Letters to the Editor

Letters: July/August 2024

Readers write back about Yale and slavery, Salovey's presidency, and more.

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.

Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo

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The truth about slavery

As a legacy of Peter Salovey’s leadership at Yale and as a testimony to the cumulative power and wisdom of David Blight’s “long obedience in the same direction,” pursuing the truth about our nation’s and our college’s blighted history of slavery and its outflows, and most particularly, in its gathering of the resources of a wide community of scholars and New Haven community members, the Yale and Slavery Project has been a thrilling—if sobering and disturbing—process and its emerging outcomes are equally and ongoingly thrilling (“Yale, Slavery, and Its Aftermaths,” May/June). This is academia at its best: “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and dedicated to telling the truth, however uncomfortable. Thank you, Yale Alumni Magazine, for giving it prominence. Please tell us more as more emerges.
The Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini ’74
Thomaston, ME

The Salovey years

A note of thanks to the Salovey administration (“Salovey Steps Down,” May/June) for its sensitive handling of the turmoil that devastated so many college campuses last spring. By listening to all voices and prioritizing mutual respect, they kept Yale mostly calm and mostly out of the national spotlight.
Stuart Cohen ’70
Santa Fe, NM

I must congratulate you on your glowing assessment of President Salovey’s administration, as that was clearly what you wished to achieve. Unfortunately, you left out some essential factors, and grossly mischaracterized others.

Let’s start with Yale’s abysmal ranking with respect to free speech (234th out of 248 schools), as thoroughly assessed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Factors considered included, among many others, comfort with expressing ideas, disruptive conduct, speech codes, tolerance for conservative vs. liberal speakers, and administrative support.  

Looking more specifically at some of the points made in your article: with respect to the “naming” issue, you noted that Salovey was initially opposed to renaming Calhoun College, and later reversed his position. While you characterized this as a willingness to listen to all sides, many (including myself) would call it caving.  
While he stated that “brilliant teachers . . .elicit all voices,” this must be an indication of lack of brilliance on the Yale faculty. (Or fear of being seen as insufficiently leftist; heck, you can see this demonstrated on a daily basis just by reading Yale Today and observing how the work that is celebrated is overwhelmingly liberal in emphasis.) There is an assumption that more diversity is better, regardless of the implications for quality of students and scholarship.

And finally, as a graduate of the Yale School of Medicine and a close observer of developing trends therein, I can tell you that political correctness has come to dominate even that once fine institution. At a time when there is an even greater volume of essential basic science and clinical medicine than ever to absorb, an unforgivable proportion of time is wasted with liberal indoctrination.
Mark Williams ’79MD
Austin, TX

The panegyric in the May/June issue to Peter Salovey’s presidency made for interesting reading, but the failure to even mention the controversy generated by his leadership role to strip alumni from any meaningful independent representation on the Corporation (aka Board of Trustees) must be called out.

How could the decision by the Corporation to “exorcise” a century-old practice to let alumni choose their own candidates, replaced by a patronizing process effectively controlled by the university, not merit discussion in any complete profile of the Yale’s current president? How was this “a problem to be solved” or the process consistent with the profile’s emphasis on collegiality, transparency, and unity at Yale? It resulted in a widely supported, and funded, lawsuit by numerous alumni who were shocked to get numerous solicitations for donations yet not trusted to put their Yale education to work selecting their own representatives.

Regardless of the merits of this initiative, how is that not newsworthy? This was unquestionably the most contested, and one of the most controversial and consequential, initiatives of his entire presidency.
J. D. White ’73, ’77MD
Potomac, MD

A heroic composer

I especially appreciated your callout to Charles Ives (From the Editor, May/June). All the heroes of my youth have proven to have had clay feet, except for Charles Ives [Class of 1898]. Actually, I’m sure he was human and had clay feet too, but his dogged following of his own inspiration remains an inspiration to me. Your recap of the “Fourth of July” was superb. If I ever hear about a live performance of the full Holiday Symphony anywhere in the world, I’m going.
Tom Erickson ’71
Wallingford, PA

The “From the Editor” page is not normally where I start reading the Yale Alumni Magazine when it arrives. The picture of Charles Ives in the May/June issue, however, caught my eye and arrested my usual quick flip to the “Light and Verity” or “Sporting Life” sections.

I first became aware of Charles Ives in high school, performing an orchestral arrangement of Variations on America, but it was at Yale where I came to appreciate his musical genius. Because of the presence of the Charles Ives papers at Yale and the work of James Sinclair, the Yale Concert Band often performed pieces by Ives—many world premieres pulled from the archives. On one occasion the Yale Precision Marching Band (YPMB) even got into the act, performing an Ives composition at halftime of the 1975 Dartmouth game. The piece consisted of the Yale and Dartmouth bands in block formation at opposite ends of the field, each playing their respective fight songs while marching toward and through the other band. Cacophonous may be the best description. I don’t recall the reaction from the fans in the stands, but I would hazard a guess that it was the one and only performance of the piece.

Thank you for highlighting Charles Ives and his connection to Yale.
John E. P. “Jeep” Morrison ’78
Burr Ridge, IL

A race remembered

I really enjoyed the article on the Trumbull Beer and Bike Race (Old Yale, May/June). As a participant and team rider in the race way back when, I have many memories of the festivities in the Trumbull Courtyard prior to the race, and the race itself. Since racing bikes were not allowed, our team spent hours without much success trying to lighten the heavy standard bike required for the race. But what I remember most is the grueling lap I rode while completely out of shape for bike riding, and how knackered we all were on arrival, too tired to take full advantage of the welcoming festivities!
Ronald K. St. John ’61
Manotick, Ontario

Talking about menopause

I am very disappointed that the magazine would publish the statement that 100 years ago, “women barely lived past their fifties” and “might not have noticed” anything different during menopause (“Pausing Menopause,” May/June). It is factually wrong and absolutely offensive to assert that women were ignorant of their own lived experiences. This lack of personal humility when speaking of others in our digital age is as much a feature of our times as the lack of “modern” menopause treatments were a century ago. We, however, can temper our hubris. Let’s do better.
Ellen LaPorte Robinson ’04MA
Bowie, MD

Our mistake

In your item about Ruth Benedict (Milestones, May/June), you wrote that “when the Yale Alumni Association was founded in 1972, Benedict was the first and only woman on the board of governors.”

As the undergraduate member of that first Board of Governors of the AYA in 1972–73, I very much enjoyed working with Ruth Benedict, who was a wonderful person. Please note, however, that Ruth was not the only woman member to serve on that first AYA Board. Constance L. “Connie” Royster ’72 was also a member.
Edward D. “Wigs” Frank II ’73
Berwyn, PA

Mr. Frank is correct. Our apologies for the error.—Eds.

Finding identity

I thoroughly enjoyed the article on John Gambell’s role in driving the impressive evolution of Yale’s graphic identity (“Persuasive Art,” March/April). Every bit of it resonated with me, given my varied marketing career where so many aspects of this story of Yale’s graphic identity manifested: typography, branding, signage, graphic standards, web design, logos, visual consistency (in no particular order). I would have loved to have worked with John Gambell, as I always found these challenges exciting.

I was fortunate to have had a core role in a number of corporate branding initiatives at top firms like Fidelity Investments (where I led the rollout in the mid 1980s of the logo that is still in use today) and Ameriprise (where I helped spin off the company from American Express’s Financial Advisers division from the branding perspective). I am a firm believer in the power of a strong visual corporate identity in driving business growth, and part of this is developing mastery in creating, maintaining, and evolving that identity. So few of us recognize what goes into this esoterica despite the fact that it is all around us; indeed, I feel it’s near the top of the list of things we take for granted. Thank you for bringing this important creative specialty to life.
Brian Marquis ’82
Austin, TX

A memory of Horowitz

Permit me to append a brief footnote to the marvelous story about Vladimir Horowitz (“Private Audience,” March/April). On November 30, 1980, Horowitz gave his last New Haven recital in Woolsey Hall, and I reviewed the event for the New Haven Register. Although the results were at times disappointing, he nevertheless had some splendid moments, particularly with Scriabin’s Etude in A-flat Major (Op. 8, #8), which moved me to tears, and the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor (Op. 23, #5), with truly electrifying and flawless octaves. It was an honor to cover the recital.
Lenny Cavallaro ’70Grd
Methuen, MA

Getting in to Bones

Special thanks to Mark Alden Branch ’86 for his delightful article on George Douglas Miller and his unique contribution to the “Oxbridge” model which we all enjoyed at Yale (Old Yale, March/April). The history of Weir Hall and the Skull and Bones tomb reminds me of some notable adventures during sophomore year.

Fifty years ago, college gates and entryways remained unlocked at all hours. A couple of us had discovered an interesting way out of the library of Jonathan Edwards College—literally out of a window, over the slate rooftops, down the spiral stairs of one of Miller’s towers, and into the courtyard of Skull and Bones, artfully decorated with a spooky fountain and a disaffected electric chair. Best done at one a.m. or so, foolhardy and probably dangerous, but at age 18 who thinks of liability?

Last weekend in London we celebrated the 70th birthday of my freshman year roommate and dear friend Scott Moeller ’76. Together we remembered that exactly 50 years ago, Yale was first among the Ivy League to pioneer a fad which took US colleges by storm: streaking. But that’s another story.

To this day I treasure these relationships. Our wonderful semesters at Trumbull College witness that such architecture does indeed aid “in the moral and intellectual atmosphere of the College.” George Douglas Miller deserves recognition.
Ory Eshel ’76, ’78MArch
Fontainebleau, France

Where we need to go

Thank you so much for the article exposing Robert Bork’s false promises about the benefits of unrestricted marketism (“Wreak Yourself Upon the World,” January/February). Together with President Salovey’s recent matriculation address and an earlier article about refugees as human beings, the Yale Alumni Magazine is showing us where we need to go. As the president said, we need to go slow and fix things rather than go fast and break things.

Instead, we’ve broken the American social fabric. We’re breaking the environment. We’re physically breaking things overseas with bombs—and creating ever more refugees. It’s time to get back to basics. Compassion and cooperation need to play at least as much of a part as competition and self-seeking.
Stoney Bird ’67
Bellingham, WA

Preventing falls

Senator Joe Lieberman was a classmate of mine in the Class of 1964. Prompted by his sudden and untimely death due to a fall, I sent the following email to my classmates. That email has been warmly received and widely circulated, and I was encouraged to submit it to the magazine for even wider circulation:

As an EMT dealing with medical emergencies of all kinds, I’m well sensitized to the dangers of falls, which are the most frequent cause of ambulance dispatches in my town by more than a factor of two over the next most frequent emergencies (motor vehicle crashes, breathing difficulties). More than a third of seniors in our age bracket report a fall in the last year, and half of those seniors report multiple falls. In short, falls are not just something that happens to other people, and are nothing to take lightly.

Some of my dispatches turn out to be simply lift assists for patients who have fallen and can’t get up. But at our age, falls can have very serious consequences, due to osteoporosis and other frailties, with risks exacerbated if you are on a blood thinner, as many of us are for atrial fibrillation. Head trauma can lead to subdural hematoma (internal bleeding), the deadliest of head injuries. Hip fracture from a fall is common and often devastating, with 50 percent of geriatric patients with a hip fracture dying within six months.

What can you do to keep from falling? Most precautions are quite obvious, once you stop to think about it.

• Develop a healthy fear of falling, even if you’ve never fallen. It only has to happen once.
• Install and use grab bars in your shower and bath.
• Install and use railings on your staircases, preferably on both sides. And install free-standing handrails for your outside steps.
• Be obsessively careful when climbing or descending stairs, watching each step (literally), particularly when going downstairs. Don’t ever carry anything with two hands. Keep one hand free and grip the railing.
• Stay off ladders and stepstools unless you can brace yourself. Let someone else clean the gutters.
• Stay well clear of icy surfaces.
• Consider investing in a medical alert device and wear it all the time, even in the shower. This is particularly important if you live alone. An Apple watch or smartphone may serve much the same purpose, allowing you to call for help, but you’re unlikely to take those devices into the shower with you.
• Exercise for half an hour most days of the week, for strength and balance. And don’t sit in one position for long periods. Stretch and walk around at least once an hour.
• If you have balance issues, use a cane.

My experience is that most 911 fall victims can’t tell you why they fell, which means they weren’t paying close attention to where they put their feet. And if they don’t know why they stumbled, it’s difficult to prevent a recurrence.
Be careful out there!
Sam Francis ’64
Chatham, NJ

Just dessert

During my freshman year at Yale, I worked as a busboy in the dining hall. I enjoyed the strawberry shortcake that was provided annually through the generosity of an alumnus. My kids listened to me tell and retell the story at family gatherings. Two of my daughters (Ann Stanford and Nori Jones) contacted Yale Catering, who sent them the original recipe for the shortcake. At my 93rd birthday party, I was surprised by a strawberry shortcake feast.
Ray Collins ’55
Vienna, VA

The purported endowment for strawberry shortcake in the Yale dining halls was mentioned in the Yale Daily News no fewer than six times between 1932 and 1978—and denied by dining hall officials each time. Regardless, the dessert was clearly a favorite for generations of Elis. We couldn’t resist asking for the recipe ourselves. You can check out the list of ingredients supplied by Yale Catering, and the instructions written by Collins’s family, here.—Eds.

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