Letters to the Editor

Letters: January/February 2020

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

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Congratulations on the art school issue (“150 Years of Art,” November/December), one of your best in many years of bests. I had one very special year at the drama school—1954–55. Bar none, this was the most important year of education in my life (not to mention the lifelong friends I made there). I got married in 1955 and moved to Cambridge; I wanted to commute to Yale, but I was told that was impossible.

I didn’t know that the drama school had originally been part of the art school. Now I don’t feel so guilty about sneaking into the lectures by Louis Kahn and Vincent Scully!

Ruth Wolff ’57Dra
New York, NY

 

As a graduate of the School of Art, I am pleased to see an entire issue devoted to the school’s history. There are, however, a couple of missteps that should be pointed out.

One, Walker Evans did not introduce the subject of photography into the art school curriculum. Photography was a part of the School of Art as reorganized under Albers’s direction. Several photographers—notably Herbert Matter and John T. Hill—preceded Evans on the Yale faculty. Evans did not begin teaching until late 1964, and then as a professor of graphic design. This history is recounted in an interview with Alvin Eisenman published in the Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 2006.

Also, individual pictures in the article on the school’s history are not attributed to the individual photographers. This oversight is particularly surprising, since at least one of these was taken by a School of Art graduate.

Jerry L. Thompson ’73MFA
Amenia, NY

 

We regret the error. Some of the photos were taken from a documentary film about the school and were not credited. Mr. Thompson tells us that he took the photo of Walker Evans that appears on page 41.—Eds.

 

My mother (Bernice Rose Segaloff, Mrs. Louis Loss) earned a BFA in 1936. She always emphasized that this was, for her, college; her coursework was about half liberal arts, in the same classes as the Yale college men, and half in the School of Art.

In this “brief history” of the school, I hoped to see some mention of the women who could be found in the ’30s in the same classes as the undergraduate men. To the women who arrived on campus starting in 1969, this comes as a surprise.

Margaret R. Loss ’70LLB
Cambridge, MA

 

I would like to bring to your attention an editorial oversight on identifying a photograph in the feature article “150 Years of Art.” In the section on Lois Conner’s photographic work, the larger image on Page 43 showing a landscape in China should be “Huangshan,” not “Hangzhou.”

The cone-shaped mountain is a well-known site at Mount Huang (or Huangshan, literally meaning “yellow mountain”) in Anhui province, which is correctly identified in the description line attached to the picture. The distinct characteristic of the mountains in the Huangshan range is unmistakable to people who know of the historical landmark in eastern China, while Hangzhou is the capital city in Zhejiang province, some 130 miles east of Huangshan.

Ling-Yi Chien ’92MA
Belleville, NJ

 

Who’s on the walls?

The issue of representation in the portraits at the Sterling Hall of Medicine (“Who Belongs? November/December) is not unique to Sterling, or to Yale. The portraits were surely meant to honor individuals associated with the school, with no thought—even in that hall of medicine—of side effects on later generations obliged to pass beneath stern bewigged or high-collared visages from the past.

Those luminaries deserve honor, but not to the point of intimidating or repelling today’s more diverse student/faculty/staff population. Space is too limited here to spell out or defend alternatives; but they exist, if not as a clear “road map.” Yale’s Secretary and Vice President for University Life [Kimberly M. Goff-Crews ’83, ’86JD] would do well to explore them as a part of the Belonging at Yale initiative.

Ron Sipherd ’64
Oakland, CA

 

I take it as given that the men and women whose portraits hang in the med school halls are there because of outstanding contributions to medicine, Yale, or both. They looked the way they looked because that was who they were. Times have changed, but history doesn’t. Any current med student who feels “judged and unwelcome” or “disapproved” because of those portraits should reconsider joining a profession that requires empathy, compassion, acceptance of human imperfection, courage, realism, and self-confidence.

Michael DiGiacomo ’68
New York, NY

 

I read with interest the brief piece on Drs. Anderson and Fitzsousa’s study about the portraits in Sterling Hall of Medicine, and their conclusion that medical students of color do not see themselves represented in the School of Medicine at Yale.

In 2017, I was commissioned by the Harvard School of Public Health to create an installation for a conference on the legacy of slavery at Harvard; specifically, I was challenged with the prompt: “What would the school look like now if slavery (and the institutionalized racism it engendered) had not existed?” Walking into the main atrium at HSPH for the first time, I was confronted by 14 large oil portraits of white men, hung up high, and I recognized what I needed to do. (The phenomenon of the “dude wall” at academic institutions is well known by now.)

My Ghost Portraits installation places images of significant (but often unacknowledged) African Americans and Native Americans who made lasting contributions to public health from the nineteenth century onward. Research for this piece led me from the archives of some of the country’s historically black universities to tiny historical societies across the country, in search of photographs. The portraits are black and white, and translucent, so that when hung alongside the existing color portraits, they are a ghostly reminder (and a rebuke) about who was not chosen for inclusion in this space.

I was later told that some members of the HSPH community, students and staff alike, wept as the piece was installed because they were so happy to see themselves on the walls. Such is the power of representation, as Anderson and Fitzsousa understand.

Lisa Rosowsky ’92MFA
Framingham, MA

 

Admitting low-income students

It is great to see that the university’s endowment has grown to over $30 billion, and that, beginning next fall, students from families earning less than $75,000 per year will not have to pay anything toward their Yale College term bill (Campus Clips, November/December).

It’s common knowledge that Yale students disproportionately come from high-income families. According to a recent New York Times article, 19 percent of undergraduates are from families in the top 1 percent (households earning over $630,000), while only 2.1 percent come from families in the bottom 20 percent.

Yale enthusiastically publicizes its financial aid for students from lower-income households, but it never seems to mention how much it is actually allocating towards it.

Exactly how many Yale College students come from families earning less than $75,000? Why doesn’t the university publish that?

With a $30 billion endowment, perhaps Yale ought to be more generous towards deserving undergraduates, especially considering the national and campus concerns about income inequality, socioeconomic diversity, and social mobility.

John M. Dusza ’03MBA
Madison, CT 


We asked Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan ’03 to address the questions in this letter. Here is his response: “Yale College awarded more than $182 million in undergraduate financial aid for the current academic year. More than half of Yale College students receive need-based scholarship aid from the university, and 64 percent receive financial assistance from Yale or another source.

“Although Yale does not publish a distribution of financial aid awarded by income tier (in part because of the significant proportion of international students who receive need-based financial aid), more than 1,000 current undergraduates receive a federal Pell Grant for low-income students, and nearly 22 percent of the first-year class either received a Pell Grant or received a financial aid award with a ‘zero parent share’—the type of award highlighted in our recent announcement.

“The data cited in the New York Times and other publications come from an important and impressive study conducted by the Equality of Opportunity Project (now Opportunity Insights), but it is now significantly outdated: the data are restricted to students enrolling between 1999 and 2013. Since becoming dean of admissions in 2013, I have made increasing socioeconomic diversity in Yale College one of my top priorities, and in the past six years, the number of Pell-eligible students in the first-year class has nearly doubled. The opening of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges has enabled us to make a Yale education accessible to hundreds more students, and I am pleased that the Yale student body includes a more diverse collection of experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and identities than ever before.”


A woman of ’69 who left

I was a transfer student from Barnard College in 1969 (“The Women Who Changed Yale College,” September/October), but returned to Barnard and Columbia, having found the unfriendly atmosphere for young women at Yale not conducive to a college education. I hear it’s changed since then.

My memories of Yale are mixed. Taking an American history course with John Morton Blum was exhilarating; he was by far the best professor I had during my college years. But a history seminar (I don’t remember which) was led by a professor who asked me to add “the female point of view” to a discussion. Coming from Barnard, coed classes at Columbia, and a coed high school, it never occurred to me that there was a male or female opinion about American history. I was mortified when the seven young men sitting around the table turned to look at me and waited for my special “point of view.”

I was given a wonderful single room, wood-paneled, with a bay window, in Davenport College—certainly more luxurious than the 14th-floor suite I’d shared in Barnard’s Plimpton Hall. In the Davenport dining hall, more than once my male classmates stood up and left a table when I sat to join them. One of them muttered, “I wouldn’t have come here if I knew there were going to be girls.” A lovely setting didn’t compensate for the very distinct feeling that I was not welcome, at Davenport or at the college as a whole.

In the summer of 1967, I’d worked in an anti-poverty program and lived in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone with other college students. The year before I’d worked for New York mayor John Lindsay as an intern, sometimes assigned to a public project in Brooklyn’s Brownsville. Perhaps my decision to leave Yale was made one evening when Rhody McCoy, the head of Brooklyn’s Ocean Hill–Brownsville school district, and one of the combatants in the 1968 New York City teachers’ strike, came to speak to Davenport students about local control of schools. As I remember, a group of students was invited to the dean’s lodgings after dinner to listen to Mr. McCoy. I’d lived through that tumultuous time the year before in New York. But watching my Yale classmates, stretched out on the dean’s oriental rug, asking legitimate but naïve questions about public schools woke me up to just how out of place I really was.

I was sad to give up on the Yale experiment, but I must admit I was relieved to return to Barnard and Columbia, where young women and men shared classrooms, dining halls, and even broken elevators. 

It felt like home.

Sarah (Sally) Button White
Williamstown, MA



Navigating Yale on wheels

Regarding your photo of Wall Street, recently converted to a pedestrian path (“Yale Students Walk the Walk,” November/December): from my narrow perspective, what Yale giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. I am working out of a wheelchair. The sidewalks on campus tilt toward the street. As I roll along in my chariot, I must constantly fight the gravitational pull toward the street. The pedestrian paths are much easier to negotiate.

Until Wall Street was closed to traffic, when I came to Sterling Library, my wife would stop, illegally, at the corner where Beinecke, Sterling, and the Law School meet. She would pull my wheelchair out of the back of our vehicle and assemble it, allowing me to transfer and then roll myself to Sterling.

Recently, I tried to go to Sterling Library—but because of construction, we couldn’t find a place to stop that was safe enough and close enough for the necessary transfer to take place without exposing me to traffic on what may well be the most dangerous street in town. We gave up and came home.

Since 2011, my experiences on campus have been positive. The students have been wonderful. One day, two young men came close to fisticuffs because they both wanted to assist me. We reached a détente. As an alumnus, I have been able to buy library privileges, but I don’t have access to the stacks, which are too close together and too high. The good people on the Sterling staff assigned me a study carrel so that I could order books.

Most of the research I have left to do involves miles and miles of microfilm. I became uncomfortable down in that cave because I couldn’t figure out how I would get out of there, should there be a fire or blackout. The same good people at Sterling told me about a place, on ground level, where I can read microfilm. All I have to do now is to stop procrastinating.

Robert Hinton ’93PhD
Hamden, CT



Protest at The Game

Yale promptly called “regrettable” the climate-activist disruption of The Game (“Climate Protest Delays The Game,” this issue). Far more regrettable is what is happening to our planet and our future. My city divested from fossil-fuel investments fully seven years ago. What are you waiting for, Yale?

Kevin McKeown ’69
Santa Monica, CA

Mr. McKeown is mayor of Santa Monica.

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