For me, one of the most telling and affecting passages in senior editor Trey Popp’s cover story “Toward a New Boyhood” comes when Trey is talking with a student at the all-male Haverford School after having sat in on a confidential peer-counseling session designed to develop “emotional literacy.” After reflecting on how the voluntary sessions have helped him understand himself better, the student, a senior nearing graduation, recalled how no one in a group of sophomores had spoken up in an exercise inviting them to say what they liked about a classmate standing at the front of the room. Their silence was not out of hatred or meanness, he clarified, but “I just think they don’t know how. We’re never taught how. … You think you’re being weird. But it’s just being able to think emotionally and show appreciation for another person.”
There’s more to the conversation—amounting to a compelling case in support of the developmental theories of the subject of Trey’s story, Michael Reichert GEd’79 Gr’84, a psychologist who has been running the sessions at Haverford for some 30 years. Reichert directs the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives and this past spring published his latest book, How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men.
In the story, Trey describes how Reichert came to his approach through professional experience as a clinician and his own family tragedy, following a traditional boyhood built on competition, toughness, and stoic endurance. He also surveys the range of advice being offered to the parents of boys (Trey has two), which is extremely wide, as suggested by another book title, Raising Men: From Fathers to Sons—Life Lessons from Navy SEAL Training.
There’s a lot about sports—and winning and losing—in Reichert’s history, and Trey’s article makes an interesting companion piece with “The Unlikely Legend,” associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03’s profile of longtime sprint football coach Bill Wagner, who will retire this year after 50 seasons. On the surface, Wagner might seem like an old-school type. One of his trademark sayings, known as “Wagisms,” goes like this: “If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in the dictionary between shit and tears.”
But the actual values that the coach has instilled in generations of Penn student athletes—a sense of family within the team and playing for love of the game (“There’s no glory” in sprint football, as one alumnus put it)—are more in Reichert’s line. And judging from Dave’s reporting of the over-the-top encomiums heaped on Wagner as he was approaching retirement, and Wagner’s own heartfelt, teary farewells, there’s no lack of ability by either players or coach when it comes to expressing their feelings.
Getting at the emotional truth—of one’s own identity, of history, of a piece of writing—is at the heart of Lorene Cary C’78 G’78’s feature essay, “London Summer and Shadows.” Cary, an author and activist who is senior lecturer in the English Department, interweaves her experience guiding students in a course on children’s writing—who bring issues including “childhood anxiety, divorce, fitting in—or not—among school cliques, and American racism, anti-Semitism, and a dawning sense of cultural displacement” into class—and the impact on her of a proposed but untaught “shadow” class on writing historically based fiction. The course would have been built around the 1781 mass murder of Africans on the Zong, a British-owned slave ship,and the subsequent court case over insurance compensation for the “value of the lost ‘stock’”—a history that especially resonated with Cary at several plays she and the students attended that erased issues of race and slavery from their texts.
This issue’s “Notes from the Undergrad,” incidentally, features a pair of pieces from Cary’s children’s writing class by Elysia Baskins LPS’20. The varied backgrounds of Cary’s students is a mark of Penn’s current diversity, but the University has a long history of attracting students from a wide geographic range.
In “The Story of Liang and Lin,” Naomi Elegant C’19 highlights two distinguished graduates of the former School of Fine Arts (now the Weitzman School of Design), Liang Sicheng Ar’27 GAr’27 and Lin Huiyin FA’27, who went on to become major figures in Chinese architecture—and culture, as the subjects of documentaries, dramas, and even an opera. (Penn’s cosmopolitanism still left room for sexism, though. Lin wasn’t permitted to receive a degree in architecture, only fine arts. The piece concludes with a touching example of Liang’s insistence on her full partnership.)
—John Prendergast C’80