Cover complaints, Final Four fans (and a T-shirt slogan counterclaim), California fire stories, and more.
I could surely have done without your blaring cover trumpeting the pioneering photography of “Transgender Life” [“Beyond the Binary,” Mar|Apr 2019]. While I realize the school bends increasingly left in your political viewpoint, some of us actually leave this magazine out for customers and employees. IMHO, this was a conscious political statement by your editorial staff and not appropriate in the least.
Robert J. Post WAM’11, Reston, VA
Never More Amazed
I have never been more amazed by the subject selected for the cover of the Pennsylvania Gazette than for the Mar|Apr edition. Again, the only graduate of the University of Pennsylvania to become president of the United States was ignored for a far more significant achiever, the “Pioneering Photographer of Transgender Life.”
Jeffrey A. Holtz W’77, Saint Charles, MO
Please remove my name and address from your distribution list. We no longer wish to receive the Pennsylvania Gazette.
It no longer seems to reflect the Penn college experience that I knew, or promote anything to do with education, but rather has become an outlet to promote particular ideologies and beliefs—the recent cover article made this clear beyond doubt.
Keith Costigan GEd’89, Waxhaw, NC
As painful as it is, I must admit that there exists a vast unnavigable gulf between my alma mater and me. I have noticed it growing over the years, but this issue really crystallized it in such a way that I can no longer ignore it. If you would be so kind as to cease sending the Gazette to me, I would be grateful.
I will always have fond memories of the University and be grateful for the gift of knowledge and friendship I was given there. I certainly harbor no ill will and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
Tom Hewitt EAS’83, Camp Hill, PA
In addition to the letters above, we heard from several other readers wanting to be taken off the mailing list because of our Mar|Apr cover image and story. That’s not many relative to the Gazette ’s circulation—but it’s more than anyone here can remember receiving before.
“Do you not understand that there are more important issues … than what kind of penis or vagina people have,” one such letter demanded. Another asserted that “some of the pictures could be considered pornography,” while a reader also reported us to the US Postal Service on the charge of distributing “erotically arousing or sexually provocative” material, which was a first.
We respect readers’ right to their opinions, and there’s plenty of room for disagreement about our choice of stories and how well we do our job in general. However, there was nothing explicit about the photos, and we don’t accept the implication in some letters that writing about the transgender community—and including images of transgender people—is off-limits or in any way inappropriate for our audience.
I also have to push back on claims that we are pursuing a political agenda in the stories we run. The only ideology guiding editorial decisions is a commitment to highlighting a variety of the interesting, inspirational, thought-provoking, and otherwise significant lives and work of Penn alumni, students, and faculty.
Mar|Apr’s story on the career of photographer Mariette Pathy Allen GFA’65 filled that bill admirably—her work is unique, insufficiently known to the general public, and has had real impact. The same can be said for this issue’s cover subject, Jonathan Rand C’02, aka “the most successful living American playwright that nobody’s ever heard of.”—Ed.
Taking Comfort in Steinbeck
Upon reading Trey Popp’s “The Virality Paradox” [Mar|Apr 2019], I was struck with how today’s politics has devolved to the trivial as a result of social media.
Still trying to shake off the exhaustion of 2018, 2019 is off to an inauspicious start. The word “inauspicious” has appeared as an adjective in the English language for centuries but none more telling than in the Federalist Papers of 1788: “It is not to be wondered at that a government instituted in times so inauspicious, should on experiment be found greatly deficient and inadequate to the purpose it was intended to answer.”
In East of Eden, John Steinbeck writes: “Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last … A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill.”
I find this passage of Steinbeck’s particularly comforting. We are in a classic battle of good vs. evil. Good is altruistic and outward/other-focused. Evil is narcissistic and inward/me-focused. In human history, good has always won out. But, sometimes, not without a lot of evil along the way.
God help us!
Mike Bellissimo C’81, West Tisbury, MA
Fine Article, Minor Error
It was with great pleasure that I read Dave Zeitlin’s article about the Penn ’79 basketball team [“The Outsiders.” Mar|Apr 2019]. It evoked many fond memories and, although I had been gone from Penn almost a decade by 1979, I nevertheless followed the team’s season as closely as I could as a graduate student in a foreign country. At Penn, I had been a gym rat during my four undergraduate years, both at Gimbel, which opened late in my freshman year or early in my sophomore year, and at Hutchinson, which afforded easy access to the Palestra itself.
Fans of Penn basketball generally agree that the 1970–71 team held the greatest post-season promise [“Almost Perfect,” Mar|Apr 2011]: Undefeated at season’s end and ranked third in the country, everything seemed in place for a Final Four appearance. And then, in the Regional Finals, came Villanova. (The less said about that, the better.)
But the ’79 team was excellent, too, and surprised many in the tournament. And then, in the semis, came Michigan State, the eventual champion. (There is a minor factual error in Zeitlin’s article: the final score was not 101–77, as he reported, but 101–67.) I had met my wife-to-be earlier that year and, knowing little to nothing about basketball, she wondered if Penn made the Final Four every year. I told her it did. Wishful thinking aside, I want to express my gratitude to Zeitlin for a fine article and great reminiscence.
Theodore Kharpertian C’70, Landrum, SC
The excellent story about Penn’s 1979 Final Four basketball team left me wondering what those players, as well as such basketball stars as Corky Calhoun W’72, Bob Morse C’72, and Keven McDonald C’78 did after their basketball careers ended. I am sure many readers would also welcome such a story.
David Machlowitz C’74, Westfield, NJ
Another Party to “No Pity”
I was quite nostalgic reading the two stories on the 1979 Penn men’s basketball team’s march to the Final Four. Both Dave Zeitlin’s “The Outsiders” and the smaller item in “Old Penn” on the back page in the Mar|Apr issue note that it was Robert Oringer W’82 who invented the slogan “Show No Pity in Salt Lake City” and designed those shirts as a freshman. This is not entirely correct.
I also was a freshman at Penn in 1978–79, and as hallmates in the Quad, Bob and I were very good friends. My uncle Barry Fisher was a teacher in Philadelphia and designed and sold T-shirts as a side business. Some may remember the ECON SUCKS T-shirts that Barry made and Bob and I sold around the campus in the fall of 1978.
I can’t remember exactly who of the three of us came up with the “Show No Pity” slogan and T-shirt design 40 years ago. It may have been Bob, but it also may have been me, or my Uncle Barry. Perhaps after 40 years Bob’s memory has fared better than mine. In contrast I am pretty sure the idea of Ben Franklin smoking a stogie on the T-shirt was Bob’s.
But I do vividly remember other details as if it were yesterday. I vividly remember the three of us sitting in a bar (I think it was a bar) on the Monday before the parade discussing how many T-shirts we should print and how we would split the losses if they did not sell. We ended up printing 500 and sold every one of them! We sold the last one just as the parade came over the 38th Street Bridge and proceeded down Locust Walk. In Bob’s picture printed in “Old Penn” our T-shirt stand would, I believe, have been positioned at the back of the crowd on Locust Walk in front of what I believe is a fraternity house.
I should also note that at the time the motive was profit. Now looking back 40 years later it is quite gratifying to know that our T-shirts made a small but important contribution to what indeed was a magical year. I would like to see this story accurately reported—especially since, according to the Gazette story, a movie may be made. I have my fingers crossed that my son, an aspiring actor, could have a role, playing his father, his great uncle, Bob—or all three.
Steven A. Fisher C’82 M’86, Columbia, MD
Starting Over After Losing a Home
I read with more than a passing interest Daniel Bercu’s essay “Against the Fire” [“Elsewhere,” Mar|Apr 2019]. Like Daniel, I moved to California (Sonoma County in Northern California) shortly after graduating from Penn in 1971. Unlike him, the “constant action” of wildfire, floods, and earthquakes was not a draw for me—although it has become part of life here for me, particularly the October 2017 wildfire that destroyed my family home of 32 years. This fire destroyed almost 6,000 homes in Sonoma County in about six hours. The fire was driven by winds that reached nearly 100 mph and was the first of several devastating fires that seem to be the new normal in our state, as the predictions of climate scientists become a reality.
Losing your home and all your belongings is a crazy experience, but my wife and I have chosen to focus on the positive aspects. We’ve eliminated all that useless clutter; avoided the need to update the house by completely building a new, energy efficient home completed last October; and managed to find a real sense of community as we shared the experience with so many in our county.
Barry Hirsch C’71, Santa Rosa, CA
Destruction from a Distance
Daniel Bercu’s firsthand account of the Woolsey Fire is moving and brings back my memories of the same fires that ravaged so much of California’s beautiful landscape. My memories run in parallel, but at a distance, by the fortunes of circumstance.
As Thousand Oaks residents, my wife and I awoke at 3 a.m., Thursday, November 8, to be picked up by a driver to take us to the Los Angeles International Airport. We turned on the news as we dressed, only to learn of the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill, as mentioned by Daniel. That took place one mile—and one freeway exit—from our home. A neighbor of a friend of mine lost his son there. The daughter of other friends was supposed to be there as well, but good fortune intervened, and she cancelled. The exit from the freeway to the Borderline was closed, and we could see a swarm of police cars flashing their lights as we passed. We were told that there were 3,000 volunteers to donate blood, although far less was needed.
The next news we heard as we landed in Barcelona was about the explosion of fires. Whenever we were near a television we watched as the situation became worse. Via Wi-Fi, Messenger, and WhatsApp we stayed in touch with friends to get an idea of what they were experiencing, whether we were in a hotel, restaurant, or crossing the Atlantic.
In addition, our cell phones received evacuation notices via a countywide public alert system whenever we were in Wi-Fi reception. That included the mandatory evacuation of our neighborhood. While we were fortunate enough to “evacuate to Barcelona,” our worry and concern for the safety of our neighborhood, the entire city of Thousand Oaks, and the surrounding communities took on dimensions that were hard to control since we were not there to gauge the danger firsthand. We could not clearly assess how fluid the situation was, and if our home was liable to be in danger.
Our friends at home all commented on the thick smoke running through the neighborhoods, and where the fire was advancing. Some recounted the experience of seeing the flames race over the tops of the hills toward their homes, only to be stopped by the road between them, or a change of wind. We learned of several acquaintances and friends who lost their homes or suffered some damage, and felt intense guilt for not being there to share their pain or give aid, even as we realized there was nothing preventative we could do anyway, and were at least safe.
Jeff Schoenwald Gr’73, Thousand Oaks, CA
A Fan’s Note
I just finished “About That Jewelry…” [“Alumni Voices,” Mar|Apr 2019] and marveled at the sense of humor displayed by writer Cynthia Kaplan. Then I realized that her name seemed familiar. After having read about her a few years ago in a prior Gazette [“Arts,” Mar|Apr 2011], I bought her CD Fangry and laughed myself silly. “Gingivitis Can Kill You,” for example was a scream—even my dentist liked it. The best part was when, after receiving the CD, my wife and I attended Jewmongous at Club Passim on Christmas Eve—a special program for Jewish people who need something to do after Chinese Food—and there was a surprise guest appearance by Cynthia. I highly recommend viewing her YouTubes and buying her CDs.
Marc L. Cooper EE’66 WG’68, Boston
In the Mar|Apr 2019 issue of the Gazette, the cartoon on page 24 shows a die with a two and a five on adjacent faces. All cubical dice (unless they are novelty dice) have the two and the five on opposite faces (totaling seven).
C. Ralph Verno GEd’65, West Chester, PA
Root Out Racism Where It Is Harbored
The article “Penn and Slavery” [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec 2018] informed me of Penn’s trustees’ using their slaves to labor at Penn and of some Penn faculty insisting on the US Constitution’s inclusion that African Americans were three-fifths of a person. And that learning led to more. It appears that in the 1820s, ’30s, and ’40s, research by Penn graduate and faculty member Samuel George Morton M1820 suggested a larger skull size and cranium capacity in caucasians versus groups of color and African Americans in particular. These findings were used to infer parallel beliefs about intellectual differences. According to some, Morton’s research served as partial defense for the continued enslavement of African Americans prior to the Civil War.
In 1978, Stephen Jay Gould reviewed Morton’s study and suggested that the findings were precipitated by Morton’s own bias. In 2011, partially supported by a grant from the University of Pennsylvania University Research Foundation, a group of Penn-affiliated researchers defended Morton’s methodology and conclusions while sidestepping racist inferences [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2013]. In 2018 Penn doctoral candidate Paul Wolff Mitchell C’13 G’14 Gr’25, disputed the basis of the study by Morton and thus the 2011 study. And so considerations of racial differences continue at Penn, with Morton’s collection of skulls housed at the Penn Museum becoming an historic artifact similar to confederate monuments.
As a black alumna, I have been proud to be associated with the University of Pennsylvania, especially believing in the integrity of its academic foundation and solid history of hosting great faculty and producing outstanding leaders. Yet these disclosures document how persons associated with Penn contribute to a narrative that exists in the hearts and minds of many Americans today, that blacks and people of color are not equal to caucasians or suitable for intellectual pursuits. Such insidious beliefs have saturated our University and country for centuries, making it difficult for persons of color to benefit fully from their educational experiences at the University. How does one learn from a faculty member who does not believe that you have the intellectual capacity to succeed?
While it is true that “we have a conversation about race that is not finished,” as Kathleen Brown—the history professor who led the student Independent Study project that revealed Penn’s previously unreported links to slavery—was quoted in the article, perhaps we need to acknowledge that current perceptions about people of color have been built on past actions of individuals associated with the University that contributed to policies and practices that supported racism. New actions are necessary to change past actions.
So where to begin? I looked for and found positive actions by Penn to support the success of persons of color. For example, the creation of the African American Resource Center, which aims to “enhance the quality of life for African American administrators, faculty, staff and students,” was formed after my time at Penn and, after reviewing its functions, I could have used it. Yet are we asking one center to accomplish what belongs to the entire University to address? Is the University milieu found by students, faculty, and staff of color sufficient to support their success or do remnants of negative attributes permeate its classrooms, dormitories, and administrative offices? After remembering my years at Penn, reading the eloquent writings of Ernest Owens C’14 in “A Black Face in a White Space: My Four Years at Penn” from Philadelphia magazine’s website, and talking with new black graduates, I realized that perhaps the Penn environment has not changed with regards to an acceptance of black students as worthy of being admitted.
Another example of Penn’s work to address racial and gender inequities is documented in Penn’s 2017 Faculty Inclusion Report, which points to successes in hiring women and minorities in faculty and administrative positions. Perhaps disaggregating minority faculty data by race would better document improvements for African Americans.
I’ve read the Pennsylvania Gazette for years and often see students of color marketed for scholarship aid and in stories about sports. More stories about the successes of alumni of color would serve to document positive outcomes of a Penn education and thus validate the value of such aid. I could have done better by contributing notes about my career.
I recognize that the aforementioned actions may improve the satisfaction of or representation of persons of color but do little to dispel perceptions about race, especially those buoyed by research about differences and behaviors of those who assume privilege. The Penn community can do better. The Penn community can do more. Excellence in academia dictates excellence in cross-cultural acceptance, dialogue, and problem solving at rooting out the issues where they exist.
I look forward to demonstrations by the president, provost, and University community, including alumni, about how we intentionally contribute to the positive well-being of all—including current students, faculty, and administrators of color—by squarely rooting out racism where it is harbored. How we use our collective power and privilege to challenge and change racist perceptions, conversations, and behaviors will be judged over time. Racism is an American issue that will take the will of all to address.
Helen F. Giles-Gee CW’72 GED ’73 GR’83, Philadelphia
A symposium on Penn’s relationship with the institution of slavery was held on campus in April. For more information, visit pennandslaveryproject.org. —Ed.
President Gutmann understandably laments that “a significant segment of our nation no longer believes in [Penn’s] mission” [“From College Hall,” Jan|Feb 2019]. Unfortunately, her proper condemnation of tribalism, anti-intellectualism, and demagoguery did not even entertain the possibility that the academy (among other historic institutions) bears any responsibility whatsoever for the loss of public trust she describes. This was a missed opportunity. A potential antidote to this one-sided analysis was provided by Harvard’s new president, Lawrence Bacow, who used his inaugural address this past fall to implore his faculty and students “to be quick to understand, and slow to judge.” Although I lack the gravitas of an Ivy League president, I would encourage my fellow Quakers to do the same.
Charles G. Kels L’03, San Antonio, TX
“Snail Mail” Is Extra Special
I thoroughly enjoyed “A Woman of Letters” by Linda Willing [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb 2019].
Like her, I learned the craft early on by composing many obligatory thank you notes for gifts. Then, once away from home at HUP, I began to write regular chatty letters to friends and relatives as a means of staying in touch. It is a practice that has stayed with me all these years.
To this day, I still feel there is something extra special about sending and receiving personal correspondence via snail mail. How nice it is to know that someone has taken the time to compose and post a birthday card, a Christmas greeting, or (unfortunately more often now) a sympathy note. How nice it is to have someone respond to something that you yourself have written.
Email is fine, but letters are better!
C. Kay Sims Andrews HUP’70, Reading, PA
Email Can Be More Suitable?
As the parent of a graduate of Penn, I have the pleasure and the privilege of reading your excellent magazine. In contrast to the approval of communicating by ink and paper in letter writing, there are several persuasive reasons why email can be more suitable.
First, for those who are parsimonious, there is the ever escalating cost of postage, not to mention the paucity of mailboxes. Second, while email may and can be erased, the pen on paper is indelible (incidentally, some writers have declared in their wills that all of the letters that they have should be destroyed). Third, letters written in haste may come back to bite the writer. And, finally paper only adds to the pollution in the world environment.
Have I made the case for email? While I may have, I am still a devotee of paper and pen communication.
Nelson Marans, parent, New York
When we last left the subject of our Mar|Apr 2019 cover story, Mariette Pathy Allen was a bit at loose ends, contemplating her next steps to promote and share her photography. We’ve received the following update, by way of a press release announcing an exhibition of her work at the Museum of Sex in New York (www.museumofsex.com). Titled “Rites of Passage, 1978-2006,” the show opened on March 28 and runs through September 8. “On display, you’ll find a record of Pathy Allen’s process before digital photography,” the museum website description states, including “darkroom work prints, photographs from color slides, hand-written notes, DIY programs for events—all records of a time far more limited, yet extremely passionate in the hope for a more equal future.”