Share Button

Celebrating “Song,” debating brain research, science denial, and more.


Where the A Capella Explosion Started


It was such a wonderful treat to read the article, “Everyone’s Song” [Mar|Apr 2018]. I took a very enjoyable trip down memory lane and relived some lively experiences with some of my compatriots. I had the distinct honor of being an original member of the Pennsylvania Six-5000. And the Penn Six, it should be noted, started the a cappella explosion at Penn in the fall of 1980. The group was founded by Jeff (“Chief”) Harlan C’82, who was a member of the Penn Glee Club but found singing in the Penn Pipers more pleasing. He originally advertised the group as the Penn Tones. The group’s logo (still in use today) was designed in 1981 by the father of fellow member Benn Steil W’85.

The article is correct about members being close-knit given all the hours spent together rehearsing and performing. Many of us from the first years of the group are still dear friends who enjoy reminiscing about our antics. And, we treasure our connections with those who came after us.

Oh, the Penn Six-5000 has a famous alumnus in the person of Robert Gant C’90, an actor who has appeared in numerous movies and television shows. And alumna Elizabeth Banks C’96, of Pitch Perfect andHunger Games fame, was a fan and noted in an Entertainment Weekly interview that the Penn Six was the “big group on campus” during her days and our version of “Rocket Man” was even better than Elton John’s original.

D. Anthony Bullett C’83, Huntingdon, PA

Time for an Alumni Group

Thank you for your article on the excitement and popularity of the a cappella groups on campus. There weren’t as many groups, and with such popularity, when I was a student. If there were, I am sure I would have wanted to participate. It almost made me want to go back to college so I could be in one of these groups. Then I thought about all of the midterms, finals, projects, and papers—and I decided I will just keep my degree—and just keep singing. I think it’s time for an alumni group!

Ellen Richter Ettinger C’80, New York

An Uphill Struggle

As I’ve noticed in many Gazette issues over the years, separate articles often have interesting connections. The Mar|Apr 2018 issue had such a connection between two articles: “This Is Your Brain On Politics” [“Gazetteer”], on Emile Bruneau’s brain research on political polarization, and the feature article “Confronting Denial,” on alumni Sara and Jack Gorman’s book, Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us.

I reacted to these articles in the context of an article I read many years ago in the July-August 1998 Harvard Business Review, “How Hardwired Is Human Behavior?” by Nigel Nicholson. The main thrust of the article is that current human behavior is heavily influenced by the behaviors our Homo sapiens ancestors of 200,000 years ago needed as they struggled for survival against each other, predators, and nature itself. One of the key behaviors—which made a significant impact on my understanding of how humans relate to each other—is our reliance on tribalism to survive. Our Homo sapiens forebears trusted those who were in the cave with them. No matter the facts involved, those not in the cave were the “others,” not to be trusted and maybe to be attacked.

The power of tribalism rang true to me. In particular, I was a struck by the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and the decline of the power of communism in Eastern Europe, which led to much ethnic and religious violence as different “tribes” fought for their communal rights. And the rise of populism/nationalism throughout the world today is clear and unsettling. Tribalism is trampling the decades-old development of a sense of global community.

The social scientists and medical professionals conducting the brain imaging and the psychological analysis described in the Gazette articles are hopeful they can make a difference in the way people relate to each other and deal with controversial issues. However, my impression of 21st century Homo sapiens behavior suggests that this is going to be an uphill struggle. But hope springs eternal.

James G. Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY

Whose Progress, Toward What?

“Social scientist Emile Bruneau wants to use brain imaging to quell the worst aspects of political polarization,” reads the subhead to the article “This Is Your Brain on Politics.”

“Quell” how? Who determines what’s “the worst”?

And how about the author’s ending quote from Bruneau, “An empirical approach offers a method for improvement … We can progress forward.”

Improvement of the permanent and unrepairable human condition? Progress forward toward a liberal progressive utopia?

I reach for the duct tape to wrap around my head before it explodes!

And then, my liberal arts education at Dartmouth enables me to recall this warning from George Orwell, to suffocate and drown the evil of Mr. Bruneau’s vision: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

Stu Mahlin WG’65, Cincinnati

Wrong for Penn to Disown Wynn and Cosby

I was very disappointed to read [in “Trustees Remove Wynn Name from Campus”] the announcement that Penn has decided to disown both Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby and considers this an ethical response to rumors [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2018]. If universities are supposing that their reputations rely on decisions like this, they have missed an opportunity to take a stand in favor of social justice. As someone who has (like most professional women) been eligible to join the #MeToo movement more than once, I object to the direction in which this movement is taking our society. Our government is founded on (among other individual rights) the value that one is innocent till proven guilty in a court of law. However, currently individual reputations and careers are being sabotaged based on hearsay alone, while no clear definition of sexual harassment has yet been provided in this process.Revenge by women who are tired of being victims of men may be understandable, but it is not justice and should not be allowed. I am sorry that Penn has stooped so low.

Susan Reid SW’65 GEd’94, West Hartford, CT

What’s the Rush?

One would think that a university that has a law school and has a magazine that has article after article about the wrongly convicted could wait for judicial convictions before taking actions like those concerning Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby. What is the big rush to convict without a trial? I’m not implying that these two men are innocent nor that they won’t be convicted. I’m suggesting that maybe it wouldn’t offend (heaven forbid) anyone to wait until the verdict came in before carrying out the sentence. These impulsive actions by Penn and others in our country concerning those accused of sexual harassment are antithetical to the basic tenets of good justice.

Ed King W’66, Bay Head, NJ

Maybe Don’t Name Things for Living People?

While commendable, the actions being taken in response to allegations concerning Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby fail to address the underlying issue of when it is appropriate to honor an individual in this manner. Perhaps we should not name a building, a commons, or other space after a living person—or maybe until a number of years after that person is dead. After all, it is only with the passage of time that a person’s true stature can be judged (and of course that such embarrassing mistakes can best be avoided).

Stuart Friedman C’66, Cleveland

What About the Money?

I was interested in the description of the trustees removing the Wynn name from campus. Before being found guilty of the “crimes” he is accused of … did the trustees also return the money he has donated to the University?

George Bender W’59, Northborough, MA

That Sinking Feeling

I enjoyed and agreed with Karyn L. Tasens that “Hill Was Hell” [“Letters,” Mar|Apr 2018]. I remember the entrance, a bridge over the “moat.” Male students would sit on the walls that ran alongside the walkway and “rate” our appearances—0 to 10. Also, why did Karyn need to travel to the library to study? She could have studied in the subterranean room that existed at least two stories below the cafeteria floor. When the fire doors closed behind me, a chill traveled up my spine—trapped, no communication, no way out! I was so lucky to find lodging in a repurposed hotel my junior and senior years. The room was twice as large, a single, and furnished with my very own sink.

Judy Gemmel CW’68, Bethlehem, PA

A Very Special Opportunity

I was saddened to read the letter referring to Hill Hall in such a derogatory manner. I lived there for four full years. Yes, the rooms were small and the stairs hard to climb for students loaded down with a pile of books but, to me, the public spaces were delightful and the building’s idiosyncrasies—and the fact that it had been designed by a world-renowned architect—enriched our experience.

After graduation, I spent the following three years getting my law degree at another Ivy League university, living in a dormitory where the rooms were somewhat larger and where the building was taller and was equipped with elevators available to students. However, today I cannot tell you what the cafeteria looked like or where it was located, even though I ate close to three meals a day there for three years. I have no memory whatsoever of other spaces or features of the building other than my room itself. I have been back to the law school multiple times, but I have never revisited that dormitory.

In contrast, the great open interior space in Hill Hall with the shuttered lounges at the sides and the cafeteria below and the fountain in the center is permanently etched in my mind, and not only for the times when a prankster filled the fountain with soap bubbles. Now, more than 50 years later, I can still taste the Dusty Miller ice cream sundaes that I ate in the red room downstairs when I felt I deserved a treat. And, yes, even in such a small room, I easily managed to study without going to the library.

Whenever I go back to campus, I drop by Hill Hall to fondly say “hello” to it. I was truly excited to see the photos of the familiar entrance in the Gazette. My four years at Penn were memorable for many reasons—the excellent education I received, the valuable time I was able to devote to extracurricular activities, the lasting friendships I made. But I would be remiss if I did not include, among my affirmative Penn experiences, the very special opportunity to live in Eero Saarinen’s Hill Hall.

Judith Seplowitz Ziss CW’65, Falmouth, MA

The Camargue: See It by Bicycle!

Reading Alexei Dmitriev’s excellent piece on the history of the Camargue region of France brought me back to a number of memories [“Elsewhere,” Mar|Apr 2018].

I was intrigued by the region’s ties to the Roma “gypsies” that my Italian grandmother often talked about in reference to herself and her family’s heritage. They were often dark skinned, nomadic, shunned, and later persecuted.

I learned later about the tale of the three Marys (including Mary Magdalene), who landed in this part of France by boat after being driven out by the Romans following the death of Jesus. The Mediterranean town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is named after them, where a black statue of Mary in the town’s cathedral is revered. Like the gypsies, the Marys were shunned due to their ties to Jesus.

Armed with these stories I had to see the place myself—so I set out by bicycle from Avignon (former seat of a second papal house) through Arles (popularized by Van Gogh) and Fontville (where boule, a French version of bocce is still played by the elders) and, heading south, into the Camargue. Roman aqueducts gave way to open fields with thatched roofs made from the hay that Van Gogh painted rolled up in the fields. It’s a beautiful place best seen out in the open that resembles the prairies of the United States, including wild horses roaming freely. I learned later that many French Westerns were filmed here due to its resemblance to the American Wild West.

I finally arrived at the sea just north of Marseille where Roman “thermes” (baths) still thrive. It’s an unspoiled part of the world worth visiting for its history and its beauty. Thanks, Alexei, for the wonderful reminder.

Mike Bellissimo C’81, Rocky River, OH

A Rueful Correction

It breaks my heart, but I have to make one minor correction to “Plies and Pirouettes, Rock and Roll” [“Alumni Profiles,” Mar|Apr 2018].

The article implies that, when our Golden Oldies ballet, Jukebox, was performed last June, I was 70 years old. That fact came as quite a shock to my classmates of 1960 who are all 78 or 79 years of age. I couldn’t convince them I was 11 when I started Penn, so I thought I would set the record straight: It was mentioned in the article that our Carlisle team won the state 3-on 3 Senior Games basketball championship. I was 70 then, but 79 last June.

Hugh “Hank” Aberman C’60 G’62, Carlisle, PA

Different Story, Same Title

I believe Hank Aberman should have done a title search before naming his production Jukebox.

In the 1970s I produced 39 half-hour episodes of the musical series Jukebox. We made 26 half-hours in London with Twiggy as hostess and 13 half-hours in Los Angeles with Britt Eckland as hostess.

Most of the English episodes were produced in the Beatles Abbey Road Studios. The series was distributed by American International Pictures, and it was syndicated to 100 stations in the United States.

I join Mr. Aberman in his passion for Penn, and I too try to get back to the campus at least once a year. I too am still active in the arts, as I too produce in the theatre. I closed my last Broadway production, 2 By Tennessee Williams, late in 2017.

Roy Nevans W’53, Longboat Key, FL

Furness Fan

I enjoyed the article, “Victorian Modernist,” about architect Frank Furness [“Arts,” Mar|Apr 2018]. Some thoughts come to mind when I recall my introduction to his architecture. I am not sure when I discovered the title but I heard him referred to as fearless Frank Furness, which did seem appropriate. When the then School of Fine Arts moved to its new building, now known as Meyerson Hall, Louis Kahn would not set foot in the building but insisted on locating his Masters Class in the Furness library building. I enjoyed riding the Chestnut Hill railroad line peppered with his train stations. But on a less positive note, it was shocking to observe how many Furness buildings were demolished. I recall, I believe, three banks, in Germantown, West Philadelphia, and Old City. I would hope that his demolished works are well documented.

David H. Karp Ar’59, San Mateo, CA

Rifkin Superfan

In the Mar|Apr 2018 issue, I read with interest the three letters about JoAnn Greco’s article on Thomas Kirkbride, “Of Beneficent Buildings and Bedside Manners,” not only because I am a namesake but to continue to expand my knowledge about Kirkbride and his contributions to mental health and architecture. (Obviously, I am also interested in following the incredible contributions my son and mentor—Robert Kirkbride C’88 GAr’90, who was quoted in the article—is making to the fields of education, environmental construction, and empathy.)

However, I am disappointed that there was no mention in “Letters” about your “Rifkin’s Next Revolution” article by Alyson Krueger in that issue. Jeremy Rifkin may be the most important living University of Pennsylvania alumnus and teacher on planet Earth. His contributions to the present and future of mankind far exceed any other Wharton School graduate of our time. I believe The Pennsylvania Gazette and Penn might seriously consider a full-blown issue about Jeremy Rifkin W’67, the MAN and the GENIUS.

Edward E. Kirkbride GAr’61, Exton, PA

Neil Welliver Was My Professor Too

In response to “A Story from 1971” by Dorothy Hope Cannon [“Letters,” Jan|Feb 2018]: Neil Welliver was my professor too.

Professor Welliver, as I knew him, was hardly a lady-killer. Paunchy, grey-haired, short, and pugnacious. I thought of him as an old guy. He fancied himself irresistible. I resisted, but I never filed a formal complaint. I didn’t want to ruin his marriage or jeopardize his career. I had escaped his unwanted sexual onslaught by a ruse, saying that I was unprotected by the pill. I didn’t know how else to stop him. I didn’t realize that I would definitely not be the last of the young women he would prey upon. Hearing your story made me regret not reporting his behavior; it might have saved you from those demeaning Monday meetings. I am sorry. I was confident then that if I did speak out, there would have been serious repercussions for him, if not as a faculty member, then as a husband.

That’s how naive I was. I believed that his wife didn’t know about his behavior and that the school would not stand for it. I was no longer his student when he tried to force himself on me as I modeled in his private studio in 1969. He begged me to return for subsequent modeling sessions so that he could finish the painting, and even offered that his wife would sit in the room with us to make me feel safe. I actually felt sorry for him and agreed. I thought he was living some fantasy of the artist and his model circa 1900 in Montmartre. I realized later that he was just an aging sexual predator. I would love to see that painting of me at 21, naked on the rocks in a stream—on the surface I was young and bold, but really I was just another of his potential victims. That’s the way we were all brought up—to be sympathetic to men’s needs and to never tell. There were other professors in other departments, when I was at the College for Women, who also had bad reputations. The word was out to avoid their private office hours. That was reality at Penn in 1968 when I graduated. They locked the doors in Hill Hall after 10 p.m. to keep the girls safe in our fortress-like dorm. The inner four-story atrium resembled a hanging garden with balconies, and we women gazed down through the slats of the white shutters as if in a harem. Across the campus quadrangle, men had no curfew in their dorms. And no one kept us safe from the professors.

Joan Cooper CW’68, Petaluma, CA

Share Button

    Leave a Reply