Letters to the Editor

Letters: November/December 2020

Readers—and the editor—respond to last issue's letters about racism.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed 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.

Letters about letters about racism

I was struck by the impatience and lack of empathy in some alumni responses to your July/August essays on racism (Letters, September/October). My father, who remembered his eastern European shtetl as a battleground in World War I, built a middle-class life for himself and his family in America. But he feared that at Yale I would face the type of racialism and anti-Semitism that he encountered.

He was wrong—mostly. I thrived as a student, athlete, and an active Hillel member. Few football teammates knew I was Jewish; fewer cared. But when I returned to my kosher home and observant parents, or attended synagogue, there were always reminders that, for millennia, wherever Jews lived, they were the “others.” Rich or poor, their lives depended on the (historically temporary) forbearance of their rulers and neighbors.

It is the Jewish new year as I write. Woven throughout the observances are the reminders of how impermanent the life of the individual is and how perilous the survival of our community. The Charlottesville riot, the fatal attacks on synagogues, and the rise of the right show me that my white face (notwithstanding my Yale education) does not guarantee permanent protection.

I do not interpret the lack of empathy as racism but as an inability to imagine the experience of the “other.” Neither Yale degree nor academic status protects a black person from being stopped on the road or street for the mere fact of having a different skin color. The first-century Jewish sage Hillel was asked by a non-Jew to summarize Judaism while standing on one foot. He replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary.” Moral conscience is the foundation of empathy.
Stanley Riveles ’63
El Prado, NM

I was appalled to read some of the letters to the editor in the September/October issue, presented with no comment from the magazine. That we have a fair number of alumni who lack the curiosity, compassion, and critical thinking skills to recognize their positionality and privilege, or even demonstrate a peripheral understanding of US history, was disappointing, but not surprising. That you presented those readers’ views as deserving of even some of the attention and recognition afforded to those shared in the essays in your July/August issue was shameful.

Racism is not a valid viewpoint that deserves “equal time,” and there is no room for neutrality when confronted with racism. Silently offering space for hate to be shared with our community is not only an endorsement of that hate; it further strengthens the systems that perpetuate racism in our society by sending a clear message to our community that racist opinions are valid and welcome. You had the platform to provide context; your silence spoke volumes. I expect to read a full apology from the magazine to the Yale professors who shared their experiences and to all of your readers who were subjected to the racist diatribes you printed. Yale should be better than this; the Yale Alumni Magazine should be better than this. Please do better.
Gabrielle McColgan ’00
Moss Beach, CA

The letters we printed were an accurate cross-sample of those we received after publishing three essays on racism, written by black professors at Yale for our July/August issue. Some of those letters were highly offensive, and the decision whether or not to print any of them was a difficult one. We consulted the authors of the essays for advice; they encouraged us to publish. We agreed, feeling it was important for alumni to see that the polarizing viewpoints and deep biases that exist in our country also live in our own community.

That said: I regret that I did not think to include a statement that neither Yale nor the Yale Alumni Magazine condones racism. To quote President Peter Salovey, “a pattern of racial injustice . . . has become too familiar in our country and
 . . . amounts to a national emergency.” We hope to help reduce that pattern, not to expand it.—Kathrin Day Lassila, Editor

Your September/October issue features dangerously hateful and racist “letters” in response to three Yale professors’ essays about racism. I am disappointed and ashamed for the magazine for publishing pieces that encourage continued harassment and violence against our Black colleagues and aim to erase and detract from the voices of Black people.

The Yale Alumni Magazine should not be giving yet another platform to ignorant and self-centered white supremacists. Such blatantly racist “viewpoints” do not need to be amplified. They put the livelihood and safety of Black people at risk.
You should immediately issue an apology and retract this issue. Please unsubscribe me from this publication. I would be embarrassed to continue supporting a publication that feeds hate toward Black community members.
Maria S. Melchor ’18
New York, NY

“Another article on racism?” one of your letter writers asked. Yes, and hopefully there will be many more. The lack of knowledge and compassion by too many respected Yale graduates is proof that many more articles are needed. America’s unique and long history of chattel slavery and Jim Crow oppression—together with current laws and customs—continue to oppress our Black sisters and brothers. These facts are not meant to make us white folks feel guilty or shamed but rather to motivate us to use our unearned white privilege in eliminating both personal and systemic racism in our country.
Sylvia Metzler ’84MSN
Philadelphia, PA


Regarding your article on Brian Wallach ’03 and his work (“Service to Others. On Borrowed Time,” September/October): I have followed Brian on Twitter for a long time. I even have an I AM ALS tattoo on my arm. He is constantly an inspiration to others, and I am so proud of him for founding I AM ALS, which is patient-focused. His team is always growing in their hard work to help all involved in the ALS community. He is a strong, fierce warrior, and we are all thankful for his selflessness and his steadfast battle to end ALS. Thank you Brian.
Kristen Shea
Atkinson, NH

Books for kids

I so enjoyed your articles on children’s books (“How Imagination Begins,” September/October), and I wanted to weigh in. I’m a longtime Elisha Cooper fan and a freelance illustrator/cartoonist myself, and the way you coupled him with other Yale kids’ lit author/illustrators was both succinct and informative. It’s refreshing to have a piece like that, particularly in these troubled times when kids are more in need than ever of good stories and pictures.
Catherine Carlson ’78PhD
Branford, CT

More on McCarthy

I’m another Yalie who had an encounter with McCarthy (“The Demagogue,” September/October). I graduated in 1950 and was drafted into the Army to serve during the Korean War. After infantry basic training, I was sent to officer candidate school and, commissioned in 1952, assigned as a screenwriter to the Signal Corps Pictorial Center in Astoria, Queens.

At the SCPC, I helped to make a variety of films. A few of them were on highly classified subjects that required a high security clearance. I also made a handful of films assembled from scraps of news stories, one of which, made at the request of the US Information Agency, was about a children’s playground in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, created and assembled from obsolete computer equipment discarded by the national Atomic Energy Laboratory there. This film showed nothing remotely classified. It was used by the USIA as a propaganda film (swords into ploughshares) and deliberately shown in Berlin’s Eastern Zone.

One day in the late summer of 1952, all of the junior officers (I was then a second lieutenant) were summoned to the studio’s main theater and addressed by our commanding officer, who told us that Senator McCarthy was investigating the Signal Corps because we were “riddled with traitors and Communists.” We were instructed to gather all the receipts we had received when we returned classified documents and scripts for classified films and give all of these to the post librarian. We were told, under threat of courts martial, that none of us was allowed to speak to the press or to McCarthy or his aides.

McCarthy, “investigating” the First Army, and in particular the Signal Corps, was operating from the courthouse in lower Manhattan, assisted by Roy Cohn. He gave out daily bulletins of our traitorous doings. One of his most trumpeted findings was the revelation that we had passed a highly classified film on “secret laboratory equipment for atomic energy” to the East Germans. We had no rebuttal and no chance to set the record straight.

How I loved the Army-McCarthy hearings.
David Mayer ’50
Manchester, UK

On April 14, 1954, Joseph McCarthy was near his prime in finding and accusing alleged Communist sympathizers. That evening, Woolsey Hall was packed, rowdy, and hosting a debate centered on Mr. McCarthy and his methods. Two recent pro-McCarthy Yale graduates, Brent Bozell Jr. ’50, ’53LLB, and William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, were arguing against two anti-McCarthy Yale Law School professors, Vern Countryman and Fowler Harper.

A freshman at the time, I had spent the day inviting others to accompany me to witness the debate. No luck. At the entrance to Woolsey, I was informed that there was only one spot left.  It turned out to be the best location in the house:  cross-legged on the stage floor, maybe six feet directly behind the speaker at the lectern.

My memory of the night is the way Buckley, with wit and charm, turned the audience that had started out visibly very much against anything relating to McCarthy. Seeking to verify my recall, I came across an article about the debate in the Yale Daily News that vividly reinforces what I had witnessed: “The same audience which entered Woolsey Hall in a spirit of mockery came out with a new feeling toward a man whom it had wanted to crucify.”

What scared me then was the way that humor and wit could so successfully win over an audience. Although McCarthy did not win reelection until November 1954, the day after the Woolsey Hall debate McCarthy partisans could say again, “Joe won in Connecticut.”
Warren Clein ’57
Gladwyne, PA

On Margaret Holloway

Thank you for the moving tribute to Margaret Holloway, “the Shakespeare Lady” who eked out a living by acting on the streets of New Haven (“Saying Goodbye to Margaret Holloway,” September/October). Her life story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
Hamilton Osborne Jr. ’68LLB
Columbia, SC

Renaming Yale

Your Light and Verity article, “A Renaming Question Very Close to Home” (September/October) was neither being “light” nor dealing in “verity,” if that still means the whole truth or the honest truth. Rather, Mark Alden Branch ’86 was spinning an argument that simply dismisses the fact that Elihu Yale was, in truth, a man who profited greatly from the slave trade and who is, arguably, neither better nor worse, in terms of losing things named after him, than, say, Woodrow Wilson, to just mention one name.

But what is really reprehensible is that Mr. Branch seeks to deal with the issues at hand principally by citing the fact that several conservative commentators, most notably Roger Kimball ’82MPhil, have been most vocal in terms of pointing out Mr. Yale’s history and indicating its logical implications, given things such as the renaming of Calhoun College and the establishment of a process for “renaming” things at Yale. Rather than admitting that Mr. Kimball was raising an issue that, logically, deserved to be discussed, Mr. Branch described his involvement as “ironic,” simply because he is a well-known conservative. What does the question have to do with whether those raising it have any particular political orientation?
Then, simply to dismiss any more real discussion, Mr. Branch writes that President Salovey, in the name of the university administration, “didn’t take the bait,” clearly implying that those raising the issue were just “baiting” Yale, rather than raising an issue worthy of real discussion.

From then on, having totally dismissed the issue under discussion, Mr. Branch provides a thin argument as to why it really would not be correct to think about renaming Yale because of the history of Elihu Yale. Not a bad effort, but very obviously all concocted after the decision has been made not really to tackle the fundamental question at issue.

And to finish by citing a comment by Graeme Wood—to the effect that “The name Yale does not belong to Elihu but to the university, with all its faults and virtues not his”—is just too clever by more than half. Please tell this to those who are trying to rename things like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial and eliminate the name of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford.

By the by, I am not the one who would advocate renaming Yale. But to have the matter dismissed by the logic put forward by Mr. Branch is, frankly, insulting.
Richard R. West ’60
Sun City West, AZ

Whatever one’s views about “renaming” Yale, your article seems to ignore a clear relationship between two of its central points: namely, that the 562-pound gift that is described as “Elihu Yale’s principal legacy” derived, in some unknown proportion, from his “over[seeing] an operation that traded . . . [in part] in human slaves,” and from which he “profited” (per the J. Yannielli citation). Whatever one’s views about renaming, that relationship cannot simply be swept aside with the easy rhetoric of the column’s conclusion.
Jeff Orleans, ’67, ’71JD
Princeton, NJ

Reach out

This past spring, my daughter in the Yale College Class of ’22 received a large box of books as part of her summer internship preparation. Included was That’s What She Said, by Joanne Lipman of the great Class of 1983. That class meant a lot to me, a first-year welcomed into the fold by those pictured in Lipman’s article (“Quarantinis,” September/October).

I told my daughter, now living in off-campus housing, with her wonderful classmates packed into their cozy, COVID-free bubbles, that while this new academic experience is disappointing, life is much worse for those who might feel isolated. I asked her to please reach out to those students who were mandated to stay distanced, and to those who are not as extroverted, popular, and lucky to have found a similar, loving community.

By so doing she will shed light into someone else’s college years and make them brighter. It will make all of the difference, as it did once for me.
Caren Craig ’84
Glen Arm, MD

Solace in books

Your September/October “From the Editor” column about Leonard Marcus and children’s literature is so fine in so many ways. I recall having the measles in the late 1950s. I was young, miserable, and afraid. I was in a dark room for a good portion of the illness. The highlight of my recovery, if you can call it that, was my mother coming in at night to read to me. The two books that made me “feel better” were Goodnight Moon, which my aunt had ordered and sent to the house, and Robert McCloskey’s A Time of Wonder, which my sister had checked out from her school’s library. Both books distracted me so I could escape my illness for a while and sleep.
Augustus E. Succop III ’79MDiv
Davidson, NC

Hail Herbie

Kudos to Yale for bestowing upon Herbie Hancock an honorary degree of Doctor of Music (“Commencement ’20,” July/August). He certainly was most deserving of such an award. During my undergrad years, his song “Chameleon,” off the Headhunters LP, became the “bump” song along with the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes, We Can Can.” For those two songs, fellas who had never danced before ventured onto the dance floor.

Hopefully, more of the musicians of that era will be so honored.
Harold Gray ’74
Columbus, OH

A Yale mom's devotion

Through generations of Yalies, part of the honor of being admitted is the accompanying pride that parents take in their child’s accomplishment. In this instance, it is with deep pride that I shine a light on my beautiful mom, Elinor H. Flatow, who served for an unprecedented 33 years as chair of past parents of the Yale Parents Fund, and whom we recently lost.

Mom came from the most genuine of places in her storied Yale involvement. Upon my graduation, she wrote to the Yale Alumni Fund, noting that while my experience had been extraordinary, so had hers and my late dad’s. Mom hoped to get involved and contribute.

The Parents Fund took Mom at her word, adopted her, and put her to work! Mom was given a leadership role in rallying non-legacy parents of Yalies who had graduated, noting her own experiences and enlisting parents from many regions and socioeconomic backgrounds to ensure that current Yalies have the same magnificent experiences.

Because of these parents’ generosity and, I must say, Mom’s singularly welcoming, inspiring, and able leadership, the New York–area phonathons—where 40 to 50 parents a night called fellow parents in fundraising efforts—were enormously successful. So much so that in 1995, Mom became the first non-alumni parent in the Alumni Fund’s 150-year history to be presented with the Chairman’s Award for her service. The award, presented by President Richard Levin, noted her “single-handedly serv[ing] as New York phonathon chair for 11 years. Her loyal volunteers are a tribute to Elinor’s dedication. Under Elinor’s leadership, the Yale Parents Fund raises $100,000 annually from past parents and continues to have a strong corps of volunteers whose children are already alumni.”

Not only was this one of Mom’s proudest moments, but mine as her son and ours as a family. Of course, Mom didn’t rest on this extraordinary laurel but continued to look forward to her call lists each year, skillfully and warmly find the commonality with fellow parents, and continued her outreach and leadership for two decades more.

In this and so many ways, Mom exemplified the qualities of a Yale education—a constant search for knowledge; intellectual curiosity that kept her forever young; interactions with diverse individuals; and, most importantly, the idea of service and giving back.

Simply put, I couldn’t be prouder of this Proud Yale Mom, who in her own inimitable, heartfelt, gracious, and successful way, truly became a daughter of Yale herself.
Joel L. Flatow ’86
Los Angeles, CA


We included two alumni who are very much alive on the “In Memoriam” list in our September/October print edition: James C. Dunstan Jr. ’72 and Alan Strasser ’74. The names for the list are supplied by Yale’s alumni records office, which has acknowledged the errors. We apologize to Mr. Strasser and Mr. Dunstan—and to our readers—for the errors and for any distress they caused.

In our feature on children’s literature (“How Imagination Begins,” September/October), we included the wrong Yale degree information for author and illustrator Clement Hurd, who illustrated Goodnight Moon. He received his BA from Yale College in 1930; he did not earn a PhD. Also, Goodnight Moon was not published by William R. Scott ’31, as we reported, although Scott did publish other books of Hurd’s.

In an item about Rhodes Scholars from Yale (Milestones, January/February 2020), we inaccurately referred to Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 as a Syrian refugee. Jalani was born and raised in Syria and left the country in 2012, but he is not a refugee. We regret the error.

1 comment

  • Joan Cavanagh
    Joan Cavanagh, 9:56pm November 22 2020 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I was struck by the “letters about letters about racism.” I sent in my own letter, below, for the previous issue. Although YAM published letters from some alums that, in the current issue, its editor acknowledges were “offensive,” it declined to publish mine, possibly because it calls out Yale’s lack of attention to the racism within its own system:

    Thank you for publishing the essays by Professors Gladney, Greenwood and Jaynes discussing “The Long Agony of Racism.”

    Regarding its own history, Yale has engaged in this conversation only superficially. Despite changing the names of certain colleges and removing one or two offensive murals from its walls, the university has never acknowledged the depth and breadth of its own racist past or been held accountable for its practices, which mirror its current relationship to the city of New Haven.

    Fearless: A. Bartlett Giamatti and the Battle for Fairness in America by Neil Thomas Proto, published in May, lays bare that history and its implications. As one of the author’s research assistants from 2014-2019, the comments here represent my views alone.

    Establishing the context for Dr. Giamatti’s outlook and goals as Yale’s first non-Anglo-Saxon president, the author unearths the university’s embrace of the U.S. eugenics movement of the 19th and 20th centuries (widely admired and emulated in Nazi Germany); its racist agenda regarding New Haven and its diverse population; and its seminal role in the disastrous “urban renewal” program undertaken by the Lee administration in the 1950s and 1960s.

    In the Prologue, Proto sets the stage for the revelations that follow: “’It seems quite clear,’ Yale President James Rowland Angell wrote in 1933, as he surveyed the Italian and Jewish immigrant and African American population that surrounded the university, ‘that if we could have an Armenian massacre confined to the New Haven district, with occasional incursions into Bridgeport and Hartford, we might protect our Nordic stock almost completely.’” Throughout, the book describes the university’s Anglo-Saxon, white supremacist agenda, motivations, and actions in granular detail, using multiple sources, including papers available in Yale’s own archives.

    I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about aspects of the university’s history which it would no doubt prefer not to face.

    Joan Cavanagh ’96 PhD

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