Letters to the Editor

Letters: November/December 2023

Readers write back about prison education, sad songs, 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.

Celebrating a Nursing alum

Dylan Walsh’s story about the Yale Prison Education Initiative (“Freedom of Mind,” September/October) is a moving reminder of the transformative power of education for even the most marginalized members of society. As a long-time volunteer adult-literacy tutor, I’ve seen men and women without hope or prospects find new confidence, happiness, and purpose when engaged in a learning environment that doesn’t judge or condescend. Here’s hoping that the article motivates your readers, no matter what their profession, to consider participating as volunteer educators—tutors, teachers, counselors, mentors—in local at-risk communities. The need is vast; the payoff benefits us all.
William Scheer ’83MPPM
Fuquay-Varina, NC

Thank you for the enlightening piece on the Yale Prison Education Initiative. One aspect of the initiative, not fully explained in the article, is puzzling. If participants take Yale courses, with Yale professors, and “strict adherence to on-campus standards” per the article, why are the degrees granted by the University of New Haven? What is the role of UNH other than signing diplomas? Are there any UNH courses, taught by UNH professors? Is there a possibility of a Yale degree?
Noreen Shugrue ’96MBA
Manchester, CT

Zelda Roland ’08, ’16PhD, director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative, responds: “In addition to Yale courses with Yale professors, the program also offers University of New Haven courses with UNH professors, and a large majority of courses are in fact accredited by UNH. University of New Haven also administers the federal financial aid (Pell Grants) for students and brings a wealth of resources to our students, who are full-time matriculated degree-seeking students there. We’re proud that the program operates as a true partnership between YPEI and UNH, bringing together the best of teaching and learning from both campuses, and enabling us to do far more together than we would have been able to do separately. We’re also able to work with UNH Development to fundraise for the program, which is supported largely through private grants and donations made to either Dwight Hall or UNH. As to degrees—we do aspire to one day be able to offer a Yale degree, and I still believe it is a real possibility!”

I am a retired public health epidemiologist. One of our mantras was “You’re not doing public health unless you are working in prisons.” Some of our most rewarding work was offering clinical and educational services in prisons. I met many people behind bars. There were some “bad actors” who truly earned their sentences. There were many who, but for the grace of G-d, could have been me or others like me. I was impressed and dismayed by what I thought was the amount of amazing human potential languishing behind bars.

A prisoner’s time behind bars is an extraordinary opportunity to help change the trajectory of their lives. I truly believe that education, be it liberal arts and/or trade training and certification, while trying to maintain connections with family and neighborhood support systems, opens other pathways/opportunities to better lives for them and the community on the outside. I am very proud of Yale’s participation and model in this.
Paul Etkind ’76MPH, ’98DrPH
Grantham, NH

I read with great pleasure and much empathy your recent article about the Yale Prison Education Initiative. About thirty years ago, I began teaching a university-level course in nineteenth-century American history at North Carolina’s maximum-security Central Prison in Raleigh. The prison is within walking distance of both my home (at the time) and my office at North Carolina State University.

Some of the inmates had asked for a Black history course—a subject not offered by their institution’s cooperative agreement with other area colleges. Our very qualified instructor in African American history at the time, Linda McMurry, was not allowed to teach in the all-male Central Prison because of her gender—a policy that has since been changed. I told the prison that I could teach a course centering on the sectional conflict, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, but that I was not qualified to teach a dedicated African American course.

They took me anyway, and for two years I met regularly with a half-dozen inmates—all African Americans—who pushed me to explain in depth the material we were reading. Before long, we were discussing virtually all aspects of American life, and we were becoming friends. This was a non-credit course—my students got no credit, and I got no pay.No pay, that is, in dollars—but my rewards from this experience were enormous.

The title of your recent story, “Freedom of Mind,” was right on target. Some of my students were “lifers” with no chance of parole or release in the near future. But they were achieving a degree in self-worth and self-satisfaction—and I was receiving many of the same benefits.

It’s some of the most rewarding teaching I’ve ever done.
James E. Crisp ’76PhD
Raleigh, NC

I am the mother of Yale graduate Ashley Lucas ’01. After receiving her PhD at
UCSD, Ashley was recruited by the University of Michigan to head their Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). She’s still there doing the hard but rewarding work of trying to show the world that the arts are a human right and belong to everyone.
While the program described in your article has a different focus, as the widow of a man who spent over 20 years in a Texas prison and received no such opportunities, I am heartened by the efforts of these universities to enlighten the general public about the importance of reaching out to this segment of the population.

I am a retired public school fine arts administrator, now living in Ann Arbor. As health and age-related issues allow, I get to participate as a volunteer in the PCAP classes at times, and I can attest that the work your professors are doing is not only benefiting the men inside but is a great gift to the professors themselves. The PCAP has been in existence long enough that we have been able to see the men and women who have been in the program not only imagine their futures but begin living them on the outside.

Ashley’s program and classes involve training and sending students inside to teach the arts, and I can’t count the number of lives I have seen changed on both sides. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article and thanks to Yale for educating, nurturing, and setting my child on a path to a career that fulfills and rewards her.
Billye Lucas
Ann Arbor, MI

The irony hit me the moment I read the title on your cover. Freedom of mind is hardly a hallmark of today’s Yale, whose inmates are not convicted persons but convicted ideas—specifically, classical liberal and conservative ideas, imprisoned by progressive ideologues. True freedom of mind cannot flourish apart from a culture uncompromisingly committed to freedom of expression.

I would be remiss not to salute YPEI itself. Having taught college classes for over 50 years myself, it doesn’t surprise me that the student prisoners are far hungrier for and more appreciative of learning than many of Yale’s spoiled and entitled students. Kudos to Zelda Roland for her unfailing leadership of the project.
James Stiver ’62
West Columbia, SC

I greatly enjoyed the article “Freedom of Mind.” Being active in Jubilee Prison Ministry here in Texas, I couldn’t agree more that prisoner education does a great deal to improve self-esteem and confidence. I would also add that helping prisoners come to faith and learning how to pray and read the Bible is another boost to help prisoners with their prison journey and more so upon their release. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recognizes these two factors as a major contributor to low recidivism among prisoners who are released from prison. I also see this from a first-hand perspective, having worked with prisoners for many years.
Bob Leilich ’65CTrans
Woodlands, TX

Why we like sad songs

I thought about those sad songs that I enjoy listening to, and didn’t notice any sense of a connection as suggested by your article (“Sad Songs Say So Much,” September/October). Instead, I noticed feelings of a completion, a completion of myself. Listening to sad music, I’d feel more fully there because I’d been there. I’d put it all out of my mind, of course, and always moved on, but that sad music—and my feeling that sadness—never brought back those memories. What it brings me is a sadness accompanied by a feeling of completion and fulfillment.

So, if that feeling of completion was included as a “connection,” then I’d say, yes, there is a “connection” when listening to sad music, but that connection is with ourselves, our Selves. And it’s not that we’re feeling sad. It’s that our sadness fills and completes us.
Lawrence H. Climo ’59
Lincoln, MA

Secret garden

It was a real treat to see the Marsh Gardens featured (Last Look, September/October). The gardens on Science Hill were a wonderful place to escape, think, and regain awe in nature during my later years as an undergrad and in all my years as a graduate student. The greenhouses were critical for my graduate work with butterflies, but they also inspired a fascination with tropical plants and plant diversity and beauty that continues today. Hopefully the photo will inspire other Yalies, past and present, to explore this hidden gem.
Erica Westerman ’03, ’12PhD
Springdale, AR

Women at SOM

I am in complete agreement with Alan Kittner ’84MBA on the critical importance of women’s voices in the MBA classroom (Letters, September/October). However, I disagree with his assessment that the Yale School of Management is headed in the wrong direction. Mr. Kittner’s Class of 1984 (51 percent women at matriculation) was something of an anomaly; from the late 1980s through the mid-2010s, the class never exceeded 40 percent women, and women were closer to one-third of the class for the better part of that period. In fact, just two years before Mr. Kittner was at SOM, only 26 percent of the entering class were women! But the number has risen steadily over the past two decades, with nearly every MBA class at or above 40 percent women since the Class of 2017.

SOM’s program offerings have evolved significantly over the past decade, with many newer programs attracting different audiences than that of the traditional two-year MBA. For example, the one-year master’s in asset management program—developed in partnership with the late David Swensen ’80PhD, Yale’s former chief investment officer—is designed for early-career students. That program has enrolled more than 50 percent women in the two most recent classes, despite dramatic underrepresentation of women in this area of finance.

This isn’t to say there’s no work to be done. The applicant pool remains imbalanced, and the reasons why women are not drawn to MBA programs in the same numbers as men are complex and reflective of challenges many women experience in the organizations MBAs join throughout their careers. With the 135 women who began their journey in the MBA Class of 2025 this fall, SOM looks and feels very different from my own Class of 2006, where 74 women made up only 34 percent of the cohort. I’m optimistic that SOM’s efforts to build the pipeline of women interested in a business school education, combined with an evaluation process that recognizes excellence across all backgrounds and experiences, will continue to pay dividends into the future.
Laurel Grodman ’02, ’06MBA
New Haven, CT

Ms. Grodman is assistant dean of admissions at the School of Management.

In our obituary for former Yale president Benno Schmidt (“How to Shore Up a University,” September/October), we identified him as having a JD degree from Yale Law School. In fact, he earned an LLB, which was the standard professional degree when he graduated in 1966.

Also in the September/October issue, we mistakenly identified Randi Hutter Epstein, author of a book review, as a 1977 Yale College graduate. Her MD (1990) is her only Yale degree.

Our September/October review of the recent book Fatherland by Burkhard Bilger ’86 was accompanied by an image of the cover of a different book with the same title.

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