Out of Touch?I read the article about Cedric Jennings '99 ("A Hope in the Unseen," May/June) with intense gratitude. I, too, grew up in a single-parent home in a poor, black D.C. neighborhood. Also like Cedric, I had a doubtful academic and personal background, but I longed to taste a rich intellectual world such as Brown's. And as in Cedric's case, I was encouraged by an established journalist, a Washington Post editor and Harvard man who invited me to tell my story in a first-person feature and urged me to aim higher.
Author Ron Suskind describes Cedric's tentative but hopeful transition with the kind of alf-submerged understanding and decorous exactness with which such underdog stories should be told. Many writers report similar stories with wholesale optimism, in the process fumbling important human and social complexities so that the subject remains, in effect, effaced. This piece is different.
Still, the article is troublesome for three reasons: (1) Notoriety precedes it more than general interest; (2) it indicates a shortage of Cedrics exercising power with their own words, without outside assistance; (3) it suggests that Brown is removed from the very populations and realities that inspired the progressive New Curriculum.
Readers who are aware of such issues will see Jennings's heroism tenfold.Jonathan Yoder '90
I was extremely bothered by the tone of self-congratulation put forward by the cover piece on Cedric Jennings. While his adjustment to life at Brown seems not to have been easy, to suggest that this very, very bright young man is a "fish out of water" is to imply that Brown is a school for bluebloods. Did it occur to you that his discomfort may say less about his lack of preparation for Brown than it does about the University's unwillingness to reflect the presence on campus, materially or symbolically, of anyone but dead white men?
Moreover, for all his uncertainty in social matters, Cedric Jennings is not the first student from unfortunate circumstances to succeed at Brown. It is loathsome that your article would somehow suggest this. Doing so implies that working-class whites who have matriculated at Brown do not manifest the same anxieties, and it also ignores that this student was destined for Brown just as surely as the banker's or doctor's son. His mother, his church, and his teachers all conspired not only to get him to Providence and Brown, but beyond.
Ultimately, I would say that Cedric Jennings is not a fish out of water; he's more akin to a salmon accustomed to swimming against the tide.Herman Beavers '83 A.M.
From Error, Wisdom
Thank you to the BAM and Augustus White III '57 for his essay, "Memoriam" (Finally, May/June), written for our war dead and especially for those who died in Vietnam.
Dr. White is correct to point to the disproportionate number of African Americans listed on the Vietnam Memorial. The same is true for Hispanic Americans, whose names, more distinguishable, pop out as you gaze at the wall. The same is also true for rural, economically disadvantaged Caucasians. In my home county, possibly the poorest in New York State, this imbalance is evidenced in a larger-than-normal population of Vietnam veterans, most of whom were born in rural areas and have returned.
I tend to believe that the disproportionate representation of African-American and Hispanic-American military personnel in Vietnam was caused by an economic bias that similarly snared many poor white soldiers. The process by which we filled our military manpower needs and, in particular, our infantry needs was one of our great mistakes in Vietnam, second only to entering the war and then prolonging it as we did.
But mistakes can provide wisdom, and Dr. White urges just that. "Those of us who came home from Vietnam," he writes, "feel a deep sense of obligation to those who didn't. What can we do? We can do everything possible to prevent such a war from happening again." As fellow Vietnam veterans, my wife, Nellie, and I want to echo Dr. White's words.
Finally, I thank Dr. White for serving in Vietnam. Surely, as a doctor he could have avoided that service. Through the immense efforts of the doctors and nurses in Vietnam, 250,000 war casualties (my-self included) were able to return home. Without that largely volunteer force of medical personnel, our return would not have been possible.Thomas F. Coakley '68
Year of IconoclastsMy brother, Bill Birnbaum '75, alerted me to the article by Thomas Mallon '73 ("The Year of Thinking Dangerously," May/ June). It is illustrated by several photographs, including one that shows a "lone dissenter" holding a sign that says: "NO! KEEP BROWN OPEN!"
I am the person who created and held up that sign in the spring of 1970. I felt I was right then. To this day I remain perplexed at the naÔvetČ of my fellow students who thought that closing a university was an effective way to deal with a critical national issue.
But lest my friends from that era think I was some sort of reactionary who wrote letters to Henry Kissinger urging him to nuke North Vietnam, let me quote from the high-school graduation speech I gave three years earlier. In it, I told a far more hawkish central California audience, including at least one classmate doomed to die in a Vietnamese jungle, "The protest of our students arises not from disloyalty, but from a sincere patriotism and love of peace."
And so I think one last time of another classmate, Bill Camp, Bullard High School, our best cross-country runner, whose speed proved no match for the muzzle velocity of an AK-47. Wasn't that a time? Wasn't that a place? From dissent came consensus and, finally, peace.Alan M. Birnbaum '71
Thomas Mallon's article helped me identify my own years at Brown on the cultural and ideological continuum. It's clear that we lived in a simpler climate than his. Our hottest political issue was stockpiling cyanide, and the only "lottery" that got campuswide attention was held by the residential-life office.
Thanks for one of the best BAM issues I've read in a long time.Karen Levy Gooen '85
I enjoyed reading Thomas Mallon's remembrances of our freshman year, and I'm happy to report that our class still maintains its iconoclastic character.
This May, during our 25th reunion dinner in Andrews Dining Hall, the fire alarm went off just as dessert was being served. After looking around to see that there was no smoke or fire, we diners returned to our meals. To the disbelief of the college-aged wait staff, not one person got up to leave the building.
After several minutes of flashing lights and blaring fire horns, the waiters and waitresses began to run around, waving their arms and asking us to leave. We moseyed outside onto the terrace, many of us holding glasses and bottles of wine. Fortunately, our collective skepticism was justified: the alarm had been set off by smoke from broiling in the kitchen.
We were students at an extraordinary time, and I consider myself lucky to have been part of that era. It was heartening to see that my classmates continue to question authority and rules, if not common sense itself, as we grow gray hair and morph into middle age.Eric B. Einstein '73
Like Thomas Mallon, I was prompted last fall to look back at our tumultuous freshman year. I traveled to the archives at the John Hay Library last November to browse through faded volumes of the Brown Daily Herald from that academic year.
My purpose, however, was more than an exercise in reminiscence: I was writing a graduate history paper on the 1950s and 1960s, with the student strike as the last big gasp of the then-fading antiwar movement.
If Mr. Mallon (or anyone else) would like to share their experiences of May 1970, please do so at the e-mail address below.Lynda Durfee '73
Gender-Free GreekI enjoyed the essay by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer '98 (Studentside, May/June) emphasizing the strengths of coeducational fraternities. I want to correct a small error: there are three, not two, coed fraternities at Brown.
The Greek Council at Brown defines a fraternity as an organization with Greek letters in its name, so when Delta Psi changed its name to St. Anthony Hall, the council ceased to count it as a fraternity. Nonetheless, St. Anthony Hall continues to offer the positive aspects of fraternal life - community, support, and fraternal bonds - without the sophomoric stereotypes too often associated with Greek-letter organizations. St. Anthony Hall changed its name at the national level precisely to distance itself from such perceptions.
St. Anthony Hall is the only fraternity at Brown with a national structure that recognizes its sisters as full and equal members. In contrast to Zeta Psi's unfortunate experience with its national organization, the first national president of St. Anthony Hall, elected in 1995, was a woman.
Most of all, I would like to emphasize Ms. Balzer's point, that a group of people of honor will, in general, have much more to offer one another than any comparable, but less diverse, association. My days in the Hall would have been poorer without the sisters - and I never would have met my wife.Chris Maden '94
The writer is secretary of the St. Anthony Trust of Rhode Island Inc.
Agog Over Gee
Sometimes everything comes together in life - for example, the right president at the right time, in the right place, with gorgeous weather, at Brown's 1998 Commencement.
President Gee is that president - a lively, bright-eyed man full of positive thinking who is going to take Brown where it's never been before. He has the attitude of a man who sees things that never were and asks why not! He speaks Latin well, finished the Commencement program in record time, and is in the mold of the original purpose of Brown: "to train young men of good character for the ministry."
In the year 2000, he may not be averse to opening a law school at Brown. What more can we ask?Winifred Kiernan '51
Too Good to Be True
It's time for a "fanaticide."
In a convoluted part of the world, Asia Minor is so extremely convoluted that I myself cannot be sure of my roots. For all I know, my ancestors beyond the fifth generation might turn out to be more Armenian than Peter Balakian's ("Armenian Genocide," Mail, May/June).
Instead of perpetuating round-trip hatred, I, for one, am ready to admit Balakian's genocide accusation [against Turkey], if it would help anyone. But better, let's murder fanaticism of all sorts, for good.Suha Selâmoglu '64 Ph.D.
Lost in (Very Tight) Space
One of the rewards of being a Brown alumna is the opportunity to participate in the Commencement procession down College Hill. No other University event offers a greater sense of the Brown family, especially if the sun is shining.
On the morning of May 25, with class banner and fellow classmates, I entered the line. Frequent greetings, intermittent applause, many smiles, and an extended handshake from President Gee were offered from the sidelines. As we marched through the Van Wickle Gates, the staff directed us to either side, and we were told to group closely together in front of '53, behind '58 and '63. Bunched so tightly, we found it difficult to view those who followed and far more difficult to applaud and congratulate the graduates.
We were soon disappointed to discover that the procession had disintegrated in front of the Rhode Island School of Design museum. Since everyone had been packed so tightly, the length of the procession had been shortened, and it did not reach the Meeting House. This year, pageantry was lost.
The staff's anxiety to ensure adequate space for the graduates at the conclusion of the line resulted in a complete disruption of this wonderful event. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th reunion. I look forward to the traditional procession.Diane E. Scola '59
Director of Special Events William J. Slack responds:
In 1981, at my first Commencement, Brown's procession included approximately 3,000 people; in 1998, we estimate there were close to 7,000 faculty, alumni, parent-educators, Corporation members, undergraduates, medical students, and graduate students in the procession. Several years ago, we considered lengthening the route to accommodate larger turnouts, but ultimately we chose to maintain the traditional line of the march. Instead, alumni now line up two deep along College Hill as the seniors pass by. While we wish such a compromise weren't necessary, we are pleased to note that almost everyone continues to smile throughout the march.
Deaf, Not Impaired
Regarding the article by Bill Glovin, "Talking Hands: A New Jersey couple brings the gift of language to hearing-impaired Nicaraguans" (Portrait, March/ April): I am taking a class in American Sign Language at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I just wanted to let you know that hearing-impaired is not a more politically correct term than deaf.
Deaf people dislike the word hearing-impaired, because it implies that something about them is broken and needs to be fixed. They don't see themselves as broken ears, but as whole and complete people. They much prefer to be referred to simply as "deaf," a term that describes without judging.Emily Benwitz
In his letter, Alfred Miranda '46 states that "liberalism at Brown has...finally gone too far" because the University offers courses on gay and lesbian issues, conducted by gay and lesbian faculty ("Brown Has Gone Too Far," Mail, July/ August). He also threatens to discontinue his annual contributions and to take Brown out of his will.
What puzzles me is Mr. Miranda's use of the term liberalism. I'm sure that Brown, as well as society, has become more liberal since he attended in the 1940s. However, it is incorrect to say that Brown has become too liberal, or that Brown is liberal at all, simply because it offers courses that interest students and that allow them to explore important issues.
Mr. Miranda's evident homophobia makes me wonder if he also feels Brown is too "liberal" because it offers courses on women's and ethnic issues, taught by (you guessed it!) mainly women and people of color. Although the experiences of gays, women, and people of color differ, in one important way these people are the same: they did not choose their identity.
I'm proud that Brown offers courses that help so many students to understand themselves better. I know such courses helped me. Chances are they would benefit someone Mr. Miranda knows, as well.Peggy Ku '97
Forest Hills, N.Y.
Seeking Day-Care Alumni
The Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center (formerly Brown/Fox Point Day Care Center) will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary this fall. Some of the BAM's readers enrolled children there while completing graduate studies at Brown, and we'd like to reach those parents.
We're looking for all kinds of information: Where are the children now? Where are they going to school or working? What activities do they remember best? Which teachers and friends do they remember? What do the parents remember most clearly?
We're hoping to create a display melding past and present. If you can spare photos, we'd love to see them. Current ones would be great; so all can see how everyone has grown.
If you're interested in our anniversary celebration, please contact director Leslie Gell '82: (401) 521-5460; 150 Hope St., Providence 02906.Dorcas E. Metcalf '90
Classic Jazz for a Good Cause
On Saturday, October 24, the Brown University Club of Boston will present a concert featuring the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, with the proceeds benefiting the club's Edward T. Brackett '14 Memorial Scholarship Fund. The cabaret-style concert will take place at 8 p.m. in the fifth-floor lounge of the New England Financial Building, 505 Boylston Street, in the Back Bay section of Boston.
The New Black Eagle Jazz Band has performed to acclaim throughout North America and Europe, drawing its repertoire from the full spectrum of New Orleans jazz - from 1920s classics to Preservation Hall standards. The band features Stan Vincent '57 on trombone.
Tickets for the concert are $25 per person and may be reserved by calling me at (617) 523-1238.Richard B. Mertens '57