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On Coming of Age

The story on African American studies ["Coming of Age," spring 2005] reminded me of a curious pattern I noticed a few years ago.

Although students of all backgrounds packed many of the department's great courses, few were willing to make a full commitment to the department by completing majors in African American studies. As a recent graduate and African American studies major, I hope the department's renaissance eliminates that reluctance and encourages students to take full advantage of its offerings.

Brian Budzicz (WCAS02)
Des Plaines, Ill.

I applaud the development of the African American studies department. I am also happy to see that Jewish studies and other ethnic studies programs and offerings such as Asian American studies are underway on campus.

But as a U.S.-born Mexican American I am still concerned that this flowering of racial, ethnic and area studies has brought no programs and too few scholars in U.S.-Latino studies to Northwestern — just Hispanic studies courses focused on the Spanish language and the achievements of imperial Spain or the history of the Spanish elite of Latin America.

Considering that Chicago has the third-largest population of people of Mexican ancestry in the world, behind only Mexico City and Los Angeles, I think that Northwestern needs to increase its faculty and program offerings in U.S.-Latino studies. This large, dynamic nearby community would be a wonderful place for students to do field research — if only Northwestern had the faculty and the programmatic will.

The University has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the Big Ten or Ivy League schools now offering courses, minors and majors in a program of study focused on the U.S.-Latino experience.

Marc Rodriguez (G94, 01)
Notre Dame, Ind.

I disagree with your decision to devote practically an entire issue to the University's black studies program. Northwestern offers so many fine courses in the cultures of various nations and ethnicities that to concentrate on one relatively small portion of the U.S. population seems skewed, even if politically correct.

Terry T. Tilford (WCAS62)
San Francisco

More on Kipnis

I would like to express how shocked and sickened I was by the narrow-mindedness displayed by Pisaniello, Matthies and Perry in their letters [Mailbox, spring 2005] criticizing Laura Kipnis' research ["Agent Provocateur," winter 2004].

Reading Pisaniello I felt as if I had been transported into an older and much uglier time period, an age where people refused to accept others for who they were, and where socially fascist, patriarchal voices tried to convince everyone that only dictated forms of social interaction were appropriate and permissible. Even sadder was my realization that such activity is not from a far-off past but lives and breathes, with these three individuals as proof, in the hearts and minds of some of my fellow alumni.

Regarding Pisaniello's slew of evidence as to the superiority of marriage in all cases, everywhere, I was particularly incensed by her remark that married people "are less likely to abuse their [partners] than people who merely live together."

As an individual who has been involved in a loving, respect-driven and abuse-free relationship for many years, and who possesses no intention or desire to marry, I find her comment to be both insulting and questionable. I'd be interested in where she gets her data, especially given her preoccupation with Kipnis' lack of scientific "facts."

I have fewer gripes with Matthies, though I'm saddened by his apparent inability to appreciate the ways that criticism from the fringes can be (and has been) a crucial aspect of our culture and society.

I'd be curious to know how Perry, a parent of a current student, comes away with such a misunderstanding of what Northwestern represents — an atmosphere of open-mindedness, debate and free exchange of ideas, no matter their content.

As a young woman who considers herself to be "responsible, selfless, honorable, trustworthy and fair," and who very much believes that her time at Northwestern helped her more fully develop these traits, I categorically disagree with Perry's assertion that my alma mater is hell-bent on encouraging character flaws in its students.

Erin Mosely (WCAS03)

[Author and screenwriter] James Warner Bellah put the following bit of advice from an Army surgeon to a new second lieutenant at a cavalry post in one of his stories of the Western frontier: "When you understand why the first infantry division ever formed by the United States Army is called the Second Infantry, you will understand everything about the Army."

Apocryphal or not, the lesson applies to your reader's questions about Laura Kipnis. In this case, that doctor might well say, "If you understand why Bernardine Dohrn, ex-leader of the Weathermen, retains the position of director of the Children and Family [Justice] Center at the Northwestern University School of Law, you will understand the administration, the faculty and the continued presence of Laura Kipnis."

Walt Meares (McC51)
Burbank, Calif.

Winning Women Cover Flap

I was surprised that any alumni would find the cover of the winter issue ["Winning Women," winter 2004] objectionable. As the father of a 13-year-old field hockey player, one who is leaning toward Stanford as her college of choice, I can assure you that the story on women's athletics made a very positive and favorable impression of Northwestern. It made her want to read more about Northwestern, and that, in my view, is a good thing.

John Burley (WCAS80)
Columbus, Ohio

What could possibly be "vulgar" or "disgusting" about that fabulous photo? Women aren't supposed to be strong, proud, athletic or joyful? Come on. This is 2005, not 1705.

Kristin Barry Bagnato (GJ97)

What could your readers possibly have found offensive about three teammates joyously celebrating a goal or victory? Would a similar image of male athletes have evoked their disgust? If the answer to this last question is no, these readers need to ask themselves why they are responding differently to women athletes.

Patience Vanderbush (WCAS82)
Durham, N.C.

What I saw in that cover image was beautiful, healthy young women expressing the ecstasy of hard-earned victory, the payoff for years of sacrifice and work, the camaraderie engendered by college sports at all levels and types and genders… and it made me wish I had been there that day to see it in person.

Paige E. Pell (SESP85)

Wachtel's Mission

"Man on a Mission" [spring 2005] is an excellent piece of journalism. I am taken by Elizabeth Blackwell's personal tone, which allows her to entwine references to Andrew Wachtel's academic and administrative achievements with stories of his family, his upbringing and his love and devotion to his children. The article is reflective of the talent, energy and dedication of Wachtel, whom I got to know during my five years at Northwestern.

Inna Naroditskaya, assistant professor of music studies

Andrew Wachtel unfortunately stereotypes humanities scholars as socially inept people who hole themselves up in libraries for years to churn out their dissertations, while scientists are productively interacting with each other. This is why, he says, there are more administrators from the sciences!

I find this caricaturing not useful in the least bit. This scenario not only fails to account for the dynamics of power play among the different disciplines, but also perpetuates the myth that, unlike in the sciences where scholars learn to interact to "produce" very early on, in the humanities anything goes.

While lab work might indeed be the hallmark of research in the sciences, I don't see why that should be the benchmark of collaboration. I wonder what Wachtel would say to the innumerable reading groups, colloquia and lectures that are organized by the various departments in the humanities.

My own graduate experience at Northwestern proved to be invaluable in training me in that realm of human relations.

I do wonder how Wachtel proposes to bridge this proverbial gap between the loner bibliophiles in the humanities and the sandbox-savvy scientists so that Northwestern's students are better prepared to think critically and not to fall back on stereotypes.

Vinay Swamy (G02)

Thanks to Elizabeth Blackwell for a nice article on Andrew Wachtel. In addition to the activities and accomplishments you mentioned, he is also a really good squash player! I remember playing him when I was a graduate student. I hope he still finds time to get to the courts.

Jason A. Osborne (G94, 97)
Raleigh, N.C.

A Great Green Idea

I was happy to read about the new master of science degree in plant biology and conservation [News on Campus, spring 2005]. In 1986 four of us graduated with the first degrees ever in ecology and evolutionary biology. I thought it was the beginning of something wonderful at Northwestern: providing a rigorous, competitive, and renowned education for those of us interested in ecological knowledge and the natural world.

I was wrong. Within four years the EEB program was disbanded. I really thought at the time that the University missed an opportunity to play a critical role in the education of ecological scientists.

So, hurray!… In my current role with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, I oversee conservation planning for rare botanical and wildlife species on more than 35 million acres of federal lands in Oregon and Washington. We need more young people with a rigorous scientific background and critical thinking abilities — both of which any graduate of this program would possess.

Rob D. Huff (WCAS86)
Hood River, Ore.


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