Letters to the Editor

Letters: March/April 2021

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.

Imagination, talent, and collars

I love the article showing Steve Johnson’s ideas (“The Endless Imagination of Steven M. Johnson,” January/February).  I hope this is a direction where the alumni magazine shares unique works from our huge community of talent.
Nice going.
Dave Sellers ’60
Warren, VT

On the subject of Steven Johnson, we neglected to mention that you can find more of his inventions and cartoons at his website, patentdepending.com.—Eds.

The article about Steven Johnson is wonderful fun. My immediate reaction is to consider him as part of a triad involving Theodore Geisel and Robert Crumb. But reality intrudes: until one of the California wildfires (Butte, 2015) I owned a Lionel Terry parka with an “elephant foot” to complete the enclosure, making a sleeping bag. No gloves provided.

Also: there are several designs of wearable motorcycle protective gear offering an inflatable front airbag and/or a back support which stiffens on impact to spread force over enough area to mitigate focal injury. What else have I missed?
M. Bruce Parker ’70
Minneapolis, MN

Steve Johnson may have invented the Open Fly Alarm, but no true Yale man is likely to become hung up over such a trifle. Far more useful would be an alarm that would warn one his collar is not properly buttoned down. That would be worth the price, besides undoubtedly appealing to more than one venture capitalist.
Arthur H. Saxon ’66PhD
Fairfield, CT

A artist's journey

What a privilege to read Jenny Hansell’s powerful and personal reflection on her growth as an artist and to see her paintings (“Perspective,” January/February). Her courage and candor inspire me in my own journey as a painter. I shared a similar experience to the one she describes as an undergraduate painting student in the 1980s. For me, it was a beginning drawing class freshman year (spring 1983), an early morning class with lots of critiques that wilted my self-concept as an artist and put me off creative pursuits for years.

I also relate to her experience of picking up a paintbrush decades later, after my daughter went away to school. I loved that Hansell shared how she battled her inner critic, and identified the voice “who convinced us we should just sit down, let someone else do it, that we weren’t good enough.” She bravely shares that she told herself “it was okay if my paintings sucked; it didn’t matter how good they were. As long as I was enjoying it, I decided, I would keep going and ignore the product.” Bravo!

It’s a gift to us that she managed to get this voice to shut up so she could just love painting. That love shines through in the freshness of her work. Paint on, Jenny Hansell.
Anne-Louise Bateman Oliphant ’86
Washington, DC

My daughter Sofia ’20 has her Yale Alumni Magazine sent to our home, and I found myself reading Jenny Hansell’s essay. It is, quite simply, a gem, and I hope you don’t hold the fact that I come from a family of Harvard alumni (six degrees in my immediate family, five more a generation up) against me. The candor, wisdom, clarity, and humanity with which Ms. Hansell tells her story are too much to let pass unnoticed. Kudos to her for writing it, to you for publishing it, and to the Yale alumni community for valuing it.
Fernando Laguarda
Washington, DC

Thank you for publishing the fantastic article by Jenny Hansell. I am an MFA student at Stonecoast, at the University of Southern Maine, studying creative nonfiction writing. I am fresh off a ten-day Zoom residency where we do exactly what Ms. Hansell describes as having happened in her art class at Yale, except we critique writing. I always leave these residencies wondering why I do this, why do I continue to write when my writing receives so much “feedback”?
Reading this essay made me remember why I am going to finish my MFA and continue to write. It’s because I enjoy writing. Because I have something to say. It’s because creating gives my life meaning. And if I can help someone by connecting with a reader, all the more reason to continue to write.
Thank you, Jenny Hansell, for silencing my “Calvin” voice, at least for this evening, and for inspiring me to keep at my craft.
Judy Sandler
Stevenson, MD

I feel compelled to offer a (perhaps backhanded) defense of Professor Robert Reed, having taken one of his undergraduate drawing classes as a School of Art MFA graphic-design student in the early 1980s. Finding his demanding, even hypercritical, approach intriguingly similar to that of my undergraduate drawing instructor, I mentioned this to Bob and found out they were good friends and MFA classmates at Yale.

I concluded that such introductory courses were seen as kind of a boot camp for would-be artists, with teachers like Bob the drill instructors, and I decided not to take anything too personally. At the same time, I clearly saw that the rigor of the method and practice they imposed were consistently and highly effective in building my artistic insight and skills.

Admittedly, I was a graduate student working towards a marketable degree with the advantage of being hardened by a couple of years plying my trade out of college, giving me the resilience to deal with negative criticism. It’s fair to say Bob was doing a favor to the most committed by previewing the terrors of making a career in the art world, and equally fair to say he may have been too rough—and even discouraging—toward those just starting to explore the prospect. I honestly don’t recall him being harder on women than men, either; he just seemed tough on everyone.

I don’t know if this style of teaching is still around these days. Whether it is or not, I would urge both undergraduate and graduate art students, as young adults, to feel free to absorb what works for them, leave what doesn’t, and not let a teacher’s temperament get in the way if a course is fostering their progress as artists. After all, understanding and accepting that you can learn from people who are not likeable will always be a valuable life skill.

I do realize that Bob wasn’t the sole or even main focus of the essay, which I very much enjoyed—particularly the way in which it came full circle at the end with the reappearance of the cockroach in her self-critique.
David Aronson ’84MFA
Boston, MA

The prison phone system

Thank you for drawing attention to the unnecessarily high cost of prison phone calls and for doing something to improve conditions for incarcerated people and their loved ones (“Sending a Message,” January/February). I have seen firsthand a young couple struggle to pay for phone calls when the husband was incarcerated. In order to emotionally support each other and their child, they talked daily (often more than once). It was a huge expense, adding stress to an already unbearably stressful situation. Connecticut’s high taxes and fees on prison phone costs are not a significant source of revenue for the state, but they can be a really significant burden on the families of the imprisoned. Please keep up your work providing visibility and solutions!
Sandy Bouton
Easton, CT

As a graduate of Yale School of Medicine and Yale Law School, I am delighted to see the student founders of Ameelio plying their skills to address issues of profound social injustice. I worked as a legislator in Ulster County, New York, and we worked to address communications difficulties and provide better medical care for individuals who are incarcerated. The options for humane and compassionate services were too few, and this app seems to improve communications dramatically.
Kathleen Nolan ’80MSL, ’82MD
Mount Tremper, NY

On alumni elections

Concerning the ad supporting Victor Ashe’s campaign in the January/February issue, I think it is helpful to emphasize the important role many alumni play in the Alumni Fellow nomination and election process. The ad states that the candidates selected by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee are “nominated by only 14 people.” This remark gives little weight to the important role all alumni play in the Alumni Fellow nomination process.

Every year, all alumni are invited to nominate candidates for the Alumni Fellow election. Many alumni submit nominations, all of which are reviewed by the committee. The nominating committee is made up primarily of volunteer alumni (13 of 15 members, in fact) serving on the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors. All such board members have been elected by an assembly of delegates who are leaders representing alumni groups, including Yale clubs/associations around the world, Yale College classes, shared interest/identity groups, and graduate and professional alumni associations.

Those on the Board of Governors, and the delegates who elect them, volunteer long hours in service to their fellow alumni and the university. They do so in many capacities, including the careful research and thoughtful deliberation of those on the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee in selecting the best and most relevant candidates for the Alumni Fellow election.

I am hopeful that the attention this upcoming election is receiving will encourage alumni to participate in the Alumni Fellow election process, both through thoughtful voting and the nomination of candidates.
Jerry Henry ’80MDiv
Greenville, SC

Jerry Henry is chair of the YAA Board of Governors and immediate past chair of the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee.

As the current chair of the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee (AFNC), vice chair of the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors, and an active and involved alumna, I write to clarify some statements in the recent ad paid for by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program that promotes Victor Ashe’s candidacy in this year’s Alumni Fellow election.

First, the ad claims that the AFNC-selected candidate is “prohibited from sharing views on issues.” There is in fact no such prohibition. Rather, historically,
AFNC-selected candidates have welcomed a longstanding tradition of not campaigning. I support this tradition because it has enabled the carefully vetted and outstanding AFNC-selected candidates to stand for election and avoid incurring the commitment of time and money involved in a campaign, as well as the potential personal burdens associated with such.

Second, the ad labels the AFNC-selected candidate as a “mystery candidate.” There is no mystery. Alumni nominate candidates to be considered by the AFNC, so potential candidates are not considered at random. And every year, the identities of and information about the Alumni Fellow candidates are communicated through the ballot when voting is requested. In this way, the information is actionable. Also, I know that great care is taken to communicate information that is equitable and an accurate representation of all candidates, whether they are AFNC-selected or petitioned. This means information about all the candidates is presented to all alumni at the same time.

I hope these clarifications will help alumni better understand the Alumni Fellow election process, and on behalf of all the alumni volunteers working on the AFNC, we hope that all alumni choose to vote in this year’s Alumni Fellow election.
Xiaoyan Huang ’91
Portland, OR

Diversity and the endowment

Yale is not a mutual fund. A letter in the January/February issue errs in contending that workforce diversity is “not the business of the endowment’s managers.”
The endowment is only a means to serve the university’s goals, which extend far beyond maximizing financial returns. Yale has a chartered mandate to educate leaders for “church and civil state.” We teach by actions as much as by words. In our multiracial society and global world economy, good leadership requires diversity.

Cheers to David Swensen for making diversity one of the criteria for Yale’s investments. Now let’s move away from the fossil fuel industry that threatens our very survival on this planet.
Randy Alfred ’67
San Francisco, CA

Faculty dress code?

What? Not one word about the academic robe worn by the lecturer in your “Scene on Campus“ photo of a Yale classroom (“Still Learning in 3D,” January/February)? I taught at Yale in the late sixties and wore the conventional blue blazer, button-down shirt, and Yale tie. What has happened to conformism at Yale since then? Is that costume now required of lecturers? Was it a joke? Did it illustrate some point being made by Professor Lewis? Does it have some historical significance? Please do let us know.
Joseph Lowin ’68Grd
Riverdale, NY

Pericles Lewis, the professor in the photo, says he wore his academic regalia (from Stanford, where he earned his PhD) “because it was the last day of the semester and I wanted to mark the occasion.” The class was mostly first-year students, and Lewis notes that the Class of 2024 was unable to have a first-year assembly with the usual parade of academic finery. And for anyone who was wondering, he also points out that he was wearing a clear mask.

Men get breast cancer too

My only complaint with your well-written article about early detection of breast cancer (“A Weapon Against Breast Cancer,” September/October) is that the study referenced in the article only analyzed records of females who had breast cancer. I am one of many males who survived breast cancer. Both males and females have basically the same “plumbing”—breast cancer doesn’t discriminate! My issue is that the more the idea that breast cancer only affects women is perpetuated, the less males are apt to check for breast cancer or respond to signs such as lumps. This then leads to later diagnoses, which can result in a higher percentage of deaths from the disease.

I run a small nonprofit in addition to my day job (www.NotJustPink.org) that endeavors to put the word out that male breast cancer is “a thing,” that early detection for males and females can save lives, and that everyone should perform a monthly self-exam. Thanks for listening!
Eric van Gestel ’96MPPM
Copperopolis, CA

1 comment

  • Flash Sheridan
    Flash Sheridan, 1:16pm March 17 2021 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    In the March letter column, the chair of the Yale Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee attempts to deny the claim by Victor Ashe (’67) that the AFNC-selected candidate is “prohibited from sharing views on issues,” by drawing a distinction between this and “a longstanding tradition of not campaigning.” As a logic major, I feel compelled to seek elucidation from Dr Huang on this alleged distinction, and in particular would appreciate a counterexample where the official candidate was permitted publicly to share his or her “views on issues.” (It would seem to me that “views on issues” might be helpful in deciding how to vote, but that is a matter of politics rather than logic, so I claim no special competence on this point.)

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