I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Kitaj’s Last Word essay, “Just Do It!” in the Winter 2011 Barnard Magazine. Her story regarding a medical internship at age 45 is amazing. Her courage, diligence, and perseverance in pursuing such a noble vocation is truly inspirational and admirable. Thank you for such a wonderful and uplifting article.
Also, President Spar’s “A Stacked Deck” illustrates a caring and compassionate viewpoint, which I would like to believe that Barnard women everywhere want to emulate. I am assuming that Tonya’s mentor must have seen academic potential in her, otherwise to encourage her to apply with no possibilities for acceptance and success might be viewed as wishful thinking or cruel. After having been encouraged to apply, Tonya, I imagine, will feel discouraged and brokenhearted if denied this opportunity.
Let us not forget that, thanks to Annie Nathan Meyers vision in 1889, many women are grateful to have been given the opportunity to excel in spite of the stacked deck for being female.
—Yolanda Irizarry Giraldo ’73
San Juan, PR
Thanks to Dr. Kitaj for the inspiring and entertaining account of her travails and successes as a 40-year-old medical student. Well done! I’d love to read more about her experiences.
—Marie Cotter ’82
My mom, Audrey Snyder Harding ’38, really enjoys your magazine and, in particular, the Class Notes. The article “Alumnae in the Military” in the Spring 2011 issue also piqued her interest.
Mom served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from Jan. 1, 1944 to Dec. 31, 1947, and is registered at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C. The mission statement of WAVES was to expedite the war effort by releasing officers and men for duty at sea through their replacement by women in the shore establishment of the Navy, and for other purposes. When she joined, she told her mother that since the family had no sons to serve our country, she’d be honored to serve. When she looks at old photos of that time, she says she is reminded of how pleased and proud she always was to wear that uniform.
While serving in the WAVES, Mom did secretarial work as well as intelligence testing. She later earned her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan under the GI Bill. She said that her experience in the WAVES paved the way for a very rewarding career of helping people.
Thanks for honoring these special women who serve our country.
Thank you for acknowledging an unusual path that some Barnard alumnae take. The women you featured represent us well. I, too, serve in the military; I am an Army Major approaching my 12th year of service. Like the women you featured, I am also scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan and have completed graduate work while in the military (MA, PhD candidate in history, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Before 9/11, a Barnard woman in the military was a far rarer thing. For my entire four years in Fordham University’s Army ROTC program, I was the only Barnard cadet. As a ’99 graduate, my extra years have given me the additional distinction of being a mother to a feisty 2-year-old.
While women increasingly serve in combat positions, the military is a decidedly male world. I find that I am supposed to be two people—a soldier and a mother—which makes for almost a contradictory dichotomy. As I prepare to go to war in the coming months, I look at my young daughter and hope that the example I set for her is a good one. I am convinced that we women who serve help ensure that the women after us have positive—and more—careers options and fewer limitations. I hope my daughter also understands that my deployment ensures her own safety and allows her father (also in the Army) to stay home with her. I don’t believe that America has quite figured out yet how to allow women to do it all (career and family). I can only hope that our daughters are inspired by those of us who try to embrace both personas.
—Courtney Kjos Short ’99
Thank you for profiling five alumnae who are serving or have served in the Armed Forces. I read their profiles with interest and cheer their commitment to our nation’s defense. I have served as a physician in the United States Air Force for the past 11 years. When I signed up, I looked in the Barnard directory and found only one other alumna serving in uniform. I am glad to see that young alumnae have considered and entered into military service. I hope it becomes more of the rule than the exception.
—Karen Toubin Dacey ’92
When I came to Barnard, Phyllis Ben was one of the first people to greet me. Or, more precisely, she was one of the first people to look me closely up and down, offer a firm handshake, and make clear that my presence on campus was optional. And the options belonged to her.
Phyllis, when I met her, was 78 years old. She had been on campus since 1962—a full year, she quickly informed me, before I was even born. Her office was in the guard’s booth, but she reigned widely across campus, keeping an eye on students out late, wandering visitors, and leaky pipes.
Not to mention untested presidents of course, who might or might not, meet
with her approval. So Phyllis kept an eye on me for quite some time. She’d nudge me in the right direction when she discerned I was lost; whisper people’s names to me when she saw I didn’t know them. And quietly, about a year and a half in, she told me that I was probably doing okay. No guarantees, though, from Phyllis, and no empty compliments. Because she fully intended to reserve judgment.
Phyllis started her Barnard career in a modest way, cleaning hallways and scrubbing bathrooms. She worked as a housekeeper for several years and then applied for a security guard position, figuring that there was no reason why a woman—at a women’s college, after all—couldn’t hold that job too. She became a full-time guard in the library and enjoyed it, as she later recalled, “immensely.” She wrote, “I had contact with the students, and I loved that. They always shared with me what was going on in their lives. It felt very special to know that.”
In 1991, when Barnard launched a $100 million capital campaign, Phyllis donated $1,000, confessing to a New York Times reporter, “It was all I could afford. I wish it was millions.” She retired rather wistfully at the age of 80 and remained an on-call guard at the College until her death on June 7. As a fitting tribute, any contributions to Barnard in Phyllis’s memory will be directed to student scholarships (please go to barnard.edu/gift).
Phyllis Ben was an extraordinary member of the Barnard community. But she is hardly alone in her commitment to this community or its students. Recently, for instance, I was chatting with Marina Bonanno and Margherita Caperson, two long-serving members of our Facilities staff. It was the afternoon before Commencement, and I was fretting over the dismal weather forecast that was threatening to dismantle our outdoor plans. For a few minutes, Marina and Margherita indulged my woes. But then they got more serious. “Look,” Marina said, “don’t worry about the rain. The grandparents will be happy in [the Levien Gym]. They’ll be dry.” Then, she reminded me, “More importantly, all the students are so happy. They work so hard here; they work so late; they love their professors so much.” “It’s their day,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter where it happens.” Like Phyllis, she was right. Like Phyllis, she saw through the pomp and ceremony of Barnard to focus on the core.
Then there’s Jeannette Darby, a security guard who volunteers every year to organize the College’s contributions to Columbia Community Service. I saw her this morning, waving visitors on to the campus and chatting with an anxious prospective student. And Ray Torres, who was overseeing a drainage ditch yesterday and carefully explaining our dance program to a visitor today. He ought to know. He’s the proud parent of an alumna, Class of 2005.
We know that Barnard is blessed with an uncommon selection of faculty and students. We choose each and every student with extreme care, picking from an ever-larger applicant pool of bright, vivacious, and ambitious young women. We choose each faculty member from a nationwide search, and then run them through a rigorous seven-year process of development, assessment, and review. But we are also blessed with an extraordinary staff. They choose to come to Barnard, to make the College theirs, and to live its values in their work. They are often the first to interact with the general public and the ones who touch our students’ lives in unexpected but profound ways.
Phyllis Ben worked at Barnard for 48 years—or, as I’m sure she would have liked to remind me, for as long as I’ve been alive. When she spoke at my inauguration, she ended with these classic Irish wishes: “May the wind be always at your back … Thank you for letting me be here and good luck to you. I hope you have as great a time as I’m having.”
“I am, Phyllis,” I’d like to say to her. “I am.”
Lori Miller avoids competitive situations whenever possible. But she does like producing documentary films about artists who do compete.
Her latest co-production is Shakespeare High, a documentary about high school students from all over Southern California, both privileged and poor, who take part in the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California’s annual Shakespeare competition, an event that helped spawn the careers of actors like Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, and Val Kilmer. The film premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
There are plenty of privileged over achievers who compete. But the film tends to focus on students from humbler, or sometimes troubled, backgrounds; for example, star-football-player brothers, who grew up in a small California town and watched their father shoot and kill their mother and grandmother.
Whatever their background, all these students are motivated and driven by the joy of acting and a love of Shakespeare. And, that power of theatre to change lives for the better is exactly what Miller wanted to remind policy makers and educators of when she produced the film. The need for more funding in arts education had become a personal issue for her as she watched her own daughter enter second grade in the Los Angeles public school system. “I’ve always been concerned about education in our society, even before I became a mom,” Miller says. “What’s missed by policy makers is that theatre education is a way of increasing literacy, communication skills, and complex thought.”
Miller didn’t start out making documentary films, having spent years producing commercial feature films, including Panic with William H. Macy in 2000 and Perfect Opposites with Martin Henderson and Piper Perabo in 2004. She even produced one horror film, 1997’s Campfire Tales. A few years ago, she decided to tackle more personal projects that might not make as much money, but would tell compelling stories of personal triumph.
Her first endeavor was They Came to Play, which was released in 2009, and is currently in distribution. Like Shakespeare High, it’s about a competition. The film chronicles the pianists who take part in the Fifth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation. These musicians have faced heartache and loss, from divorce to drug addiction. have simply put their musical aspirations on hold to raise a family or have a stable career that doesn’t require constant travel. Whatever their stories, they too have found solace and the power to persevere through the arts and music. “The theme is the joy that music brings to their lives and the healing power that it has for them,” Miller says.
Music brought the same joy to Miller’s own life. She grew up in a house where classical music was played all the time, and she herself played the flute and the piano in various chamber-music groups and orchestras. “I wanted to show this world in a more fun light,” Miller said. “The classical musical world has this reputation of being stogy and boring. The people in the film are so funny.”
In many ways, the project was inspired by her grandmother, Elsa Klahr, a German immigrant to the United States who survived the Holocaust and lived to be 103. Her grandmother took piano lessons until the family had to flee Germany in 1939, leaving their piano behind. When they arrived in Delaware, there was no time or money for piano lessons, Miller says. Her grandmother had to help out with the family business instead. It wasn’t until she turned 70 years old that she took up playing the piano once again. “This was the greatest thing … that happened to her. She found music again,” Miller adds.
Klahr even performed a piano concert at her retirement community on her 102nd birthday. And, she got to see They Came to Play at a screening for her retirement community before she died last year. “I think it’s a wonderful story,” Miller said. “I really felt like I was honoring my grandmother with that film.”
From June 2 through June 5, alumnae gathered on campus to refresh and reinvigorate their Barnard connections. This year’s program featured an array of special events that included Professor Mary Gordon ’71, center stage at a literary salon, and Erica Jong ’63, who addressed the 50th reunion class dinner. Reunion-goers could choose from live storytelling, panels on women’s sports and the state of education in America, and a student dance performance, not to mention class dinners and morning yoga sessions. The Alumnae Association Awards celebrated seven distinguished alumnae, all of whom are featured in this issue. Over the course of the weekend, more than 1,300 alumnae and guests reconnected to each other and the College as they celebrated, caught up, and took to the dance floor.
After nearly 30 years, Avis Hinkson ’84 completes a circle, returning to the alma mater she loves so well.
As Dean Avis E. Hinkson strolled toward Lehman Lawn last April, she was unsure of what to expect. Like most Barnard alumnae, she had heard about the College’s Greek Games. But the tradition had been abandoned more than a decade before her time here and it was the sort of ritual that might have prompted eye-rolling among some of her classmates.
When she reached Lehman Lawn on that day this past spring, however, Hinkson couldn’t help but be impressed. At the all-new Games, she spotted Millie, the Barnard Bear, dressed in ancient Greek garb dancing beneath the flowering magnolia tree; sophomores and juniors battling in a strenuous tug-of-war; and high school students, visiting Barnard, asking to join the fun. “It seemed holistic that scholars could also take time to engage in physical competition,” she recalls. “On what other campus do you see prospective students challenging current students to a tug-of-war contest?”
Hinkson, who took over the reins as dean of the College this February, has finally come home, as she sees it. She has also come home to the East Coast after more than two decades in California, serving in the administrations of four institutions of higher learning, with a final six-and-a-half year stint as director of undergraduate advising in the College of Letters and Science at University of California, Berkeley. Hinkson has returned to a city whose pulse beats in sync with her own, a city in which she grew up, a city with “an energy, a vibe, a sophistication, a worldview,” that Hinkson appreciates and understands.
And, of course, she has returned home to Barnard.
If Barnard is a home that has changed since the days when the once gritty streets of Morningside Heights didn’t feature a single sleek coffee shop, when dormitory life couldn’t include all students because housing just wasn’t available, when Barnard was in the midst of negotiating a contract with Columbia to remain independent, well, that’s to be expected, and in some ways, to be applauded.
“What I’m really pleased by is the balance of change,” she insists, speaking on a quiet summer afternoon in her freshly painted office, where the ivy creeping up Milbank Hall frames her tall window, and where Hinkson spends many of her weekdays in back-to-back meetings. It is an uncluttered space, with shelves adorned by a few treasures, including a stuffed Barnard bear, a college cup, and a folded banner embellished with the signatures of her classmates, scribbled during Senior Week in 1984.
“I was a student a long time ago,” she continues, “but there’s enough that speaks to the progress and growth and also enough that feels familiar. Now housing is guaranteed. There’s The Diana Center; there’s an increase in different kinds of academic programs; there’s a diversity of administration and faculty.
“But the faculty and staff are so hands-on, so accessible. I feel like that’s what I remember,” she says.
The dean of the College oversees a diverse array of departments, from Residential Life to Health Services. It is a multi-faceted portfolio of responsibilities.
In her first months at Barnard, Hinkson has mainly focused on two initiatives. First, she is exploring “new ways to communicate with students that will decrease the number of college e-mails that are sent, better target specific populations, and reflect greater cohesion between distinct programs and services.” Toward that end, she may institute a weekly digest that culls critical information.
Secondly, Hinkson has been working to strengthen the sense of community through the Barnard Circles program, which will be inaugurated this fall. The Circles program will divide the first-year class into more intimate groups or circles, based on floor assignment. Upper class students will serve as big sisters, and activities will be informal and oriented around discussions, such as choosing a major or internship.
Hinkson uses her hands often in conversation to illustrate a point, and animates her features with vibrancy and frequency. When she narrows her eyes it seems to express good-natured, jocular suspicion, and when she widens them it appears to send this message: Everyone is in on a shared joke.
It is this kind of affable manner that makes students like Julia Kennedy, who was sophomore class vice president this past year, observe that Hinkson “is someone who really wants to connect with students on a personal level. Sometimes adults can seem standoffish when you’re 19.”
It is a style that communicates: “There’s an open door. It says, ‘I’m here for you,’” enthuses Aliza Hassine, first-year class president this past year, and sophomore class president this year.
While a student at Barnard, Hinkson majored in psychology, but it was the attitude of Barnard faculty and administration toward students that made the deepest impression upon her. She recalls, “Whenever I said, `We should do this,’ people said, `OK, let’s do it.’” As Hinkson remembers, the approach was not just supportive but also empowering.
As a volunteer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during her college years, Hinkson arranged for the renowned dance troupe to perform in the gym. As student representative to the Board of Trustees, she contributed to the debate raging across campus, offering “a very, very loud voice in favor of Barnard staying independent” from Columbia.
It was during her college years that Hinkson experienced her first taste of working in an academic setting. At the suggestion of Verna Bigger Myers ’82, who soon became a good friend, Hinkson signed up during Orientation Week to fulfill her work-study requirements in the Admissions Office, where she organized a special weekend for prospective students of color. “It was more than a job,” she says. “In many ways it was a home.”
Hinkson’s voice as a student was heard frequently on campus, but she is sensitive to those who feel left out. “Being a person of color, a commuter during my first year, and from a low income immigrant family, meant that my voice was certainly a minority voice on the campus,” she says. “As the dean, I remain committed to taking the time to seek out the minority voices that are equally valuable to the complex decisions that will influence my work.”
As an adult, Hinkson has maintained a strong affection for her alma mater. She has served as fund chair for her class almost every year since she graduated. During her interview for the job as dean, she coined a term to describe her emotions: “Barnard Love.”
Since Hinkson’s arrival in February, that sentiment appears to be reciprocated, by students—and faculty. “I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that Avis returned to Barnard as dean of the College on Valentine’s Day. With her arrival, we have all felt the love,” remarks President Debora Spar. “She’s a joy to work with and, no matter how stressful or complex the issue, she is unflappable, bringing a rare blend of high energy and total calm to any situation.”
In the words of Brenda Slade, director of Health Services at Barnard, the new dean “has this incredible ability to cut to the chase and clear away extraneous material.” Greg Brown, chief operating officer, praised Hinkson for being a creative thinker who is also grounded in data. And Jennifer Fondiller, dean of Admissions, complimented Hinkson’s ability to run tight, productive meetings in a relaxed fashion that allows for humor.
Growing up in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a neighborhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn, her extroverted personality attracted many friends and babysitting gigs. The youngest of four children, Hinkson was raised in a conservative Caribbean household that emphasized both religion and education, according to her sister, Yvonne.
The new dean absorbed both values. An ordained minister, she preached and taught at a large church in Oakland, California, during her off-work hours. Before she leaves for the office in the morning, Hinkson squeezes in a few minutes of calm—“a space of silence” she calls it—which sometimes takes the form of prayer. “My approach to my work is driven by my own faith,” she says, explaining that she aims to contribute to society, and often “thinks about the advancement and opportunities for others.”
Hinkson has given herself six to nine months to settle upon a church to join in New York City. In the meantime, she’s busy adjusting to her new but familiar home, one that can fulfill her cravings for spicy food and limitless shopping, and one that includes a dynamic and sometimes exhausting campus life. It is a life that might demand that Hinkson show up to serve “French toast sticks” at Barnard’s annual Midnight Breakfast and reappear the next morning at 9 a.m. for a meeting of the Columbia Athletic Committee.
“Being dean of the College makes me realize what it costs to be that accessible,” says Hinkson, her eyes widening with a hint of mirth. “It means you have to get out of your own way sometimes.”
—by Elicia Brown ’90
—Photographs by (top) Brandon Schulman and (middle) Dorothy Hong
During Reunion weekend, the Alumnae Association shines a spotlight on those distinguished graduates who have achieved renown for their professional accomplishments, or those who have dedicated themselves to the College as volunteers. Here, we present highlights of their careers and contributions.
Woman of Achievement
Beryl Benacerraf ’71
Developed the genetic sonogram...Original research changed screening protocols for pregnant women…Work in diagnostic ultrasound recognized by the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Institute of Ultrasound, Association of Women Radiologists, and the Society of Radiologists in Ultrasound…Medical director and president, Diagnostic Ultrasound Associates, PC…MD from Harvard, where she’s clinical professor of ob-gyn, reproductive biology, and radiology
Millicent C. McIntosh Award for Feminism
Bonnie Sherr Klein ’61
Author and documentary filmmaker, focusing on disability rights after a catastrophic brain stem stroke in 1987…Created radio features about her stroke treatment and rehabilitation…MA from Stanford in broadcasting and film…Emigrated to Canada with her husband as Vietnam War resisters…Director and producer for the National Film Board of Canada…Lifetime achievement award from Women in Film and Television Toronto... YWCA Women of Distinction Award
Claudia Ford ’76
Advocate for improving social and medical conditions for women in the developing world…Director of the Office of International Programs at Rhode Island School of Design since 2008…Founder and director of The Princess Trust…Former program manager and country director for the Asia Foundation…Supervised health and education services at a Rwandan refugee camp...Honored by USAID, University of Witwatersrand, and George Mason University
Service to Barnard
Adair Brasted Gould ’36
Former president of the Barnard Club of Wilmington, Delaware…25 years as class fund chair, renowned for her personal, hand-written thank-you notes…PhD in biology from University of Rochester…Retired professor of biology, University of Delaware…Member of the Genetics Society of America…Expert in Renaissance art, teaching at the University of Delaware’s Academy of Lifelong Learning and at the Delaware Art Museum
Nora Lourie Percival ’36
75 years of continuous devotion to Barnard…Three-terms as class president…Reunion chair for the 55th reunion…Class correspondent for the past 20 years…Member of the Barnard Fund Committee, as well as contributor since the Fund was launched…Former director of Alumnae Affairs…Former editor of Barnard Magazine…Author of the autobiography Weather of the Heart: A Child’s Journey Out of Revolutionary Russia
Janet Bersin Finke ’56
Former chair of the Fellowship Committee…Served on the AABC Board…Former vice president of Barnard-in-Bergen Club…Founding member of Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative…Two terms as class president…Vice president/reunion chair for her 55th reunion…Former class correspondent and treasurer…Caller for Barnard Phonathon…Member of Class Reunion and Reunion Fund committees…Jewish Family Service of North Jersey
Alessandra Comini ’56
Author, lecturer, and university distinguished professor of art history emerita at Southern Methodist University…14-time winner as “outstanding professor”…1996 recipient of the United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award…SMU established Comini Lecture Series in 2005…Expert in German Expressionists…Awarded the Grand Decoration of Honor by Republic of Austria in 1990…Lifetime Achievement Award from Women’s Caucus for Art…MA from UC-Berkeley, PhD with distinction, Columbia
Tamar Lewin ’71
New York Times writer/reporter since 1982…Contributor to the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning series, “How Race is Lived in America” in 2000 and “Class Matters” in 2005…Columbia Law ’74…National reporter on issues such as day care and equal pay…Ground-breaking reporting on sexual harassment and insider trading…Former legal affairs reporter for the Bergen Record…Investigative research on behalf of Common Cause… Former Washington bureau chief and managing editor of the National Law Journal
Erinn Smart ’01
Silver Medalist women’s fencing, 2008 Olympics…Competitor, 2004 Olympics…Alternate, 2000 Olympics…Second woman fencer to win three gold medals, 1996 Junior Olympics…Captain, Columbia fencing team junior and senior years…Three-time All Ivy League and All American…Five-time U.S. National Champion...Member of Bronze medal team, 2001 Senior World Championships…Columbia Athletic Hall of Fame, 2010…Teacher/mentor, Peter Westbrook Foundation…MBA candidate at Wharton School
—by Merri Rosenberg ’78
—Photographs (except Gould) by Dorothy Hong
—Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer
But the public education system needs some fixing
“It’s inspiring that Barnard decided to have this type of event and give us a forum to honestly talk about the issues that are impacting us as teachers. It gives me hope that the public really cares about the direction of public education,” said Vanessa D’Egidio ’08, one of five alumnae to participate in the discussion “Are the Kids Alright? The Crisis of Education in America” held during Reunion. Moderated by Dr. Lee Anne Bell, professor of education and Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education at Barnard, the 90-minute session was a revealing, emotional call to action.
Augusta Souza Kappner ’66, president emerita of the Bank Street College of Education, opened the program by providing some perspective on current policy. She spoke about how her daughter, a 12-year veteran of the Oakland, California, public school system, spends much of her own money each school year on supplies and materials. “We hear in the media that teachers are inept and lazy and that they don’t care about whether or not their students are succeeding,” Kappner said. “Teacher bashing has become a kind of national pastime—at least for politicians, businesses, and some foundations. We’re told that if they were any good in the classroom they would be able to close the achievement gap between rich and poor kids, between black and Latino kids and white kids.”
Public school classrooms have become a revolving door for teachers with many departing soon after they arrive. Students have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a teacher for math or science that is actually prepared and licensed in one of those fields. In international comparisons, the United States ranks 29th out of 40 countries in science and 35th out of 40 in math. Finland ranks first in science and second in math using programs adapted from previous U.S. models.
According to Kappner, racial and economic inequalities are exacerbated by a number of factors, such as funding public education by property taxes. A crucial thing for all public school students is high-stakes testing, which focuses on English and mathematics. “As testing becomes more and more important, the curriculum begins to narrow,” Kappner said.
Indeed, the four teachers on the panel have witnessed how standardized testing has shaped a child’s daily learning experience. Each of them also shared how motivated she feels by her students and how that motivation keeps them returning to the classroom in the face of frequent frustrations. “They have few advocates in the world that actually listen to what they have to say. School is one of those places [they’re heard],” said Joanna Yip ’04, who teaches 11th and 12th grade English at International High School in Brooklyn.
D’Egidio, who teaches at an independent school, sees herself as an agent of change. “What keeps me teaching is being able on a daily basis to impact the students that I work with,” she said. Brett Murphy ’09 has taught at three schools in four years, leaving one school that focused exclusively on test preparation and another where it was discovered student scores had been altered. Now teaching social studies at Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn, she added, “A movement toward something that is fairer and more just is what keeps me [going].”
Schools have become politicized and teachers have to fight to deliver a quality of education they believe in.
Megan Robertson Hurley ’01 teaches high school English in Arkansas. She noted the difference between preparing kids to get into college and providing them with the skills to complete college. “Kids are not asked to think critically until 11th grade,” she said. Kappner agreed with this, saying many kids are not being taught how to analyze information, which will be essential to success in college.
Bell asked each of the panelists: What would make it easier?
Murphy said qualified and caring school administrators, noting that her current school is the first one where “I don’t walk into school and think that there are going to be five things that go wrong every day that have nothing to do with my classroom.”
D’Egidio declared that equity should be a priority. Yip would like more time to teach her students, who are all new immigrants. Hurley pointed to high quality leadership. “Deep-thinking leadership that knows how to use a long school day well,” she said.
Government must understand and remedy the current disconnects between education goals and realities, added Kappner, and societal influences must be factored into the equation.
Next question: How to have an impact?
“People need to organize,” said Yip, and Kappner encouraged parents and teachers to join together. Murphy spoke about getting teachers’ and parents’ voices heard in the media. Audience members concurred that there need to be more public forums. Hurley spoke about developing better testing that truly benefits students and teachers.
“The federal government has to change the way in which it allocates money for education because right now we’re using measures that disadvantage the poorer states and continue cycles,” Kappner said. “The federal government needs to invest in a strong teaching profession.”
—by Lois Elfman ’80
—Illustration by Daniel Horowitz
Humble beginnings and a Barnard degree lead to careers as an athlete and a consultant in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Singling out a hardship applicant, the President’s Page of the winter 2011 issue of Barnard struck a strong personal chord with me. I was one of those young women who grew up in a small town, living a life of limited resources. I was one of those young women who celebrated receiving the chance and the honor to enter the gates on West 117th Street. My Barnard education led me to places I never imagined.
I had a student-athlete’s struggle worth experiencing. I received grants, financial aid, and worked throughout my undergraduate years. I played basketball, studied anthropology, and toiled at Levien Gym as much as possible between classes and practices. Our assistant coach Ula Lysniak ’87, had just started with our program and told us about playing in Europe, which sounded perfect to me. Being only 5’5”, I knew the chances of a continued career were very slim, but I decided to give it a try. With a plane ticket, my best friend (and Barnard classmate), a phone number, and a few hundred dollars, we ventured into unknown territory called ... my dream. What was the worst thing that could happen? Failure? I could always just go home.
Try-outs in different countries with different teams led to a six-month, semi-pro contract in Luxembourg. After a successful season with the team, they asked me to stay on for another year. It was (and still is) a fantastic opportunity to play competitively, meet people, and visit much of Europe at the same time. Although I did return to the States to visit friends and family, I decided to stick it out in basketball as long as my body would let me.
The sport lifestyle here has more of a “hobby” attitude; between games once a weekend and training twice a week in the evenings, we athletes have a lot of free time on our hands. The longer I stayed in the league, the more people I met and eventually I decided to get a job in addition to playing basketball. I coached youth teams, officiated games, and worked as a secretary for an international motorsport company. Eventually I became the executive assistant to the CEO and traveled across Europe for international races supporting Formula 1.
Enjoying myself in this foreign land, I learned as much as possible about Luxembourg, including the language and cultural characteristics of this small country, which is really a grand duchy. In time, I became known in the local community as a resource for other newcomers. I kept accepting extensions to my contracts and along with them came new opportunities, such as working in human resources for Delphi Automotive and becoming the international mobility manager for more than 150 expat families. I also began consulting for the league basketball players and coaches.
And in 1998 I became an entrepreneur, founding of Integreat Relocation Specialists (www.integreat.lu). We support and encourage those who also have embarked on the challenge of a new culture and a new career in Luxembourg. My company provides consultation and guidance for balancing the stressful changes a family will encounter, adapting to the Luxembourgish culture, and learning foreign languages.
Since those days as a hardship applicant, I carry my mantra with me always: “If I don’t try, I won’t know.” So I tried and am proud to say that my company is going strong as I celebrate my 20th playing season and enjoy offers to move into possible coaching opportunities. I’ve been told that it’s about time to hang up my uniform. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Barnard gave me the confidence to take off for Europe by the seat of my pants with $200 in my pocket. At that critical time in my youth, the College recognized something deep inside me and helped me to develop my strengths. Now I am compelled to acknowledge the Admissions office for the chance to prove I could reach my potential and surpass it—it’s a Barnard tradition I will carry with me always.
—by Charlene Schuessler ’90
—Illustration by Sarah Knotz
To submit a listing to "SALON," send an e-mail to email@example.com
In The King’s Arms
by Sonia Taitz ’75
McWitty Press, 2011, $13.95
by Florence Wetzel ’84
iUniverse, 2011, $16.95
The Night the Moon Went Out
by Pia Fiedler ’87
PublishAmerica, 2011, $24.95
Cooking for Change: Tales from a Food Service Training Academy
by Doris (Platzker) Friedensohn '58
Full Court Press, 2011, $25
Welcome to Bordertown
coedited by Ellen Kushner ’77 and Holly Black
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011, $19.99
The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century
by Grace (Chin) Lee Boggs ’35 and Scott Kurashige
University of California Press, 2011, $24.95
Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City
coedited by Jessica Elfenbein ’84, Thomas Hollowak, and Elizabeth Nix
Temple University Press, 2011, $29.95
Persecution, Plague, and Fire: Fugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England
by Ellen MacKay ’94
University of Chicago Press, 2011, $40.00
Say NO to Aging : How Nitric Oxide Prolongs Life
by Arlene Bradley Levine ’75 and T. Barry Levine
NorlightsPress.com, 2011, $29.95
Make It Your Business: Dare to Climb the Ladder of Leadership
by Sylvia M. Montero '72
Front Row Press, 2011, $19.95
In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765 - 1799
by Louise V. (Hunningher) North ’62, Janet M. Wedge, and Landa M. Freeman
Rowman and Littlefield, 2001, $90
Blood Will Tell: Vampires as Political Metaphors Before World War I
by Sara Libby Robinson ’01
Academic Studies Press, 2011, $59
William Birch: Picturing the American Scene
by Emily T. Cooperman and Lea Carson Sherk ’65
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, $75
The Way of the Happy Woman
by Sara Avant Stover ’99
New World Library, 2011, $15.95
Milk A Local and Global History
by Deborah Valenze, Professor of European History and European Studies
Yale University Press, 2011, $28
by Faye-Ellen Silverman ’68
Albany Records, 2011, $15.97
Souvenir of You – New Lyrics to Benny Carter Classics
by Benny Carter, Hilma Ollila Carter ’45, and Deborah Pearl ’72
In pairs or posses, from the other side of the country or down the block, Reunion participants from the Class of ’61 knew about Erica Jong—the guest speaker at their 50th reunion dinner. They had read Fear of Flying, her breakout novel about a woman on the verge of a nervous liberation, when it came out. Of course they had, said Mary- Jo Kline, enjoying pre-dinner cocktails on the Lehman Lawn with classmate Millie Merian Moseley: “You weren’t allowed to leave your 30s until you did.”
Since Fear of Flying, Jong has published historical novels, essay collections, several volumes of poetry, memoirs, and most recently a cliché-defying anthology about sex she edited, Sugar in My Bowl, with such illustrious contributors as New York Times columnist Gail Collins, novelist Min Jin Lee, The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy, playwright Eve Ensler, Daphne Merkin ’75, and Molly Jong-Fast (who weighs in on the joys of not having sex like her parents did).
Some women remembered Jong from college. In Robert Pack’s poetry seminar, Valerie Lewis Mankoff recalled, “She was larger than life: beautiful and brilliant and the teacher’s favorite. We were all envious.”
But whether they had come expressly to hear her or mainly to catch up with friends, there was nearly universal head-scratching over the announced theme of the talk— “agelessness.” Their children had reached middle age, parents had passed away, and there were health issues: How could they possibly pretend that age didn’t matter, and why would they want to? As one alumna asked, “Why do we have to be ageless?”
Jong, invited to speak by Susan Meister, a class reunion committee member, had a similar reaction when she first got wind of the topic, as she admitted before the 200-plus dinner guests enjoying Friday evening at The Diana Center’s Event Oval. Jong wore black trousers, a shimmery black sweater, a black blazer with blazing red cuffs and lapels, and low heels that caused her to quip as she mounted the dais, “I may be ageless, but I can no longer wear stilettos.” She began, “I had no idea what a difficult topic agelessness was until I started to do the research—like a good, well-trained Barnard girl.”
The room rumbled in laughing assent, as it would throughout the 25-minute talk. Ranging from King Lear to Max Greenfield, age 7, gladiator-in-training and Jong’s grandson, she circled around a central paradox: To be free of the constraints of age—like “those who remarry at 85 even though they’ve buried many husbands”— older women must embrace both hope and their own “fleshly decrepitude.” Then they will recognize their roles as “the younger generations’ historians, their boosters, mothers, grandmothers.”
“We are now the elders who embody memory, and we must share what we know,” Jong said. “We live in ‘The United States of Amnesia,’ a line of Gore Vidal’s I love. I think that of all the problems that afflict our country, our historylessness is the worst and the most dangerous. Many of the battles we fought for women’s rights are now discarded. What do we do about all the young women who say, ‘I’m not a feminist, but...’? We live in a place where everything is forgotten too soon and our history is unknown. We have a job to do.”
But to take on that responsibility— to enter what Jong calls the stage of “generativity”—a person needs a keen sense of empathy. Jong recently revisited King Lear in a production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and made new discoveries. As she approaches Lear’s age, she appreciated that the king only achieves empathy for his subjects and his beloved daughter Cordelia once he is “reduced, reduced, reduced,” she said. “Only in his humility does he find wisdom.”
And perhaps that is the gift of aging, she proposed. “It seems unfair, but only with the decay of our powers do we become humble enough to allow wisdom in. I see that in myself, understanding things I never understood at Barnard.”
But you don’t have to forfeit a kingdom or your mind to gain wisdom. For Jong it sufficed that when her Max announced one day, “Grandma Erica, you love Italy; I have spring break; I need to see the Colosseum,” and they went. She had the time of her life.
Jong emphasized that for it to do any good, humility must be paired with buckets of hope. Still, Jong hit a wall with the as yet untitled novel she is currently writing, in which Fear of Flying’s irrepressible and endearing heroine, Isadora Wing, returns. What lifted her out of dark despair was a Hebrew Sabbath prayer. It calls attention to common miracles, one of which, Jong suggested, was “the miracle of getting older and having the miracle of empathy grow younger inside you.” Agelessness suddenly didn’t seem so off the wall.
Skeptics before dinner enthused afterwards. Exclaimed Merian Moseley, “Empathy, hope, giving back—I could relate to the whole thing.” As one of the many grandmothers in the room, Sylvia Elias Elman was touched by Jong’s “intense relationship of sharing” with her grandson, while Aviva Cantor, founder of the pioneering Jewish feminist magazine Lilith, appreciated Jong’s reminder that the political battles that her generation had won could be lost if they didn’t serve as “the repository of memory.” Cantor said that the young women she meets “who call themselves feminists or used to call themselves feminists don’t know anything about the horrors of the pre-feminist state. The battles, the struggles—and the exhilaration!” The talk also stirred up ambivalence and anxiety. Could empathy really compensate for dread? Was it true that hope and humility sprang from the same root? And why no mention of that paragon of agelessness, the soul—“which is not born and does not die,” observed Surya Green, author and journalist on spiritual matters.
A few dinner guests pointed out that as professors, teachers, and therapists, they had already dedicated their lives to younger generations. But everyone agreed that to be forever young, one needed to stay involved. Since retiring from teaching philosophy, Susan McAlister, for example, has returned to her first love, theatre, as a producer and director.
The conviction that it is never too late to take up a new venture or entertain a novel risk was regularly sounded at the lively lunch panel on agelessness the next day. Susan Meister organized and moderated the event.
Panelist Diane Stewart Love recently submitted to her first singing audition after deciding three years ago to take voice lessons. She told the man auditioning her, “You are the first person besides my teacher and my husband to hear me.” Reader, she got the part. After she sang her number, the man asked, “You tap dance?”
“I can do the tap dancing!” panelist Louise Bernikow offered. For Bernikow—author of many books, including an ode to her dog subtitled How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman and the anthology The World Split Open: Women Poets in England and America—the crucial risk is “to tell the truth.” Women’s truths, “about marriage, childbirth, abortion, breast cancer,” remain halfburied, she said, quoting poet Muriel Rukeyser’s famous words, “…if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
For Nancy Stone Lang, work is key. In fact, most of the women who spoke up emphasized their careers. Bernikow—who decided not to marry or have children after watching domestic responsibilities “squash” her mother, a Hunter College class valedictorian—flashed this statistic: within a year of graduation, 80 percent of the Class of ’61 had married. Several women I interviewed were wed before they graduated. But everyone talked about their work when they talked about their lives. When a ’91 alumna, one of a handful of participants from ’91 and ’01, spoke of the pride she felt in becoming a stay-at- home mom after a hectic career in Washington, D.C., doing political work, the reaction was polite but subdued. In 1961, staying at home was nothing to be proud of: it was simply what women did. And these women didn’t. Next to that, agelessness may prove a piece of cake.