Hooray for Yeh, alumni weekend, house proud … and more.
I read with total fascination Phil Leggiere’s article on the urban artist Lily Yeh [“Lily Yeh’s Art of Transformation,” July/August]. I would like to visit some of her works. You mention the Village of Arts and Humanities in the text. Are there more sites accessible to the public?
Ken Flowers PT’66
Yeh’s work is site-specific to the North Philadelphia neighborhood where the Village of Arts and Humanities is located. For more information on the gardens and other Village programs, call (215) 225-7830 or visit their Web site at (www.villagearts.org).—Ed.
The couple cavorting in the rain at the 2000 Alumni Weekend as illustrated on pages 46 and 47 of the July/August Gazette are Dr. Carole Polek GrNu’86 and Tom Buck WEv’55. The Mummers’ strut performance was completely spontaneous, aided perhaps by the donations of an umbrella and a placard by an enthusiastic audience.
Despite creaky knees, this 71-year-old boy born and raised in Southwest Philadelphia felt no pain in “doing what comes naturally.” The pain came when I tried to explain to a four-year-old what his mother and grandfather were doing stomping around in the rain to the sounds of very strange music played by a bunch of guys dressed in feathers.
Thomas A. Buck III WEv’55
The 70th Reunion of the Class of 1930 promised to be quite an occasion. Dr. Joseph Rafetto of Bayville, N.J., phoned me and said he’d be there with his wife Jean. (He and I were in the sixth grade together in Manasquan, N.J.) The weather was already pretty iffy when I reached the Old Guard tent. Joe and Jean arrived and said the weather was worse in Bayville. We waited for the rest of the class … Hi, there! Our 70th! Never thought we’d make it, but here we are! … It turned out that Joe and I were it. As we ate our lunch, which included caviar (anyway, it looked like caviar), we could hear what sounded like heavy rain coming down on our tent. It turned out to be more than heavy rain … it was a deluge.
A man Joe knew came over to say hello and said he’d take our picture with his digital camera. The picture turned out to be just as bad as the weather. And it made Joe and me look at least 90 years old, which we were …
A woman I didn’t know, sitting at a nearby table, asked me, “What class were you in?”
I answered proudly, “1930.”
“Oh, my,” she said, “You are certainly well-preserved!”
Our 70th Reunion promised to be quite an occasion … It was!
Ruth Branning Molloy Ed’30
FIJI HOUSE WAS HOME
Thank you for putting in print that the University is willing to look at the return of the Beta house to the chapter for which it was built almost a century ago! [“Gazetteer,” July/August]
I was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar from a small-town high school near Latrobe, Pa. I graduated from Wharton in 1976 and got my MBA in 1984. Beta house is my home, and I hope to go there as a Fiji again to Homecoming!
I am now a part-owner of a surgical mask, drape and gown company, Precept/White Knight. The road has not been easy, as my father was a carpenter, and not a bank president. I do owe where I am to my education at Penn, and myself.
But, I am also a Beta Fiji, and I agree with what Dr. Barchi said in your article on Fiji and the Greeks. It was the Fijis that gave me my home away from home. Prior to joining there, I was as a freshman lonely and lost in the Quad. I was from the country, and my dorm neighbors were from the big cities of Philly and New York, primarily.
The brothers at the Fiji house accepted me with open arms. I was neither wealthy nor a lacrosse jock, which is what the house was 70 percent at that time. I always viewed it as a “liberal jock house open to many viewpoints,” with a little of this and that, the latter capturing me and a few others. In sum, Fiji was a neat place to belong, and I loved it!
Please write more to make the powers-that-be at Penn give the Betas back our house!
John M. Sopcisak W’76
MORE MATTER MERITED
Penn has its first NCAA wrestling champion in more than 50 years and all Brett Matter merited were 13 words in that portion of the July/August Gazette sports section titled “Also worthy of note”! Shame on you.
Christopher D. Olmstead
NO DOCTOR IN THIS HOUSE
I wasn’t sure I would write, but I just wanted to tell you that it was more than a little disconcerting to find myself converted from Janet Kobrin Watson to Dr. Janet Kobrin Watson [“Alumni Notes,” May/June]. Looking through other notes I did realize that it wasn’t just me, and it is true that I have a Ph.D., but like many faculty in the humanities and social sciences, it isn’t a title I use professionally (where I prefer professor, as I generally think of Dr. as applying to medical doctors, psychologists, and perhaps Ph.D.s in the hard sciences), and it certainly isn’t a title I use socially—and I count class notes as a social thing. I pretty much only trot it out if a customer-service rep is giving me a hard time with something, or something like that. So I don’t want you to reprint the note, but I would like you to think about the policy, which seems a bit old-fashioned to me.
Janet Kobrin Watson C’89
IMPRECISE LANGUAGE MARRED REVIEW’S MEANING
Having read Wendy Steiner’s review of Mary Ellen Mark’s book American Odyssey [“Off the Shelf,” March/April], the three letters to the editor about that review and Steiner’s response [“Letters,” May/June], I am impelled to continue the discussion.
As a fellow critic, I do not dispute a critic’s right, even responsibility, to point out perceived flaws in a body of work, even if the critic’s general evaluation of that work is one of approbation. However, Steiner’s tepid explanations of the tone of her review only serve to reveal the flaccid nature of her own writing.
She tries to explain away her remark that Mark’s being voted “the most influential woman photographer of all time” was “a somewhat wince-inducing accolade” by claming that she meant it was demeaning to ghettoize her with just women rather than to include both sexes equally. Well, why not say that in the first place? It’s not too difficult to arrange words into that meaning.
And as Joan Liftin points out, Steiner’s phrase “for earning the admiration of the likes of Maya Angelou and Louis Malle” implies that they provide disreputable company. If she didn’t mean that, why not write, “people like Maya Angelou and Louis Malle.”
I think a close reading of Steiner’s review does reveal a degree of admiration for some of Mark’s pictures. But her use of so many issues without explication, such as “the uneasy politics of exploration and colonialism” (apparent in much of the work of British photographers in India or China or American photographers of the American West in the 19th century), or voyeurism and exploitation (which one could arguably use—without necessarily accepting—in discussing the work of, say, Nan Goldin), clearly muddle her intended meaning. And her shorthand of placing Mark between Walker Evans and Diane Arbus without explaining what she really means is about as useful as an attention-span-impaired Hollywood producer defining a movie as a cross between two other movies rather than defining what the new movie actually is.
I think it valid to point out, for instance, that a book’s dust jacket, meant to lure buyers with the manipulative language of advertising, distorts the reality of what lies within. But Steiner must accept that, whatever her intentions, by her imprecise use of language and by the loose and incomplete nature of her arguments, her review does indeed come off as snide and mean-spirited.
Stephen Perloff C’70
WAR AGAINST RACISM CONTINUES
It was offensive to read the racially charged, grossly ill-informed letter to The Pennsylvania Gazette [March/April] attacking Greg Robinson’s article about one of the darker episodes in Penn’s long history—its rejection of Naomi Nakano by the Graduate School in 1944 because she was an American of Japanese ancestry. [“Admission Denied,” Jan/Feb]. Naomi is my sister-in-law, my wife’s sister. Both her family and ours have a three-generation list of Penn graduates.
The letter writer parrots precisely wartime anti-Japanese-American hysteria, which Mr. Robinson’s article covers. He attempts to justify hysteria, which, by definition, is irrational. Among other race-based questions, the writer asks, “How would the authorities know for certain whether or not Miss Nakano was an agent for Japan?” The same sweeping question could have been asked about anyone in those days. But the specific response is they knew Naomi was not an agent. Her father, Y.W. Nakano, a Penn alumnus of the Class of 1916, was a master engineer with top security clearances, though technically he was an enemy alien. He and his construction company performed vital war work. It was not “authorities” who barred Naomi from admission. She was denied by an ignorant and/or confused Penn administration. Race was the reason.
The letter writer asks, “How would you be certain” that war ships sailing from Philadelphia were not “being observed by an Axis agent?” He should read history. The answer is they were being observed by the Axis—Germans. U-boats haunted the East Coast, devastating shipping, coming right into Delaware Bay on occasion. A team of German agents landed on Long Island. Others were in place. Virtually all were captured and executed. No German-American was refused admittance to Penn because of his or her heritage, nor should they have been.
The racism in Naomi’s case is not “20-20 hindsight” from year 2000 people in the “embrace of leftist politics and social engineering,” as the letter writer claims. No one is “rearranging history so that it is congruent with [their] ethos.” During the war Penn alumnus Owen Roberts, Supreme Court justice and later dean of the Law School, wrote in a court opinion that anti-Japanese-American bias was “largely an accumulation of much of the misinformation, half-truths and insinuations that for years have been directed against Japanese-Americans by people with racial and economic prejudices …” (Korematsu v. United States, 1944). Roberts was a great jurist, appointed by a Republican president and generally regarded as conservative.
The letter writer suggests that the Pacific war justified betrayal of the Constitution at home. He defends World War II injustices “that in this day and age may seem unpalatable, [but] they were taken and it’s done with.”
Wrong! It is not done with.
If World War II was about anything, it was about defending our liberties and rights under the U.S. Constitution. That war continues.
Richard L. Graves C’52
Port Washington, N.Y.
A garbled press release resulted in two errors in an “Alumni Notes” entry for Bernard Frank L’38 [July/August]. Mr. Frank had served as chair of the ombudsman committees of the American Bar Association and Federal Bar Association, not the associations themselves. And he was president of the International Ombudsman Institute, not the International Bar Association Institute.