Mail Room

By The Editors / May / June 2002
June 29th, 2007

Keep It Gritty

I was both exhilarated and saddened by Zachary Block's wonderful article on Rich Lupo ("Music Man," March/April). Back in 1985 or so, Lupo paid our terrible 1970s cover band Landing Party the highest compliment: he allowed us to play on some dead Wednesday night for no pay and free beer. One of the great thrills of my life was singing on the same stage from which I had heard Bonnie Raitt and Dickie Betts only months before. Pure magic.

Whenever I tell my friends about what Brown was like in the 1980s, I always mention Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel and the incredible parade of musical greats who streamed through its doors during my years there. The irony of the current situation in downtown Providence is stunning. Lupo and pioneers like him paved the way for the incredible renewal of the city in the 1990s, yet now developers who would never have looked twice at the area when Lupo opened his first club have asked him to skedaddle.

More importantly, not everyone who goes downtown wants it to look like a Disney World version of a city. One of the pleasures of 1980s Providence was its grittiness and unpretentious working-class appeal - The Hot Box overlooking the power plant comes to mind, as do some of the fusty, old-school Italian restaurants on Federal Hill.

So why is Providence insisting on drumming out the very crowd that created the renaissance? It's not as though music lovers are tightwads. In Lupo's own words, "When I see mullets, I'm happy. Mullets mean money." Unless Providence wants to imitate Boston's unbearably yuppie Newbury Street, the newly Disneyfied Times Square, or Baltimore's generic Harborplace, it would be wise to incorporate some less polished elements into its ten-year plan. People can sniff out authenticity; they gravitate toward it. That's why they have streamed into Providence over the past twenty years, making it one of the most livable cities in America. That's why Providence's own Farrelly brothers have made more than one film there. (By the way, the Farrellys are great music lovers - maybe they'd like to join the fight or invest in a new Lupo's?) The trick is to keep enough of what drew people there in the first place in order to preserve the city's unique character.

Lupo's is a world-class music club that any city would be proud to have. So if things don't work out down there, Rich, I know of another New England port city whose name begins with a P that would be happy to have you.

Katherine W. Oxnard '87
Portland, Maine

Another Prayer for Owen

In her sensitive reflection, "A Prayer for Owen" (Alumni P.O.V., March/ April), Jean Sheridan '59 laments her grandchild's birth into a godless world without the guidance of religious ritual. The powerful example of faith, transmitted continuously across generations, is one model; it is the most familiar and reassuring one, but not the only one. Those who believe that the possibility of faith is in the very structure of nature and human experience will find much hope for Owen. Love, forgiveness, gentleness, and solidarity of spirit cut across all religions and are more important markers of adherence to the Word than the formal signs of religious faith. In the wonderful phrase of the Dominican priest and theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, "intending the general beatitude is each person's most natural manifestation of religious faith." Surely that will be within Owen's reach and, we hope, within his grasp.

Dan Morrissey '56
Chevy Chase, Md.

The Mark of Canine

I read with interest "Animal Rights," which was excerpted from the March 1972 BAM (From Our Pages, The Classes, March/April). The article noted the University's concern back then about the presence of too many pets, mainly dogs, on campus. The piece reminded me of a humorous incident that took place one warm and sunny spring day during my junior year, back in 1980.

I was relaxing on the Green before heading into class, lying on the grass with my eyes closed and catching a few last rays before spending an hour or so under fluorescent lights learning about the Peruvian political system. Just before I had to get up and go into class, a pack of six or eight campus pooches, playing a boisterous game of tag, decided to run full speed over my prone body, stepping on me as they went.

Needless to say, I was somewhat startled by the experience, and after assuring several nearby students that I was all right, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and, as time was short, ran directly to class. The large class went along without incident as it usually did, with weighty questions and comments from many of the students, including myself. As class concluded, I made my way to the men's room, where I discovered to my horror that I had several large, muddy paw prints, clearly visible, crisscrossing my face.

No one, of course, from the time I had first encountered the rambunctious pups, all the way through my hour-long class, had bothered to tell me that I had been walking around wearing the Mark of Canine. I'm sure, however, that there were quite a few people in class that afternoon wondering to themselves, as I expressed my opinion concerning some no-doubt-what-I-thought-then-was-an-important-point concerning Peru's political processes, just exactly how I had managed to get doggy footprints all over my face.

Now they know.

Rob Whitney '81

A Backward Step

As a recent graduate who now lives and works in Manhattan, I find the practice described in Emily Gold's "Dangerous Liaisons" of serious concern (Elms, March/April).

Though I never had any formal "luncheon" training while on campus, I certainly have never stopped short of my career goals or any related advancements due to any perceived imperfections in my professional eating habits. I firmly believe that the speed with which I have climbed the corporate ladder is in part due to my experience of living and learning at Brown and not to any higher form of institutionalized etiquette.

Establishing something like the Etiquette Dinner is an injustice to the very heritage on which Brown was founded: brave individuality, creative freedom, and an unmitigated sense of self-expression. Though I continue to hold only the highest regard for Brown and its students and alumni, I would hope that the University reconsiders this return to Victorian formality and continues to focus on supplemental programs that feed the mind and spirit rather than the antiquated ideals of a bygone era.

Erin P. Timmerman '97
New York City

Color Blind

Although I enjoyed the piece on Thad Williamson '92 ("Carolina on His Mind," The Classes, March/April), thanks to color sensitivity I developed as part of my art concentration at Brown, I know that Carolina blue is not teal! Even though my husband has three degrees from the University of North Carolina and his father and grandfather were also Carolina alums, the Tarheel fans at my house are not quite sure which blue is the exact match to Carolina blue - but we all agree that teal is more turquoise.

Are any Brown alumni as particular about our school color?

Ardath Goldstein Weaver '71
Raleigh, N.C.

Not So Color Blind

Emily Gold's "Black Ties" (January/February) showed how much has changed and, in some cases, how much has remained the same for Afro-American students at Brown.

My father, Harold S. Fleming Sr., class of '26, grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, only four blocks from the Yale campus, but opted for Brown because of Fritz Pollard '19 (and probably because of my father's desire to escape from daily parental surveillance). He went on to Harvard Dental School, practiced dentistry with his West Indian father for ten years, went on for more study at the University of Pennsylvania, and settled at Yale as a research pathologist in the medical school. He ended up as chair of the pathology department at Howard University Dental School.

I chose Brown largely because of my father. There were fourteen or fifteen of us Afro-Americans in the undergraduate college in my day, and we at first clung together in what we labeled the Brown Brown Battalion. In the first stirrings of racial accommodation, several of the lighter-skinned BBB members were rushed by one fraternity but refused to pledge unless all other black lower classmen were given the same opportunity. The University frowned upon our tight-knit group, even though we had several white honorary members, all from the Navy ROTC group. We were counseled that we were cutting ourselves off from the rest of the campus. Brown went so far as to reassign us to different dorms and matched us with nonblack roommates.

This experiment was short-lived for a variety of reasons, and my junior-year roommate was Ralph Cunningham '52, who was at Brown on a scholarship partly funded by the state of Georgia. A junior Phi Beta Kappa, he was elected editor of the Brown Daily Herald. But this was short-lived as well; some alumni protested that the BDH had just had a Jewish editor, Alan Levy '52, and they did not want another "minority" running the paper. The ensuing outcry was brief (we were the Silent Generation), and after being threatened with the loss of his university scholarship, Ralph resigned.

The Korean War, as well as academic failure, decimated the class of '53. Brown's admission policy in these days was high-risk, high-gain, reinforced with tough grading standards. Fewer than half of the Afro-Americans who started as freshmen finished, and among the six or seven in my class, I was the only one to march down the hill in the Commencement ceremonies. Two of my black classmates, however, did return in later years to retake courses and complete their degrees.

While I wholeheartedly endorse the need for black alumni affinity groups as helpful in networking in life after Brown, I am saddened by the trend on campuses across America for self-balkanization of students by race and ethnicity. Even those of the old Brown Brown Battalion would agree that in the twenty-first century these largely defensive walls should no longer be necessary.

Harold Fleming Jr. '53
Great Falls, Va.

Suite Talk

Ah, What a breath of spring is Emily Gold's item on Brown's continuing to foster cohabitation on campus ("Suite Talk," Elms, March/April). I would guess there may be a few parents who will be less than enthusiastic about their sons and daughters applying to our "prestigious" school if such tomfoolery persists.

I suggest that if "best friends" of the opposite sex wish to live together while students at Brown, they do so off campus, where they can indulge their needs without using housing partly paid for by the University (and its alumni).

O tempora! O mores!

Edward A. Johnson '53
New London, N.H.

Learning at Home

It was with interest that I read "Homeschooling Comes of Age" (January/February). I live in a community where homeschooling has become enormously popular and was curious to see such a favorable report on this rapidly growing option in the BAM. After several years of watching many of my university-educated friends and neighbors opt to homeschool their children (I can think of eight families of my immediate acquaintance off the top of my head), I feel compelled to sound a note of caution.

While I have no doubt that Joyce Reed '61 was able to provide a superior education for her children (and I do base this assumption on her academic credentials), this is not a given for homeschooled children. Being a good parent does not automatically translate into superior teaching skills. And unlike children in a public or private school, if a homeschooled child is assigned a poor teacher, there is no opportunity to start fresh the next year with someone better. For example, during a recent conversation with one of my homeschooling neighbors, I learned that she had never heard of either Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. My husband and I still laugh at, and still stand by, my instant thought: "How can you possibly homeschool your kindergartner when you've never even heard of these writers?"

In your article you mentioned that criticism is often leveled at homeschoolers over the socialization skills of their children. My observation is that this criticism is valid. The children I know are mostly very sweet but well behind their school-attending peers in the social area. This applies to their interactions with both children and adults. (After all, schools are not populated solely by children!) While homeschooling groups have tried to address this concern by offering classes and clubs, these opportunities are limited and often include the presence of a parent, which makes for a very different social situation than what their peers encounter at school. It may be that homeschooling holds enough benefits for a particular child that it is worth the price of the loss of these social skills, but I think we need to recognize that this is a price many of these children will pay.

Your article also points out that the great appeal of homeschooling lies in its ability to make people realize that learning occurs at any time and place throughout life. I must say that I take offense at the implication that this realization would not be true for a child who attends school. When my six-year-old daughter once asked me why she wasn't homeschooled, I explained that in fact she was both attending school and doing homeschooling, but her father and I don't use a special label for all the times we teach her things. I then proceeded to list for her some of the things about which we have taught her at home: printmaking, knitting, swimming, designing science experiments, tracking animals, and learning about early European settlers. I think I can safely assume that almost every other parent who graduated from Brown is homeschooling in a similar manner.

I realize that homeschooling is, on occasion, the best option for a particular child, but I think this is an area where it is best to proceed with caution.

Abby Raymond McNear '85
Evanston, Ill.

I have always taken pride in Brown's commitment to public service and feel that my own work in the rural area in which I live and teach at a regional university has been shaped by that commitment. Now your cover story touting the wonders of homeschooling makes me wonder about the reality of this commitment beyond attention-getting articles in this glossy alumni magazine.

Our school district, like 70 percent of school districts in this state (and 90 percent of the state's rural districts), recently held a referendum to increase the paltry funding for public education, and despite this we are still faced with a $2 million budget deficit. While demographic factors are certainly part of the underfunding of a system that allocates funds on a per-pupil basis, so are political factors, most notably the push for school choice that has dominated debate on public education for the last two decades. School choice advocates, preying on parents' fears and concerns about their children's safety and learning, have been chipping away at the ability of public schools to teach by lobbying for "alternatives" such as vouchers, charter schools and, yes, homeschooling. For Brown to be promoting an educational choice that is so antithetical to public schools, and therefore the public, suggests to me that its vaunted commitment to public service has become more of a public relations stunt than a deeply held value to be instilled and nurtured in its students.

I must also comment on the homeschooling families featured in the article: is homeschooling truly an option for children who do not have parents as privileged as those featured here?

Colette A. Hyman '79
Winona, Minn.

Protection Needed

Happily, there is an easy solution to the problem of whether to arm the Brown campus police ("Crime Fight," Elms, March/April). Just bring in the Rhode Island State Police, immortalized as the world's greatest law enforcement agency in the risible 2000 film Me, Myself & Irene, which starred Jim Carrey and was created by Rhode Island's own Bobby and Peter Farrelly.

In the short term, however, with loose cannons like Ted Turner ("Captain Outrageous," Elms, March/April) and Andrew Cuomo (Listening In, Elms, March/April) rolling around College Hill, the Brown police should be armed, indeed heavily armed - at least with assault rifles.

David G. Santry '67
New York City


In his letter, Jonathan Nastian '89 expresses disgust with a student who wrote "god bless afghanistan" on a memorial wall erected on campus after the September 11 attacks (Mail Room, January/February). Bastian assumes the student was defending the nation that harbored the guilty parties for these attacks. I would like to offer an alternate interpretation. I seriously doubt the student was attempting to exalt the Taliban, which was not recognized as a legitimate government by most nations in the world, and which terrorized and further impoverished the Afghan people and managed to destroy a large part of the country's cultural heritage during its five years in power. I will venture a guess that Bastian has probably never experienced the terror of having his country invaded and occupied, never known real hunger, never faced the danger of forced conscription. Because he is a Brown graduate, I know he was not denied the opportunity for an excellent education. If, in addition to these good fortunes, Bastian has been lucky enough to avoid serious injury in a hazardous occupation, then perhaps he might take some time to reflect on the many displaced, starving, oppressed, illiterate, land-mine-injured people of Afghanistan and reconsider whether he really needs to begrudge them any blessings that a merciful god might choose to bestow on them after more than twenty years of agony.

Amy R. Ramos '87
Santa Barbara, Calif.

In Poor Taste?

I find your practice in the Arts & Culture section of quoting from negative reviews of alumni authors in very poor taste. I, for one, read the BAM to take pride in the accomplishments of my fellow alumni, not to find out how they have been slammed by some critic. At the very least, if you're going to repeat harsh attacks, give the alumnus or alumna an opportunity for rebuttal.

David Allyn '91
Hoboken, N.J.

David Allyn is referring to Arts & Culture's Critic's Corner feature, a paragraph that summarizes what various critics have recently written about artistic works produced by Brown alumni. Rarely has Critic's Corner, which aims to accurately reflect what professional critics are opining, included only negative reviews. However, the view of the BAM staff is that the magazine's credibility depends on accurately reporting what is indeed being written.

- Editor

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May / June 2002