the others before and after it is something you just must experience.

To the class of ’06, thank you for your energy, enthusiasm, and involvement. I hope you felt the same sense of connection across the generations that my classmates and I did.

Victoria Kaprielian ’81
Durham, N.C.

For me the climax of commencement weekend was the march down College Hill. Our class, the class of ’41, was near the front of the line. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, where the class of ’06 was waiting, the applause was close to deafening. Hands came out to us, and some of us shook them and wished the graduates well. In my eighty-seven years, I have never been in a group that was so enthusiastically received as we were that morning.

I have been pondering why the young people received us so heartily. Was it that at our age, we were still marching down the hill? Was it the numerals 1941 and the recollection of where most of us were headed soon after December 7 of that year? There may well be other explanations. I can only say that the experience left me with a wonderful feeling for the young people whose lives sometimes seem so far away from the lives my classmates and I now live. The fact it took place during a centuries-old ritual at the centuries-old university we respect and love made it a perfect moment—one that I will always remember.

Frederick H. Jackson ’41
Westborough, Mass.

Creased and Starched

I noted with regret the passing of George Tyler ’60 (Obituaries, January/ February). In September 1957, George and I were among the pioneering residents of Jameson House in Keeney Quad (then called West Quad). I always found him amiable, though usually harried by the demands of his premed program and his work in Sharpe Refectory.

For part of sophomore year George was my neighbor across the hall, and I can still picture the clever way he dealt with his chinos. After washing them, he would wrestle the wet trousers onto a wire frame, so they dried with an almost razor-sharp crease. He would also starch the pants to such a degree that after their removal from the wire frame he didn’t need to bother with the closet; he just stood them in a corner. Quite a shock the first time I glanced in and noticed a pair of long gray pants leaning up against the wall!

James E. “Jef” Fall ’60
New York City

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July / August 2006