Letters to the Editor

Letters: November/December 2021

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. 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.

Views of bygone Yale

I found your feature on vintage postcards of Yale (“Wish You Were Here,” September/October) to be fascinating and a welcomed diversion from the magazine’s usual offerings. I am amazed at the almost complete turnover in Yale facilities that occurred from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, and how much the architectural styles changed to Gothic and Colonial, then Modern.
One critical note: you might have pointed out the complete absence of women and blacks on all the postcards, particularly on the postcard of the crowd outside Commons. You missed the opportunity to emphasize what a totally different place Yale was only one century ago.
James W. Breznay ’61
New York, NY

“Wish you were here” includes a photo of the Colony fraternity building that is mistakenly associated with Book and Snake. The Cloister, now Warner House at 1 Hillhouse Avenue, was the original Book and Snake building. Book and Snake gave The Cloister to Yale in 1933, as is represented by a plaque that is mounted in the reception area of the building today.
John Hullar ’79
Vero Beach, FL

Mr. Hullar is correct; we had our societies confused. The Colony building that was shown was the residential house of the Berzelius society.—Eds.

I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the postcards of vanished Yale buildings. How heartbreaking to know that these fascinating examples of Victorian architecture have been destroyed. And for what? To build the vapid pseudo-something residential colleges of the 1930s and the post-1960s monstrosities! New Haven would be a more architecturally interesting city to walk through if these examples of genuine period architecture were still standing.

A university is the repository of culture and history, and its role is to transmit history and culture to its students. How ironic that Yale systematically destroyed its own history and a portion of the architectural history of the late nineteenth century. But a disdain for history and tradition seems to be part of the American psyche. I bet Oxford and Cambridge don’t tear down their buildings every 50 years!
Alacia Stubbs ’75
Oakland Gardens, NY

The future of voting

When I saw the title of your article “The Future of Voting” (September/October) followed by “Americans are divided,” I anticipated a lively and thought-provoking discussion and debate. Instead it turned out to be a position statement. With each side seeing the other as a threat and accusing each other of conspiring to rig, or having already manipulated, our electoral system, maybe we should be listening more to what really is bothering David Blight’s cousins in Michigan and not be dismissing their concerns—or those of any other group of voters. This cannot be where the conversation ends.
Leonard J. Horwitz ’73
Cincinnati, OH

I have been the non-partisan registrar of voters in Napa County, California, for 23 years. Per the mention of the successful 2020 presidential election in the article “The Future of Voting,” I am proud of our five-person staff, our 70 extra-help vote center workers and our 100-plus pandemic screening volunteers who helped conduct the highest turnout election in modern times safely and accurately. I remember Robert Dahl’s 1961 sophomore seminar in political science for which I wrote a paper on gerrymandering. Now I am in the midst of my third decennial redistricting of our county supervisor districts and am careful to avoid any hint of gerrymandering.

Even in our small county (140,000 population) there are conspiracy theorists advocating for a “forensic audit” of the allegedly fraudulent 2020 election. Rather than being discouraged by this local evidence of a national hysteria, I am running again for a seventh four-year term in the June 2022 election. Like the rest of my 7,000 local election official colleagues across the nation, I can guarantee future elections, like all of the other 50-plus elections I have conducted, will be fair, accurate, and secure.

I only hope that the eventual return to sanity discussed in the article will happen before my eighth or ninth term is over.
John Tuteur ’63
Napa, CA

I enjoyed “The Future of Voting” and found it both provocative and truthful. I was particularly impressed with the observation that the 1860s were a time of distinct possibilities toward long-deserved liberties for people of color. The demise of Reconstruction by white supremacist and racist ideas framed a pattern that prevails today. Jacob Hacker is right when he says, “At the heart of the anxiety and anger is a fear about white Americans losing power.”

The false claims of voter fraud by the former president, the Insurrection of January 6th, the enabling GOP that knows better, the new voter suppression laws, and a white constituency that somehow thinks they have been forgotten, all make for another dark trajectory in American history.

W. E. B. Du Bois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., toward the end of their lives, came to discover that simply exposing wrong, giving evidence, and putting forth concise logical arguments does not dissuade racists, white supremacists, nor most of white America or the government for that matter. This article took the racial edge off by using the term “nonwhite” when the reality is clearly about the issue of power and policies between the races as it relates to suffrage and the results thereof.

I think this article may have been better served had it concluded with ways that ordinary people may confront this rehashed wave of oppression. What we really need is the considerable weight of the universities to lead in this turbulent season. The delicate remarks of hope at the article’s conclusion are nice, but now is the time for bold action from those who are clear-eyed about the unjust past and the urgency of this political moment. The more relevant question is, what should we do about the future of voting?
Anthony Wilcots ’92STM
Spring, TX

Football blues

Jeffrey Manning’s article about Yale’s attitude toward athletes (“Football and Its Discontents,” September/October) completely resonated with me. I played freshman football with the Class of 1977 before retiring from football to focus on breaking the 35-pound weight record in track and field. Like Mr. Manning, I had the GPA and SAT scores to be a “legitimate Yalie,” but I too fell into the “broad background” target Yale had then, with interest from football, track, and art departments. The prejudice against me getting into Yale in 1973 started in high school, where, in a graduating class of 100, only two of us were accepted. I recall being confronted at my locker by a “legacy” applicant who accused me of stealing his spot at Yale, since his father was an alum and he scored higher on the SAT!

The Yale football group rather embraced our outlier status in the academic community and formed a solid brotherhood. In fact, all the Yalies I remain in regular contact with are former football players. Like Mr. Manning’s peers, the Class of ’77 produced a group of notable graduates in all fields, many of whom have given back to the Yale football program. Gerry Weaver and the late Greg Hall come to mind.

Finally, as a longtime resident of the Atlanta area, I cheer on two Yalie Atlanta Falcons: Jaeden Graham ’18 and Foyesade Oluokun ’17.
Brian Wood ’77
Lawrenceville, GA

A clarification

To paraphrase Scott Innes’s letter in your last issue, I may not have majored in statistics, but bad math still bothers me. In an item about the representation of low and moderate-income students in incoming classes (Campus Clips, September/October) you said that the proportion had increased from 13 percent to 18 percent, a 55 percent increase. Five percentage points is 38 percent of 13. Even a humanities major should be able to recognize that.
Kenneth Wagner ’92MBA
New York, NY

The math was right, but our reporting must have caused some head-scratching. What we should have explained is that during the five years in question (2015–16 to 2019–20), enrollment in Yale College increased, so by 2020, it was 18 percent of a larger denominator. It was in fact the number of students eligible for Pell Grants that grew by 55 percent.—Eds.

A mentor for book lovers

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Stephen Parks ’61, curator of the Osborn Collection and an important part of my Yale experience (Milestones, September/October). While Steve was never my explicit teacher, his love of books meant that any student who expressed an interest in them became a student under his wing. We brought our curiosity, and Steve fed it with invitations to the Beinecke Library for exhibits, visits to the Elizabethan Club, and dinners at his home, where there were always interesting discussions about books and ideas.

He invited Yale students to book events at various clubs when he was in Boston or New York or London. And while we were not his equals, we were not treated too much like students. We were friends and collaborators in social events with his colleagues, and we got a chance to behave a bit like adults even though we were not quite at that level yet. I feel grateful to have had the experience of knowing Steve during my college years and beyond.
Part of the Yale experience is learning to be an adult and to find one’s lifelong interests. Steve Parks helped me on both of those fronts. He was a teacher whose mentorship and friendship extended beyond my college years. My last occasion to see Steve was about two years ago when we had lunch at Mory’s. We both had the rarebit, talked about books, and reminded each other how lucky we were to be connected through Yale. A happy memory!
Sasha Grutman ’89
New York, NY

I’ll never forget the day during my senior spring in 1987. I was sitting at my desk in the Osborn Collection office at the Beinecke when Steve Parks ’61 said, “Hugh, would you mind running the First Folio over to the Elizabethan Club for me? Matthew can put it back in the safe.”

Of course, Steve was referring to Shakespeare’s first collected edition of plays, printed in 1623, a copy of which sold in 2020 for just under $10 million. Since I’d gained Steve’s confidence over the past few years by cataloguing recent acquisitions like a first edition of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (still unbound in the original paper boards: what?) and countless Alexander Pope letters, I didn’t blink at this request. It was quintessentially Steve to entrust an undergraduate with a book that traveled in its own first-class seat with him on a library loan trip. Still, I kept that big beauty close to my chest during the three-minute walk.

Steve combined the best elements of elite and egalitarian. He was just as comfortable chatting with his house painter, Chubby, as he was with the renowned wine writers and scholars who would gather at his gargantuan New Haven home all year round. And rather than crowing about the two eighteenth-century pottery jugs he’d just added to his personal collection for a song, he was more likely to repeat one of his favorite refrains—“Every day in every way, I’m becoming more and more Gothic!”—before breaking into his great booming laugh.

It was through Steve that I learned about legendary book dealers like Quaritch and Maggs Brothers, esteemed Yale collections like the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, and nonpareil clubs like the Boston Athenaeum, the Elizabethan, and the Club of Odd Volumes. His unflappable optimism and sense of good humor, combined with his intolerance for “professional” librarians, made him a treasured, decades-long friend who never got his hackles up over anything. Well, except incompetence and snobbery.

You think someone like Steve Parks will be around forever, until, amazingly, he isn’t. So I raise a glass of grappa, one of a thousand we probably had together, in his honor. What a total gentleman from first to last. You are sorely missed, my friend.
Hugh Kennedy ’87
Middleton, MA

Parks’s friends and associates can share remembrances, celebrations, and photos at rememberingsteveparks.com.—Eds.

Barbara Tonry remembered

Thank you for your tribute to Barbara Tonry (“A Champion of Champions,” September/October). It is impossible to sum up all that Barbara contributed to Yale and Yale gymnastics in her nearly 50 years as head coach in a single page.
Your article provided a glimpse into her spirit, her excellence, and her absolute dedication to the Yale student athletes who were fortunate enough to know her as a coach, a mentor, and a friend.

Barbara was fiercely devoted to the ongoing struggle to advance women’s athletics at Yale, and she was a tireless advocate for the recognition and support that Yale women deserved. Gymnastics as a sport underwent enormous changes during those 50 years, and Barbara kept pace with the changes, consistently assembling and producing championship teams.

She did not seek credit for the success of Yale gymnastics, preferring to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of her “girls.” Her loss is an incomparable one for Yale, the larger gymnastics community, and women’s sports in general. I will miss her.
Dale Strominger Parenti ’77
Philadelphia, PA

You really captured the essence of the nurturing atmosphere Barb and Don Tonry created on the eighth floor of Payne Whitney. When I arrived on campus in the fall of ’82, I was 5,000 miles and six time zones away from my family. The familiarity of going to the gym helped to keep me grounded. Barb took the time to get to know each of us, to ask about our classes and our personal lives. I remember many a late day after biology labs when it would already be getting dark and I would call the gym to tell Barb I wasn’t going to make it to practice. She would say, “Just come in and run through a couple of routines.” Invariably, I would feel so much better having done so.

She dedicated herself to Yale gymnastics, and generations of us owe so much to her.
Janis Ching ’86
Berkeley, CA

A happy revelation

I recognize the final sentences in the tribute to former admissions dean Worth David ’56 (“Selecting the Student Body,” September/October) about how he “reveled in sharing people’s strengths” and can echo them with a personal encounter.

At home for Christmas following my first semester at Yale, I overheard my grandmother telling a relative that the only reason I had got a place at Yale was because she had asked Jock Whitney (a close friend of hers and huge Yale benefactor) to write a letter on my behalf. I was quietly traumatized by this whispered aside.

Back in New Haven, I went to the admissions office to discover the truth. Was I really only there because a wealthy man (whom I had never met) wrote an endorsement for me? I felt like a fraud.

I was shown into David’s office. He heard my concern and opened my admissions file on his desk.

“There is no letter from Mr. Whitney in here,” he said.

 “But my grandmother implied it was all done confidentially,” was my response.

“We don’t work like that,” said David. “If God himself wrote a letter of recommendation, it would be in the file.” And with a huge smile he said, “Merit helped you into Yale, not a Whitney.”

I have never forgotten that brief and happy encounter. He restored some faith in myself.
Charlie Metcalfe ’85
Lisbon, Portugal

In an item noting remarks by Nicholas Christakis ’84 about the COVID-19 pandemic (“Quoted,” September/October) we used an outdated title for Christakis. He is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, Internal Medicine, and Biomedical Engineering.

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